The End of Trilateralism
Published on: May 18, 2010
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  • Mal Armstrong

    Interesting, but I wonder where smaller countries like Honduras and Georgia fit in. Do we brush them aside in order to form this new coalition? If we do brush them aside, does this help us in the short term but hurt us in the long term? Is it just a fact of history that the US will need to sacrifice pawns in order to maintain dominance, like when we pledged support to Hungary and then abandoned them during the 50s and when Kissinger abandoned the Kurds? I would love it if you posted on historical and current situations like these and how they affected or were inconsequential to the US’s success in the world.

  • The stealth emergence of Lula as a world-beater and -broker is one of the more disturbing recent events. His photo yesterday in naked, arms-linked, power fist salute victory mode was as painful to behold as it was ominous. Lula has cleverly snuck in under the radar and rarely gets the level of scathing and brutal criticism he should get for throwing his lot in with holocaust denier I’maGonnaGitYa of Iran. (Sorry for the bad nickname, but like Yaweh in reverse, there are some names so poisonous that decency cries to us not to say them openly.)
    Brazil may be fast moving in on having nukes and has some very scary connections. I have started to think Lula is much more dangerous than Chavez and some others who are more likely to blow themselves up first.

    Good analyses, though, and I agree with your optimism, despite all the growing evidence to the contrary. America is unique and important and without it, the world is…anybody’s guess, we just don’t know.

    Have to had that Bush didn’t get near enough credit for brokering a relationship, finally, with India, nor conversely has Obama gotten anyway near enough criticism for letting it go stale so quickly.

  • WigWag

    I wonder why WRM includes Turkey on the list of nations that the United States might partner with. Including Turkey on a list with Brazil and Russia is unwise because Turkey is one of the poorest and most backwards nations in the world; exaggerating its prospects is little more than hype.

    Here’s the reality about Turkey:

    1) Turkey, a nation of 72.5 million people has a GDP ($615.3 billion) which is smaller than the GDP of Los Angeles ($792 billion) which only has a population of 3.8 million. Turkey’s GDP is less than half of the GDP of Russia and only slightly more than a third of the GDP of Brazil. On a per capita basis, the Turkish GDP of $12,476 is only a small fraction of the per capita GDP of its historical adversary, Greece. Remember, Greece is considered an economic basket case but its per capita GDP ($29,882) is more than twice as large as Turkey’s. By the way, economic power houses like Croatia, Gabon, Lebanon and Botswana all have per capita GDP’s that exceed that of Turkey. Amazingly, tiny and embattled Cyprus has a per capita GDP that exceeds that of Turkey.

    2) Turkey is one of the least literate nations in the world. In terms of literacy, it comes in at 104th place out of 179 countries for whom data is available. Turkey’s literacy rate (88.7 percent of the population is literate) is significantly poorer than the literacy rates in nations like Viet Nam, Mongolia, Tonga and Moldova.

    3) Turkey’s infant mortality rate is abysmal. An astouding 31.6 children per thousand die before reaching the age of 5. For Brazil it’s 21.9 deaths per thousand and for Russia its 20.9 deaths per thousand. Nations that have a dramatically better rate than Turkey’s include French Guiana (15.1 per thousand), the West Bank (16 deaths per thousand) and Lithuania (8.5 deaths per thousand). The number for the United States is 7.8 deaths per thousand) and the number for Japan is 4.2 deaths per thousand.

    4) Turkey lags as far behind in lifespan as it does in infant mortality. The lifespan measured from birth in Turkey is 71.96 years. By way of comparison, the lifespan in Armenia its 72.68 years; in the West Bank its 74.58 years; in Georgia in 76.28 years; in the United States its 78.11 years and in Spain its 80.9 years.

    In addition to these parameters, Turkey also fares badly on virtually every other metric you can think of including the UN development index, high school graduation rate and the “happiness index” that Mead himself referred to in one of his posts several weeks back.

    One thing Turkey does have is a large military; it has the second largest in NATO behind that of the United States. But it is far from clear that the military is under the command of the civilian, Islamist government.

    If the United States is in search of new coalition partners instead of Turkey, the United States better look elsewhere. As the old saying goes; Turkey is all sizzle and no steak.

  • Peter

    The U.S. should focus more on self-development & reform. Once done, the coalition business will follow naturally.

    America needs to reform its dismal public education system which is a costly, under-performing disgrace. We need more development of nuclear power and additional domestic gas development. Our political system needs to be reformed to move away from the statist trend we’ve been on.

