05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
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David Criekemans: North-Korea – Model UN Simulation Exercise (2009)

Article by: David Criekemans (October 2009) Tags: North Korea Model United Nations Simulation Exercise Security Council

David Criekemans

David Criekemans

Dr. David Criekemans is an Assistant Professor in ‘Belgian and Comparative Foreign Policy’ at the University of Antwerp and in ‘Geopolitics’ at both the Royal Military Academy in Brussels and the International Centre for Geopolitical Studies (ICGS) in Geneva. He also works as a Senior Researcher ‘European and Global Relations’ at the Flemish Centre for International Policy (FCIP).

Personal page of David Criekemans

Voorkant van David Criekemans-boek

“Geopolitiek, ‘geografisch geweten’ van de buitenlandse politiek?”, Garant / Maklu (Antwerpen / Apeldoorn), 2007

During the year 2009, a rapid and dangerous breakdown of relations between North Korea (aka, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK) and the international community occurred. On 25 May 2009, North Korea conducted the second underground nuclear test in its history, followed by the launch of several missiles.

After three weeks of negotiations held in strict confidentiality within the UN Security Council (UNSC), first among the P5 plus Japan and South Korea, and then among all Council members, the UNSC adopted on 12 June the resolution 1874 condemning the nuclear test, expanding the existing arms embargo, authorising inspection of cargoes to and from the DPRK, as well as vessels on the high seas, prohibiting financial services and transfers to the DPRK that could be linked to weapons related activities and authorising asset freezes in this regard, and calling upon states and international institutions not to provide new financial assistance or trade support to the DPRK, except for humanitarian or development assistance.

The Council also decided that the 1718 Sanctions Committee would adjust its measures within thirty days, through the designation of additional entities goods, and individuals. Finally, it requested the Secretary-General to establish a panel of experts to monitor and verify implementation of the sanctions measures.

The response of the DPRK was belligerent; it threatened with open war should its vessels be boarded, it raised the operational level of its troops alongside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), it conducted even more missile tests, and it announced speeding up its uranium enrichment programme, thereby increasing the likelihood that it soon will have at its disposal multiple atomic bombs. Finally, Pyongyang recalled to the international community that it possesses the capability to destroy the capital of South Korea, Seoul, within half an hour – even by conventional means.

North Korea is bringing the region and the world ‘to the brink’ of war and disaster, and nothing seems to stop them. Furthermore, dangerous ‘cat and mouse’ games between the North Korean fleet and the naval fleets of the US, South Korea and Japan might even provoke incidents which would lead to war eventually.

The Security Council meets to stave off potential disaster.

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You can download the simulation exercise:

PDF-file of Simulation Exercise (903 kB)

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on David Criekemans: Kosovo – Model UN Simulation Exercise (2007)

David Criekemans: Kosovo – Model UN Simulation Exercise (2007)

Article by: Dr. David Criekemans (December 2007) Tags: Kosovo Model United Nations Simulation Exercise Security Council

David Criekemans

David Criekemans

Related external links

Onderzoeksgroep Diplomatie en Geopolitiek Personal page of David Criekemans

Voorkant van David Criekemans-boek

“Geopolitiek, ‘geografisch geweten’ van de buitenlandse politiek?”, Garant / Maklu (Antwerpen / Apeldoorn), 2007

For more than eight years since the unanimous adoption of resolution 1244 (1999) by the UN Security Council, the international community has been trying to find a solution to the ‘final status’ of Kosovo. Since February 2007, this debate is accelerating; the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, unveiled a plan to set Kosovo on a path to independence. The plan –although fully backed by the West– is highly controversial, both in Serbia and in Russia. To make matters worse, the relations between the Russian federation and some Western countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom have rapidly deteriorated as a result of conflicting interests:

  • Washington’s intention to install anti-ballistic missile-facilities in the Czech republic and Poland “to protect against Iran” (but Moscow thinks it is targeting Russia);
  • The UK-Russia row over the murder of ex-FSB spy Litvinenko, and Moscow’s unwillingness to extradite the FSB-spy and main suspect Lugovoi, resulting in the reciprocal expulsion of British and Russian diplomats;
  • Western fears over Russia’s reliability and intentions regarding its gas and oil deliveries;
  • The Russian row with Canada and the US about their respective territorial claims over the North Pole (gas &oil reserves);
  • Russia’s restlessness over a further NATO-enlargement.

