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WORLD FOCUS: The politics of agent 007

May 27, 2011
“In resisting, first, Communism and, secondly, more diffuse threats to world order, the U. S. has sought to ensure a favorable stability around the world. Adjusting to a more complex situation will be difficult,” said Jeremy Black in an interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette.

He is the Professor of History at the University of Exeter, Great Britain, and the author of 100 books on 18th century British politics and international relations. He is also a noted military historian who in contrast with many of his peers, refuses to explore his subject in ever-smaller time frames or geographical scope.

In a review of Black’s literary work, Andrew Roberts in the British magazine Standpoint, wrote: “He is historian who writes non-Marxist history with emphasis on narrative, readability and trying to understand the great actors of the past in their own terms and complexities, rather than in ours.”

In reference to Black’s lighthearted book, “The Politics of James Bond,” Roberts noted that Black has a sense of humor lacking in many other historians. He used the adventures of James Bond, the iconic British secret service agent 007, “to shed light on political attitudes around the world and to reflect on the real espionage history of the period.”

During his recent lecture, Black talked about the changing role of geopolitics. The term, he said, was coined at the end of the 19th century, and like other human experiences, people tried to turn it into science. Geopolitics saw a burst of activity in the first half of the 20th century, but its association with Nazi Germany briefly discredited it.

It was revived during the Cold War when the Soviet Union and the United States created spheres of influence. Foreign policy and military experts conceptualized how and where to counter Soviet power. In the 21st century, geopolitics may revert to its most classical use, Black said, as an instrument of creating a “balance of power.”

“The U. S. is centrally involved in global trade and financial movements.” Black said. “Disruption to these greatly threatens American strength. I do not see, however, ideological developments within other states as of comparable importance.”

What he has noted, however, is the improved Russo-Chinese, relations, which have erased the significant advantage the U. S. gained in the 1970s through exploiting the Sino-Soviet rift.

As a result, the term, “balance of power” is gaining currency. In international relations, a balance of power exists when there is parity or stability between competing forces. Thus, states will naturally rise against a power that threatens that stability.

Black is known as a proponent of seeing geopolitics as a flexible tool of analysis, not as a science governed by fixed rules. I asked him, what advice he would give to the Obama administration regarding its policy toward China, the Middle East, and Iran.

“The Obama administration, like all governments, is constrained by international contingencies and domestic parameters,” Black said. “Within that context I would urge a degree of caution in the Middle East/South Asia lest over-commitment lessen American ability to respond to the possibility of adverse developments in the Far East, notably in China and North Korea, and the greater Caribbean, in Venezuela, Cuba and Mexico.”

In his lecture, Black said that considering its financial situation, America won’t be able to sustain its ambition to be the “indispensable” power in the world.

“The fiscal situation in this country is so out of whack with the financial situation, that it is undermining America’s ability to play its traditional role in world affairs. I do believe, however, that America will continue have high growth rates, but with a difficult fiscal situation.”

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.


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