The concept of strategic geometry comprises the notion that that the interactions and interconnections between a number of political actors within a particular system of international relations, either global or regional can be seen in terms of geometric patterns of strategic configurations.
It can be a case of simple geometry, in which A interacts with B: but in a more complex system such as that of Asia, with the presence of more than one major actor, each with their distinct, sometimes conflicting political agendas, the interaction between A and B will be likely to affect C or influenced by C. The concept of an international system’ itself implies that events are not random, and units within the system are interrelated in some patterned way. This patterning’ maybe envisaged or conceptualized as patterns of strategic geometry.
Any attempt to analyze the transition from a Cold War system of international relations to a post Cold War one, will incorporate an analysis of the general nature of the system itself, in this case the system of international relations in Asia; of the actors involved and their respective roles; how changes in the political environment and in specific policies of the ctors shape the evolution of a new system; and finally the nature of the new system with its own actors, their new roles, and new concerns.
The concept of strategic geometry enables us to understand these changes in the political dynamics from one system to another, in our case the transition from the Cold War to the post Cold War era, by serving as an analytic tool. If we view the international relations of Asia, more and the interactions of the main actors in terms of strategic configurations and geometric patterns of alignments and oppositions, then we can assess changes in the political ystem over time by way of the changes in the strategic geometry.
Some strategic configurations change, others remain the same, while new patterns of strategic geometry appear, as the old forms dissolve–the explanations behind the shifting pattern of strategic geometry is what enables us to understand the transition from the Cold War era to the post Cold War. Geopolitical and politico-economic factors have in some cases changed the content, but not the form of the particular strategic configurations and in some cases however, we find both form and content are changed.
In my essay I will focus on this dual analysis of the content and form of the major patterns of strategic geometry and their change over time from Cold War to post Cold War. In order to assess the usefulness of the concept of strategic geometry, we must first see how well the concept is expressed in the international relations of Asia. Firstly I will briefly outline the general strategic concerns or tenets of the Cold War era, the roles and interactions of the actors involved, and the major strategic geometric patterns this produced.
The second part of my essay ill comprise an analysis of the evolution of the system, and the tenets of the new post cold war system, drawing attention at the same time to the usefulness of the concept of strategic geometry to explain the transition. One may even conceptualize pre -Cold War international relations in strategic geometric terms: the past is replete with instances of three-way interactions between Japan, China and the Soviet Union.
According to Mandlebaum, the fate of the region has “for the last two centuries’ depended on the fate of three major powers–China, Japan and Russia, on the stability and tranquillity f their mutual relations. ” Hence we may presume that it is not novel or unknown to apply the concept of strategic geometry to Asia and as I shall illustrate it will prove particularly useful in understanding the transition from the Cold War to the post Cold War era. Let us begin with a simpler model of strategic geometry which existed in Europe during the Cold War.
From 1948 onwards, a more or less clear-cut line divided Europe into two main political and military blocs: the communist bloc and the free world of Western Europe, resulting in an almost perfect bipolarity. However, the politics in Asia during the same period were more dynamic and nuanced than just the simple East-West divide of Europe. Here, there was none of “the sharp structural clarity of Europe,” no drawing of a line, no Iron Curtain; rather, there existed a more complex web of international relations, because of the physical presence of three great powers: the Soviet Union, China and Japan.
And from 1945 onwards, another great power, the United States, took up a permanent political and military residence in the region. These four major powers have dominated the East Asia region both during the Cold War and ontinue to do so in the post- Cold War era, hence according to Mandlebaum, “the appropriate geometric metaphor was and still is the strategic quadrangle. ” The interactions of these four main powers-sometimes in cooperation, other times in conflict- have shaped the international relations of Asia. How this took place during and after the Cold War is in many ways quite dissimilar.
However, more importantly than the all encompassing quadrangle, it is the strategic geometry within the quadrangle that is most interesting and illustrates best, the changes and nuances in the transition from Cold War to post Cold War. The interactions within the strategic quadrangle itself, have been generally of a bilateral or triangular nature. As Mandlebaum suggests “Indeed in Asia, the structure of politics all along has been more complex than the stark bipolarity of Europe. Rather than two competing systems, Asia’s international order was a clutter of triangles.
The triangle is the predominant strategic geometric metaphor characterizing the nature of interactions in East Asia, especially during the Cold War and to a less intense degree in the post Cold War era. the Cold War era The Cold War system of international relations was a geopolitical ntermixing of security, ideology and the balance of power, especially military power. Everything took root from two essential conflicts: firstly, the US- Soviet opposition and secondly, from the 1970s onwards the Sino-Soviet split; and from one essential alliance: the US-Japanese partnership.
Each of these bilateral alliances or oppositions affected in some way a third party. The most well-known and widely debated triangle being the Sino-Soviet-US grouping with at least 4 possible configurations. ” One may just turn towards one actor in the system, or one player in the Strategic Quadrangle, to see the preoccupation with strategic geometry. As Mandlebaum states: “For no country more than the Soviet Union did the underlying structure of Asian international politics revolve about a complex interconnected set of triangular relationships.
The most obvious and famous of the triangles linked the Soviet Union, China and the United States, but the Soviet-US- Japan triangle was also important. In addition, five others also helped to shape Soviet policy 1. Sino-Soviet -Japanese triangle 2. Sino-Soviet- North Korean triangle 3. Sino-Soviet-Vietnamese triangle 4. Soviet-Vietnamese- ASEAN triangle 5. Sino-Soviet-Indian triangle. Though from this perspective, certain things stand out. First, China’s centrality: China figures in nearly all of the triangles, not even the US affected Soviet policy to this degree.
Second, the full set of triangles that impeded, shaped and invigorated the policies of Gorbachev’s predecessors varied greatly in importance, all of them overshadowed by the crucial Sino-Soviet-US triangle. Indeed the others owed much of their dynamic to the course of events in this main triangle. ” Through the 1960s, there were 4 main triangles in the Asian political arena: Soviet Union-China- North Vietnam, Soviet Union-Japan-US, Sino-Soviet-Indian- and Soviet Union- China-North Korea.
In the 1970s, however this changed not only because more triangles were added, but because they included a new kind of triangle, the Sino-Soviet-US triangle. “Normally triangles are not thought of as a stable form in social or political relationships nor as a stabilizing influence within a larger setting. The great post-war exception was the Soviet-US-Japan triangle. Relationships among the three countries scarcely changed, apart from fluctuations in US-Soviet and US-Japanese relations from time to time. Its immobility may have been the ingle most stabilizing element in post war Asian politics.
The Soviet- Japanese-American triangle drove Soviet policy towards Japan, since the Soviets viewed Japan as a creature of American engagement in Asia. A whole series of strategic triangles were borne out of the cold war climate which make strategic geometry very useful and illuminating model to study the international relations of Asia during the period. However, our emphasis is on the usefulness of the concept for studying the transition’ from Cold War to post Cold War. This requires an analysis of both systems, in order to assess the process of change.