The ‘Kosovo-dossier’ risks becoming a victim of the rapidly deteriorating East-West-relationship. Russia might very well decide to take a stand in this dossier, bearing in mind its symbolic importance as a precedent in other potential secession cases and to repel any further Western intrusion in what they consider to be their ‘sphere of influence’. This setting forms the core of the negotiation exercise which you are about to embark upon.

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You can download the simulation exercise:

PDF-file of Simulation Exercise (879 kB)

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on The geopolitics of renewable energy: different or similar to conventional energy?

The geopolitics of renewable energy: different or similar to conventional energy?

Article by: David Criekemans (April 2011) Tags: Geopolitics Renewable Energy Technology Desertec North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative CO2 Emissions Investments Germany

David Criekemans

David Criekemans

Dr. David Criekemans is Research-co-ordinator and Senior Researcher ‘European and Global Relations’, Flemish Centre for International Policy (FCIP), Antwerp (Belgium). Moreover, he is Assistant Professor in ‘Belgian and Comparative Foreign Policy’ at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Finally, Dr Criekemans is Lecturer in ‘Geopolitics’ at the International Centre for Geopolitical Studies (ICGS), Geneva (Switzerland).

The whole paper is available for download:

“The geopolitics of renewable energy”

Geopolitics is the scientific field of study belonging to both Political Geography and International Relations, which investigates the interaction between politically acting (wo)men and their surrounding territoriality (in its three dimensions; physicalgeographical, human-geographical and spatial) (Criekemans, 2007; Criekemans 2009).

The field of Geopolitics has always been very interested in energy questions since conventional energy sources such as oil, natural gas and coal constitute physicalgeographical variables of strategic importance. Within Geopolitics, it is recognized that the energy regime of the global system and the energy relations between producer countries, transit countries and consumer countries are important variables which can influence international relations. The factor ‘location’ –where the energy resources are, and via which routes can they be brought to (potentially rival) consumer countries– constitutes an important area of study within the field of Geopolitics.

The ‘Geopolitics of (Conventional) Energy’ entails a whole literature in itself. Exploring and developing conventional energy (oil, natural gas, coal) demands for huge capital investments and a military machine to control. Today, in an age of increasing scarcity, producer, transit and consumer countries are positioning themselves geopolitically so as to safeguard their energy security. Of course, energy and location in themselves do not explain everything in international relations, otherwise one would lapse into geographic or energetic determinism. But the way in which societies shape their energy mix, is central to both their chances for development and survival. Countries and areas which have energy (technology) at their disposal potentially have better cards compared to other countries.

Nevertheless all countries, regions and areas are interconnected when it comes to the complexity of energetic relations, which in itself is translated into international-political relations and power dynamics. We know what the Geopolitics of Conventional Energy entails, and how it becomes more prominent in times of resource scarcity. But as countries in the world will in the coming decades move towards more renewable energy in their respective energy mixes, how will this affect geopolitical relations? What trends and developments can we see today? To what extend is the Geopolitics of Renewable Energy different or similar compared to the Geopolitics of Conventional Energy? Remarkably enough the current literature in Geopolitics and international relations has only barely scratched the surface with regard to exploring the potential geopolitical effects of the transition towards more renewable energy sources. This paper can be seen as a first initial effort to bring some thoughts on this matter together.

Renewable energy has come into the picture in the past years as a result of a number of combing factors and trends. First, the last decades have clearly shown that the burning of non-renewable, fossil fuels leads to CO2-emissions, the exhausting of resources, local environmental degradation and climate change. Second, the entering into the world economic scene of a couple of billion people in especially Asia structurally impacts the demand for energy, as a result of which (conventional) energy scarcity could become a real possibility in the coming decades.

