February 13, 2004

Choose Your Game Wisely

In any international relationship, the participants get to pick the rules of the game. This is a crucial phase in relationships and needs to be decided wisely.

It appears that Russia is considering reviving the Great Game of win/lose power competition in Central Asia and its european periphery. For ordinary people, this game most resembles a high stakes game of poker. If true, this is a tremendous mistake. The reason is simple, the US can outbid Russia at any time, winning any single contest by simply outspending it.

The US, in contrast, seems want to play a different sort of game, a kind of competitive team sport where there is the competition between the team and its opponents as well as internal competition. American baseball and football with their intra-team partnerships and competitions for playing time and positions is a close analogue.

The US approach sets up two sets of winners. All participants on the winning team win, and there is a separate hierarchy of winners inside the team culminating in the most valuable player. Rivalries inside the team can be intense but you get ahead in this game via both personal advancement and group advancement.

Which game ultimately gets picked can shift from time to time and the rules inside the game can also morph. But the difference of which rules get picked is profound. It is the penultimate level of international organization, right below intentions and interests and needs to be monitored carefully. The Russians have been making some worrisome moves lately.

Posted by TMLutas at February 13, 2004 08:43 AM