Security and Foreign Policy

The Atlantic Compact And Eurasia, In Search Of A New Grand Strategy

In the post-Cold War era, after the fall of the USSR and rise of China, the geopolitical paradigms have changed, where longstanding strategies seem to be failing. Ambassador Jose A. Zorilla revisits past grand strategies, examining both lessons learned and paradigm shifts that need to be taken into account.


As long as the USSR existed and China did not, the US Grand Strategy worked wonders in Europe based on the arguments of the late Sir Halfor John Mackinder (1904) on Eurasia. It could be summed up in the slogans, Eurasia first and do not allow the big Continental powers to unite.

In this golden age of classical geo-strategy, (1945-1990), Germany led the pack with an Ostpolitik that ensured the goodwill of the Russian Bear and allowed Germany to become the most beloved as well as the number one provider for their Eastern neighbor. France and its nuclear force with its strategic yes-but-no or no-but-yes to NATO did not damage anybody but helped bridge the Atlantic and the Urals. Of course, NATO provided the necessary umbrella for all these initiatives to thrive. To add to this fairy tale, the Nixon-Kissinger strategy balanced the two Eurasian Leviathans, Russia and China. It was Halford Mackinder’s Grand Strategy revisited by Brzezinski and adopted by the Washington Blob. Everything was under control.

Then, the USSR fell and China rose. The moment for a change in paradigm had come. And yet, the US decided not to embark on the task of creating something new and began building on the historical grievances of the Eastern States, not on the 80% of Russians that declared their sympathy for the US. An absurd thing to do for historical hatred, one that does not turn a friend into an existential enemy. Then NATO bombed other great repository of Slavic values, Serbia. Attempts to encircle Russia with a “cordon sanitaire” followed, color revolutions in its near abroad and deployment of mid-range missiles all around its frontiers. In fact, a way not to alter the strategic status quo. Well, when Uncle Sam reached Ukraine, a new actor, Vladimir Putin, kicked the table. Finally, the Blob had a serious argument: Russia was the new Wilhemine Germany.

To name first and to create afterwards an existential enemy in Russia was not the only mistake to follow the fall. To the East, the radicalization of Pakistan made the Afghan adventure impossible to win. The blunder of Iraq did not help and toppling Gaddafi worsened the situation. To complete the picture, the ups and downs of the military in the Horn of Africa blew the zone and brought Al Shabab to the fore. After Al Qaeda and ISIS, it completed the Holy Trinity of Washington’s Frankensteins.

When it comes to our allies, Israel continues its policy of becoming the new South Africa of yore with the full support of the US., while Saudi Arabia bombs women and children in Yemen. To top it all, Trump has just repealed the nuclear deal with Iran for no other reason than the fact that Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, is the worst of the Israeli enemies. Meanwhile, Syria is a thing of the past.

How about China? Well, after having grown enough muscles, it has begun a policy of influence via public works investments in Eurasia and it continues unhinged in its course in the world at large. No answer from the US except a hike in custom duties. For in a battle of influences, the military are only of limited value and this seems to be the only weapon in the panoply.

Among the collateral damage, we may quote the end of the strategic balance in Eurasia between Russia and China, the European drift between Russian haters and realists, and of course, the loss of the US high moral ground. To contain the USSR was honorable. To contain a country because it is relevant in Eurasia puts you in the bad books of all decent people. Besides, with 5 million displaced persons in Afghanistan, close to 1 million dead in Iraq and the Sahel in flames, all of that courtesy of the terror the US itself created, it does not look like the US is a champion of human rights and prosperity in world affairs.

