Ref. :  000040760
Date :  2016-12-21
Language :  English
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The structural geopolitical causes of the decadence of the United States

Evidently, the terrorist acts of September 11 marked, in a sinister and symbolic way, the end of the Post-Cold War; an interval of barely a decade (1989-2001) between the prolonged Cold War (1947-1990) and a new international structure that is being deployed in a complex and contradictory way. It is fifteen years since the events of September 11 and the geopolitical shifts are notable. We shall attempt to analyze the structural causes of the political decadence of the United States.

Nothing will be as it was, either in the United States or in the international system. In consequence, the conjunction of capacity, will and opportunity in internal and international affaires meant that the United States decided to implement an integral reordering of the world system, a reordering that had, and still has, its first and principal spaces of manifestation in Central Asia and the Middle East.

In both spaces, the geopolitics – the intersection and gravitation of the material and special factors in the design and practice of foreign policy – has returned and acquired relevance in the strategic deployments of the United States.

The most novel geopolitical fact of globalization is that the United States, after the attacks, has become an Asian power. The wars against Afghanistan and Iraq in the Middle East have allowed them an unprecedented geopolitical projection in a part of the world where they were influential (during the Cold War), but never territorially stable. The installation of military bases stretching from the heart of Central Asia to the Horn of Africa and the quest for control of the principal energy sources have given them the role of an Asian power. From the beginnings of the XX century, they had become a hemispheric power; after the Second World War, they became an Atlantic power; with the Cold War they became a Pacific power; with the post-Cold War their influence in Africa grew and now, with their expansion in Asia, Washington maintains the goal of the “imperial dream”.

Nevertheless, this successful snap-shot of the Post-Cold War, that made many analysts presume a global military empire, is today transformed into a multipolar “order” where the United States are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and face failure with the indirect role that they have assigned to the terrorist organization Daesh to divide the Middle East.

These striking geopolitical facts strengthened the Euro-Asian block, where Russia, China, India, Iran, among others, plus the new situation of Turkey, have radically changed the balance of power.

It is very important to analyze the following questions:

What are the geopolitical foundations of US expansion? What is its origin? Is it dynamic thinking in the geostrategic area? How does this impact international security? Which are the dominant spaces?

(US)American geopolitical thinking took shape with the expansion of their internal frontier through the conquest of Mexico, creating, in the mid-XIX century, a bi-oceanic continental State. An internal expansion with a capitalistic dynamic without a feudal past gave rise to the first continental industrial State in history.

Their first external projection was the war against Spain in 1898 and the occupation of the Philippines, followed rapidly by the occupation of Panama (1903), deeds which were openly justified by the dominant geopolitical ideology of Admiral Alfred Mahan, professor of Naval History at West Point [1], who maintained that power was based on the domination of the seas; as well as by Theodore Roosevelt.

Later, after the Cold War and in the context of the confrontation of two models in struggle, the open conflicts that occurred were deliberately geopolitical. The United States had to control the Middle East and its oil. This was the base of the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine and the Carter Doctrine.

This is why the United States supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, and is the reason behind the wars of Korea and Vietnam, to which we should add the ideological reasons in terms of the interest of the US in controlling the Pacific Basin.

During the presidency of George W. Bush – exactly fifteen years ago when the attacks were produced – the strategy of the neoconservatives was sustained by an ideological consistency based on a geopolitical concep of thinking and interpreting the world from military unilateralism.

This is the essence of the Project for the New American Century, or the Wolfowitz Doctrine, which took shape in the strategy of preventive war. This document, in its roots, calls for proactive military intervention of the US in any part of the planet in the face of an enemy qualified as “terrorism”, without precisely identifying it.

Meanwhile, the control of Eurasia has an antecedent, from the beginnings of the XX century, in the ideas of the English geo-politician Sir Halford Mackinder, for whom the State that controlled the world island – Eurasia – would dominate the world, since it spans the greatest quantity of population, resources and industrial power.

Thus it was that the US decided, de facto, at the end of the Second World War in 1945, with Franklin D. Roosevelt in charge, to contain Eurasia from its edges. Only in this way can we explain the formation of NATO, the Marshall Plan and the military alliances with Japan and Taiwan. Over the greater part of the period since the Second World War, the focus was on the East and West extremes of Eurasia: Japan and the Near East.

What is happening now appears to point to a change in geopolitical perception with respect to the bipolar period and the subsequent disappearance of the USSR. The areas of East Asia and Europe are apparently well secured or less important. The new centre of geopolitical competition will be in the South-Centre zone of Asia, including the area of the Persian Gulf (petroleum), the Caspian Sea Basin (gas and petroleum) and the countries of Central Asia.

The US military bases in Europe are being reduced and new ones established in the area of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.

The war against Iraq was launched – on this there is unanimous and public agreement – to provide the United States with a dominant position in the region of the Persian Gulf and to serve as a launching point for future conquests and the affirmation of power in the region. It was directed against China and Russia as well as against Syria and Iran. Obviously, it is too early to reach any definite conclusion. First, Iraq is the beginning of a swamp from which the US cannot escape, costing them ten billion dollars per month and more deaths every day.

Here we come into the Obama doctrine that wants to position itself in Pacific Asia and guard its global frontiers: Middle East – failure and hence the negotiations with Iran, that was the target to be eliminated --, the defeat in Ukraine with the secession of Crimea and the strategic anticipation of Putin and the renewal of the Monroe Doctrine through the expansion of military bases, coups d’états and the attack on integration processes.