All these elements push decision makers to make new choices in the direction of more renewable forms of energy. Also the markets influence this process, although this evolved jerkily in the past couple of years. When the stock markets think a situation of scarcity might develop, like was the case in the summer of 2008 (when a barrel of oil reached the staggering record price of 147$), then the prices of fossil energy can multiply in a short time frame and create volatility in the market. As a result of this, renewable energy becomes more interesting and economic in comparison to traditional forms of energy.

When a few months later in 2008 the energy prices collapsed as a result of the economic crisis, a reverse process seemed to develop in the market – resulting finally in decreasing investments in renewable energy. Such dynamics make the study of renewable energy within a broader geo-economical and geopolitical context not very easy. Many variables are at play. Nevertheless, humanity will have to make the transition towards more renewable energy if she is to survive the century. The stakes could never have been higher. Who will be the winners, who will be the losers? And how will renewable energy reshape the global and macro-regional geopolitical landscape?

The insights which we developed in this paper are based upon a recent study ‘Geopolitics of Renewable Energy: chances and opportunities for Flanders’ which was conducted at the Flemish Centre for International Policy. It is based upon some 30 interviews with key people in the sector of renewable energy working in Flanders and Brussels (with the EU), and also on the current available secondary and primary literature on renewable energy.

The paper tries to bring together some ideas on the specificity of the geopolitics of renewable energy. It is structured as follows:

  • We try to define ‘renewable energy’ and illustrate the difference between ‘renewable’ and ‘sustainable’;
  • We will lay out some internal and external geopolitical consequences of the energy transition;
  • We explain that the transition towards renewable energy in fact entails an “energy technology-revolution” or ET-revolution;
  • We provide a global overview of the latest developments in renewable energy;
  • We will study the geopolitics of renewable energy in more detail – we will look at the global control over patents and knowledge and we will investigate the potential of renewable energy sources and their geopolitical consequences;
  • We will analyse some current “mega-dossiers” in renewable energy in Europe – Desertec and the North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative;
  • Last but not least, we will try to formulate some conclusions on the specificity of the geopolitics of renewable energy.

Conclusion

This paper studied the geopolitics of renewable energy. The question was asked whether it was different or similar compared to the geopolitics of conventional energy. The answer to this question seems to be a mixed one.

On the one hand, the answer could be that it is potentially different. Renewable energy is more decentralised in nature compared to conventional energy. An interwoven net of renewables combined with smart grids could potentially be more reliant and entails the potential for societal rejuvenation in the sense that it could empower people and regional authorities vis-à-vis central governments and interests.

Moreover, those countries who invest in renewable energy may well become central players in the future. The US and China, but also some individual EU-countries such as Germany, are actors that invest a lot in renewable energy technology. As renewable energy will grow and gains a higher percentage of the energy mixes in countries, it will also alter their geopolitical positions.

Countries which geopolitically enjoy pivotal positions in the conventional energy world, will not necessary enjoy the same position in a world in which renewables grow in importance (e.g. Saudi Arabia). Eventually, geopolitical relations across the globe could be affected.

On the other hand, the answer could be that it is similar. The bigger projects in renewable energy suffer from very similar security issues as compared to traditional energy projects. The question for instance lies with where certain pivotal power lines will run, and who will control them. What about the physical security of these power lines?

In addition, the Geopolitics of Renewable Energy also creates geo-technical opportunities and limitations. One of the major problems with which countries will be faced, concerns the issue of the rare earth materials that are needed in the technological advances of renewable energy technology. Rothkopf convincingly wrote that the green geopolitical crises might look similar to those of the conventional energy regime. There might be green protectionism in the western world, but also the condition of oil producing countries might be problematic in a world where renewable energy is growing fast (Rothkopf, 2009).

