In the 1960s, University of Michigan scholar AFK Organski predicted that a populous, industrious China would rise in the East to challenge America as the world's paramount power, and that the U.S. and Soviet Union would ally against China despite the communist allegiance shared by the PRC and USSR. Fifty years later, we can be increasingly certain that Organski was impressively ahead of his time with this prediction. Of course, the Soviet Union no longer exists and China is an authoritarian capitalist rather than communist state. But Organski calculated how China would eventually dwarf Russia in demographic and economic might, forcing Russia into the West's arms. What we will witness in the coming decade or two is the converse of 1972: Instead of America wresting China from the Soviet orbit, the West will have to rescue Russia from its suicidal embrace of China.
How could Organski make such a prediction while China was still very much a backwards, agrarian country, self-absorbed in post-Civil War political convulsions? The answer is his power transition theory, which specifies that rising regional hegemons and declining global ones tend to go to war in the strategic geographies where they overlap and intersect. The cost-benefit analysis on the part of the rising and declining powers is intensely subjective and psychological. A hegemon could unilaterally abandon its overseas commitments and retrench, but that would only accelerate the speed with which competitors ambitiously race to fill the resulting power vacuum, while potentially spurring the main challenger to launch a pre-emptive strike.
Today, power transition theory is considered a pillar of academic geopolitics, the science of long-term change in world affairs. The best analogy to geopolitics is climatology, which captures the subtle changes in our ecosystem over time, and examines how they affect the human-environmental equilibrium. By contrast, the study of international relations is mere meteorology, the daily weather forecast.