The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
The end of the bipolar postwar world" has been acknowledged by the latest presidential State of the World message. Although it is elliptic in describing the new design for a lasting and stable "structure of peace," there is little doubt that the blueprint for the future is inspired by the past. It is the model of the balance of power which moderated, if not the aspirations at least the accomplishments, of rulers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It restrained violence (without curtailing wars). It provided enough flexibility to ensure a century of global peace after the Congress of Vienna, despite drastic changes in the relative strengths and fortunes of the main actors.
If, in the quest for international stability, this model is in favor again, it is not only because of the preferences of that student of nineteenth- century diplomacy, Henry Kissinger. It is also because the Yalta system is coming to an end. For many years, the world has ceased to resemble the confrontation of Athens and Sparta. Nuclear weapons have muted the rivalry. The universal drive for independence has made each rival's hegemony over, or interventions outside, his camp costly and delicate (on the communist side, it has led to the Sino-Soviet break). The very heterogeneity of a world filled with stubborn crises which do not let themselves be absorbed by the East-West conflict has made the cold war irrelevant for some areas and has dampened it in others, given the superpowers' reluctance to allow themselves to be dragged into partly alien causes and to let confrontations by proxies turn into direct clashes.
In such circumstances, the balance-of-power model is tempting. As long as the world remains a contest of actors without any supranational force, the ambitions of troublemakers have to be contained by the power of the other states; but equilibrium would be assured in a more shifting, subtle and supple way than in the recent past of fixed blocs. In a world of several main actors, the need for a superpower to be not merely the architect but chief mason of global containment would fade away. Restraining a troublemaker would be either the joint affair of several major states, or even of merely some of them, on whom the United States could rely, just as Britain could often rely on the continental powers stalemating one another. The small nations would find security, not in submission to a leader, or in a neutralist shelter, but in the balance of power itself, which would allow them to pursue more actively their interests within its less constraining limits.
Thus, mobility would return to the scene. A new age of diplomacy (and perhaps of its traditional concomitant, international law) would begin. Muted bipolarity has subjected the United States to maximum exertions and minimum results, or at least maximum constraints. The new system would provide two remedies for frustration: the political corrective of self- restraint, and the psychological compensation of openly pursuing one's national interest without having either to subordinate it to the solidarity, or to wrap it in the priorities, of one's camp. The United States would again be able to choose when, where, and whether to intervene at all. Therefore it could concentrate on the long-range, instead of rushing from the pressing to the urgent.
The President's reports and statements point to a pentagonal system in which the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Japan and Western Europe would be the main actors. This vision raises three sets of questions. Is the United States, as a society and as a state, willing and able to pursue such a policy? Does the world of the last third of the twentieth century lend itself to a system based on the model of European cabinet diplomacy? If the answer to these questions should be no, what ought to be the alternative? I have dealt elsewhere with the first question.[i] This article addresses itself to the second question and only inferentially to the third. Since it is a critical exercise, two preliminary caveats are in order. First, this essay does not state that the new policy is a simple resurrection of the European balance of power. It examines the features of the present world that do not lend themselves to any direct transposition. It also asks whether recent U.S. tactics contribute to the advent of that moderate structure called for by its leaders. Secondly, it does not deny that the ends of international moderation and American self-restraint are highly desirable. It wonders whether they are likely to be delivered through the means of the balance. Indeed, are these ends themselves entirely compatible?
To use Raymond Aron's terms, the balance of power is a model of "strategic- diplomatic behavior." The essence of international relations is seen as a contest of states on a chessboard on which the players try to maximize their power at each other's expense, and on which the possibility of war makes military potential and might the chief criteria of power. This view still fits much of the "game of nations," for it follows from the logic of a decentralized milieu, whatever the specific nature of the units or the social and economic systems which they embody.
For such a game to be played according to the rules of the balance, various conditions had, in the past, to be met. First, there had to be a number of major actors superior to two-it usually was around five or six-of comparable if not equal power. Today's distribution of power among the top actors is quite different. Only two states are actual world powers, involved in most of the globe, indispensable for all important settlements. China is still mainly a regional power, more concerned with breaking out of encirclement than with active involvement outside. While Chinese leaders assert that China will never want to become a superpower, there is no way of predicting that this will indeed be the case. Even if both dogma and growing power should push Peking toward a global role, given its internal problems the transition will be long, and China is bound to remain in the meantime a potential superpower, i.e. a major player presently limited in scope but exerting considerable attraction globally.
As for the other two "poles," they do not exist at all. Both Japan and Western Europe are military dependents of the United States. Neither, despite huge economic power, behaves on the strategic-diplomatic chessboard as if it intended to play a world role under the American nuclear umbrella. Japan, so far, does not have even a clear regional policy. Western Europe, so far, is a promise, not a real political entity. The current relance of her integration was made possible by a kind of tacit agreement to reverse the Gaullist order of priorities and to put the economic, monetary and institutional tasks of enlarged community-building ahead of the painful and divisive ones of foreign policy and defense coördination. In the traditional arena of world politics, pentagonal polycentrism does not yet exist. It would have to be created. Can it be?
A second condition for the functioning of the balance-of-power system in the past was the presence of a central balancing mechanism: the ability of several of the main actors to coalesce in order to deter or to blunt the expansion of one or more powers. This corresponds to two fundamental realities. One was the inability of any one power to annihilate any other, the other was the usefulness of force. Aggressively, force was a productive instrument of expansion; preventively or repressively, the call to arms against a troublemaker served as the moment of truth. The invention of nuclear weapons and their present distribution have thoroughly transformed the situation. The resort to nuclear weapons can obviously not be a balancing technique. Indeed, the central mechanism's purpose is the avoidance of nuclear conflict, the adjournment sine die of the moment of nuclear truth.
