Zero Sum Politics and U.S. Policy Across the World

“A game in which the winnings of some players must equal the losses of the others. Zero-sum games are mentioned in a political context when it is believed that resources are limited, and every decision will produce both winners and losers. In such situations, political decisions will be made on the basis of trade-offs between competing interests.” – Definition of Zero Sum game.

There has been a trend over the last few years to define all foreign political decisions made by the United States in terms of the zero sum game definition. Whether it is the nuclear agreement with Iran, current policies with Russia or China, or even the effect of American involvement in Africa, the results are postulated as someone wins and someone loses.

The idea that an arrangement can be made where both countries are winners is rarely, if ever, mentioned. Foreign policy is crouched in phrases of how this helps our country and how it hurts our rivals. By adopting that mind-set, policy creators in Washington and other capitals ensure that those results are the only ones that are acceptable. Opinion writers, like myself, feed that acceptance and the public adopts the opinion that there must always be winners and losers.

Zero SumReal life and foreign policy is not always that easy, of course. Compromise and limited goals are, in many cases, a better conclusion and are of more long-term worth than complete victory. Take the fall of the Soviet Union, for example.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, the Western Powers hailed it as the defeat of Communism and the opportunity to democratize a powerful opponent. It failed. Corruption and resurgent nationalism pushed Russia into a policy of brinkmanship and empire building that, over the last two years, has become a huge problem for the West.

Although a world can be made perfect with “what if” scenarios, the idea of the United States and the other Western powers creating a solution during the 1990s to help the Russian nation with rebuilding their infrastructure, both physical and political, instead of pursuing policies to strengthen Russia’s neighbors at the cost of increased defensiveness of the Russian state may have prevented the current provocation by Putin’s government.

Don’t misunderstand me. I do not condone the actions of the Russian government in their annexation of Crimea and fomenting civil war in the Ukraine, but from the position of Russia creating a defensive cordon of states between them and their traditional enemies in Europe, it makes sense: In a Zero Sum game way.

The surge of economic, political and military power in China gives the United States the opportunity to move away from Zero Sum Politics. This country’s economic health is dependent on a strong China, but a strong China becomes a political and military threat. Zero Sum politics will acerbate that situation and create a mirror of the two super power system that created the Cold War.

Compromise and sensible solutions, for ourselves, our allies and the Chinese people can create a situation where there are no winners and losers, where victory is not an end in itself.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
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3 thoughts on “Zero Sum Politics and U.S. Policy Across the World

  1. It is a huge mistake believeing that outside countries can change large old historical countries like China, India or Russia with much younger political countries like advices from the United States. The problem was indeed that all the U.S. advisors and advices in the independant Russia from 1992 during the Yeltsin era until 1999/2000 did really fail and were huge mistakes, economically, politically and socially – Russia went in the 1990’s into a complete disaster because of the western neo-liberal shock therapy – which with Putin came to a luckily end and the country stabilized. It is a political fact that countries like India, China and Russia are the most difficult countries to rule from the central government – and no International Currency Fund or World Bank can ever change this fact. Changes in these countries must come from the inner circles and political movements domestically, not from the outside. The South America is in general the typical lucky case here – they dumped all IMF and World bank advisors and broke free from US Power and this continent is today one of the fastest growing countries politically, democratically, socially – and under fully independant rule from their own governments – the South American Iron Curtain fell when they broke free from Pentagon and Capitol Hill advisors – that s a fact on the western hemisphere in modern time. Russia, China and India are all walking and following the same path. It will take many years, if not decades, democracy must grow from within and cant be sent by advisors or bombings over the Middle-East.

  2. What?
    Please, do us all a favor and learn both history and politics. Your comments are facile and show an unwillingness to look at the truth.
    First, the “old historical countries” you refer to have governments that are not half as old as the United States. Russia formed its modern government in the 1990s, India and China in the 1940s. Those countries should be considered young in this context.
    Second, as to external change versus internal change, all three of those countries changed their government because of external change. The Soviet Union became Russia because of the pressure put on it by the West. The Communist Chinese came to power during the 1920s with the support of Communist Russia. The modern government of India came into being through reforms adopted by the British which finally led to self-rule.
    Third, I do not understand why you are even speaking of central rule. On one hand it sounds like you are condemning the current governments of all three countries – because they support central planning and control – but on the other hand it sounds like you support it, as long as it doesn’t include any influence from the US or an outside agency. This is a simplistic and unrealistic view that is completely unsupported. Especially when you refer to South American countries as fully independent.
    I do like the reference to the South American Iron Curtain, though.
    Just by calling your opinions “facts” does not make them so.

  3. There ARE indeed differences between an American point of view, and of a European point of view. “Modern governments” – which the record of this form should be hold by the United States is completely not correct – the United States are harldy the father of modern democracy, and far from it – many countries have contributed parts by parts to today’s World-democratic system based on equality. Unlike to all commentators here I lived as a student and researcher in the USSR and Russia during the perestrojka years(1985-1991) and during the awful and problematic Yeltsin era – and I know this country by its grassroots. From a European point of view, classic formal governments are older than the “U.S. system”, based on right of vote for white men only under a slavery and more or less a full apartheid system (and later white women permitted to vote as well) until 1968. Russia had a proper functionally goverment already under the last tsarst years, well with some difficulties, the early Union governments of 1920’s were classical minister governments like neighbourig countries like Poland and the Weimar republic. All political cultures are always coloured by its (their) long and dramatical history, and the Chinese and Russian history of political leadership are very much experienced and longer then the Young and unexperienced U.S. govvernment form which gained full democracy in the late 1960’s when all adult Citizens were permitted to vote. The United States are by so a very Young democracy. The USSR system was changed totally from within in Andropov and Gorbatchov’s era, and had very little affects from outside, which many Americans incorrectly believe. The military efforts within the USSR and its costs were by far minor than the hopeless economial supporting for cheap milk and bread etc. which was some 400-500% larger than the USSR military costs, just as an example. The USSR system could have been unchanged some 100 years longer into the future, all according to experienced opinions like Mikhail Gorbatchov’s and the famous oppositional author Roy Medvedev. The decision to change the stagnated nomenklatura system and the ineffective planned command economy came from within the Kremlin circles, and had very little to do with Reagan’s television propaganda of a SDI – which has never proved, to this day, to work at all. That Reagan and his conservative circles should have changed the USSR system is an after-constructed historical error which does not apply to historical facts – which is supported by modern contemporary political research and European history research programme.

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