In all probability, the geopolitics of conventional energy and that of renewable energy will exist next to each other for a period of several decades. Decision makers will have to be creative in trying to cancel out the drawbacks of one source of energy with the advantages of the other. In that sense, the geopolitics of energy will become more complex, and will have to deal with a variety of issues in foreign policy, diplomacy and international security.

Instead of approaching this issue in antithetical terms, one should rather try to pursue more synthetical approaches in the study of geopolitics, power transitions and energy.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Geopolitics of energy and the role of Russia in global power shifts

Geopolitics of energy and the role of Russia in global power shifts

Article by: David Criekemans en Sofie Van Maele (April 2009) Tags: Geopolitics of Energy Role Russia Global Power Shifts

David Criekemans

David Criekemans

This publication is the English summary of a Dutch report by Dr. David Criekemans and Sofie Vanmaele (both of University of Antwerp). The Flemish Centre of International Policy (FCIP, Antwerp) published the report.

It is also available for download on this website:

“Geopolitiek van de Energie en de Rol van Rusland als Motor in Mondiale Machtsverschuivingen” (Dutch, 2,673 kB)

English summary

Related external links

Onderzoeksgroep Diplomatie en Geopolitiek Vlaams Steunpunt Buitenlands Beleid Personal page of David Criekemans

Voorkant van David Criekemans-boek

“Geopolitiek, ‘geografisch geweten’ van de buitenlandse politiek?”, Garant / Maklu (Antwerpen / Apeldoorn), 2007

Two dimensions are first studied in this report, which both constitute major policy challenges with which the European Union, its states and regions, are all confronted.

First, the main dimensions of the current energy debate (the transition towards a more durable energy system, the ever tighter oil and gas markets, and the politics of scarcity) are explored.

Second, the relations between the EU and Russia are studied with a focus on the energy dimension. This part starts with a sketch of the background with which this special bilateral relationship should be understood. The report tries to understand the energy dialogue which was institutionalised between the EU and Russia since 2000. Important is that ‘energy efficiency’ is being signalled out as one of the main areas within which the EU and Russia could find a common ground, so as to ‘restart’ their relationship.

The last part of this study investigates how ‘energy’ affects the foreign policy of the Belgian federation, both at the federal level and at the level of the Regions. In Belgium, the policy areas of ‘energy efficiency’ and ‘renewable energy’ are exclusive competencies of the Regions. Only the Regions can also conduct a foreign policy in these areas, not the federal level. Hence, 25 recommendations are made to further enhance the strategic link between ‘energy’ and ‘foreign policy’, both institutionally and with regard to the policy content.

Special attention is being given to recommendations for the benefit of the consolidation and further enhancement of the foreign policy of the Regional Government of Flanders. A last part in the study also formulates recommendations on the way in which Flanders could contribute directly, via the Belgian federation and via the European Union to the bilateral relation with Russia. More then 80% of the trade between Belgium and Russia is actually between Flanders and Russia.

Based upon this and other data, the authors argue that also on a political level, the Region of Flanders could further augment its cooperation with (its counterparts in) the Russian federation, within such domains as culture, education, trade, etc. With regard to energy, ‘energy efficiency’ could be an interesting domain within which regional governments in Europe could start a cooperation with their counterparts in Russia. In this context, the case of Bavaria is signalled out as an example.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
3 Comments

Western Sahara – territorial dispute, self-determination and the UN

Article by: Alex Chitty, MA student at King’s College, June 2010 Tags: Western Sahara territorial dispute self-determination UN Polisario Sahrawi Plebiscite MINURSO Morocco Río de Oro Terrritory Algeria Mauritania

picture Alex Chitty

Alex Chitty

map of Western Sahara

Alex Chitty holds a BA in Geography from the University of Brighton and is a master’s Student of Geopolitics, Territory and Security at King’s College London.

A sample of Alex’s recent academic work is available here:

Personal website of Alex Chitty

In this essay, he outlines the origins of the dispute in Western Sahara, and discusses the role of UN peacekeepers in the region. The problems facing the longstanding ceasefire and seemingly distant plebiscite are explained, and conclusions drawn.

