Posts Tagged ‘Long Cycle Theory’


The decline of American and the rise of Chinese hegemony?

September 16, 2014

This chart posted at Business Insider last week shows how the British, American, Russian and Chinese empires have risen and declined over the last 200 years.  It indicates that China is on a steady ascent and will overtake the US in the next few years.


However, if you were to extend this chart back another half century, and to include lines for France and Germany, you would see that France had surpassed Britain before its failed attempt at hegemony that ended with Napoleon’s defeat.  And you would then see that Germany had surpassed both Britain and the US before it’s own hegemonic bid had been finally defeated after two world wars.  So the relative decline of the lead economy does not automatically presage global ascendancy by its replacement.  Indeed, when we examine the hegemonic cycles of the modern era, we see that the victor in hegemonic struggles always has a more open society than the failed challenger, and it is always on the periphery of the World Island, not at the core.

The Six Cycles of the Modern Era copyright EnerGeoPolitics, 2010

The Six Cycles of the Modern Era
copyright EnerGeoPolitics, 2010

Of course, this does not guarantee that the US will continue its hegemony; an outside contender such as India might eventually take up leadership of the world system (nor, of course, does it prove that China is doomed to fail).  What it does indicate is that the final phase of our current cycle is near.

The Four Phases of the Long Cycle . . . We are in the coalitioning phase; macrodecision (previously war but possibly Great Power Collapse) is fast approaching

The Four Phases of the Long Cycle . . . We are in the coalitioning phase; macrodecision (previously war but possibly Great Power Collapse) is fast approaching


Does the US need a Grand Strategy

January 30, 2012

No, it does not, argues Harry Kazianis  at The Diplomat.

Although I agree with Kazianis on some of his points (in particular, on the Obama administration’s mostly deft geostrategic pivoting toward the Indian and Western Pacific oceans), I have to disagree with his conclusion that US security needs are too complex for a grand strategy (and, also, that previous editions of grand strategy were ever as simplistic as the bumper sticker slogans to which he reduces them).

In my opinion, there is no question that the US needs a grand strategy.  I believe that US grand strategy has always been in the service of two American ideals:  Liberty and Prosperity, which mutually reinforce one another.  I also believe that the levels of Liberty and Prosperity which the US has enjoyed for the past 2 centuries are a direct result of the cyclical 500 year old, Western dominated World Economic System.  That system requires a powerful leader (hegemon) in order to maintain its stability.  For most of the past five centuries, those hegemons have been (in succession) the Dutch, the British and the Americans.  Each, in turn, has maintained internally the wold’s most open political and economic systems as well as the world’s predominant naval power.    And, each has been challenged by large, powerful land-based powers that presented relatively more closed political and economic orders.  In order for the World System to keep operating – to keep providing Prosperity and protecting Liberty – the US must either remain hegemon or work to enable a similarly open successor.    I do not see a successor on the near horizon (although I do believe that India can assume that role in the future), so the US must commit to maintaining global hegemony in the face of the challenge presented by China.

That, in my opinion, should be the foundation of US grand strategy.  To “put it on a post it note,” as Kazianis dismissively requests, it is this:  Recognize and maintain the existence and the essential qualities  of the World System.  Everything in support of that are just questions of operations and tactics.


America’s decline, China’s rise: inevitable? think again

January 16, 2012

Writing at The Diplomat, Zhang Yunling assures us that China’s rise to dominance is inevitable.  The Western economies are too weak and unstable and China’s too strong for the tide to turn, Zhang believes.  Indeed, he insists that the world should welcome an era of Chinese world leadership.   He presses his case with examples of Chinese beneficence, counterpointed by examples of US meddling or intransigence.  China would not repeat the errors or the arrogance of the Americans, he implies.

The theme of American decline and the coming Age of China is widely accepted.  Even long time Cold Warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski is contemplating the end of American supremacy and concludes only that China cannot afford for it to occur too quickly.

I have to disagree.  The last 5 cycles of the World System have seen various challengers for global leadership (hegemony is the term within the discourse).

copyright EnerGeoPolitics, 2010

While the players have changed, the basic structure has not:  It has always been a contest between economic/political systems that are relatively more open on the winning side and relatively more closed on the losing side.   The closed society always looks to have tremendous advantages – Imperial Spain, Napoleonic France, Industrial Germany.  Indeed, both the French and German economies had grown to surpass in size that of Great Britain, the other contestant, just prior to the ultimate struggles between the nations.  Still, it has always been the more open system that has consistently carried the day and dominated the following era.

The Chinese Model certainly presents a formidable challenge to the open system of the maritime democracies, and geopolitics does not have iron clad laws that deem what has happened in the past will always happen in the future.  However, if the US and its allies focus on the strengths of their system and make the decision to be more open, more entrepreneurial and more innovative, then the Chinese wave will crest and recede.


