Analysis & Opinions - The New York Times

Want World Domination? Size Matters

| July 28, 2013

HORACE GREELEY, Napoleon Bonaparte and Cecil Rhodes may seem strange bedfellows, but they all agreed that territorial, political and economic size was critical to a country's success. They wanted more land — in the West, in Europe or overseas. In 1904, Halford Mackinder, an Oxford geographer, told an august assemblage at the Royal Geographical Society that the country that controlled the Russian "heartland," a frostbitten Central Asian steppe, would dominate "the world island" — the combined territory of Europe and North Asia — and in time come to rule the world. A centrally located piece of territory like the Russian plain, Mackinder argued, could be expanded West and East without the need for naval power.

As it turned out, Russia was then facing both war and revolution, and could not fully control the heartland, to say nothing of ruling the entire world. But Mackinder's terms pointed to the critical role of territorial and economic size in the competition among nations.

Without quoting Mackinder, President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have recently sought to form a huge free-trade zone that would join Europe with the United States in a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, creating an economic power with nearly half of the world's gross domestic product. On June 19, alongside Ms. Merkel in Berlin, Mr. Obama declared that Europe and the United States were the "engine of the global economy" and that they should "see ourselves as something bigger" in the global quest for freedom, justice and peace.

Of course, the joining of the two continents would increase trade and employment. It would facilitate Mr. Obama's goal of doubling American exports and increasing investment and consumption. Ms. Merkel would smile as German cars and medical equipment poured into American markets, and Washington would return the favor with microprocessors, biotechnical devices and liquid natural gas. If the deal is concluded next year as planned, economists estimate the creation at least one million jobs over 10 years, and a 0.5 percent increase in G.D.P., on both sides of the Atlantic. The new pact would draw together 259 of the Fortune 500 companies. Investment flows and tourism would bubble to new heights.

But the underlying reason for bridging the narrowing "Atlantic Channel" is that power is shifting east, and there is a need to reconsolidate the West. Paradoxically, closer ties with Europe will be the means by which Mr. Obama carries out his "pivot to Asia" as America and Germany bring together advanced industries and a vast population of skilled workers.

In the short term, China will respond (and has already responded) to this trans-Atlantic combination by strengthening its ties with the outside world. While dumping dollars and buying euros, China has sought to turn its American bond holdings into shares in American corporations. It has moved into London's money markets and invested heavily throughout Africa. None of this has created an alternative political unit, however.

Countries like Sudan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and North Korea will never be pillars of a new international economic order. There is no looming political or economic counterweight to the West's assembly of democratic nations, which earlier this month embraced Croatia as the European Union's 28th member.

Mr. Obama's and Ms. Merkel's pursuit of greater democratic size is not a new objective. Strategists have always known that countries with more people, wealth and economic space can produce more and trade over a larger region. Worldwide tariff cuts have failed; what could be more appropriate than for Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel to seek the largest alternative place in which to trade freely, thus stimulating their industries in competition with rising Eastern nations?

The strategists of the postwar era reached similar conclusions. The State Department's legendary policy planning chiefs George F. Kennan and Paul H. Nitze recognized that "a combination of the physical resources of Russia and China with the technical skills and machine tools of Germany and the Eastern European countries might spell a military reality more powerful than anything that could be mobilized against it." Thus began the patient accumulation of allied nations into what became the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was buttressed by the economically consolidating European Common Market and then the European Union.

Under Mikhail S. Gorbachev and particularly Boris N. Yeltsin, Russia wanted to join the West and the European Union. The 1996 election led some to believe that Moscow could eventually become an approximation of Western democracy. When Vladimir V. Putin succeeded Yeltsin, however, this dream vanished as former K.G.B. agents came to dominate. And when oil prices rose, abundant energy supplies allowed Russia to conclude that it didn’t need the West, nor did it need to be democratic.

Finally, victory in the cold war stemmed from a Western agglomeration of decisive economic and industrial strength. It was not an equality of power that brought the Soviet Union to heel, but a surplus of power, or an "overbalance" in the hands of the West.

THIS is not a declaration of economic war against the East. Rather, it reflects an awareness that China and others need to be brought into the West, bringing two halves of the world together. A greater American and European combination would amass $32 trillion today and much more tomorrow. A balance of power leads to conflict. But an overbalance attracts others to its economic core.

And China is dependent on that core. Unlike Russia, China must import the majority of its oil, and its use is currently at 9.7 million barrels a day. The money to buy this petroleum and natural gas must come from exports, mainly exports to the West. Here the West maintains a continuing advantage, because China receives only about 50 percent of the "value added" of its exports. The rest is garnered by European and American companies, which provide the research and development, design, marketing and financing for most products exported from China.

For decades to come, China will have to sell in the West to gain money and access to technologies that it doesn't yet possess. The consolidation of a Euro-American economic unit will require China to join, too, as it becomes a more open, liberal and rule-governed polity.

Skeptics will argue that this is just an incremental enhancement of an already strong relationship and that the West could draw China in without this new trade deal. But America has tried and failed. It tried to form a bilateral bloc with China, the G-2, in 2009, but China's leaders refused and frustrated Mr. Obama's plans to cooperate on addressing climate change. It was clear that America would need a stronger West to get China's attention. The key advantage of a new trade partnership with Europe is that it has a strong political and security foundation. It will be a peaceful but powerful alliance will add elements of technology, military strength and political will to resuscitate the West in its dealings with the rest of the world.

In the end, trade — not war — will attract others to the West's economic core.

Richard N. Rosecrance is an adjunct professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author of "The Resurgence of the West: How a Trans-Atlantic Union Can Prevent War and Restore the United States and Europe."

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Rosecrance, Richard N..“Want World Domination? Size Matters.” The New York Times, July 28, 2013.

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