The article

The Territorial Dispute in Western Sahara

Western Sahara is a territory in North Africa bordered by Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco, inhabited by Moroccan and minority indigenous Sahrawi populations. Formerly a Spanish colony known as Spanish Sahara, it is the site of an historical and ongoing territorial conflict between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Sahrawi rebel movement POLISARIO (the Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro), supported by the government of neighbouring Algeria. A dispute characterised by colonisation, decolonisation, invasion and subsequent political deadlock has resulted in a situation which has in recent months been called “one of the longest, most intractable conflicts in Africa” (Mundy, 2009: 116).

Currently de facto control of Western Sahara is divided into two areas; the larger western region (called ‘the Southern Provinces’ by Morocco, and the smaller eastern region known as the ‘Free Zone’ by the Polisario and Algeria (fig. 1). Despite extensive negotiations, a lengthy ceasefire and several attempts at UN mandated referendums on independence, as well as significant economic and political costs to the actors involved, (Northolt, 2008) the conflict has not yet been resolved.

map of Western Sahara

Figure 1: A map of contemporary Western Sahara showing the two administrative areas held by Morocco and the Polisario (Public Domain image from wikimedia.org)

Origins

The origins of the Western Sahara conflict can be said to originate with the designation of the territory as a Spanish colony at the Berlin Conference of 1884 (Saxena, 1995). During Europe’s ‘Scramble for Africa’, Spain asserted its control of the coastal and inland regions of the Western Sahara as an area of strategic and military support for the Canary Islands and the lucrative fishing industry there. Spanish rule continued without significant international opposition through the first half of the twentieth century (Saxena, 1995), until the publication of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 (the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples) which stated “the necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism” and that “all peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development” (United Nations, 1960).

Following this declaration, the Moroccan and Mauritanian governments took the opportunity to begin historically based claims to the region (Solà-Martín, 2006), and a period of ‘Transitional Administration’ began.

The Polisario

In reaction to Morocco and Mauritania’s historic claims, 1973 saw the formation of Polisario, the Algerian-backed Sahrawi rebel movement with the stated aim of establishing a sovereign state in Western Sahara (Pazzanita, 2006). In order to settle the dispute, the Spanish Government announced a referendum on independence, while the Moroccan government applied to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) requesting that it provide an Advisory Opinion (ICJ, 1995). The Spanish Referendum was postponed pending the results of the report.

After deliberation, the ICJ found significant Moroccan and Mauritanian historical ties to the region (Saxena, 1995) but noted that to divide the territory along these lines would not be in the interests of “self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the Territory”, (ICJ, 1975: 1), and that historic claims were ‘irrelevant’ in the cause of self determination (Durch, 1993).

The ICJ report coincided with a UN Visiting Mission (UNVM), charged with investigating the political consensus in the region, and establishing the validity of the conflicting claims. The UNVM found ‘overwhelming’ support among the people of Western Sahara for independence, and in concurrence with the ICJ supported the establishment of a sovereign state in Western Sahara. While the Mauritanian government accepted the findings and withdrew all claims to the region (Durch, 1993), the Moroccan reaction and subsequent unarmed ‘invasion’ (Mundy, 2009) (known as the Green March) in 1975 formed the basis for the modern dispute.

In the years following the Green March, the Moroccan military established a network of high sand berms, initially demarcating a strategically important area in the north-west of the country (containing a number of phosphate mines), but gradually expanding forcibly to include around 85% of the territory, (Northolt, 2008), currently know as the Southern Provinces (fig. 1). This expansion was violently opposed by Polisario, equipped with modern assault rifles and vehicles by the Algerian government, who used guerrilla tactics to disrupt mining operations within the Southern Provinces.