The central mechanism of deterrence is likely to remain for a long time bipolar. Only the United States and the Soviet Union have the capacity to annihilate each other-a capacity distinct from that which France, Britain and China possess, of severely wounding a superpower but suffering either total or unbearable destruction in return. Only the superpowers can deter each other, not merely from nuclear but also from large-scale conventional war, and from the nuclear blackmail of third parties. Their advance over other nuclear powers remains enormous, quantitatively and qualitatively. It is doubtful that Peking could find the indispensable shortcuts to catch up with Moscow and Washington. Nor is a nuclear Japan likely to outstrip the Americans and the Russians; political and psychological inhibitions in the Japanese polity are likely to delay, for a while at least, a decision to join the nuclear race, and to limit the scope of an eventual nuclear effort. Western Europe continues to have an internal problem not unlike that of squaring a vicious circle. Mr. Heath may prudently prod Mr. Pompidou toward nuclear coöperation. But Britain's special nuclear relationship to Washington, plus Gaullist doctrine, are obstacles even to that modest proposal. A genuine "West European" deterrent would require a central political and military process of decision, of which there are no traces: nor is there a willingness by Bonn to consecrate the Franco-British nuclear duopoly or a willingness by London and Paris to include Bonn. This problem, unresolved within NATO, risks being insoluble here too.
A pentagon of nuclear powers is not desirable, and could be dangerous. It is not necessary: the deterrence of nuclear war is not a matter of coalitions. What deters Moscow, or Peking, from nuclear war is the certainty of destruction. To add the potential nuclear strength of a Japanese or of a West European strategic force to that of the United States may theoretically complicate an aggressor's calculations, but it does not change the picture. One might, of course, object with the familiar argument according to which nuclear parity between the superpowers vitiates the U.S. guarantee: would the United States risk its own destruction for the protection of Paris or Tokyo? Granted that coalitions are not important, is not the deterrence of nuclear war, nuclear blackmail and large-scale conventional attack likely only if the most tempting targets develop their own deterrents? To this, there are three replies.
First, there is never much point in desiring the improbable. For a long time, if not forever, the inferiority of Japan's and Western Europe's nuclear forces would be such that deterrence could not be assured by them alone. At the nuclear level, the United States could not expect to play the role of non-engaged holder of the balance which theorists have described as Britain's in the past centuries. Only the two superpowers would have the capacity-if not the will-to declare that certain positions are vital to their interests, and protected by their missiles. Other forces de frappe, even if invulnerable, would not have a credible protective power outside of their territories.
Secondly, the Chinese would feel threatened by a nuclear Japan, capable of dwarfing China's costly efforts, and the Soviets would react vigorously to any formula that put a West German finger near or on the trigger of a West European integrated force de frappe. For the United States actually to support the nuclear development of Western Europe and Japan, in the hope of being ultimately relieved of its role as nuclear guarantor, and in the conviction that the present central balance makes any Soviet or Chinese retaliation impossible would sacrifice, if not nuclear peace, at least the chances of moderation and détente to a distant and dubious pentagonal nuclear "balance."
Thirdly, a world of five major nuclear powers would be of questionable stability and probably foster further proliferation. Maybe five strategic forces of comparable levels could be "stable": each would-be aggressor would be deterred, not by a coalition, or by a third party's guarantee of the victim, but by that potential victim's own force. However, we are talking about five very uneven forces. The balance of uncertainty which up to now has leaned toward deterrence and restraint could begin oscillating furiously. Even if it should never settle on the side of nuclear war, it would promote an arms race à cinq. It is impossible to devise a "moderate" international system under these circumstances. Moreover, the very argument which stresses the dubious nature of nuclear guarantees to others would incite more states to follow the examples of Western Europe and Japan. In such a world some would have a second-strike capacity against each other, but a first-strike capacity against others.
In this area, then, the desire for moderation and the dream of self- restraint are hardly compatible. If the United States, in order to prevent proliferation to nations which are currently its allies, acts so as to keep its nuclear guarantee credible, the tensions of over-involvement will persist, and the world will not be pentagonal. If the pursuit of a more narrowly defined national interest, if doubts about the long-run credibility of nuclear guarantees, and if the desire for "burden sharing" should lead the United States to encourage nuclear proliferation, the result would be neither very safe nor conducive to the world of the balance of power with its central multipolar mechanism. For even if global peace should remain assured by the central mechanism of bipolar deterrence, the globe would probably fragment into a series of uncertain regional nuclear balances.
What of a return to a conventional balancing mechanism comparable to that of the past? It has been asserted that the very unusability of nuclear weapons restores the conditions of traditional war. But the picture is likely to be the same. Against a nuclear power, conventional forces are simply not a sufficiently credible deterrent. Deterrence of nuclear attack, or of nuclear escalation by a "conventional" aggressor, depends on either the possession of nuclear forces, or on protection by a credible nuclear guarantor. Even if conventional war provides moments of partial truth, ultimate truth is either nuclear war or its effective, i.e. nuclear, deterrence. For Japan and Western Europe to concentrate on conventional forces alone would mean consecrating a division among the "great powers." They are unlikely to want to do so. But if they should, there would still be a qualitative difference in status and influence between the three nuclear powers and the other two.
Moreover, from the viewpoint of a conventional balance, a pentagonal world would not resemble the great-powers system of the past. All its members sought a world role. It is difficult to imagine either a West European entity or a conventionally rearmed Japan seeking one. Each one could become an important part of a regional balance of power-no more. This, of course, is not an argument against a conventional effort in Western Europe, which faces the Russian armies. Any such effort would have a considerable deterrent value. But this is a different problem from that of a central, worldwide balancing mechanism.
Under the nuclear stalemate, the logic of fragmentation operates here too. Would, even at this level, the United States be able to "play Britain," i.e. to contribute to a regional balance merely through its nuclear guarantee? In the West European case, nothing short of a disintegration of the Soviet Union-or the most drastic and unlikely mutual and balanced force reductions-is likely to make purely West European conventional forces comparable to Soviet and East European armies in the near future. Even if one believes that somewhat lower conventional forces in Western Europe plus the U.S. nuclear guarantee equal a credible deterrent, the plausibility of the guarantee will continue to depend on at least some U.S. presence, in the form of troops or tactical nuclear forces.
