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As China rises, geopolitical talks turn to the Asian economy and media

As China rises, geopolitical talks turn to the Asian economy and media

The economic power shift from West to East is changing priorities in the world’s geopolitical chess game, as ‘war on terror’ gives way to economic and political discussions in Asia.

May 15, 2011 11:28 by

As China and other new powers rise, foreign ministries, think tanks and international relations schools are focusing once again on interstate “grand strategy” in a way not seen since the Cold War.

A few years ago, a savvy graduate looking to make a career in foreign service, intelligence or national security would focus on militancy, terror and state building, the buzzwords of the “war on terror” and the Iraq and Afghan conflicts.

But now insiders say they need to show a reasonable understanding of an increasingly complex game of geopolitical chess between the great powers in which economic power and the media narrative can be as important as armies and tanks.

While the United States is pulling back its military involvement in Iraq, the Arab Spring has shown that no one can afford to neglect the Middle East and North Africa. Neither does the death of Osama bin Laden mean that the West will disregard militant groups. Nevertheless, the Middle East, Afghanistan and al Qaeda are no longer a sole focus of Western concerns.

“The war on terror really pushed grand strategy to one side, but as that seems to be winding down there is much more focus on it,” said Robert Farley, professor of international relations at the University of Kentucky.

“Students know they will need it in their careers, whether in public service or the private sector. We’ve recently failed students for failing to be able to answer questions on the rise of China, for example.”

Numbers of international relations students taking intensive summer courses in languages such as Arabic or Farsi — which is spoken in Iran and parts of Afghanistan — were falling off, Farley said. This was partly on expectation that there would be fewer military or diplomatic roles in the region.

The number learning basic Chinese was rising, he said, but students were keen to show they had knowledge of a broad range of topics from economics to cyber warfare and the effect of social media on politics.

As well as China, they need to show knowledge of a host of rising new powers including India, Brazil and South Africa — in contrast to their counterparts from the Cold War era, many of whom built entire careers on deep knowledge of narrow areas of Soviet policy.

“It’s much more complex than in the Cold War, when they were only really two sides,” says Farley.


When Israeli-based political risk consultancy Wikistrat launched a month-long online grand strategy competition between universities, military colleges and similar institutions around the world, it was taken aback by the level of interest.

The contest, which begins this month, will cover the next two decades of global history with teams representing roughly a dozen countries needing to form alliances and adapt to shocks such as revolutions and conflicts.

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