WASHINGTON — With U.S. presidential elections approaching, debate over the long-term future of U.S. foreign policy is sure to become increasingly animated, and there’s no shortage in this town of scholars and analysts eager to weigh in.
Among them is Jakub J. Grygiel, whose new book, “Great Powers and Geopolitical Change,” offers a history of how geopolitical strategy — or geostrategy — has shaped the fate of past and present empires from the Romans to the Ottomans and the Chinese.
I recently chatted with Grygiel, the George H.W. Bush Assistant Professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, who, first and foremost, stresses that the world is undergoing a dynamic shift toward East Asia’s geopolitical favor.
Of principal importance, according to Grygiel, is the manner in which world power, and the focus of the United States, has shifted away from Europe, upon which it was so intensely focused during the last century.
“There has been, for the last decade or so, a strategic shift from Europe to Eurasia,” says Grygiel, who acknowledged, but did not dwell on, the importance of the Middle East, arguing that “9/11 temporarily overshadowed this larger shift [toward Eurasia].”
He argues that the steadfast rise of East Asia is cause for re-evaluation in overall U.S. strategy, especially because it highlights the United States’ lack of efficient offensive military technology on the global scale.
In his book, Grygiel asserts that the United States lacks the tools to fight a war so far away. He argues that while the United States was efficient in its use of modern war-fighting technology to shape its strategy toward Europe during the 20th century, these technologies are no longer applicable because they are catered toward responding to events relatively near U.S. military bases.
China and the Ethics of Geopolitical Strategy
Grygiel argues that the United States faces a particular challenge as it tries to keep up with China’s rising influence in the world, particularly in Africa.
“Unlike the United States, China doesn’t have ethical constraints in foreign policy,” he says, offering the example of China’s lust for Sudanese oil versus Bush’s strategy with Darfur.
That said, according to Grygiel, the United States is geographically advantaged in ways that allow the government to consider ethics in its international relations. “The U.S. has never had a serious threat for its land borders. China has,” he said.
Grygiel, whose book stresses the importance of controlling China’s maritime expansion, argues that the best way to compete with China is by sea, and that the United States needs to maintain, or even increase, its military presence in the Indian Ocean and other surrounding sea lanes.
The purpose of this move, he maintains, would not be to cut off or deprive of this valuable geopolitical resource to the Chinese, but to reserve it as leverage in the sure-to-be-heated relationship between the two superpowers in the years to come.
End of the Petroleum Age?
With the war in Iraq and the growing political consciousness of global warming hanging over the debate on the future of U.S. foreign policy, Grygiel notes that the world and the varied foreign policy strategies of its nations, are still very much locked in the petroleum age.
When, if ever, will we get past oil?
“I don’t know when that era will come about,” he says. “It could be 50 to 100 years away.”
With that in mind, he stresses that oil may not be the primary geopolitical concern for the United States, simply because “most Western economies really altered their exposure to oil in the last several years” in addition to the future possibilities that exist for altering their consumption.
Annie Frank is a graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She is a summer 2007 international news intern for WPR and her dispatches will occasionally be featured on this blog.