Ceasefire

Since 1991, the Polisario and Morocco have agreed to a ceasefire under the auspices of a UN peacekeeping mission, known as MINURSO (the Mission des Nations unies pour l’Organisation d’un Référendum au Sahara Occidental). At the time this was considered to be “one of the most ambitious UN peacekeeping operations ever attempted” (Durch, 1993: 151) but has since become the focus for protracted disagreements over the electoral composition of the population.

The aim of MINURSO is to organise and conduct a referendum of the Sahrawi population, designed to offer a choice between sovereign independence and integration with the Kingdom of Morocco (United Nations, 1991). In addition to facilitating a plebiscite, MINURSO is charged with (source: minurso.unlb.org):

  • Monitoring the ceasefire
  • Verifying the reduction of Moroccan troops in the Territory
  • Monitoring the confinement of Moroccan and Frente POLISARIO troops to designated locations
  • Overseeing the exchange of prisoners of war (International Committee of the Red Cross)
  • Implementing a repatriation programme (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
  • Identifying and registering qualified voters
  • Proclaiming the results of an election
  • Taking steps with the parties to ensure the release of all Western Saharan political prisoners or detainees

Originally scheduled for 1992, the MINURSO referendum has not yet occurred because of an inability of the two sides to agree on the definition of the electoral roll. The Polisario suggestion of the 1974 census conducted by the Spanish government was blocked by Morocco, which had moved as many as 170,000 settlers into the Southern Provinces since that census took place. Morocco also attempted to add up to 250,000 Moroccan citizens to the list, with claims of other ties to the region (Northolt, 2008). One commentator in 1993 called the stalled process a “case study in the limitations of peacekeeping in the face of unalloyed nationalism and international indifference” (Durch, 1993: 168).

Sarahawi Autonomy

In an attempt to break the deadlock, in 1997 the United Nations appointed a UN Special Envoy and lead negotiator to Western Sahara named James Baker. Baker suggested a five-year period of Sahrawi Autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty followed by a referendum of all inhabitants who had resided in Western Sahara for at least a year, (called the Baker Plan, officially the Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara) but this was not accepted by the Polisario (Mundy, 2009). Baker then modified the plan in 2000 to allow only pre-1975 inhabitants to vote on local matters during the five-year autonomous period, but this was blocked by Morocco which formally proclaimed that Rabat would not accept any agreement which could lead to Saharan Independence rather than autonomy (Mundy, 2009).

Baker then resigned in protest to Morocco’s contradictory stance (Northolt, 2008). An assumption that autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty would be the most likely source of lasting peace in Western Sahara was the view of commentators between 2003 and the start of 2009 (Mundy, 2009; Solà-Martín, 2006).

Stalemate

In 2007 Morocco submitted an autonomy proposal to the United Nations which outlined a plan for a ‘Saharan Autonomous Region’ which was criticised by members of the international community, but supported by France and the United States government under George W. Bush (Northolt, 2008), frustrating the Polisario’s ultimate goal of sovereignty and cementing the autonomy consensus.

As stated by Mundy in early 2009, “the ideal situation is obvious enough…the will to achieve it will probably never coalesce so long as Morocco remains a steadfast ally of the United States and France” (p. 22).

Yet the future of Western Sahara may not transpire as predicted in recent years. In June 2009, the newly elected president of the United States Barack Obama wrote to the present King of Morocco, Mohammed VI indicating support for ongoing talks, but not reiterating the Bush-era support for West Saharan autonomy (Herald Tribune, 2009).

The conflict over Western Sahara has not been resolved satisfactorily in international law in the eyes of the Polisario or the Kingdom of Morocco. The proposed West Saharan independent state of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is recognised by only 45-50 nations. The Arab League support Morocco’s claim to the region, while the African Union recognises SADR independence (AU, 2009). No state currently recognises Morocco’s present sovereignty over the entire territory, and Spain is still the de jure administrative power, though Morocco is the only de facto power in approximately 80% of the region (Annan, 2007).

Currently the status of the region is under review in ongoing negotiations supervised by the UN, four of which have taken place in Manhasset, USA (suggested as part of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1754), though these talks have yet to achieve meaningful gains, and the former UN Envoy for Western Sahara has stated in a newspaper interview that independence is ‘unrealistic’ (El País, 08).