US to fill vacant India ambassadorship

January 11, 2012

The position of US ambassador to India has been vacant for over half a year.  President Obama nominated career diplomat Nancy Powell for the position last month, and she awaits Senate confirmation before she can take her seat.    I wrote late last year that I thought Obama would be able to make a strong case for re-election based on foreign policy successes.  However, the apparent disinterest in India is a definite weakness in that foreign policy portfolio.  Other than a 2010 visit long on atmospherics but short on substance, the Obama administration has allowed relations with India to wither.  Regular readers of this blog know that I consider India to be not only a critical geostrategic ally for the US, but also a very possible successor state to the US as the leader of the 500 year old maritime-based world system, the theory of which this entire blog is built upon.  Powell has a long history of experience in India and South Asia and is a strong choice for this crucial post.  This is one post that should be exempt from the political gamesmanship of filibusters and recess appointments that currently defines relations between the Senate and the Presidency.


Chinese Energy Geopolitics

January 11, 2012

Alexandros Petersen, writing at Foreign Policy, examines China’s drive to secure energy supplies from Central Asia.   In many ways, China is in the same geopolitical pickle that the Germans found themselves before World Wars I and II:  They lack the natural resources that their growing industrial sector requires, but they are geographically constrained by the Russian giant on the land side and by the overwhelming naval power of America and her allies on the maritime side (Britain and her allies in Germany’s case).  As with Germany before, the vast spaces and resources of the Eurasian Heartland are issuing a siren call.  There, they cannot help but bump up against long time Russian interests and influence.  The single most important geostrategic goal for the West in general and for the US in particular is to prevent a strong alliance between China and Russia (as it was to prevent a permanent linkage between Germany and Russia in the last century).


US searching for new Strategic Ellipse approach

October 31, 2011

The long time American military commitment to the Persian Gulf region will not end when US forces leave Iraq at the end of 2011.  There is already word that the Pentagon and Obama Administration are preparing to beef up the American military presence in the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.  This is almost farcical.  One of the major issues put forth by Osama bin Laden in his original fatwa against the US was the presence of “infidel” military forces in Saudi Arabia, home of Islams two most holy cities.  One of the great benefits of the Iraq war was that, by removing Saddam Hussein’s perpetual threat to the Gulf oil fields, it allowed the US to remove its forces from Saudi Arabia, and in so doing to remove a driving force for jihad against America.  Now, due to what seems like blind disregard, the US will be forced to redeploy military forces to the Land of the Two Mosques.  What was one of the few clear benefits of the Iraq War is being tossed away.  This just sets us up for another generation of radicals with a clear grievance against the US to emerge . . . we are right back where we started.

In the other theater of the rapidly ending War on Terror, the State Department has launched the “New Silk Road” initiative to fill the gap as the US military mission to Afghanistan winds down.  On paper, this seems like a good idea, but Americans have had a number of good ideas on paper.  The Bug Pit points out that most people in the region believe this effort will prove to be “unfeasible . . . and so not worth worrying too much about.”  And, if it does turn out to be feasible, it does not appear from published statements that State has not game planned for what would be a robust Russian response.

I think a New Silk Road is a promising strategy, but it has to have real support.  It would help if there was a general foreign policy consensus in the US that bridged various administrations, as containment of the Soviet Union did for so long.  I humbly submit that an awareness of Long Cycle Theory in general and EnerGeoPolitcs in particular might go a long way toward creating that consensus.  We are nearing the endpoint of the current phase, probably within 20-30 years, and the coalitioning ahead of that macrodecision is occurring now, whether we actively acknowledge it or not.


Relations strained between Turkey and Iran

October 29, 2011

Eurasia Review details the numerous recent Turkish actions that have strained what was a once blossoming relationship between Turkey and Iran.   In reality, the Turks and Persians have been rivals for regional influence for centuries, so it was always unlikely that the newfound friendship would last, but it has unraveled quickly.  Some of the issues that Iran has with Turkey are:

  • Turkish support for the opponents to the Iranian client regime in Syria
  • Turkish coordination with the US on Syrian policy
  • Turkish support for democracy and secular governments in Muslim states
  • Turkish drive for influence in post-American Iraq
  • and the biggest one of all, Turkey agreeing to host a US anti-missile radar, which could neuter Iran’s great power ambitions

Iran has a small circle of friends, and among them, Turkey is very important because of growing economic ties between the two nations.  Turkey holds the upper hand in this relationship, and it will be interesting to watch this relationship develop.

Long time readers will notice that I tend to write a lot about Turkey.  This is because of this blog’s focus on Long Cycle Theory in general and on the current coalitioning phase of LTC.  It is our belief that Turkey is a bell weather nation that will determine the path of that cycle.