In the case of Japan, there is a difference, obviously. The main issue is not the deterrence of an invasion; a strong Japan could theoretically replace the United States as a balancer of Chinese or Soviet conventional designs in East Asia. But third parties-especially our former Asian outposts-may not want to be protected from one or another communist plague by what they might consider the Japanese cholera. As long as there are strong defense ties between Japan and the United States, a Japanese conventional rearmament would lead to complications for us. If we should loosen those ties in order to avoid these strains and to let an East Asian balance operate without us, we would encourage nuclear proliferation, and a loss of influence. On the conventional front, in Western Europe, the desirable is not likely; in East Asia, the likely is not desirable.
On this front, in the coming international system, three phenomena will manifest themselves. First, only the two superpowers are likely to remain, for a long time, capable of sending forces and supplies to distant parts of the globe. The world conceived as a single theater of military calculations and operations is likely to remain bipolar.
Secondly, as long as the fear of a nuclear disaster obliges the superpowers to avoid military provocation and direct armed clashes, and as long as China, Western Europe and Japan remain endowed only with modest conventional means, and largely neutralized militarily by their very connection to the central nuclear balance of deterrence, other states, equipped or protected by a superpower and in pursuit of objectives vital to them, will be able to provoke their own "moment of truth" and to build themselves up as regional centers of military power, as Israel has done in the Middle East, or North Vietnam in Southeast Asia. A coalition of states with great power but limited stakes is not enough to stop a local player with limited power but huge stakes. For the superpowers and for such local players, conventional force used outside their borders still has considerable productivity (although, paradoxically, the superpowers can use such force only in small doses or in limited spheres). For the other "poles" of the pentagon, however, the greatest utility of conventional force is likely to be negative: its contribution to deterrence.
Thirdly, the fragmentation which results both from the impact of nuclear weapons on world politics and from the regional nature of two, if not three, of the points of the pentagon, suggests that a future conventional balance of power will have to be regionalized some more. A strong Japan and a strong Western Europe are unlikely to ensure a sufficient balance in the Middle East or in South Asia, or even in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.
Nuclear weapons have not abolished war, they have displaced it. The central mechanism of the past was aimed at the problem of large military interventions by a main actor. Now, whether they succeed depends less on a global mechanism than on a local one. No amount of coalition-building would have saved Czechoslovakia. No adversary coalition could have prevented the United States from moving into the Vietnam quagmire. Moreover, due to the fear of escalation, much of international politics on the diplomatic- strategic chessboard becomes a game of influence-less violent but more intense. There is an art of knowing how to deploy force rather than to use it, how to exploit internal circumstances in order to dislodge a rival. The traditional balancing mechanism may perhaps still function where the stakes are influence, not conquest; for military strength in an area can deter or restrict the subtle access which influence requires. A strong Western Europe associated with the United States would be guaranteed against "finlandization," for instance. However, there are complications even here. A coalition aimed at stopping a great power may actually goad it into "leaping" over the coalition, and leaning on local parties determined to preserve their own freedom of maneuver (a U.S.-Chinese coalition in Asia is not sure to stop Soviet influence). Also, if much depends on the internal circumstances in the area, neither military build-ups nor coalitions may compensate for local weakness. Anyhow, moderation at a global or even at regional levels is compatible with occasional setbacks.
The traditional mechanism is too gross for the modern variety of the old game. Also, its logic is a logic of arms races, nuclear or conventional. A game of influence partly played out with weapons supplies, in a world in which many statesmen continue to see in force the only effective way of reaching vital goals, risks leading to multiple wars. In past centuries, global moderation was compatible with such explosions; in a nuclear world, are they certain to be as limited as, and more localized than, before? Does the need for moderation not point both toward the preservation of the superpowers' nuclear stalemate and toward more arms-control agreements to prevent unilateral breakthroughs and competitive escalations into the absurd; toward both a multiplication of regional balances of power and regional arms-control systems?
A third requirement for an effective balance of power used to be the existence of a common language and code of behavior among the major actors. This did not mean identical régimes, or the complete insulation of foreign policy from domestic politics, or a code of coöperation. But the existence of a diplomatic Internationale reduced misperceptions, if not miscalculations. In the nineteenth century, it provided for congresses and conferences that proved the existence of a European Concert, however dissonant.
Today, summits too are fragmentary. To be sure, the imperative of avoiding destruction, and the need to meet internal demands inject into the major powers such a dose of "pragmatism" that the purely ideological ingredient of their diplomacy, or of their rhetoric, or both, has spectacularly declined. But we are still very far from a common language. Even a tacit code prescribing how to handle conflicts, how to avoid or resolve crises, how to climb down from high horses and how to save one another's face remains problematic for several reasons.
First, there is one important residue of ideology: the Sino-Soviet conflict, based largely on conflicts of interest but deepened and embittered by mutual charges of heresy. The United States can enjoy friendlier relations with either communist state than Moscow can have with Peking, and our détente with one may help to improve our relations with the other. But this does not suffice to bring about a moderate balance of power. To manipulate that animosity so as to benefit from it while avoiding getting entangled in it may require diplomatic skills far in excess of ours. Moreover, however much their mutual hatred softens their tone toward us, each one is likely to try to manipulate us against the other, and neither can reduce his hostility toward us too much-especially in so far as support of third parties against us is concerned-out of fear of opening the field to his rival.
Next, however much we may congratulate ourselves on having kept great-power conflicts under control and on negotiating with Moscow and Peking without ideological blinders, neither capital subscribes to a code of general self- restraint. An effective balance of power requires either agreements on spheres of influence and dividing lines, or hands-off arrangements neutralizing or internationalizing certain areas. Today, some spheres of influence are being respected: the Soviets' in Eastern Europe, ours in Latin America. Black Africa appears to be, in effect, neutralized. But Moscow and Peking both apply to the world a conceptual framework that dictates the exploitation of capitalist weaknesses and contradictions. Régimes in which the state not only controls but molds the society are better at granting priority to foreign affairs than régimes in which the impulses of the society actually control the state's freedom of action. The heterogeneity of many nations split along ethnic, class or ideological lines, which would make it impossible even for an angelic diplomacy dedicated to the principle of nonintervention to carry out its intentions, offers irresistible opportunities for diplomacies tied to a strategic (which does not mean necessarily warlike) vision of politics and to a dynamic reading of history. Khrushchev's proclamation of the "non- inevitability of war" was a landmark, but the less likely the use of overt force, the more subtly can influence be sought.
