It is dangerously easy in an age of jihadi beheading videos, civil wars, and global Ebola outbreaks to lose sight of America’s need for an updated and comprehensive long-range national-security strategy. After all, no one can blame the United States for becoming front-sight focused on today’s problems, especially when those problems include self-proclaimed, caliphate-seeking holy warriors beheading our citizens, and civil wars erupting in Southwest Asia and Eastern Europe.

Despite these pressing and grave conflicts, however, America needs to reassess its place in the world, as well as the geopolitical infrastructure under which all countries operate, and make the necessary changes to that infrastructure—where possible—based on its re-evaluated and reaffirmed goals and values.

The 21st-Century Global Political System

Today’s global geopolitical system is dangerously out of balance, and in need of fine-tuning. We are living in a 21st-century global political environment, under the rules and structures of a 20th-century post-war world. This assessment is not controversial, nor is it new, but it bears repeating in this analysis. The structures under which nation-states operated after World War II and throughout the Cold War were based on the balance of power in 1945.

In other words, the Bretton Woods-based economic system and the United Nations Security Council, NATO, and other political institutions revolved around an east-west, Capitalist-Communist dichotomy.  The “third-world” countries (i.e., those in Africa, Latin America, and Asia) were left to fend for themselves, and play the two “Great Power” blocks off of one another.

The First Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century. In the roughly two and a half decades since, the world has seen the rise of Islamic fundamentalist expansionism and popular uprising and revolution, leading to destabilization in a number of states, notably in Southwest Asia and North Africa. These two currents, and other countries’ responses to them (i.e., Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and other international military-political actions) have destabilized Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Nigeria, Yemen, and other surrounding nations.  Here is not a judgement of those actions, but rather an analysis of them, and their effects.

Additionally, the United States and Russia appear to have entered a phase of relations which can only be called a Second Cold War, in which Russia exerts its influence and power in its near abroad, while the United States seeks to counter it diplomatically and through its ever closer relations with the states of eastern Europe. As part of its pushback against what it sees as American hegemony, Russia seeks with China to undermine the World Bank, and the dollar as the world’s primary currency, all in an attempt to undermine the American-led world order.

China’s cooperation with Russia in this economic respect is only part of what seems to be its strategy to rise to the level of global superpower in what is an admittedly sub-confrontational manner. In other words, China is not seeking to implode the world order overnight, but to slowly degrade it until it no longer seems inevitable. It has asserted itself more aggressively in East Asia, most notably with regards to its assertion of ownership of various islands in the South China Sea, and China has also reached out from its mainland to foster ties and exploit resources in South America and Africa.

While China, Russia, and America engage in these expressions of great power rivalry, India and Brazil meanwhile find themselves on the cusp of becoming world powers, while they move to assert their influence in their own respective regions. India is the world’s largest democracy, and continues to move up the economic ladder, while Brazil is the preeminent example of a largely liberal democratic, and wealthier, South America (with the notable exceptions of Venezuela and Cuba).