Archive for the ‘geopolitics’ Category

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Geopolitics makes strange bedfellows

July 3, 2014

The steady success of ISIL in carving out a secure territory in Syria and Iraq is upsetting some old geopolitical equations.  Iran, seen by some as the likely “savior” of Iraq (or, at least, of its current government), is lobbing threats at the Kurds.  Turkey, meanwhile, long fearful of a Kurdish state, now considers embracing an independent Kurdistan to serve as a buffer against Iraqi violence and Iranian power.   The offshore power broker – the US – does not know what to do, because what might turn out to the best choice is also unthinkable:  Iran is currently the greatest threat to American interests in the region, and the force most likely to take the fight to the Iranians and to halt their geostrategic progress is, in fact, ISIL.  ISIL is closely (if complexly) affiliated with the al Qaeda organization with which the US has been at war since 9/11/2001 (and, arguably, for much of the decade prior to that as well).  It would be a nearly impossible sell to the American public – especially to the veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much for the last decade and a half – but at some point it may well be in America’s best interest to throw its support behind ISIL in order to thwart Iran.

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Is Germany the real target of Russia’s Ukraine adventure?

April 10, 2014

Interesting thoughts from Jan Techau:

Eighty-one percent of (Germans) asked believed that Russia is not a trustworthy partner … (b)ut 58 percent thought the same about the United States … 49 percent of Germans stated that their desired political position is equidistance between the West and Russia … (o)nly 45 percent believed that Germany should be firmly embedded in the West.

Equidistance is precisely the position into which Soviet and then Russian leaders have tried to lure Germany since the 1950s. Attempts have ranged from Stalin’s repeated offer to grant Germany neutrality in return for unification in 1952, to Leonid Brezhnev’s long-term strategy to use energy dependence to bind Germany to Russian interests, to President Vladimir Putin’s masterful psychological exploitation of German fears on issues such as missile defense or Ukraine. In all these instances, Moscow’s aim was to de facto neutralize Germany despite its integration into the West.

These efforts have never been fully successful. But they have been successful enough to make Germany an often wobbly ally and to spread uncertainty and fear, especially among Central European countries, most notably Poland. The Kremlin knows full well that uncertainty and fear are the very ingredients that, if nurtured for long enough, will poison every relationship and even the strongest alliance.

Driving a wedge into Westbindung remains a preeminent goal of the Russian leadership. Moscow’s spokespeople and pundits in the West are in high rotation to increase the spread of propaganda aimed at loosening Germany’s ties with the West. Russia’s representatives are smart, they are in it for the long haul, and they often do their job with considerable skill.

 

Read the whole thing.

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How the US Lost the Naval War of 2015

April 9, 2014

That is the title of a 2010 journal article by James Kraska:

By 2015, U.S. command of the global commons could no longer be taken for granted. The oceans and the airspace above them had been the exclusive domain of the U.S. Navy and the nation’s edifice of military power for seventy-five years. During the age of U.S. supremacy, the Navy used the oceans as the world’s largest maneuver space to outflank its enemies. Maritime mobility on the surface of the ocean, in the air and under the water was the cornerstone of U.S. military power. The United States was able to utilize its maritime dominance to envelop and topple rogue regimes, as it demonstrated in Grenada and Panama, and use the maritime commons to ferry huge ground armies to the other side of the world and sustain them indefinitely, as it did in Vietnam and twice in Iraq. The unique capability to project decisive power rapidly in any corner of the world gave the United States deterrent power and unrivalled military influence.

All that changed in 2015, when the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, sunk to the bottom of the East China Sea. More than 4,000 sailors and airmen died and the Navy lost eighty aircraft. A ship that would take seven years and $ 9 billion to replace slipped into the waves. The incident upset not just the balance of naval power in Asia, but ushered in a new epoch of international order in which Beijing emerged to displace the United States.

If you have never read Kraska’s article, read it now.  If you have, read it again.  And ponder it while listening to senior US and Chinese officials trade tough talk over maritime disputes in the Western Pacific.

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The triangular (or is it pentangular?) geopolitics of the Middle East

March 14, 2014

Qatar is in schism with its erstwhile Gulf Cooperation Council allies, having linked up with Turkey in the three-way geopolitical struggle for the region that has emerged in the vacuum left by America’s virtual abdication of leadership.  The three competing groups are led by the Saudis (with the rest of the GCC and Egypt), Iran (with Syria and the formal government of Iraq) and Turkey (with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood).  Israel and a rapidly coalescing Greater Kurdistan represent two other players.  The Middle East has always been a complex mix of allies and enemies, and it is even more so with the US leaving the field.

This editorial from the UAE’s National gives a local perspective on the simmering competition and shifting alliances.

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Al Qaeda’s cross-border geopolitics in Iraq and Syria

March 12, 2014

Konstantinos Zarras has published an analysis (link opens pdf file) of the efforts of al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate to expand its operations into Syria and create a de facto Islamic State along the middle regions of the Euphrates River valley.  Calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), they declared statehood in January of this year and are at once the most active insurgent group against the government of Bashir al Assad and the greatest cause of disunity among the would-be coalition of anti-government forces.  ISIS is in open warfare with the official al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and is even suspected of assassinating the personal envoy of global al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawihiri.

Success by ISIS in creating their Caliphate on the Euphrates would not be an altogether bad thing for the US, at least not in the near term.  Our failure in Iraq has created a weak state there which does not aid in containing Iran.  ISIS, however, would be a Sunni dominated state opposed to Shi’a Iran.  Combined with the emerging Greater Kurdistan to the north and the coalition of rich Gulf Arab states to the south, this would effectively do the work of the “Sunni Wall” that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq represented.

In the longer term, of course, a Salafist state would be a constant and ongoing threat to initiate state-supported terror operations against Western targets, but in the moment, Iran looms as the larger threat in the region.

The area in red represents the territory currently under control of ISIS

The area in red represents the territory currently under control of ISIS

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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.

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Putin’s Eurasianism

March 3, 2014

I have posted several times on Eurasianism and Russian geopolitical thinker Aleksander Dugin.  Students of either are unsurprised by Russia’s actions in the Ukraine.  Dugin has always seen the world as a contest between land and maritime powers, and the contemporary world as a contest between Russian-led Eurasianism and Anglo-American Atlanticism.  Ukraine is and always has been a core geopolitical interest for Russia, and she was never going to meekly allow that nation to simply walk away from Russia and become a member of The Atlantic Alliance.  The current crisis, or something like it, would be fully anticipated by Long Cycle Theory as a part of the Coalitioning phase.

Writing at National Review, Bob Zubrin has a brief but acceptable review of Dugin’s theories.  Read it, and the various posts I have made on Dugin and Eurasianism, to get a handle on the deeper geopolitical meanings of the current situation.