Collapse of Post-Cold War security establishment

The world is likely to relent to a Balance of Power system with states opting to balance themselves rather than seek the protection of America. As a result we may not be far off from the horrors of total war that characterize balance of power geopolitics

The Grand Chess Board, as Brzezinski called it. But geopolitics have changed
Eytan Sosnovich
On 24 December 2013 12:49

In last week's New York Times the Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud wrote a scathing Op Ed titled "Saudi Arabia will go it alone." The Ambassador's words are blunt.

He asserts that US and Western policies on Syria and Iran "risk the security of the Middle East" and in a clear shot at President Obama says "but for all their talk of "red lines," when it counted, our partners have seemed all too ready to concede our safety..."

The Ambassador's posturing is indicative of a larger -- indeed an historic -- international realignment of global security. 

The post-Cold War Hierarchic system of US primacy -- one that engendered an unprecedented era of relative global peace, security, and economic growth -- is on the verge of being replaced by a Balance of Power system indicative of the 20th century, the same system that brought about two catastrophic total World Wars and brought the world to the brink of annihilation during the Cold War. Why is this all happening? In a word, credibility.

In the chess game of international relations, perception is reality, and since the fall of the Soviet Union the perception among the world's powers has been one of US preeminence. It was this perception of unmatched US power that saw former adversaries such as Germany and Japan accept the mantle of US primacy and opt to come under America's security blanket following the Second World War. 

The few states to remain outside of America's umbrella since the end of the Cold War have been kept in check, always wary of the constant and credible aura of American power. There have of course been incidents of States pushing the boundaries, testing the limits of the system. But when a stated or implied red line was crossed, the United States always responded.

This era of unquestioned American primacy is waning, if not outright gone. States that once exclusively relied on the United States security guarantees are now choosing to, as the Saudi Ambassador bluntly put it, “go it alone”. And while there is no single event that caused this paradigm shift, its onus is the question of America’s credibility.  

Credibility is more than the ability to use force. It is about convincing adversarial or revisionist States of the will to use force. Make no mistake, to achieve this posture is a precarious task. It implies brinkmanship, pushing the envelope, forcing the other to blink first.

It involves an understanding of your adversary and how they are likely to respond to a given action and it entails rigorous preparation, always forecasting the opponent’s next move. Unfortunately, limited wars are sometimes necessary to sustain the credibility that has kept this post-Cold War Hierarchic system of US primacy in order.

And they have happened. Some, such as the first Iraq war, were necessary. Others were not. Still these limited engagements must be considered in the context of the system. For while it is true that any war is tragic, a limited war (Iraq) is far preferential to the horrors of total war (World Wars I and II).

US credibility is not what it once was. Powers including Saudi Arabia, but also Israel, Egypt, and Japan, and even the European Union have become uncertain of America’s will to use force to support its pledges. “Leading from behind” on Libya, the unsupported red line on Syria’s chemical weapons, and Iran’s continued, unfettered drive toward nuclear weapons despite America’s statements to the contrary have no doubt fueled this sentiment.

So, as US credibility goes by the wayside, so too goes the Hierarchic international system on which it is based. In its stead, the world is likely to relent to a 20th century-style Balance of Power system with States opting to balance themselves rather than seek the protection of America. As a result we may not be far off from the horrors of total war that characterize balance of power geopolitics.

The author is a former analyst in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs at the U.S. State Department. The Commentator is Britain's fastest growing on-line, quality-end comment and news outlet

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