The central thesis in Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris’s “War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft” is that the United States needs to go beyond military and security dimensions to carry out geopolitical combat through economic means, or geoeconomics – defined as “the use of economic instruments to produce beneficial geopolitical results”, and against the background of its increased use among rising powers, who now have more resources and who are connected to global markets – but the book is more expository than analytical, resulting in a fairly bland read. And because a big picture is offered in the introductory chapter and in the start of each chapter, the following narrative feels more like a reference text chock-full of examples which are not organised or presented in an interesting manner.
In other words, the answers to the four questions – on geoeconomics and its importance, the efficacy of modern instruments, how China has been using geoeconomic tools while the United States has deviated from its historical use of it, as well as the features of a more effective American geoeconomic strategy – could have been presented in a long-form essay or commentary, rather than a book. In fact, the juxtaposition between the prioritisation of geoeconomics in China (in particular, in its dealings with Japan, North Korea, South Asia, South East Asia, and Taiwan) and its disregard in the United States was probably the most interesting, but it was only fleshed out towards the end of the book:
“America’s problem today is that after many decades of being preoccupied with the security dimension of American foreign policy, Washington instinctively reaches for the military instrument when often it is largely or entirely irrelevant or inappropriate to the external challenge at hand”. On the other hand, “although [China] is undertaking an ambitious program of military modernisation, its tools in pursuing that grand strategy [that will end United States primacy in Asia and alter the balance of power in that vast and crucial region] for the foreseeable future are primarily geoeconomic and not military”.
What is also interesting about “War by Other Means” is that it was published in April 2016, just seven months before the election of President Donald Trump. The policy recommendations which Blackwill and Harris mooted – especially the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – no longer seem to be on the table or relevant, which therefore begs the question as to whether they considered alternatives in the first place. The TPP was characterised as the necessary first step of America’s geopolitical strategy in Asia, and for the time being it would appear that steps contrary to conventional wisdom are instead being taken.