Courtesy Reuters

The Changing Essence of Power

Today's political flux features on its diplomatic surface three interacting trends: a disintegration of the cold-war coalitions, the rise of nonsecurity issues to the top of diplomatic agendas, and a diversification of friendships and adversary relations. These surface movements are the expression of deeper currents, which, if appropriately exploited by providential statesmanship, could fundamentally alter the essence of world politics, changing the structures and ingredients of power itself.

Let us examine each trend in turn, accepting the risks of oversimplification that are inescapable in any broad projection of the future.

First, the United States and the Soviet Union are today less anxious than they were in the 1950s and 1960s that shifts by smaller countries toward nonalignment, neutralism or even the other's coalition will fundamentally affect either of their vital security interests. Changes in military technology have reduced the value of forward bases not only for strategic deterrence but also for combat and reconnaissance in large-scale conventional war. An exception is Eastern Europe, where the Soviets still insist upon a security belt made up of completely loyal allies. Elsewhere, superpower protection, having become less credible, loses some of its value, while at the same time the price of securing that protection rises. This generates high incentives for the smaller countries to strike postures of independence in the hope of creating more opportunity for diplomatic maneuver against both superpowers. In turn, the superpowers find the fidelity of their allies less reliable. New geopolitical doctrines that assert a reduced security requirement for allies are given greater play in military planning and foreign policy generally. Ideologies which make it imperative to defend on a global basis the good people against the bad are pushed aside in favor of more "pragmatic" considerations.

Second, the loosening of the hierarchical relationship between the superpowers and their smaller allies within each of the grand cold-war coalitions gives freer play to conflicts over non-security issues-economic primarily-while the relative emergence of the nonsecurity issues reinforces the fragmentation of these coalitions.

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