  • K2K

    I wish I had Mr. Mead’s optimism about the ability of an internally politically paralyzed United States to continue to lead “…Our general global program of geopolitical stability, cultural tolerance and economic integration and development remains the only realistic approach to global issues that meets the needs of the other great powers, and a coalition headed by the United States remains the best and indeed the only practical way to guide the world…”

    my goodness, that statement makes me think of the late 19th century British Empire bringing civilization to the heathens!

    Two questions about Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy, and Brazil’s “friends with everyone” foreign policy. 1) Can these policy platforms outlast the personalities of their current leaders, Erdogan and Lula?, and 2) How dependent are such foreign policies on this moment in the economic strength of both countries, which have weathered the financial firestorms much better than the United States and most of Europe?

    Brazil’s election is in October, and it is too soon to tell if Lula’s adventures with Iran and Venezuela will become an issue that benefits Jose Serra’s challenge to Lula’s handpicked successor, Dilma Rouseff.

    Perhaps Turkey aspires to making BRIC into BRICT, although it is highly questionable if India wants to be in THAT coalition.

    It is certainly going to be a tense summer.

    I do see a bright future for blue water navies.

  • And yet, if not the U.S., who?

    Nobody fully represents the diversity of the world’s peoples like we do. Europe, where continental leftist howler monkeys claim integrative success is a joke of spotted ethnic welfare ghettos designed to hide away its immigrants from polite company, and where in “civilized” settings like Sweden one can only visit via armed convoy.

    Latin America, where skin color is 400 times as important to its elites than in the U.S., is the same sad joke squared and multiplied, cut and pasted, and thrown back up on the floor like drunkard’s puke.

    Asia is still about as racist as the U.S. would have been without the Civil War, without Brown via the Supremes, and without our two centuries long civil rights battle…that we won in thumping fashion, regardless of what our jack-eyed critics claim.

    And Africa hasn’t yet had the peace and economic luxury to begin to contemplate any of this.

    Can’t speak for the penguins.

    So why is it that American liberals can’t be thunderously and stupid-proud of all this sans apology?

    The short story of the human race: issuing forth in small spurts of wandering humanity across and out the other side of the Saharan Pump, scattering across the globe to every disparate inhabitable and barely habitable place, and upon having reached the furthest shores of Far Tortuga and beyond, beginning to war against each other in merger-like conquests one after the other over millenia to bring us back to from whence we once came as one…all to become one once again. Our destiny? To rejoin our far-flung brethren in global embrace. And where is this out-of and back-to process of complete and total human integration best reflected?

    America, and just about nowhere else.

  • WigWag

    The more I’ve been thinking about this post, the more its been bothering me. It’s not that I think Mead is wrong; actually I think he is on target.

    The trilateral partnership that brought the world so much prosperity since the end of World War II is breaking down. Europe is a mess; its economy is in shambles and its cultural and political situation is overwrought in part because of its difficulty in integrating its Muslim immigrants.

    Japan’s economy has been moribund for a generation and its government suffers from even greater instability and deadlock than the American Government.

    Despite all of this; if Mead is right and the United States needs to think about new partners like Brazil, Russia and Turkey than we are really in big trouble.

    India as a junior partner I can see; while its economy is still impoverished it does have tremendous prospects.

    But are Turkey, Russia and Brazil any where near as promising in terms of potential partnership as Europe and Japan were after the Second World War?


    A new trilateral partnership between the United States and either Turkey, Russia or Brazil sounds like a recipe for international failure.

  • John Barker

    Clearly we are in need of new conspiracy theory. Who will be first to tell Pat Robertson?

  • You’re right, they aren’t ready. While it’s nice to see emerging countries–emerge–one also realizes they could as easily fall back into the chaos and dysfunction that has characterized too many of their recent as well as historic regimes. It’s not the same as a Britain with a long history of democracy. The same “criticism” could have been levelled on Japan five decades ago, but they have since had five decades plus of steady performance as democracies, as capitalist entities, and more basically as functioning countries without relapse.

    If there’s one thing that has to be earned in global nationhood, it’s a solid track record on democratic and yes capitalistic performance. That includes a full range of human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, press rights, and much more…how’s Brazil check out in those categories? Turkey? Russia?

    I use this word tongue in cheek: it’s about “grooming.” They need to lay down a track record and it shouldn’t include getting in bed with a holocaust denier who supports more global terrorism than al qaeda.

    We should watch their performance, but not commit too early. May sound patronizing, but we’re not talking about returning library books on time here, this is life and death stuff. Imagine this world at its present state if a third nuclear warhead wipes out an entire people like the Israelis?