Those who, for years, feared a monolithic Soviet design for world subjugation were wrong, but so today are those who see in the Soviet Union merely a traditional power, or one interested mainly in the conservation of its sphere of influence. Prudence, yes, the simple preservation of the status quo, no. The very delicacy of the status quo in the one area where Moscow most assuredly tries to perpetuate it-Eastern Europe-the Soviet Union's inability, for domestic and external reasons, to separate security from domination there, the fact that the West cannot easily accept an equation which enslaves half of Europe, all this is likely to oblige the Soviet Union to keep trying to weaken the West in Europe, or at least to prevent it from strengthening itself. In the Middle East, in South Asia, on the world's oceans, the Soviets, without encouraging violence where it would backfire, and while supporting it where it works, behave as if any retreat, voluntary or not, of the United States and its allies, or any weak spot constitutes an invitation. This is not the code of behavior we would like Moscow to observe. But multipolarity is not Moscow's game, or interest.
Such tactics, if skillfully used, do not destroy moderation. But they test self-restraint. Of course, Moscow should be constrained to adjust its behavior to our code (and so could Peking if necessary) , should we encourage other powers to fill the vacuum and to strengthen the weak spots. But we are caught between our own desire for détente and the fear that it would be compromised if we built up those of our allies whom our adversaries most suspect. Our rivals' game is to improve their relations with us in so far as we tend toward disengagement without substitution-in which case, our self-restraint could benefit them.
Two requirements for a new balance of power-relaxed relations with ex- enemies, and greater power for ex-dependents-are in conflict. Such will be America's dilemma as long as our interest in "flexible alignments" is matched by our rivals' search for clients; as long as their revolutionary ideology (not to be ignored just because their vision is, literally, millennial, and their tactics flexible), as well as their great-power fears or drives, result in a demand for security tantamount to a claim for either permanent domination where it already exists, or regional hegemony to exclude any rival. Whether or not Western Europe and Japan become major actors, Eastern Europe and East or Southeast Asia will remain potential sources of instability.
Multiple asymmetries are at work, therefore, in so far as a common code is concerned. There is the asymmetry between the ideologies of the Communists, and our conceptions, which envisage order as a self-perpetuating status quo, as a web of procedures and norms rather than as the ever-changing outcome of social struggles. There is an asymmetry between the active policies of the superpowers and the still nebulous ones of Western Europe and Japan-not so much poles of power as stakes in the contest between the United States, the Soviet Union and China. There is an asymmetry between the untenable global involvement of the United States, and a Soviet (and, potentially, Chinese) strategy that has to do little more than move into the crumbling positions on our front lines, or jump across into the rotting ones in the rear. Order and moderation used to be organic attributes of the international system, corresponding to domestic conditions within the main states, as well as to the horizontal ties between their diplomatic corps and codes. Tomorrow order and moderation will be more complex and mechanical, corresponding to the necessities of survival and to the price of opportunity.
A fourth condition for an effective balance-of-power system had to do with the international hierarchy. While the world was a much wider field in days of slow communications, the international system was simple: there were few actors, and the writ of the main ones covered the whole field. In Europe, the small powers had no other recourse but to entrust their independence to the balancing mechanism. Outside Europe, the great powers carved up the world. Today, the planet has shrunk, the superpowers are omnipresent, but there are more than 130 states. The small-thanks to the nuclear stalemate, or by standing on a greater power's shoulders-have acquired greater maneuverability and often have intractable concerns. Any orderly international system needs a hierarchy. But the relations of the top to the bottom, and the size of the top, vary. In the future world order, these relations will have to be more democratic, and the oligarchy will have to be bigger.
Consequently, and given the asymmetries described above, for the United States to worry almost exclusively about the central balance among the major actors, as if improved relations among them were a panacea, is an error. There are three ways of making such a mistake. One is benign neglect; we have practiced it in the Middle East for a couple of years after Israel's victory in the Six-Day War, and again in the Indian subcontinent, during the months that followed Yahya Khan's decision to suppress East Bengal. This provides one's rivals with splendid opportunities for implantation.
So could the second kind of error: reacting to a local challenge in one's traditional sphere of interest in an axiomatically "tough" way-for instance, cutting off aid to and exerting pressures on Latin American régimes intent on expanding control over their nation's resources.
Thirdly, it is a mistake to treat issues in which third parties are embroiled as if these countries were merely pawns in a global balancing game, instead of dealing with the issues' intrinsic merits and the nations' own interests. For it is most difficult to bring a theoretical balance no longer sanctioned by the moment of truth to bear on the local situation. To be sure, some important disputes among third parties, while autonomous in their origins, have become so much a part of the great powers' contest that the balancing game makes sense, either in the direction of escalation or in that of a settlement once the risks become too high. Such have been the Middle Eastern dynamics since 1970-when first the Soviets, then the United States, displayed increasing commitments to their respective clients, but also maneuvered so as to defuse the powder keg a bit. Yet this has not been the norm.
In the India-Pakistan war of December 1971, the United States, China and Pakistan did not "balance" India and Russia. Neither America nor China were ready to commit forces, and a verbal "tilting" toward Pakistan, aimed at safeguarding our rapprochement with Peking and at warning Moscow, merely underlined Moscow's successful exploitation of India's desire to dismantle Pakistan and strengthened unnecessarily the bonds between Moscow and Delhi. The traditional balance-of-power mechanism, while enforcing self-restraint upon ambitions, depended on the opposite of self-restraint-the readiness of the great powers to use force. If the risks are too high or the stakes too low, the balance cannot operate.
