By Matthew Clark
Modern European diplomacy and great power relations started roughly around the age of the Renaissance. Renaissance means renewal. The renewal in this case was performed mostly by citizens of the 15th, and 16th, century Italian states, who looked to the classical age of Greece, and Rome, as examples on how relations between different international governments should be conducted. Most famous of these individuals was Niccolo Machiavelli, a senior official in the government of the Florentine Republic. Machiavelli nevertheless was just one of many Italian Renaissance figures who initiated the modern western method of diplomacy and great power relations.
Since the 16th century there has been a pattern in western great power relations. When the premier power of the age starts to go into decline, there is another western nation rising to take it's place. Furthermore, when the emerging great power gains ascendency, it makes an effort to stabilize it's predecessor. In other words, the new champion tries to ensure the dethroned nation still has an interest in staying in the ring. Thus when France surpassed Hapsburg Spain in might, French political leaders made sustained efforts to shore up the Iberian peninsula nations dynasty. After Waterloo the British resisted the machinations of Russia, Austria, and Prussia, to emasculate France. Instead Albion's diplomacy was motivated by a view that France would play a key role in European, as well as global, affairs!
This tradition occurred once again during, and after, the First World War, as the United States succeeded Great Britain in becoming the foremost great power around the globe. Assured of their primacy, the Americans under Roosevelt, along with his successors, engaged in a formidable effort to prop up the Island nation. During World War Two United States military forces assisted in Britain's defense, as well as leading the invasion of Western Europe to expel the German occupiers.
In each of these cases the rising nation's administration arrested, at least for a time, the descent, and decay, of their vanquished predecessor. These actions by the new primary power(s) were enacted to secure their authority, allowing them to operate foreign affairs in a more secure atmosphere.
While this (western) method of rise, and fall, has stood the test of time, it, nevertheless prompts a necessary query. What if the new rising nation was so abhorrent to the declining power that their political leaders, and it's citizens, felt compelled to resist any efforts at amity between the two countries? Such a condition might be evolving during contemporary times. To understand how this might have come about it is helpful to give a quick analysis to the current international geopolitical situation.
Accomplished (R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor) American Political Scientist John Mearsheimer has soundly articulated on many public occasions on how there are, at present, three great powers in the world. They are the United States of America, Communist China, followed by the Russian Republic.
Until recently it would have been a foregone conclusion that America was the mightiest nation on earth. It possessed the largest economy on the globe, the world's strongest military, most of the best academic universities on earth, along with cultural dominance (i.e. Hollywood) in the international sphere.
Since the nineteen eighties Communist China has made enormous strides in developing all aspects of the country. Economically the nation has elevated itself from the status of non entity to the world's number 2 economy, soon to be number one, if it is not already. That economy includes the number one manufacturing sector worldwide. While previously possessing a numerically large armed forces, that force was primitive compared to other nations. No longer! With many superb weapons, chief among them Hypersonic missiles, the Chinese are a formidable opponent for anyone. Furthermore Chinese academia, particularly in the area of Engineering, takes a back seat to no one! Finally the Communist Chinese have attempted to counter American soft power influence through the adroit use of trade, and aid, as well as bribery. This last tactic has been successful, especially amongst western nation's personnel in the academic institutions. Many western lawmakers have also shown a proneness for any largesse the Communist government makes available.
Perhaps the most remarkable international story of the early 21st century is the re-emergence of Russia as a great power. Although admittedly not on a par with the United States, or her Communist neighbour, Russia nevertheless has progressed remarkably from the decline she suffered with the fall of the Soviet Union, followed by the debacle of the Boris Yeltsin years. Under the stewardship of Vladimir Putin the nation, blessed with an abundance of natural resources, has established a healthy manufacturing industry. Government finances are in a healthy state, unlike those of her NATO government(s) rivals. Russian universities are producing approximately 450,000 engineers annually, who are globally recognized upon getting their degree. Her military has been revitalized, as evidenced by it's present campaign in Ukraine, an undertaking which very few militaries could, at present, hope to conduct with any chance of success. Her military personnel have performed well in Syria. Technologically Russian Hypersonic weapons perform on a level with China. Finally their is a renewed Spirituality in Russia, with the Orthodox Church, and Christianity, attaining a high degree of value among the country's citizens.
