Colin Flint is a Distinguished Professor of Political Geography in the Department of Political Science at Utah State University.
He has published research in leading international journals on the topics of geopolitics, war and peace, world-systems analysis, and just war theory.
His current focus is upon the interaction of economic and political processes in great power transitions.
As an appetizer, a key observation in “Geopolitics of US Hegemonic Decline and China’s Increased Influence”:
Though the ability of the US to project its superior military power across the globe continues, with some exceptions, the willingness is no longer there.
Dr Leonhardt van Efferink founded ExploringGeopolitics in 2009. Since then, the website has published over 200 contributions by more than 130 scholars. To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, ExploringGeopolitics has invited its contributors to reflect on geopolitical trends in the 21st century. Two questions play a central role. What was the main trend in the 2010s? And what will be the most important trend in the 2020s?
Geopolitics must be thought of as a set processes rather than events. Hence, the start of a year or a decade is an arbitrary, though useful, moment in ongoing geopolitical change. Though there are many issues to reflect on, the prompt was to focus on a singular trend. I have chosen the process of US hegemonic decline and the question of what sort of geopolitical landscape awaits.
Geopolitics must be thought of as a set processes rather than events.
Structural models of hegemony or world leadership created expectations of the relative decline in US power. I did not expect such decline to be so rapid and self-inflicted. The year 2019 saw a continuation of the trend catalyzed by President Trump of the decline of US influence in the world, and increased concern amongst long-standing allies about its commitments.
One result is that the logic of NATO no longer pertains. There is no confidence that the US would respond to a conflict in, say, the Baltic. And the geopolitical orientation of Turkey is increasingly at odds with the rest of the alliance. NATO as a mechanism for US trans-Atlantic power projection, rather than a collective security agreement that benefits all members, is more clearly revealed at the same time that the President of the US seems uncommitted to the post-war interventionist consensus of the US foreign policy establishment.
The geopolitical orientation of Turkey is increasingly at odds with the rest of the NATO alliance.
Though the ability of the US to project its superior military power across the globe continues, with some exceptions, the willingness is no longer there. One of these exceptions is evident in the Western pacific where China’s Mahanesque trend of converting a river and coastal based navy into a blue water navy is ongoing. The Pentagon concept of “area-denial” is becoming a starker reality for the US military, especially the navy, that has since 1945 assumed the ability and “right” to project its power across all oceans.
President Trump’s creation of a “Space Force” is one counter-trend in which the US recognizes competition in a new geopolitical arena and the need for a capacity to act within it. But for other geopolitical arenas, terrestrial ones, 2020 is likely to see a decline in the US capacity and willingness to project power. This is a major change that challenges geopolitical axioms established through World War Two.
2020 is likely to see a decline in the US capacity and willingness to project power.
Of course, there are other geopolitical actors involved in this process of US hegemonic decline. Notably, the rise of China’s economic, political, military, and cultural power is the trend to watch as we enter 2020. The simultaneously nebulous and concrete Belt and Road Initiative is changing the geopolitical landscape as countries across the globe, ranging from the United Kingdom to Ethiopia, look to China for economic cooperation. The military and security impact of China’s growing economic influence is unclear and it is hard to separate geopolitical representations from reality; but whether intended or not China’s military presence across the globe will increase.
The simultaneously nebulous and concrete Belt and Road Initiative is changing the geopolitical landscape as countries across the globe, ranging from the United Kingdom to Ethiopia, look to China for economic cooperation.
One trend to watch is whether China’s growing role in global communications infrastructure will enable increased cultural influence, especially in SE Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The geopolitics of China’s increased influence and the decline of the US’s global presence creates opportunities and concerns for others: watch for more interventionist policies by the EU, Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran. For someone with a structuralist perspective, the parallels with the decade prior to World War One are frightening.
One trend to watch is whether China’s growing role in global communications infrastructure will enable increased cultural influence