Commentators suggest that with relatively insignificant political, economic and strategic assets at stake, the ‘international community’ may treat Western Sahara as a low priority in years to come (Mundy, 2009; Northolt, 2008; Saxena, 1995).

References

  • African Union, (2009) Map of Member States [Accessed 22 September 2009]
  • Annan, K (2007) Report of the Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara S/2007/619, United Nations. Original: English
  • Durch, J. (1993) Building on Sand: UN Peacekeeping in the Western Sahara. International Security, 17(4), 151-171
  • International Court of Justice (1975) Advisory Opinion of 16 October 1975 paras. 84-161 of Advisory Opinion
  • Mundy (2009) Out with the Old, in with the New: Western Sahara back to Square One? Mediterranean Politics, 14(1), 115-122
  • Northolt N.A. (2008) Fields of Fire – An Atlas of Ethnic Conflict. London: Northolt Communications
  • Pazzanita (1994) Morocco versus Polisario: A Political Interpretation. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 32(2), 265-275
  • Saxena, S.C. (1995) Western Sahara: No Alternative to Armed Struggle. Delhi: Kalinga Publications
  • Solà-Martín, A. (2006) United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. London: Edwin Mellen
  • United Nations (1960) United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514. United Nations S/1960/947 14 December 1960. Original: English
  • United Nations (2007) United Nations Security Council Resolution 1754. United Nations SC/9007 31 October 2007. Original: English
  • World Tribune (2009) Obama reverses Bush-backed Morocco plan in favor of Polisario state [Accessed 22 September 2009]

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Rediscovering Spykman – the Rimland, Geography of Peace and Foreign Policy

Rediscovering Spykman – the Rimland, Geography of Peace and Foreign Policy

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics
Article by: Federico Bordonaro PhD (May 2009) Tags: Nicholas Spykman Rimland Geography Peace Foreign Policy

Bio of Federico Bordonaro

Bordonaro

Dr. Federico Bordonaro is associate professor of geopolitics at the Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units (COESPU, Italy) and lecturer at Rome’s university “La Sapienza”. He is senior analyst with the Power and Interest News Report and Equilibri.net, two organizations that collect open sources to provide conflict analysis. Mr Bordonaro is currently writing an essay on the origins and evolution of Anglo-American geopolitical thought.

Since the 1980s, both the academic world and the analytical community in the field of international relations and political theory have shown a renewed interest for classical geopolitics. On one hand, leading scholars in strategic studies, such as Colin S. Gray and Geoffrey Sloan in Britain, Mackubin T. Owen and Francis Sempa in the U.S., have promoted a much needed rediscovering of classical authors. The above mentioned analysts have attempted to demonstrate that classical geopolitical thinking is still a valuable tool to read post-Cold War power relations, and that geography remains the most important factor in international relations, because it is “the most permanent” and – ultimately – “inescapable”, notwithstanding the crucial changes in the relationship between man and the earth thanks to new military, transportation, and communication technologies.

On the other hand, critical geopolitics has produced a number of in-depth studies which, together with accurate biographical works, have helped scholars to better understand the cultural origins, biases, and theoretical limitations of classical geopolitics.

However, both “neo-classical” and “critical” thinkers have concentrated their efforts mostly on the works of Sir Halford J. Mackinder (Blouet 1987, 2004; Gray and Sloan 1999; Loughlin 1994; O’ Tuathail 1996), and to a lesser extent on the previously largely overlooked geopolitical thinking of Alfred T. Mahan (Sumida 1997, 1999). As a result, the theoretical and analytical work of Dutch-born American scholar Nicholas J. Spykman has been less accurately and less deeply reconsidered.

