Making Sense of Contemporary Geopolitics: Historical Analogies and Present Constructs

June 2019 No Comments

“Making Sense of Contemporary Geopolitics: Historical Analogies and Present Constructs

Speaker: Wyne, A. (RAND)

Date: 20 June 2019

Speaker Session Preview

SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Mr. Ali Wyne (RAND) as a part of its Future of Global Competition & Conflict Speaker Series. Dr. Wyne first stated that neither historical analogies, nor present constructs that try to characterize modern geopolitical situations, help us navigate the muddied waters of modern geopolitics and great power competition. He then discussed two analogies that experts often use: the “1930s redux” and the “new Cold War.” Observers generally cite three concerns when invoking the 1930s: 1) democratic stagnation, 2) the prospect of de-globalization, and 3) the return of great-power competition. In the present day though, democracy and globalization are far more entrenched than they were in the 1930s. Today, there is also a current order to defend. With regards to the Cold War comparison, the US faces a skilled opportunist in a revanchist Russia and a selective revisionist in a resurgent China, according to Mr. Wyne. It does not, however, confront a rival power with ambitions of global dominance, pretensions to a universal ideology, and a willingness to employ territorial aggression, proxy warfare, and client states in the service of its strategic objectives. Especially vis-à-vis China, the Cold War analogy both exaggerates and understates the challenge to the US’s role in the world. Mr. Wyne then posed several questions about great power competition that US decision makers must ask: 1) Who is America’s principal competitor?; 2) What is the US competing for?; and 3) What is the US’s ultimate objective? He added that the US must identify a long-term objective and attendant metrics for gaging its progress towards that end; otherwise, there is a risk of strategic disorientation. He then spoke briefly about the singularity of contemporary geopolitics. To conclude, Mr. Wyne stated that historical analogies have their appeal, but there is “more on the ledger of deficiency” than there is to recommend them.

Speaker Session Audio File

Download Mr. Wyne’s Biography and Slides


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