For those new to this blog, it is written on the theoretical foundation of long cycle theory, which holds that the modern world system has displayed a clear pattern of repeated periodicity over the last 500 years. Each historical cycle lasts roughly a century, give or take a few decades, and within each cycle there are four distinct phases.
Each cycle begins with a macrodecision – usually a major war. The victor in each war becomes the hegemon, or leader, of the global economy and begins the implementation of their leadership , which is the next phase. This is followed by the “agenda setting” phase, in which the dominant issues of the cycle are defined and the seeds of the next challenge are planted. Finally, there is a “coalitioning” phase, in which various nations line up beside the existing hegemon or the large power that is rising to challenge it. I believe that the agenda around which the next macrodecision will be contested is energy, and that we are currently in the coalitioning phase as old alliances are variously shattered/strengthened/expanded and new alliances are formed. This should be especially pronounced in major energy producing areas, the largest (by far) in the world today is the Strategic Energy Ellipse (SEE), which encompasses the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf regions.
Strategic Energy Ellipse from Kemp and Harkavy, “Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East”
I have two new posts on the ongoing coalitioning phase today. The first is Joshua Kucera’s explication of the Great Caspian Arms Race, as the five nations with claims on the energy-rich Caspian Sea build up their forces in the area in anticipation of confrontation. Russia has been by far the dominant power in the region, but Iran is a growing nation intent on pursuing its own claims. However, most of the energy supplies are in regions internationally recognized as the sovereign territories of either Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan. Each of these three smaller nations is building up forces to protect their claims, and the allegiance of all three is seen as a prize in the coalitioning game. Azerbaijan is the only one that has a firmly declared side – the Azeri’s are America’s steadiest ally in the region. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are not committed to any side, and indeed are seeking to involve China in order to claim the most benefits from the greatest number of interested parties.
A post from the Central Asia-Caucusus Institute further discusses China’s involvement in the region. Steven Blank examines China’s drive into the region and the possibility that they could supplant Russia in influence. China’s interest is driven primarily by her huge thirst for energy, and the large supplies in the Caspian are alluring. In his essay, Blank discusses how China has become the prime partner of former Soviet state Krygyzstan, putting them one step closer to the actual Caspian states (their goal is for a large pipeline to ship energy from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and then Kyrgyzstan and on into China).
Clearly, China and Russia have the advantage of geographic proximity, but the US is not without cards to play. We have close allies in Georgia and Azerbaijan, we will retain a presence in Afghanistan even after the 2014 “withdrawal,” we have a developing relationship with India, and we have a tremendous military power concentrated in and around the Persian Gulf. Indeed, even after 2014, the US will remain the most potent military force in the entire SEE.