Vietnam yields a similar lesson. We have not dared escalate the war to the point of actually cutting off all Soviet and Chinese supplies to Hanoi. As a result, our attempt to coax Moscow into "restraining" Hanoi, i.e. to make of Vietnam a great-power issue, was doomed. Indeed, Vietnam, turned by us first into a test of misconstrued Chinese dogmas, now into a test of Soviet assumed intentions, shows that too much emphasis on the central balance and too little on local circumstances can be, if not globally, at least regionally destabilizing and destructive.
The proliferation of nations, like the impact of nuclear weapons, suggests a fragmentation of the traditional scene. The balance-of-power system assumes that peace is ultimately indivisible-although perhaps not every minute, as pure bipolarity does; more tolerant of minor shifts, it still sees any expansion by a great power as a threat to others. Our analysis suggests a greater divisibility of peace, and the more evanescent character of influence, as long as the central nuclear equilibrium lasts. What will have to be balanced, so to speak, are that equilibrium and the regional balances. Each one of these will have its own features, its own connection with (or perhaps, as in Black Africa today-but for how long?-disconnection from) the central balance. Thus, in the traditional arena, the model of the balance of power provides no real prescription, however wise the idea of balance remains. Five powers are not the answer. What matters is, first and still, the Big Two, in pursuit of universal influence, and in possession of global military means; secondly, if not all of the others, at least many more than China, Western Europe and Japan.
Not only have the conditions of the old game drastically changed, but there are other games as well. The model of interstate competition under the threat of force accounts only for some of what goes on in world politics. Two distinctions which provided its bases are being eroded. One is the distinction between domestic politics and foreign policy. The latter is often the direct expression of domestic forces or the by-product of bureaucratic constellations (some of which involve transnational alliances of services or agencies) or the victim of equally transnational waves or contagions-constructive or destructive-carried by the new media. These waves both prove and promote the erosion of the distinction between public activities of states and private activities of citizens across borders.
In the nineteenth-century balance, the latter provided an underpinning for interstate moderation, but they were not the constant or primary object of states' concerns (whenever they became their concern, the system deteriorated). Today, state policies are often impaired or inspired by transnational forces that range from corporations to scientists. Partly because of the importance of economic and scientific factors in a world driven by the quest for material progress, partly because of the relative decline of the traditional arena due to nuclear weapons, transnational relations raise increasingly important issues for states, and provide many new chessboards on which states pursue their interests, compete for advantages, yet are not the only actors.[ii]
The model of the balance of power is doubly irrelevant to these new games. First, the logic of behavior is not the same. Although there is a competition of players for influence (as in all politics), and there is no power above them (as in all international politics), the stakes are not those of traditional diplomacy, and there are other restraints than those which on the other chessboard the "state of war" itself creates or destroys. Here, the threat of violence (however muted or diffuse) is of no utility or rationality. In the strategic-diplomatic arena, the central assumption of the contest is that ultimately my gain is your loss. My interest consists of either preventing or eliminating your gain or, should the costs prove too high, of "splitting the difference," or extracting a concession in return for my acceptance of your gain. It is not always a zero-sum game: at times, both sides can increase their power. But the perspective is still that of the final test of strength, which requires a constant calculation of force. Two powers cannot be number one simultaneously. Unless one is a seventeenth-century mercantilist lost in the twentieth, one can see that this is not an appropriate description of rational behavior on most of the economic and technological chessboards. The rules of interdependence, which condition the competition there, are not those of strategic interaction, which structure it here. The logic of the world economy, of world science and technology is, for better (growth and welfare) or worse (population explosion, pollution and depletion) a logic of integration. The logic of traditional international state politics is that of separateness. One may, as the communist states still partly do, refuse to play games of interdependence; but if one plays them, their logic becomes compelling.
Here, quite often, your loss risks becoming mine: there is a worldwide transmission of depression, unemployment or inflation. Even when there is a test of wills-between, say, oil-producing countries and big oil companies- there is a joint incentive, often not merely to compromise but to "upgrade the common interest." A competition in fields where solidarity prevails because of the very nature of the factors in operation consists simply of the manipulation of interdependence. Even on the traditional chessboard, as we have seen, the old rules of strategic-diplomatic warfare are modified by nuclear interdependence, and tests of strength without the ultimate sanction of war become tests of will, at least among the major powers. Why apply the balancing model to new chessboards, when it falters on the old?
Secondly, not only does the balance of power not provide an answer, it addresses itself to the wrong problem. A world in which the autonomy of states is curtailed by transnational trends, drives and forces which operate unevenly, unpredictably and carry political flags and tags, a world whose states' policies reflect internal wants and bargains, is permanently threatened by "statist" reactions against global integration and outside intrusion-precisely because, however sieve-like, the state remains the final unit of decision, and the more like a sieve it becomes, the more it may try to plug the holes. Hence a curse of immoderation and instability, but in an original way.
It is not the use of force which is the daily peril, it is, literally, chaos. It is not war that brings the moment of truth, it is economic or monetary or environmental disaster. It is not the failure of the balance to work and curtail excessive ambitions, or the rigidity of the balance when it splits the world into rival, frozen coalitions, it is anomie. It is not the neglect or deterioration of familiar rules. It is the failure to clarify and to understand the new rules which govern the relations between different chessboards, the transfer of power from one to the other-these have only recently become major arenas of world politics: scholars are in the dark and statesmen experiment in ignorance or by analogy. Also to be feared is the inadequacy or breakdown of those rules, not of balance but of coöperation, that were devised in the past (for instance, the law of the seas), and the absence of rules of coöperation in a variety of disruptive cases in which no state can be successful in isolation-from the environment to short-term capital movements.