When faced with this unmitigated disaster, it is time for Europe to stand up and discuss the situation politely but firmly with our American buddies. This is not about jumping ship but about preventing the sinking of the ship. Right now the US fulfils the three Toynbee-an requirements of decay- not understanding that the paradigm has changed, trying to apply the old recipes to new times and an overreaching militarily to compensate for the lack of proper doctrine. Therein lies the homework for Europe. Try to convince the US that we have to create an Atlantic alliance of values based upon the demise of the old Mackinderian Eurasian paradigm. First, end the Eurasian geographical superstition. Our commitment to the values of the enlightenment and human rights has to be for both shores of the pond. This is the spiritual body nobody should be able to shatter. But for the aim to be possible, Mackinder’s Eurasia has to fade away. The scenario of power is not the Eurasian landmass but the world at large with a focus on the East and the way to extend power is influence not weapons. We have to urge the US to start a serious pivot to the Pacific, where the action is, and make it understand that there is not going to be a second D-Day. And by the way, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative cannot be curbed with missiles. To expect that Europe is not going to jump on board with this development is delusional.

Second, follow the German model in its way of dealing with Russia. If we want to go back to the days of strategic balance between China and Russia, this is the only way. Europe has to free itself from the Polish syndrome. It is just an excuse to keep afloat a moribund paradigm.

Then, they must curb the wrath of the proxies, beginning with Israel, again, following the German model. Germany keeps six Dolphin class nuclear subs plying the waters of the Red Sea with second strike capabilities. Yet, Germany is in favor of leaving in place the Iran deal. The US is to be warned that there is a serious risk of an Atlantic split on this one.

Lastly, curb Saudi Arabia and its anti-Shia crusade in Yemen and keep the contact with China within the usual parameters. France’s nuclear capabilities and its seat in the Security Council can very well become the gist of a new Europe if shared with the rest. Add to the arsenal its presence in Western Africa, coupled with the German economic strength all this could become the fulcrum of a new Europe.

Count on Spain and Portugal to engage Latin America and the Lusophon world. In short, let´s build a sound Atlantic world on different parameters acknowledging the shift that the USSR demise, the globalization and the rise of China have brought to the world.

But of course the vital core of the problem is the internal situation of the US. Right now, in the fight for influence in world affairs: Who wants his country to have the inequality index of the US? Would you define as healthy a country without a middle class? When it comes to money, the irresponsible dealings on the world currency is hurting the world at large.  Never in past history has a universal (fiat) currency been such a rollercoaster. The US may say what it wants-or not to say anything at all- but profligacy has consequences. Why China has begun to spend its dollars in the Belt and Highway initiative? As a Chinese official said to me, among other considerations, out of fear of seeing them vanished in a bout of frenzy. 2008 is not so far away and it is still unclear how to fix it. Of course, the US continues to be the indispensable country. But not thanks to the weapons but to its civil society that continues to produce goods and services indispensable to frame the ways of the world. I don’t foresee collapse. But I am aware that the defeat of the best is always possible. Remember the days prior to the Second World War. While the US remained at home, the British Empire was only too happy to embrace the role of number one in world affairs. But its days of glory were a thing of the past. As a consequence, its ruling class made a strategic mistake: to decide that its existential enemy was Stalin, not Hitler. We were very lucky that Japan, in dire need of oil, instead of grabbing Indonesia from the Dutch, attacked the US first to clear the rearguard. Thanks to that absurd mistake, for the US had no intention to defend Indonesia, I am writing this lines today. Things may have turned the other way around.

Of course, there is little chance of seeing all these elementary arguments put forward-let alone implemented. Unhappily, arguments in international relations do not count as robust or feeble. Their only strength is the real power of its proponents.

Ambassador Jose A. Zorrilla is a career diplomat from Spain with postings in Milan (1989), Toronto (1993), Shanghai (2001), Moscow (2004), and Tbilisi (2009). He has published a book on the rise of China “China la primavera que llega” (China, the spring that arrives) and shot two documentary films (“Los Justos” (The Righteous) and “El desierto y las olas” (The Desert and the Waves)) and one full length film “El Arreglo” (The Deal) that won the Opera Prima Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 1983.  He has just published a novel “El espía en Saratov” (The Spy in Saratov) (De Librum Tremens) and “Historia fantástica de Europa” (An Imaginary History of Europe). He is a frequent contributor to El Mundo with articles focusing mostly on current affairs.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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