Archive for the ‘Central Asia’ Category


Did climate change aid the Mongol conquests?

March 11, 2014

That is the conclusion of a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.  The researchers used tree ring data to determine that, following an extended period of drought that likely caused social and political upheaval, an unprecedented period of persistent rainfall led to bumper crop of grass and hay across the Eurasian steppe.  The upheaval created the political conditions that enabled Genghis Khan’s rise to power, and the flowering of the steppe provided the fuel for his mounted armies and their conquests.

I am still considering how this fits into classical geopolitical theories – particularly Mackinder and Spykman, who were so influenced by the historical repetition of Central Asian armies of conquest.  It is compelling evidence, however, for profound short term political impact of climactic events, even on a decade-level scale.


Geostrategic ramifications of Iran Nuclear Deal and Port Construction

December 30, 2013

From a recent Iran Pulse:

The November 24th Interim Nuclear Agreement between Iran and the Six Powers provides for the limited easing of trade restrictions on strategic items such as petrochemicals products, aircraft parts, and precious metals, accounting for up to US$7 billion of trade over the next six months. With the prospect of even wider Iranian trade in the near future, India’s construction of Iran’s first deep-water port to meet modern shipping standards will radically transform Iran’s geo-strategic position, breaking the international economic pressure on Tehran and transforming Iran into the key transit link for the most cost-effective transportation corridor for European-Indian Ocean trade. While Iran and India traditionally have been allies in Afghanistan against Pakistan, New Delhi’s drive to construct a deep-sea port at the Iranian city of Chabahar along with transportation corridors running northward has been motivated by New Delhi’s economic rivalry with Beijing. For Iran, it means a centrally important position in the emerging pattern of trade between Europe and an ascending Asia.



China’s Continental End Run

October 21, 2013

Alexandros Peterson and Raffaello Pantucci write in this month’s National Interest about what they call “China’ s Inadvertent Empire” in Central Asia.  They detail the growing economic ties between China and the resource rich but (relatively) sparsely populated and poor nations of the Eurasian Heartland.  While Peterson and Pantucci correctly point out that this is a growing strategic threat – precisely the kind of single power dominance that Halford Mackinder first warned about over a century ago – I do believe that they are underplaying the central organizing role that Beijing policy makers are playing in this Chinese expansionism.  While it is undertaken on an ad hoc basis and has no formal strategic white paper guiding it., there is certainly more than economic opportunism behind it.  The admirals of the PLAN know that their A2/AD strategy designed to push US naval power away from their home waters has no real strategic capability – that the nation’s economic lifeblood courses through sea lines of communication that it will not be able to secure for at least a generation, if ever.  The pipelines, railways, and highways that they are building through the heart of Asia, on the other hand, serve as an end run around US naval power.  It makes obvious sense that, as the world’s most powerful naval force pivots toward Asia, Asia’s most powerful nation would pivot toward the Heartland.   So obvious that to call such a turn “inadvertent” seems naive.

international maritime route

Global Maritime Traffic Flows



Turkey reshuffles the Eurasian coalitioning deck

April 29, 2013

In Modelski’s version of Long Cycle Theory, coalitioning is the final phase before the final conflict between the existing hegemonic order and its challengers.  The coalitioning phase sees shifts in alliance structures, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic.  EnerGeoPolitics has been watching the coalitioning efforts of the United States, Russia and China in Eurasia from its inception.  Early in this century, the US tried (and failed) to form an alliance of Caspian Sea states under the name of the Caspian Guard.  It has has better – though limited – success in expanding NATO to Eurasian states through its Partnership for Peace program.   China and Russia came together to create the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with several Central Asian nations.  Russia has organized several of the former Soviet Republics into the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which has been the most successful effort – success which has led Russia to de-emphasize its participation in the SCO.

Late last week, there was an upheaval in the coalitioning field as charter NATO member – a lynchpin of US efforts in Eurasia – officially became a “dialogue partner” of the SCO.  This is not full membership, and Turkey has not left NATO, but it has been drifting away from the Atlantic alliance and toward the Heartland for a decade.  Atlanticism, it seems, is in retreat, and Eurasianism is on the march.  The good news (from this American’s perspective) is that the competing versions of Eurasianism (Russian, Chinese and don’t forget pan-Islamic) will have to settle things out among themselves before they can look outward.