To apply irrelevant concepts is dangerous for general and for historical reasons. To proclaim "the primacy of the national interest" gives a free hand to domestic forces damaged or frustrated by the way these chessboards function, and encourages an epidemic of protectionist or aggressive measures. To use the logic of separateness in fields of integration invites disintegration here and discord on the traditional chessboard. Of the five "economic blocs" among which the balancing game is supposed to go on, two- those of our strategic-diplomatic rivals-are not fully integrated into the world economy. To treat Western Europe and Japan as rivals to be contained, just as we count on them to play a growing role in balancing our adversaries on that traditional chessboard, assumes that they will draw on it no consequence from our behavior on the economic chessboards, even while we use on the latter the advantages we have on, and the strong-arm tactics appropriate to, the former. This can only be self-defeating, for while each political function of a state-defense, welfare, economic growth, etc.-has some autonomy and logic, and each corresponding international chessboard has its rules, these functions all connect again at the one level that integrates them all, i.e. a state's foreign policy.
Historically, what requires a new policy is not the passing of the bipolar era but the end of a unipolar one. The rules of trade and finance prescribed at Bretton Woods and by GATT were those the United States wanted; they established a dollar-exchange standard and tended toward a liberal system of trade, which other nations accepted in return for security or aid. The United States tolerated exceptions to these rules in return for immediate military advantages (American bases in Japan) or for expected political benefits (a would-be "Atlanticist" Europe, growing out of the Common Market). It is this system which collapsed with the monetary crisis of 1971 and the acrimonious trade quarrels between the United States and its allies. The problem is to avoid a fragmentation of the world economy, which would breed chaos as surely as, in the strategic-diplomatic arena, fragmentation is likely to contribute to moderation.
A single world system must still be the goal. Of course, in the new monetary order, there should be a modicum of decentralization. A West European monetary union, with its own rules governing the relations of currencies within the EEC, would be a part of such an order; a stronger and more coherent EEC would be better able than its members in the past to bargain with the United States for world rules of commerce, investment and money less geared to American specifications. But this is quite different from a break-up into independent economic blocs with fluctuating relations based on nothing but bargaining strength. The aggressive pursuit by the United States of national interests narrowly defined will inevitably be seen as a naked attempt at retrieving the dominating position we lost.
The United States, which is the lynchpin of the noncommunist world's transnational system, risks playing Samson in the temple. The flexibility which the world economy needs is not that of shifting alignments and reversible alliances. Even in cases where the United States has legitimate grievances, the solutions cannot be found in the functional equivalent of the strategic-diplomatic game of chicken: reprisals and protectionist threats. Given the stakes, the building of a moderate international system and the goal of a "world community" (utopian on the other chessboard) will have to be made increasingly close. Moderation is a negative goal: organizing the coexistence of hugely different players. It has, in the past, been compatible with a variety of woes-wars, assaults on the quality of life, arms races, internal massacres, a vast amount of domestic and internal inequality.
But it is difficult to conceive of a future international system remaining moderate if there is so much inequality between its members and turmoil in some of them as to incite permanent fishing in troubled waters, or recurrent violent exports of discontent. While, especially in the traditional arena, sovereignty would continue to manifest itself through unilateral moves or concerted diplomacy (although rather more for restraint than for self-assertion), there is a growing need for pooled sovereignty, shared powers and effective international institutions in all the new realms. Of course, a precondition is the maintenance of the central political-military balance. But American policy has tended in the past, and tends more than ever, to concentrate far too much of its energy on the precondition. There are two kinds of essential tasks: those which, if neglected or bungled, could lead to the ultimate disaster; those which the very success in postponing the "moment of truth," and the realities of a materially interdependent planet push onto the daily agenda. In a world full of active self-fulfilling memories-states which behave as if, despite nuclear weapons and the increasing costs of conquest, military might were still the yardstick of achievements, and by behaving in this way keep the past present-there ought to be equally active self-fulfilling prophecies: states moving on the conviction, so frequently asserted in words only, that on the seas of interdependence we are all in the same boat, and should worry more about common benefits than about national gains.
Community-building raises formidable questions of its own. Should it be primarily the duty of the developed nations, as some advocate paternalistically? Can an international system as diverse as this one function effectively without the active participation of all its members, even if one grants both the wisdom of "decoupling" the great powers' contest from the internal tribulations of the developing countries, and the risks of paralysis, corruption, or waste present in more "democratic" world institutions? Can community-building proceed in such a way as not to seem a neocolonial device through which the rich and strong perpetuate their hold on the poor? Is it compatible with economic spheres of influence? If such questions are recognized as imperative, then an economically and financially more cohesive Western Europe and a dynamic Japan would appear, not as "poles" to be contained or pushed back when they become too strong, but as contributors.
Yesterday's dialectic was that of a central balance between a handful of powers and imperialism, which pushed back the limits of the diplomatic world. Tomorrow's dialectic will have to be that of a complex balance, both global and regional, allowing for a fragmentation of the strategic- diplomatic contest under the nuclear stalemate, and an emergent community in which competition will, of course, persist, but where mankind ought, perhaps, slowly to learn to substitute games against (or with) nature for the games between what Erik Erikson has called "pseudospecies."
Faced with a world of unprecedented complexity, it is normal that U.S. policy-makers should seek a familiar thread. But they display a basic ambivalence. They aspire to a world in which the United States could share with others the burdens of being a great power. But they understand that self-restraint would be safe only if the game were played according to rules advantageous to us, and they realize that our favorite models and concepts may not at all be those of our would-be partners. And so they fall back on another conceptual habit, derived from the more recent past: that of explaining that we must still be the leaders and teachers of others, even if the goal is now defined as the balance, and the lesson called collective moderation. Between the desire for national self-restraint, and the ambition of shaping a system in which our influence endures, there is a tug of war.
If we define, as the President does in his moments of exuberance or in his fighting moods provoked by Vietnam, our main goal as the preservation of as much influence as possible, even limited disengagement will be hard to pursue. For it increases the chance that one or the other of our main rivals will move into the void, especially in those parts of the world where our clients are weak and have depended on our military presence or on huge injections of aid. Our extrication from Vietnam has been slowed down by this fear of a loss of influence, magnified by the belief that a victory for Hanoi would encourage anti-American forces everywhere: as if we were still in the mythical world of bipolar battle to the death. Should voids be filled by one of the new centers whose emergence we call for and should these decide to play their own game, we could find ourselves as deprived of influence as if we had been evicted by our rivals (against whom it would be more easy for us to react).
