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The Great Game

by Archives April 8, 2008

It’s election season in America, and pundits everywhere are busy predicting what the future will look like without George W. Bush. While Democrats are salivating for a return to the relative peace of the Clinton administration, Republicans pray for the resurrection Ronald Reagan’s commie bashing glory days. I don’t think they’re looking back far enough. In fact, I’ll bet the next decade will look less like the 1990s and more like the 19th century.
History, ladies and gentlemen, is a great wheel. Nations rise and fall according to its whims. More often than not, however, they wind up revisiting old haunts and favourite battlefields.
In 1850, England stood alone as the only superpower on Earth. The Royal Navy owned the oceans and India was the British Empire’s crown jewel. But new powers were on the rise. In Europe, Germany had amalgamated into a fledgling monarchy with imperial ambitions.
The Czars of Russia wrestled, from the Caspian to the Himalayas, for the control of Central Asia. Trade disputes with China climaxed in the dreaded Opium Wars. Today all that remains of Colonial England are the bleached bones that litter the Khyber Pass on the windswept march from Kabul to Mumbai.
A century groaned past and new centurions rose to herald an era of ideological warfare. It’s the year 2008, and the United States stands alone as the only super power on Earth. The United States Navy commands the seas from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic. New York is the financial capital of the globe. Now, a Western army has occupied a nation in the Middle East for the first time since Egypt won independence from British rule. Regional powers are on the rise and spoiling to challenge American supremacy. History has come full circle.
In Europe, the Cold War permafrost is melting from Gibraltar to St. Petersburg. The spirit of nationalism stalks the Northern plains and threatens the vision of a federal Europe. France has loosed its Gaullist chains, embraced America, and introduced an “entente amicable” with Great Britain. East of the Rhine, a unified German Republic consolidates power on the Holy Roman Empire’s ruins. Meanwhile, Post-Orange revolution Ukraine must decide whether to be the breadbasket of a resurgent Russia, or the tip of a NATO spear.
In Central Asia, the tribal Khanates of old now wear the lambskin of nation states, but the players are essentially the same. A motley band of Turkic warlords trades favours with diplomats from Washington, Moscow, or Beijing in a dance more ancient than sin. What’s the prize you ask? It’s the natural gas.
Every day, over one hundred billion cubic meters of it are pumped over the Urals, and into homes in Düsseldorf or Prague. The pipeline infrastructure is the carotid artery of the Russian Federation. Putin will pay any price to secure his regional stranglehold from Western or Oriental designs. While the Red Army may be a relic but, as long as the Siloviki reign in the Kremlin, it’s KGB rules in Kazakhstan.
To the East, a dozen nations clamour for dominance in the Pacific. The United States Seventh fleet is on the prowl. China, the sleeping Mandarin dragon, is awake and roaring ahead for the first time in centuries. Kim Jong-Il is as erratic as ever, testing nuclear weapons, and firing cruise missiles into the Sea of Japan. Politicians in Tokyo are seriously debating the abandonment of their pacifist constitution.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that predicting the future is an awfully messy art. With that said, one thing seems painfully clear; the era of great power competition is making a comeback. When historians recount the tale of our generation they will remember a rising China, and the resurgence of Russia, not the war on terror.

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