Review: World Out of Balance–International Relations and the Challenge of American Primacy

4 Star, Country/Regional, Diplomacy, Economics, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Military & Pentagon Power, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Security (Including Immigration), United Nations & NGOs
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4.0 out of 5 stars Erudite, Itself Out of Balance, Secoond Tier Reading

January 8, 2010

Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth

This is one of three books I bought to reflect on the same generic topic, the other two are Power & Responsibility: Building International Order in an Era of Transnational Threat and To Lead the World: American Strategy after the Bush Doctrine, which I will read and review this week-end.

It is a substantive contribution, important, but second tier in terms of clarity and utlity and comprehensiveness.

The authors do a fine job of setting the stage for why this book matters in relation to policy, putting forth three overarching questions worth quoting:

1. Can the United States sustain an expansive range of security commitments around the globe?

2. Is the United States well positioned to reshape the international system to better advance its security interests?

3. What are the general costs of unilateralism?

I have mixed feelings about this book for three reasons:

1. It is erudite in the extreme, and I love the footnotes (much better than endnotes for a work of this attempted importance), but it does not really illuminate as much as it convolutes–no doubt my own professional inadequacies contribute, but I would never impose this book on my students.

2. It is a blast from the past era of Kissinger-Brzezinski “states ubber alles” and for all of its talk about counter-balance and counter-threat this book is not really in touch with the non-state world–the rising populism, the transnational issue networks, the High Cabal bankers behind the scenes, and of course Earth herself, perhaps now tired of humans and their ignorance. This book is an echo chamber for a very small audience.

3. It perpetuates the “security ubber alles” didactic conversation popular in policy wonk circles. Security is not about guns–security is about achieving a prosperous world at peace with non-zero (win-win) for everyone that elevates diversity and leverages the one inexhaustible resource we have: the human brain. See for instance: Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny and Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace.

Here are a few of my notes:

+ State power poles went from four to two to one

+ Focus on military and economic power (the latter only in relation to the one billion rich, ignoring The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Revised and Updated 5th Anniversary Edition: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits) while not really focusing on demographic, cultural, and other forms of human-centered power.

+ China, Turkey, and Iran do not get the emphasis in this book that I believe they merit.

+ Venezuela and the Union of South American Countries (UNASUR) are not in this book

+ Classic emerging counter-balance of IEDs versus drones is not in this book

+ Zbigniew Brzezinski is again confirmed as the one person who ramped up the Cold War under Carter, something he is repeating behind the scenes for patsy Obama, only Brzezinski really believes he can push China out of Africa.

+ Best aspect of the book is the literature review–this could be a first chapter in a doctoral thesis, but it is not the thesis itself.

+ The authors and the book are isolated from reality such as how we got into Iraq (treason and impeachable offenses, 935 lies to the public, Congress, and the UN), and there is no provision in this book for institutionalized idiocy or naked amorality–the theory in this book is immaculately conceived.

+ Although there are references toward the end to poverty and disease, the ten high level threats to humanity identified by the Un High Level Panel in their report A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change are not in this book.

+ The economics in this book focus on direct investment, I could not find mention of sovereign wealth funds but also found the index to be lacking. I may have missed isolated references.

+ Useful focus on supply chain vulnerability.

This book helped me better understand the academic cabal that is starting to call for both the possibility and the desireability of unilateral US action to improve the absolutely known to be deficient international mechanisms for achieving global security and prosperity, but there is no real strategy in this book and no direct connection between this book and the US actually being able to be unilateral in an intelligent effective manner.

The final chapter (seven), entitled a New Agenda, concludes that legitimacy is desireable but not essential; that powers such as the USA have differing reputations (e.g. good with NATO, bad with the UN, on paying dues), and that scholars have systematically under-stated or not understood the potential for achieving international systemic gains through unilateralist assertion. I agree–but the gorilla has to have a brain and heart, and that the USA does not have today and has not had since the Marshall Plan.

I put the book down in agreement with the authors: the USA can and should do more, because if we do not become a Smart Nation and help Brazil, China, India, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Wild Cards such as the Congo, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey, we–and the Earth as a vehicle for humanity–are toast.

See also:
The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century
Modern Strategy
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People

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