The key to the multipolar transition is the opening of the Latin American front, that is the shifting of the center of gravity of the great power competition from Eurasia to the Americas. The question is whether America’s challengers will be willing or able to do so, writes Emanuel Pietrobon.
Eurafrasia is the main arena of the great power competition, but not the only one. Proxy wars, insurgencies, fake revolutions, coups and hybrid wars are also affecting the Western hemisphere, albeit at a much lower level. The wind of geopolitical change is in the Americas. Whoever takes the opportunity, will cause the last domino to fall.
The US has been successful where other empires have always failed, that is the construction of an almost-perfect global hegemony. Such a world-extended dominion has been possible because the US has been in full control of its neighborhood – the Americas – for a century and a half. However, the very foundations of the American strategic primacy are melting as the great power competition worsens.
If the dollar is the beating heart of the American hegemony, Latin America is the rib cage. Keeping in mind that, for men as for states, whatever happens to the rib cage makes the heart more vulnerable, the lesson can only be one: the forces calling for the multipolar transition have to transfer the main battlefield from Eurafrasia to the Americas.
Control the continent, rule the world
Political scientists are still debating whether the US is an empire or not. The answer is yes: the US is an empire, although an informal one. For the sake of clarity, in geopolitics the term “empire” has a neutral, descriptive meaning.
All empires have a founding date and the US is no exception. The US transforms itself from a nation to an empire in 1823, the year of the proclamation of the Monroe doctrine. 1823 is also the year in which the wars for hegemony over Americas begin. It is impossible to understand Latin America’s contemporary history without referring to the fateful 1823. The Banana Wars, military dictatorships, economic colonialism, fake revolutions, financing of political terrorism, civil wars, military interventions – everything is related to the Monroe doctrine.
The US is somehow jealous of Latin America because it fully understands that its global strategic primacy derives from its status as commander-in-chief of an entire continent. It is a one-of-a-kind hegemony based on the mixture of physical and spiritual elements, with the latter represented by the diffusion of metaphysical and political religions useful for americanizing the Latin American peoples. Money to fund the growth of evangelical churches – battering rams against the Catholic Church. Money to fund the growth of progressivism and extreme right, with the common goal of americanizing Latin American politics.
The spiritual dimension of the American hegemony over Latin America is often overlooked. It shouldn't. It's been the Evangelical churches that made a number of epoque-making social, cultural and political changes possible, from everyday life – the fascination towards the dollar-loving Prosperity theology – to international relations – the abandonment of anti-American rhetoric, the pivot to Israel, etc.
The US grip on Latin America would be and would have been much weaker if merely based on material elements – army, investments, sanctions, security, trade, etc –, since Protestantization also meant Americanization. Curiously, after successfully testing the political usefulness of Protestantism 2.0 in its near abroad, the US has begun funding the activities of Evangelical preachers around the world. In China alone, for instance, estimates speak of about one hundred million Protestant Christians – a possible time bomb, as evidenced by their anti-government activism in Hong Kong.
Back to the main point, Nicholas Spykman is known for saying that “who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world”. His statement his certainly true, given that first the British Empire and then the US rose to the top of the international system by playing little and great games across Eurasia, but one element is missing. In fact, the American experience shows that “only those who control their hemisphere, or their continent, can aspire to rule the world”. Therefore, it is essential for the US to protect and preserve the Monroe doctrine, just as it is imperative for those seeking the multipolar transition to challenge it.
There can be no Unipolar moment without Monroe doctrine
In Europe there is the tendency to ignore Latin America. It is wrongly seen as a distant and exotic region, falling under the exclusive interest of the US, of which non-Americans have no say. It is a colonial-like view, partly resulting from history and emotional geography, that has been preventing the EU from formulating its own agenda for the area. But the international system-level evolving dynamics require a radical change of attitude.
As the great power competition intensifies, the Western hemisphere becomes more and more bone of contention. To a certain extent, the Monroe doctrine is already a thing of the past: Banana Republics looking for greater autonomy, Cold War-era remnants resisting to regime change attempts, foreign powers questioning the US primacy – against the background of the rise of challenging regional powers, from Brazil to Venezuela, and of the resurgence of anti-American cultural-political movements.
Perhaps, the most eloquent evidence of the difficulties encountered by the US in its near abroad is the failure of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure strategy against what John Bolton dubbed the “Troika of tyranny” – the Caracas-Havana-Managua triangle. The US did succeed in scuppering the geoeconomically disruptive Nicaragua Channel and in sponsoring coups – Brazil and Venezuela, but ultimately it was unable to do anything to stop the “Red wave” and to boycott China’s and Russia’s agendas.
The short-term failure of the US strategy is important for the following reason. What happens in Latin America is just as important as what happens in Europe and the Western Pacific, the other two backyards of the US. Latin America, Europe and the Western Pacific – three regions, three very different purposes:
The European backyard is useful in the context of the dual containment of Germany and Russia, a remastered legacy of the British Empire’s European great game;
The Western Pacific backyard serves to keep Japan under the American sphere of influence and to prevent China from becoming a sea power via the island chain strategy;
The Latin American backyard is the citadel that protects the City upon a hill.
If the European backyard falls, the Mackinderian nightmare of the dreaded Russo-German axis might become true. If the Western Pacific backyard cracks, Japan returns to history, China can finally aspire to be the would-be global hegemon of the 21st century and the creaking unipolar system is one step away from crumbling. But if the Latin American backyard becomes seedbed of game-changing defiances, depending on their weight the US is obliged to revise its global agenda downwards, triggering a unsustainable vicious circle of non-stop goal-remodulation.
The key to the multipolar transition is the opening of the Latin American front, that is the shifting of the center of gravity of the great power competition from Eurasia to the Americas. The question is: will America’s challengers be willing or able to do so?