Our very concern for better relations with our chief rivals argues against disengagement in Europe and East Asia: for they may well prefer a U.S. presence in their respective neighborhoods (and the strains it creates in Washington and with our allies), to the might or magnetism of their immediate neighbors. At home, within or outside the Executive, many fear that any further disengagement would open the floodgates to "neo- isolationists" or protectionists. Influence remains an incentive for worldwide commitment, a goad to presidential rhetoric about indivisible peace and domino-shaped credibility. In Western Europe, it argues for having the Europeans contribute to the costs of American troops, rather than for a West European defense organization. This "burden-sharing" formula pleases the Treasury, reassures the military and seems a better way of deflecting Senator Mansfield.
If, on the contrary, we define our goal as devolution-the building of new centers of power in Western Europe and Japan-we are faced with a triple problem. One is their own long habit of dependence, their concentration on their internal problems or economic growth, which have insulated them from world responsibilities. De Gaulle's failure to create his "European Europe" resulted even more from the resistance of his neighbors to his global concerns than from their dislike of his style. Since last July, we have often appeared to kick our allies into rebellion deliberately. But that method of injecting pride conflicts with our ambition of having these new centers tied to us, playing our kind of game. Up to now, Western Europe and Japan have been far more eager to develop their power where it annoys or hurts us-in the trade and monetary fields-than in the military realm.
Secondly, our policy of détente encourages the West Europeans (some of whom preceded us) and the Japanese (who didn't dare) to seek their own entente with their communist neighbors; the goal of reconciliation interferes with that of a more dynamic diplomatic-strategic entity. The result, so far, is a postponement of the defense issue.
A third obstacle is the hostility of many of our smaller allies to a reduction of American power. South Korea, the Philippines or Taiwan clearly prefer our economic and military presence to Japan's-a distant protector is better than a close one. Even within the Europe of the Ten, some of the smaller powers may like America's military presence better than a European defense community dominated by the Bonn-London-Paris triangle. All three factors lead, incidentally, to one conclusion: if devolution is our goal, and especially if we want it safe, with partners rather than disaffected ex- allies, its forms and timetable should be negotiated between us and them, not between us and our chief rivals, as, in Western Europe, the linkage between the issue of American troops and mutual and balanced force reductions dangerously leads to, and as, in Asia, the moment and manner of Mr. Nixon's China trip inevitably suggest.
In our ambivalence, we have attempted to get the best of all possible worlds. On the traditional chessboard of world politics, this attempt has been given a name: the Nixon Doctrine. To preserve our influence, we maintain our commitments. But we expect our allies to do more for their own defense, and to count primarily on themselves if their fight is against subversion. A limited recipe for devolution and self-restraint, it raises two questions. One, will our allies continue to accept our definition of their job, i.e. will they play, in the new game, the role we assign to them? Our reinterpretation of our commitments provides them with a choice. They may read our doctrine not as a redistribution of strength but as a retreat from the contest, feel quite unqualified to take up the assignment, and define their national interest in a more neutralist direction.
Two, granted that they'll need tools for the job, will it be our tools-as in Vietnamization-or theirs? Will we, for instance, encourage them to develop their own defense industries? We have been most reluctant to do so. Our balance-of-payments problem has been one of the reasons for not encouraging too much local competition for our arms producers. So has our belief that we could have better control if we were the providers. This may be quite wrong. For dependence on a nation whose policy is not always clear, and whose supply of the tools may fluctuate according to domestic whims or sudden external shifts, creates the kind of insecurity that may breed accommodation with our chief rivals instead of "balance."
On the chessboards of interdependence, we have devalued the dollar, and the President's State of the World message speaks of the need for a new international monetary system that will "remove the disproportionate burden of responsibility for the system from this country's shoulders." However, our current policies seem aimed at preserving or increasing our advantages, as if to compensate for limited disinvolvement elsewhere. We have not taken steps to restore even partial convertibility. The world is still submitted to a dollar standard, and it is not clear that we are willing to subject the dollar to the constraints imposed on ordinary currencies. We seek a commercial surplus that would allow us to develop our exports of capital as well as goods. Allusions to the link between our role as providers of security, our demands for trade concessions, and the dollar's dominant position (which serves our investments abroad) reveal the depth of our ambivalence about the emergence of other power blocs. Should we succeed, because of Japan's and West Germany's continuing need for American protection, or because of the penetration of the British economy by the United States, we would actually make it more difficult to extend the Nixon Doctrine to Western Europe and Japan. Japan, utterly dependent on exports to advanced countries, would face a crisis; Western Europe, whose integration barely begins to expand from trade and agriculture to currencies, would in effect become just a free trade area, and cease to be an entity.
Should they resist our attempt to get the best of all possible worlds, we might actually get the worst. American tactics could consolidate the EEC. A separate West European trade and monetary bloc could challenge the United States and destroy the chances of a single orderly world system for currencies and trade. But at the same time, the emergence of any West European diplomatic-strategic entity may be prevented by continuing divisions among EEC countries, the hostility of their public opinion to military and world responsibility, the desire of most leaders for a détente, and perhaps, if confidence in the United States declines, for some accommodation with Russia in anticipation of American force withdrawals. The United States would only have the choice between a military presence made even more unpopular at home by the EEC's economic separatism, and a disengagement that would spell a major loss of influence.
Japan has greater freedom of maneuver than Europe. She is under no threat of subjugation, however diffuse, and is part of a four-power game. American shock tactics and humiliation could breed two equally bad alternatives. One would be a rapprochement with China but in an anti-American context (by contrast with Brandt's Ostpolitik). Japan would move toward neutralism and pay the price China would demand for reconciliation. However, this price would be high in security terms, and the switch would not provide an answer to Japan's commercial needs. The other possibility is a gradual rapprochement with Russia, and an increasing militarization-conventional or nuclear-due to the fear of Chinese hostility and to a declining faith in the credibility of America's guarantee. Such a policy might help "contain" China, but in a highly unstable way, to Russia's benefit, and, again, with a considerable loss of influence for the United States.
