The Geopolitics of US Global Decline: Beijing and Washington Struggle for Dominion over the “World Island”

(Essential to understanding the geopolitical backstory history that is unfolding before our eyes today with the tenuous situation in Afghanistan with the Taliban and their evolving relationship with the regional hegemon Peoples Republic of China)

Distinguished Faculty Lecture with Alfred W. McCoy

Two related books by Alfred McCoy: In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power, and To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change.

At the turn of the last century, the director of the London School of Economics, Sir Halford Mackinder, redrew and reconceptualized the world map to show Africa, Asia, and Europe not as three separate continents, but as a unitary land mass, a veritable “world island,” which was, he argued, the pivot of global power. In recent years, those in charge of America’s foreign policy have ignored this fundamental axiom of geopolitics, thereby missing the significance of the rapid global changes in Eurasia that are undermining longstanding US political strategy.

While Washington has been involved in the Middle East, Beijing has invested trillions in the world island’s economic integration, building an elaborate infrastructure of high-speed, high-volume railroads and oil and natural gas pipelines across Eurasia. Beijing is also mobilizing military forces that will slice through Washington’s encircling containment of air bases, naval armadas, and military alliances ringing the world island from England to Japan.

Washington has recently unleashed a countervailing strategy, seeking to split the “world island” economically along its continental divide in the Urals, redirecting the 40 percent of world trade in its Asian half toward North America through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and reorienting the world’s largest economy in the European Union through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). In the last months of his presidency, President Obama has revealed himself to be one of the few American strategists capable of realizing the novel geopolitical vision for US world leadership first crafted by Elihu Root, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who served as US Secretary of War and Secretary of State between 1901 and 1909.

Alfred W. McCoy holds the Harrington Chair in History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the author of eight books, most recently Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009). Winner of the Kahin Prize from the Association for Asian Studies, Policing America’s Empire draws together covert operations and modern Philippine history, to explore the transformative power of police, information, and scandal in shaping both the modern Philippine state and the US internal security apparatus.

His first book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (Harper & Row, 1972), is regarded as the classic work on global drug trafficking and sparked controversy when the CIA tried to block its initial publication. McCoy has won the Philippines National Book Award three times and has also been recognized with a 2001 Goodman Prize from the Association for Asian Studies, a 2012 Wilbur Cross Medal from Yale University, and the 2012 Hilldale Award for Arts & Humanities from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


10:20 pm on August 25, 2021