  • K2K

    “If not the U.S., who?”

    Start with the United States Navy, from SecDef Robert Gates May 3 speech to the Navy League:
    “…But we must always be mindful of why America built and has maintained a Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Indeed, it was an Army general, Ulysses Grant, who said that “[m]oney expended in a fine navy, not only adds to our security and tends to prevent war in the future, but is very material aid to our commerce with foreign nations in the meantime.” And in fact, this country learned early on, after years of being bullied and blackmailed on the high seas, that it must be able to protect trade routes, project power, deter potential adversaries, and, if necessary, strike them on the oceans, in their ports, or on their shores. We cannot allow these core capabilities and skill sets to atrophy through distraction or neglect. …”

    If anyone wants to DO something to preserve America’s leadership, start with reining in the obscene cost-overruns and
    re-professionalizing contracting oversight capabilities of the Navy and Coast Guard.

    I imagine Senator James Webb and Congressman Gene Taylor could use some help in prodding the Executive Branch.

  • john

    I ran a search for one word which, if it was contained in either the article or the comments, would indicate that there is an understanding of not only WHAT is happening but WHY. The word is demographics. Both regional partners in the trilateral foreign policy strategy are suffering long term population collapses. The Japanese population is already declining and there is no indication that they understand how to initiate or manage a controlled immigration policy. Much of Europe also faces a situation where native fertility rates are well below replacement levels. In the case of Europe it is possible that they will find a suitable immigration policy but extrapolating current trends the Eurabia society may be only a couple of generations away. Population growth is usually an indicator of growing power on the world stage. Prof. Mead is correct that the U.S. must begin the process of identifying a responsible system to replace the old trilateral dominance. Unfortunately, the inevitable decline and fall of the Western Welfare State model of government (unsustainable debt/GDP and high income transfer from productive to unproductive economic sectors) must be seen (a la the recent article by Robert Samuelson) and the need for profound transformation (or return to sanity) must accepted by the electorate. From this realization a policy such as that outlined in the article can be supported. Unfortunately, much of the non-Left has been blinded by its dislike of Obama and his domestic policies that it has been unable to see the need for a major rethinking concerning U.S. foreign policy direction and strategy. Of course it would be nice if our diplomats could carry out this examination and revision without the kind of amateurish embarrassments and alienation of long-time traditional allies we are seeing in abundance.

  • Navy, James Webb and demographics… couldn’t agree more, but don’t know enough about the Naval component. I like the idea, though, because I’m coming to the conclusion that with between 700 and 1000 bases abroad, we can’t afford it and outside of rapid deployment capabilities, I’m not sure we need them. So the seas and the air instead. Webb wrote a great book, Born Fighting, and I like his mien a lot, just waiting to see and hear more from him.
    For demographics, read Joel Kotkin at his web, newgeographer if you haven’t already. This is the real stuff, and something that Mr. Mead is well aware of and writes wisely on. Hey, love Samuelson too.

  • K2K

    Joel Kotkin is always on target, Tom Kinney.
    As to Senator Webb, his story for the film “Rules of Engagement” is more powerful than “Born Fighting”. I assume, as a former SecNavy, that Webb is the point person in the Senate on what is happening with Pentagon procurement and the future of the Navy.
    SecDef Gates gave two speeches recently, May 3 to the Navy League, and a more general speech on May 8 that invoked Eisenhower. Worth reading both, at, look for his speeches on the left bar.

    Murmurs from the right are attacking what Gates said on May 3, kind of a knee-jerk response because Gates is fighting the right fight: better use of dollars in order to maintain US naval primacy. maybe we do not need more carrier groups, but more cost-effective littoral ships that can hug the coastline?

    If America is to avoid the decline that so many are noting, we need to look to our Navy, the best projection of positive power we still have.

    I mentioned Rep. Gene Taylor because he managed to help the Coast Guard turn-around a disastrous Coast Guard capital ship program a few years ago 9the contractor had 100% oversight and the designs were failures). The Coast Guard is stuck in DHomeland Security, so you have to watch both separately.

  • Appreciate the tips, Mr. K2K, will check out, and glad you like Kotkin, too. I haven’t read his new book yet, but I’m been following this basic demographic nightmare scenario of aging/demanding/whining/all-take-no-give baby boomers (I’m ground floor, born 1946) for some time and he’s one of the people who’s written the most cogently about it.

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  • Linda Thompson

    How would I obtain a list of the current membership?

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