Habit and History vs. Strategic Logic

In an illustration of the power of inertia in international relations, reports indicate that India will go ahead and ink a $1.2 billion deal for 29 Russian-made MiG-29s. The two relevant storylines here are the decline of Russia’s defense industry and India’s budding strategic (and security) relationship with the U.S. Neither was enough to derail a deal that will also create its own inertial pull well into the future.

This is worth keeping in mind when contemplating scenarios involving major shifts in strategic orientations, of the kind I tend to be fascinated by — a U.S.-Iran rapprochement, an autonomous European defense posture, or an EU-Russia rapprochement, for instance. All of these realignments might make strategic sense, but habit and history (not ot mention big-ticket defense and energy contracts) often play a greater role in strategic affairs than cold logic.

By the same token, that underscores: 1) just how remarkable an accomplishment the transformation of the U.S.-China relationship over the past 40 years really is; and 2) how many more years of patient guidance it will require from both sides before it attains the kind of trust and cooperation that will be needed to maintain stability, in Asia and beyond, in the coming century.