It is very important to underline that Obama’s periods in government were much more aggressive on the military plane than those of Bush junior; one has only to recall the thousands of drone flights violating air space in Asia and the active participation in the founding of Daesh.

However, without a doubt, Pacific Asia has now become the central zone of the geostrategic and geoeconomic space of the world system.

In this new decisive zone, counterhegemonic alliances could emerge against the US, that is to say a block formed by China and Russia to block an invasion by the Pentagon. The most serious error would be an invasion of Iran at this time. And it is precisely what has occurred with the Euro-Asian block where Putin plays a central role. It would be incomplete if we did not underline the importance, as a key actor in world politics, of the role of Pope Francis.

How do the new geopolitics of preventive war affect Latin America? Is it true that the question of the Middle East has meant overlooking South America? It is urgent for South America to define a common Defence and Security doctrine that will strengthen us and reposition us in those strategic spaces where the US proclaims a situation of “insecurity” under the denomination of “failed States”, likely to become breeding grounds for “terrorism”, such as the Amazon, the Triple Border, Patagonia or the Andean Region and Venezuela; places where, paradoxically, our wealth in natural assets and biodiversity coincide, such as in Brazil.

The United States has learned from the defeat of the FTAA. It is advancing through a doctrine of insecurity. The coup d’état in Brazil, the weakness of Argentina and the social crisis in Venezuela, all work to leave us with only relative strength.

Our national movements, following the Washington Consensus, in our opinion, have committed some errors that it is urgent to debate.

- Integration goes well beyond trade issues. Without a common historical consciousness, everything remains in the short term. The process of educational integration is still at the starting point; there is no homologation, even of qualifications.

- The presidential summits are limited to speeches. It is necessary to choose ten strategic goals and work on them. This requires a horizon.

- Politics in the end is the battle for the monopoly of common sense, that is, of culture. Every political victory is fleeting without a cultural policy. Only Comandante Chávez dared to create a South American television channel – Telesur. We are a whole that does not know how to add up to a total.

- We must look for the reindustrialization of our material resources by acting in blocks, generating productive chains and a Bank, which was created and never operated; we cannot remain tied to the cyclic or counter-cyclic waves of the world economy. Nor can we generate isolated free trade treaties with Europe or China, which would be much worse than the FTAA.

- The Argentine, the Latin American and the global man is spiritually weak. This was noted by Perón, on his return in 1973, and he ratified this in the Argentine Model for a National Project on the 1st of May 1974; we must therefore all work to strengthen a political power based on ethics. Otherwise, it will not be feasible to strengthen a CONTINENTAL project, if it is from a “Republic” of casinos, public works and drug trafficking, that generates the conditions for an alliance between transnational organized crime and a disorganized white collar crime, of buffets of lawyers, accountants, amateurs, public servants and sectors of politics, justice and business.

South America has ceased to be the back yard of the Cold War, secured by the Doctrine of National Security and is called to play – in the century of continental spaces and of sustainable development – a most important role, because we have a potential and virtual Strategic Income from gas, water, petroleum and food, almost without equal in the global village.

Returning to the world system, the (US)American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, in his last book: “Does capitalism have a future?” affirms that we have reached the point in which the world system has moved very far from equilibrium, it has become chaotic and can no longer survive. The underlying question is, if this is the case, what will replace the system?

The fundamental fact is the definitive decline of US hegemony, which is evidenced by quantitative data.

The key measurement to analyze the future of an economy is the growth of productivity, and in the United States, the fall in productivity is the most severe of the last thirty years: in 2015 it only grew 0,3% and this year 0,2%. From the end of the Cold War until the 1970s, productivity grew at a rhythm of 3% annually, between the 1970s and the 1990s it fell to half, and now it has been wiped out.

The other aspect is the increasing reduction of the industrial working class. This decrease is the result, not only of technological innovations, industrial relocation and the destruction of work places, but also of the increase of mortality, due to suicide, drugs and alcohol.

The industrial work force fell from 17 million to 11 million workers in the past 15 years, something that explains the success of Donald Trump among the most ill-treated of the white working class, since he proposes a more protectionist economy, against immigrants and the free trade agreements.

A similar phenomenon is the triumph of Brexit, thanks to the vote of the most affected English workers.

The displacement of the work forces by technology and robots not only affects the industrial working class, since now advances of computing and information technology affect the middle class and the service sectors.

The other face of the same phenomenon is the enormous jump in social inequality. In the United States, the income of the top one per cent increased by an annual 3,4% since 1973, while the income of the rest grew ten times less. According to data from Harvard University, the concentration of wealth has reduced growth of the United States by 20% over the past four decades (Sputnik. Pronostican el fin del capitalismo. 01.09.2016).

Nevertheless, the facts analyzed above make the United States a wounded lion; and inasmuch as we urgently work on our errors and reassume strategic capacity, we can become actors; otherwise, the old Pan Americanism will overrun us. It depends on us and we must not be tied to a conspiracy theory of history.


(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop),

[1] [Editor’s note]: Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (who was born in West Point, where his father taught) was in fact a professor of Naval History at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. While teaching there, he met Theodore Roosevelt, a lecturer in the same institution.

Miguel Ángel Barrios (Argentina) is a Doctor in Education and in Political Science. He is the author of prominent works on Latin America.

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