The worst is never sure. But to avoid it, we must face two problems: of tactics and of goals. Tactics are particularly important in periods of transition from one system and policy to the next There are two kinds of pitfalls. Sometimes one lets the past linger on too long, as in Vietnam. Vietnamization, aimed at facilitating military retreat, has also made the necessary political concessions more difficult. The stated fear of a disastrous impact of such concessions on America's other Asian allies sounds a bit hollow, given the shock to them of the way in which we undertook our rapprochement with Peking. The other pitfall consists of acting as if a desired future were already here in order to produce it. We have, especially in Asia, moved as if the era of horizontal great-power diplomacy had arrived; and our weaker allies are disconcerted. We have, both in Europe and in Asia, behaved as if our principal allies were already part friends, part rivals; and they are resentful.
Never have consultation, clarity, candor and coördination (as distinct from mere ex post facto information) been more important. Henry Kissinger, ten years ago, complained that the Kennedy administration, in its overtures to Russia, failed to consult and to reassure the West Germans sufficiently. The same could now be said about the China visits and the Japanese. To be sure, the present policy aims at having the three major competing powers establish together (or rather, at having each communist power establish with the United States) the framework within which all others would have to operate. We are trying to teach our allies to swim in the proper lanes-this may be a reaction against their past tendency to leave most of the swimming to us. But they may sink, or refuse to swim at all, or insist on choosing their own lanes.
Is this merely a contradiction between high-handed "great-power tactics" (partially explained by our concentrated policy process) and the goal of a less exposed role in world affairs? Does it not rather reflect our hope to preserve our past eminence, although at bargain prices? Does it not show that our brave talk about "breakthroughs" conceals far more continuity than change? What we seem to want bears a strong resemblance to Bismarck's system. We desire, at the same time, improved relations with the Soviet Union and with China, the continuation (in perhaps modified form) of our alliances with Western Europe and Japan, an improvement of our economic position as compared with that of our main allies-competitors. Bismarck was able to have tolerable relations with France, and defensive alliances with Austria, Russia and Italy. But the purpose of his alliances was limited to preventing France from building a coalition for revanche against Germany. They did not impose on Berlin the burden of protecting its allies against French aggression. They existed in a world of relative equality among the main powers, and considerable disconnection between Grosspolitik and the economic chessboards. They occurred in a century of secret diplomacy, when alliances were known to be passing affairs, and their terms could be kept in the dark without creating panics. Moreover, even Germany soon had to choose between the Russian and the Austrian connections-a choice that marked the end of the grand Bismarckian attempt at being both master and part of the balance.
Our current equivalent amounts not to a multipolar system, but to a tripolar one, with a comparably decisive but actually far heavier role for the United States. It is the United States which, in effect, protects the weakest of the three (China) from a Soviet strike; it is the United States which tries to hold the balance between Russia and China; it is the United States which attempts to contain each of these with the help of two subordinate alliances; it is the United States that guarantees its chief allies' security; it is the United States which tries to retain preponderance in the arena of interdependence. Such a vast design may be wishful thinking. Having proclaimed the primacy of the "free world" interest for 25 years, the United States can hardly make its new emphasis on the national interest the sole criterion of policy, and its way of using the power it enjoys on some chessboards in order to preserve or gain influence on others appear compatible with lasting alliances.
Our policy actually entails far less self-restraint than it promises and much less multipolarity than it pretends. World moderation will have to be pursued through other means. Neither in the strategic-diplomatic realm nor in all the others does a "pentagonal" world make sense: there are no likely or desirable five centers of comparable power in the former; and while there may well be in the latter, the issues and needs there have little to do with a balancing of poles. As for self-restraint, given the nature of our chief rivals, the responsibilities of nuclear might and the constraining need of a nuclear umbrella over Western Europe and Japan, there will be serious limits to its scope in the traditional arena. But our tactics of influence and instruments of policy are not doomed to remain as blunt and massive as in the past. Our goal should certainly be to build up autonomous strength in the main areas of the great-power contest.
But this does not mean worrying only about the "Big Five," nor does it necessarily mean a militarization of Western Europe and Japan. Western Europe's future offers possibilities of a conventional defense organization, which it is in our interest to encourage even by reorganizing NATO's structure. Soviet opposition could hardly be effective if these moves were linked to gradual American withdrawals in a context of increasing East-West exchanges. The failure of such an organization to emerge and to grow could breed a transatlantic conflict about American troops in Europe. But even if these should leave, and if West European military coöperation remained imperfect, economic prosperity and political self-confidence would be the keys to West European strength.
In East Asia, we have nothing to gain by encouraging Japanese rearmament, conventional or nuclear, which could revive fears of Japanese domination. But the only chance of preventing it may be to provide Japan with real productivity for the power she has-economic power. Elsewhere as well, strength need not be defined too strictly in military terms, however important military might remains as an insurance against trouble. But when no autonomous strength can be found, we should disconnect ourselves entirely-as we should have done from Vietnam or Yahya Khan's Pakistan; then, our rivals' increase in influence has a greater chance of being fleeting. In all the other arenas of world politics, self-restraint may well be a necessity, and would assuredly be a virtue. Here, we must accept, rather than resent, the shift of power that has benefited our allies, and find ways of building a community against anarchy. But here as in the traditional sphere, self-restraint, contrary to the hopes of some, will consist of a variety of involvements, not a promise of disentanglement.
Above all, let us not confuse a set of worthy goals-the establishment of a moderate international system, new relations with our adversaries, the adjustment of our alliances to the new conditions of diplomacy and economics-with a technique-a balance of five powers-that turns out to correspond neither to the world's complex needs nor to our own ambivalent desires. A "structure of peace" cannot be brought about by restoring a bygone world. Rediscovering the "habits of moderation and compromise" requires a huge effort of imagination and innovation.
[i] See Foreign Policy, No. 7, Summer 1972.
[ii] See Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Jr. (eds.), "Transnational Relations and World Politics," International Organization, vol. XXV, no. 3, Summer 1971.