The combined landmass of Europe and Asia has heretofore rarely been perceived as a direct threat to the United States and other Western maritime powers, primarily because Eurasia was divided against itself.
It is true that Eurasia is home to the world’s largest population, some of the most important natural resources, large swaths of arable land, and vast amounts of potable water, but the region has historically been home to extreme sectarian rivalry and regional division.
The Eurasian paradigm is now changing before our eyes. And this change, contrary to what many “graybeards” in Washington’s insulated foreign-policy establishment believe, is a direct threat to the United States.
Warning an audience at the Royal Geographical Society in London in 1904, famed British geo-strategist Sir Halford Mackinder spoke of the danger of allowing a united coalition of Eurasian powers to rise to power and dominate the continent.
According to Sir Halford, the world was divided into two groups of powers, the democratic, maritime powers of the West and the autocratic, continental powers of Eurasia. Mackinder assessed that the rise of railways risked shifting the balance of power away from the maritime powers, such as the former British Empire or the United States, and toward the rising industrial, land powers of Germany and Russia.
Sir Halford feared that the autocratic land powers would have significant advantages in penetrating and exploiting the Eurasian heartland given their access via railways, thereby barring access to these important regions to the maritime powers, such as Britain or, in today’s formulation, the United States.
Ultimately, some of Mackinder’s concerns were ameliorated by the destruction of Germany in the two World Wars. Eventually, the Soviet threat, too, evaporated at the end of the Cold War. The Western, democratic, maritime powers had won. But that victory was not final.
Today, autocratic powers indigenous to Eurasia are rising yet again to challenge the dominance of the maritime Western powers. This time, the challenge may be more successful for the Eurasian autocracies against the maritime democracies than it was in the previous century.
Already, Moscow and Beijing have formed an alliance that grows in strategic importance to the leaders of both nations every day. Meanwhile, Iran has signed a significant 25-year development deal with China – on top of already serving as a Russian cat’s paw in the Greater Middle East. As my Asia Times colleague M K Bhadrakumar recently asserted, the “West Asian region is all about geopolitics – starting from oil and jihad to the petrodollar.”
Of course, this notion should be applied to the entirety of Eurasia. In the West, we often talk about “shared values.” In Eurasia, however, it’s less important. The cultures and nations that comprise the “World-Island” are dominated by classical power politics.
These nations may not share much more than an affinity for autocracy in general. They routinely make war upon and compete with one another for primacy. Yet when their interests align – or when they face a shared threat – these Eurasian states can form a potent check on American power.
The fear of a united Eurasia stems from the fact that its sheer size, population, and natural resources would allow any power or group of Eurasian powers that began coordinating with one another to challenge the United States directly – possibly even to trigger a fundamental shift in world power away from the Western maritime powers and toward the autocracies of Eurasia.
After all, China has become the world’s second-largest economy. It will soon be the largest economy. While not an economic power, Russia is a military juggernaut. Iran’s vast energy resources have been added into this mix.
Meanwhile, Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is looking to join this new Eurasian consortium – as is nuclear-armed (and purported American ally) Pakistan. Africa is slowly being absorbed into China’s new empire, while the Arctic is being taken by Russia.
Taken together, these actors are serious threats to American power.
As this occurs, the United States appears to be in retreat. President Joe Biden’s administration is abandoning its Saudi Arabian allies and appears poised to hand the Mideast to Iran. Washington is poking the Russians over Ukraine, while doing little to reinforce its European interests (and most European NATO members are completely indifferent to these matters).
In the Indo-Pacific region, President Biden has rightly identified the need to build a coalition based on containing China’s rise. Yet China’s threat is so much more than a military one. It is a cultural and economic challenge.
Sadly, America’s response on all fronts is one-dimensional (and ineffective).
Let’s face it, the US is no longer as culturally appealing or economically attractive as it once was. To the rest of the world, we Americans look to be having an ongoing, national nervous breakdown.
Biden has correctly assessed the need to reinvigorate America’s domestic infrastructure and to strengthen America’s democracy at home, to make it more appealing abroad. But, as David P Goldman has surmised, the Biden infrastructure plan is more of a sop for Democratic Party special interests than it is for actually turning the United States into a 21st-century dynamo.
The US cannot possibly compete under current conditions with a Eurasia that has fallen under the spell of militarily competent, economically vibrant, and culturally appealing Eurasian powers. Unless a total reinvigoration of the United States at the political, cultural, economic, and military level is done, the 21st century will be dominated by a Chinese-led Eurasian order.
Dean Acheson once quipped, “[Americans] are children of freedom. We cannot be safe except in an environment of freedom.” A China-led, Eurasian-dominated world order would be unfree. And the United States would never be safe.
A Eurasian superstate would have the resources, manpower, technological capabilities, and political will to make war upon the American superstate. It is unlikely that the United States could either survive or thrive in such a world.