As mentioned earlier until recently the United States was by far the mightiest nation on the planet. Whether it still enjoys that status is open to question! Her economy is mired in public and private debt, with a weak manufacturing realm due to thirty years of being hollowed out through relocation to low wage jurisdictions. Her military, after decades of winning battles yet losing wars, is being ripped apart through government ordained social policy. This malice has also been transferred to University institutions, lobotomizing it's academia. Social policy, initiated at the behest of politicians, has discredited cultural figures (i.e. actors) within large swaths of the country's general public. Whether "Pride" movements, or diversity and inclusion policy are valid, or not, it is a simple statement of fact that they are creating division, and chaos, throughout the country!
While Communist China also has a high level of financial debt, accompanied by an almost catastrophic demographic predicament (created by the longstanding 1 child policy) it has kept social cohesion much better than the United States. This gives it an advantage in strength over America. Nevertheless China is a nation with an extraordinary authoritarian government. Political dissidents are not only imprisoned, evidence provided by institutions such as Amnesty International suggest that many political detainees suffer forced organ removal, which establishes a trade in this practice that enriches the country's elites. Social behaviour is enforced to a high degree through electronic surveillance ( an emerging trend in western nations, nevertheless nowhere near the Communist Chinese levels). Ethnic (Tibetan), and religious (Han Christians, Uighur Moslems) suppression are greater in Communist China than many jurisdictions.
Given this situation it is doubtful that if China continues to ascend relative to the United States, that Americans, be they government members, or people in general, would accept measures from China which levelled their geopolitical, or even domestic, descent. Such measures which were acquiesced by the British, French, Spanish, etc., will be rejected by United States citizens, along with her politicians. Thus the decline into geopolitical irrelevance, and perhaps domestic chaos, avoided by past European cultures, will most probably envelope America(ns). This, in turn, creates a challenge for current western governments. As their great power leader America sets the tone for much of the political, economic, and social, affairs of her allies inhabitants. To continue to follow America could lead to national dysfunction at every meaningful level. No government, or people, worth their salt, would want this to occur. Therefore the lawmakers in western jurisdictions, at least most of them, will at some point look for alternatives to American leadership.
Amidst the gloom, and doom, of this scenario there is a hopeful alternative. Russia, an Eurasian nation rejected by the west, yet still possessing strong western tendencies, could quite realistically emerge as a mightier political entity than any other western country, including America. With her 30 year progression toward greater individual freedom, she has bucked the international trend toward oligarchical authoritarianism. Despite the tremendous enmity displayed by her westerners towards Russia over the last two decades, Russian lawmakers, while defending the fatherlands interests, have repeatedly left the door open for better diplomatic relations. President Putin, while developing a deep distrust of NATO, notably American, political leaders, has insisted nevertheless on the desirability of better relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization adversaries.
Enjoying a more fundamentally sound economy, a strong military, an impressive education system, not to mention a culture with a strong religious streak, Russia could make an enormous contribution to reinforcing a Western Civilization which does not own, at present, any of these attributes. In return for assisting the 'West' Russians would get the support she will eventually require to thwart an expanding Communist China. A Communist China which, it must be pointed out, sits on a large segment of the Russian Fatherlands southeastern, and southern, border!
Russians love irony. It would truly be ironic if the present Russian Republic emerged as the latest Western Great Power to keep the civilization in a state of progression. For citizens in Europe, the Western Hemisphere, along with Oceania, giving the Russians their rightful due might be the only measure we can take to avoid geopolitical irrelevance, and domestic chaos!