Magazine article The American Conservative

Reviving Spheres of Interest: This Foreign-Policy Outlook Can Foster Stability

Magazine article The American Conservative

Reviving Spheres of Interest: This Foreign-Policy Outlook Can Foster Stability

Article excerpt

If the Trump administration moves to create an alliance of all states against violent non-state entities, it will need to find ways to minimize conflicts among states. An old tool could be useful to that end: spheres of influence.

The American foreign-policy establishment pretends to loathe spheres of influence, arguing that they have led to many wars between states, including World War I. In reality, the establishment's call for globalism is a demand for a universal sphere of influence for the United States, one that includes the whole world. America's interests are to dominate everywhere and every other state is to bow down to them, even in its own geographic backyard.

States with real power of their own are not likely to accept that demand. Instead of reducing conflicts among states, America's demand for a universal sphere generates them. Not recognizing the seriousness of the challenge posed to the state system by Fourth Generation War--i.e., war against non-state actors--the establishment is happy to perpetuate conflicts with other states. After all, they justify budgets.

But many people voted for Donald Trump to put an end to all that. For a Trump administration that embraces foreign-policy realism, including a recognition of the limits of American power, agreeing with other Great Powers on respective spheres of influence offers a way to harmonize our interests and theirs.

The key word here is "agree." History does warn us that a failure to agree on spheres of influence can promote rather than minimize international conflict. While hardly the only cause of World War I, the competition between Russia and Austria-Hungary for spheres of influence in the Balkans did contribute to disaster in 1914.

But that competition reflected a different geographic situation than the United States faces today. The Balkans were in both countries' backyards. Our happy geography, blessed with oceans between us and the other two real Great Powers, Russia and China, makes the task of reconciling our interests and theirs a great deal easier.

With Russia, no vital American interests block Washington's recognition of Russia's "near abroad," neighboring countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union, as her sphere of influence. That does not mean Russia would invade and swallow those areas. The military, economic, and political costs of doing so would make that the bear's last meal. Our experience in Iraq showed even small countries, such as the Baltic republics, how to make themselves indigestible. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.