Spheres of Influence: Outdated Relic or Renewed Reality?


When policymakers in the United States declared in the aftermath of the Cold War that the age of “spheres of influence” had ended, were they misdiagnosing the issue? Strong countries throughout history have exerted influence over their neighbors—be it the US Monroe Doctrine or Russia and its Near Abroad. Did the end of the Cold War truly close the book on spheres of influence? Or will the return of great power competition result in the return of this concept as a major factor in global politics?

To answer this important question, the Center for the National Interest hosted an online discussion entitled “Spheres of Influence: Outdated Relic or Renewed Reality?” on Wednesday, April 8. Joining us as co-hosts for this event were Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

The discussion was moderated by Center Vice President & Director of Studies George Beebe and featured a panel of experts with a diverse range of opinions on the role of spheres of influence in 21st century world politics:

• Dr. Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard University. His article, “The New Spheres of Influence,” was published in the March/April edition of Foreign Affairs.

• Paul Saunders, Senior Fellow, the Center for the National Interest. His article, “US Embrace of Great Power Competition Also Means Contending with Spheres of Influence,” was published on the Russia Matters site in February.

• Ambassador Steven Pifer, William J. Perry Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, and non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who argued against accepting spheres of influence in a reply to Saunders published on Russia Matters.

• Ambassador John Herbst, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, a strong opponent of ceding spheres of influence to America’s rivals.