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America Must Play the Geoeconomics Game

America Must Play the Geoeconomics Game

The United States has forgotten that money is a weapon. China hasn’t.

The great cost in blood and treasure for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates the necessity for Washington to reinforce economic foundations for democracy and peace in the Middle East and North Africa. For the past few years, as the Arab revolt has grown darker, the United States has by necessity focused on immediate stabilization, but with paltry results; a broader, longer-term vision can no longer wait, especially as the lack of such a vision is hampering our ability to manage the short-term challenges.

In the global south, Washington should refocus U.S. development aid toward cultivating the next generation of emerging markets, especially in Latin America and Africa.

The United States should also shore up the rules governing geoeconomic playing fields. In a world of competing global supply chains and integrated capital flows, trade rules that focus largely on tariffs, national treatment and most-favored-nation status are outdated and permit nations to pressure recalcitrant neighbors through geoeconomic means. The harmful practices tend to be fluid, and where one is struck down or becomes too controversial, governments can all too easily reintroduce it with only slight refinement. In this regard, the United States needs to be as nimble as its adversaries.

Last, we should make every effort to increase university teaching around geoeconomics, perhaps including here at the Naval War College. Geoeconomics needs its own disciplinary language, one that marries the tools of economics with the logic of geopolitics. Only by endowing geoeconomics with its own analytic framework can policymakers approach these questions clearly.

Either the United States will begin to use its geoeconomic power with much greater resolve and skill, or its national interests will increasingly be in jeopardy. U.S. domestic economic strength in the decades ahead must have more relevance to American national interests and the identification of consequent international threats and opportunities than simply funding a huge defense budget, useful as that is to U.S. global purposes. To recall Mao, international power and the influence needed to flourish and to shape the balance of power in America’s favor must derive not only from the barrel of a gun but also from the strength and geopolitical applications of the U.S. economy. Whether administrations and the Congress will understand, digest and implement this compelling reality with focus, clarity and a sense of geoeconomic purpose remains a preeminent issue of American grand strategy in our era.

Robert Blackwill is Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His newest book, War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft, coauthored with Jennifer M. Harris, was published in April 2016 by Belknap Press, an imprint of Harvard University Press.

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