CSTO proposes formation of joint Eurasian air force

April 18, 2013

The Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization held a defense meeting in Kyrgyzstan this week that was highlighted by the announcement that the CSTO plans to form a joint air force (Collective Air Force or CAF) that will be part of their existing and growing regional rapid response force (Collective Rapid Response Forces, CRRF).  The CAF will provide both transport and combat duties for the CRRF.  The CAF will be based at Kyrgyzstan’s Kant Air Base and, if nothing else, will provide cover for the growing Russian presence there.   Kant is just east of the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek which is itself very nearly the geographic center of the Eurasian land mass:

Kant Air Base

Current CSTO members in addition to Russia and Kyrgyzstan are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Tajikstan but it is not clear whether all nations will provide men or materiel to the CAF.


A Great Rift in Central Asia?

March 5, 2013

Central Asia has long figured prominently in geopolitical theory, dating back at least to Halford Mackinder’s formulation of “Heartland Theory.”  Most recently, the regions vast trove of natural resources – in particular fossil fuel reserves – have led to competition for favor among three Great Powers – China, Russia and the US.  Each of the three has tried to organize the space to its advantage, summarized in the table below (from this post a few years back).

Table 4

The  US has largely abandoned its efforts, at least in the heart of Central Asia, and is in the process of disengagement east of the Caspian.  China and Russia, however, are both aggressively pursuing their interests in the region and, to that end, the SCO and CSTO are drifting apart, with the SCO becoming more and more a Chinese enterprise rather than a joint Sino-Russian effort.

Now, it seems, that Russia is even looking upon the SCO as a true rival to its interests.   This is an opportunity for the US – even as we retreat, we can use the reality of increasing Chinese influence in what Russia sees as its rightful sphere of influence as a means of both dividing those powers and of developing strategic cooperation with Russia to help contain Chinese strength.  “Containment” is a word that China hates to hear, but the stronger it gets, the more likely it is to be openly embraced by all of her neighbors and rivals.


Energy + Geography + Politics = EnerGeoPolitics

February 12, 2013

Nowhere today is that formula more evident than in South and Southwest Asia.   The populous and demographically young nations of India and Pakistan are poised for economic growth that could equal or even surpass the recently developed economies of East and Southeast Asia.  Among the many hindering factors are lack of energy, geographic isolation from energy sources, and a politics of historic enmity.   However, the vast energy supplies of Central Asia – gas, oil and electricity – hold the promise of breaking those centuries old blockages.  Could the goals of growth and prosperity be the catalyst needed for the energeopolitics formula?    The European Energy Review lays out the problem quite clearly:

The energy deficits and power shortages in Southwest Asia force key regional players to look for new sources of supply at home and abroad. Turkmenistan’s gas and Central Asia’s hydroelectricity could become indispensable sources of energy for the regional states, in particular for Pakistan. Afghanistan could become a key gas and electricity transit corridor. But this can only happen if a regional multilateral framework is created in which energy investments are secure. Probably the best way to achieve this is by further extending the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which already has a considerable presence in Central Asia, to encompass all the major players in Southwest Asia. The ECT might even become for Southwest Asia what the European Coal and Steel Community was for Europe.

India and Pakistan combined make up close to one-fifth of the world’s population, much of it without stable access to primary energy and power supplies. A timely response to this challenge is crucial considering last summer’s energy shortages in India, which affected more than half-a-billion people. The shortage of energy supplies, especially electricity, already slows down considerably these countries’ economic growth. The overall annual growth rate in Pakistan is 3 to 4 percent and in India 7 to 8 percent. Without energy shortages, the growth rates of Pakistan and India would be 3 to 4 percent higher.

In India and especially in Pakistan, natural gas is rapidly gaining importance as a key source in the power generation mix. Gas-fired turbines are highly efficient and relatively cheap to build. Gas-based power stations are also flexible and can quickly respond to peak demand, which is particularly relevant for the electricity sectors of these two countries.

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