The Last Great Game
By G. Asgar Mitha
In the long run, global politics are bound to become increasingly uncongenial to the concentration of hegemonic power in the hands of a single state. Hence, America is not only the first, as well as the only, truly global superpower, but it is also likely to be the very last…from Zbigniew Brezinski’s book, The Grand Chessboard, American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives.
When writing that America is likely to be the last global superpower, what exactly does Dr. Brezinski mean by “the very last”? Is it as a ruling power or is it the last global superpower?
Dr. Brezinski’s regional focus in the grand chessboard is Eurasia where the great game is now once again being played by the Americans in partnership with UK, EU and NATO. The American primacy is most likely to end in the Afghanistan theatre, the same where the British and Soviet primacies ended in 1919 and 1989. The expedition to expand the British empire into Afghanistan and subsequently into Central Asia started in 1838 with its engagement of the Afghans at the same time that Russia also aspired to expand its empire into Central Asia. This then was the start of the great game. But it was Russia that succeeded in forming the empire of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and the British Empire that could not expand and lost. One winner, one looser.
Dr. Brezinski writes that in the last great game it is imperative no Eurasian challenger emerges capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also challenging America. Eurasia is all of the territory east of Germany and Poland, stretching all the way through Russia and China to the Pacific Ocean. It includes the Middle East and most of the Indian subcontinent.
The American primacy has been guaranteed in Europe through the partnership with NATO and EU. There are several reasons why the partnership is functional, successful and a necessity on both sides of the Atlantic. America played a very significant role in ending both world wars fought among colonial powers on European soil. It was America that helped rebuild western European infrastructure, critical industries, defence and financial system. At the same time America alerted Western Europe to threats from the defunct USSR’s communist ideology that was in contradiction to western capitalist and Christian religious values.
The American primacy in the Middle East is also guaranteed. It is a different playground than other regions and it has proved to be quite easy for America to dominate the region due to the tribal structure, bareness, hypocrisy, rampant corruption, sparse population. The Soviet influence was nullified in the few Middle East pockets after three Arab-Israeli wars. Egypt’s Sadat and Iraq’s Saddam, the two prime Soviet supporters realised that the western fire power, financial and technological superiority was no match with that of the Soviets. All the while America and Britain beefed up Israeli security and defence and together with strategic bases in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, American partnership with a new Europe formed by a political and military union—EU and NATO--has been solidified. More than anything, the British and Israel fully comprehend Arab mentality.
The Soviets after having been dislodged from the Middle Eastern theatre realised the imperativeness of shoring up their influence in Afghanistan which had been functioning as a satellite in a manner similar to Eastern Europe. However, through a well planned CIA operation in Eastern Europe and help from a religiously zealous military leader in Pakistan, Afghanistan proved to be the Achille’s heel for the Soviets. As a result, the Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, Afghanistan and the strategic colonies in Central Asia disintegrated till it contracted back into the country that was always known as Russia. After a short pause of 12 years, Pakistan once again now continues to be a central player in the American adventure in Afghanistan and the so called war on terror. Its utility is best served as America strives to eliminate the same terrorists it created to evict the Soviet military from Afghanistan. These were the Mujahideen then but now redefined as Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.
In the last great game Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan dominate how the game will be played out. The rules of the game are being formulated by the western powers. If geo-politically a “gate theory” is proposed then landlocked Afghanistan’s northern gate opens to Central Asia and the southern and south-western gates open to Pakistan and Iran. For now, the prize to be won by America are either economically handicapped but nuclear tipped Pakistan or energy rich Iran. One of these two doors leading to warm waters need to be opened but both doors are so far under lock and key. Iran’s diplomacy and the dexterity with which it is playing the game has the west stymied. Iran is winning. It seems the military option against Iran is now off the tables due to a lack of support from within America’s military hierarchy as well as from Russia and China. It is by no means guaranteed that Israel will not launch an offensive against Iran.
Pakistan is a more viable option to be destabilized mainly because of the war- on-terror card. It would seem to this author that the US was frustrated with Pakistan’s military establishment that has been keeping the hounds at bay and it has now chosen to deal with a corrupt democracy. Pakistan’s anaemic economy and domestic political rivalry may well be the two straws that would break the camel’s back. In such a situation, anarchy or even a civil war may seem a possibility.
It is highly unlikely that Pakistan’s military would allow anarchy to prevail in the country or under such a weakened situation to permit any foreign force to undertake an intrusive adventure. It is more likely that America would seize upon the country’s misfortune to send Afghan forces into Pakistan and play the terrorist card in a manner similar to what happened between Georgia and Russia. Much to America’s chagrin, Pakistan’s Musharraf has denied several requests for American forces to enter Pakistan for a terrorist clean-up operation. It is also a well known fact that American advisers have been militarily training the Afghans. There has been old rivalry between Pakistan and Afghanistan dating back to 1947. Hamid Karzai or India remains no great admirers of Pakistan and both have aspired to break up the country but the pretexts have always been thwarted.
There are yet two other influencing countries working silently against western interests. Those are China and Iran. Three Central Asian countries, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan share long, porous borders directly with China and that also serve as insulators. Turkmenistan borders directly with Iran. Uzbekistan is securely locked between the four Central Asian countries. America is aware of the influence peddling but with it bogged down in Iraq and a stale-mated on-going war on terror in Afghanistan, there is nothing much that the western powers can do to prevent the influence of China and Iran in all of the five Central Asian countries. Though the primary goal for China is energy security, China and Iran are both interested in keeping America out of the region for political and geostrategic security reasons. Russia, on the other hand has to contend with NATO expansion eastward from Europe and it can ill afford to allow encirclement on its southern borders also.
For 15 years, the resultant uni-polarity has spawned terrorism. The single hegemonic partnership of the western alliance has caused a shift in how people live under fear not of Al-Qaeda, Taliban or Saddam but of America. The alliance has literally hijacked the United Nations and all financial and social systems by creating a New World Order (NWO) in which their will prevails in every respect. However, major powers China and Russia have already signalled their intention to challenge the supremacy. Even a minor power, Iran, has taken America and EU on a diplomatic merry-go-round of its nuclear rights. As the world shifts more to multi-polarity, other minor powers are bound to rise up and follow Iran’s lead.
It is now clear that with the renewed great game, there are more players and more rivalry than it was during the game being played out between Britain and Russia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In that game there was one winner and one looser. The stakes for which the game is now being played are global supremacy, energy, geo-political security, religion and financial control. There are too many players on a congested grand chessboard and eight nuclear fingers. This could very well be the last great game with no winners and all losers.