Although Spykman has traditionally been recognised as one of the most important and influential geopolitical thinkers, at the same time he has very often been “reduced” to being the author of the “Rimland thesis”, as opposed to Mackinder, who put emphasis on the strategic prize and role of the “Heartland”. In addition, most of the articles and essays on classical geopolitics have in fact considered Spykman in light of Mackinder’s seminal work. In this brief paper, this author would like to highlight the richness of Spykman’s thought, its originality and prescience. Moreover, I will attempt to show, albeit very succinctly, that Spykman’s in-depth analysis of geography’s political-strategic significance constitutes an excellent introduction to the methodology of geopolitics.

The “other” Spykman

The “Rimland thesis”

Because of the goals of this paper, I shall not emphasise the importance of the “Rimland thesis” in Spykman’s intellectual work. While it would be incorrect to overlook the impact of that thesis on the U.S., and western, strategic thinking in the second half of the 20th century, the reader can refer to Spykman’s well-known posthumous work The Geography of the Peace and to a series of studies on classical geopolitics to judge the soundness of the author’s best known geopolitical and strategic hypothesis. Moreover, students of geopolitics can refer to Michael Gerace’s groundbreaking article on the real and presumed influence of Mackinder’s and Spykman’s thinking on U.S. containment strategy during the Cold War (Gerace 1991).

Spykman’s earlier works on geopolitics

In this paper, this author will look instead to Spykman’s earlier works on geopolitics, and in particular to two lengthy articles that he wrote in 1938 and 1939, respectively on Geography and Foreign Policy and Geographic Objectives in Foreign Policy. In these two essays, the Dutch-American professor appears to be aiming at formulating a response to Friedrich Ratzel’s geographic-political analysis of the conditions of state’s power and greatness. More generally, Spykman’s two seminal articles may be considered as an Anglo-Saxon, “insular” response to German Geopolitik, in the sense that the author engaged in the analysis of Kleingeopolitik (Wilkinson 1985) before committing himself to global geostrategic considerations (Grossgeopolitik), as he will do in 1942 with America’s Strategy and World Politics).

An urgent task for American scholars

Anglo-American geopolitics, and in particular Halford Mackinder, had focused mainly on “global geopolitics”, as Mackinder’s The Geographical Pivot of History epitomised. Kleingeopolitik was the “micro-level” analysis of the geographical bases of state’s power (Parker 1998); in other words, the state was taken as the analytical unit. In the late 1930s, German geopolitical science was flourishing, especially because of the Munich School and its widely read journal Die Zeitschrift fuer Geopolitik. Spykman felt that the Anglo-American scientific community needed to respond to the German authors who were unduly influenced by the Nazi ideology, and that improving the understanding of political-geographic factors affecting power and international relations was an urgent task for American scholars.

Geographical bases of power

While quoting various works on geopolitics published in Germany, Spykman’s theoretical framework in Geography and Foreign Policy owed much to Alfred T. Mahan’s geopolitical thought. In 1890, Mahan wrote about The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, and he argued that geographical position, extent of territory, topography, number of population, together with the “character of the people” and the character of government heavily conditioned the sea power potential of states. Writing in 1938, Spykman echoed Mahan’s theory about the geographical bases of power as he stated that “The factors that condition the policy of states are many; they are permanent and temporary, obvious and hidden; they include, apart from the geographic factor, population density, the economic structure of the country, the ethnic composition of the people, the form of government, and the complexes and pet prejudices of foreign ministers” (Spykman 1938:28).

Not a “geographical determinist”

As it is clear from the above passage, Spykman was certainly not a “geographical determinist”; he deemed geography the most important, but not the only important factor of international politics and power relations. He clarified (Spykman 1938:30) that “The geography of a country is rather the material for, than the cause of, its policy, and to admit that the garment must ultimately be cut to fit the cloth is not to say that the cloth determines either the garment’s style or its adequacy. But the geography of a state cannot be ignored by men who formulate its policy. The nature of the territorial base has influenced them in that formulation in the past and will continue to do so in the future”.

History

Sharing a characteristic that is proper of all serious geopolitical analysts, Spykman founded his method in history, and most importantly, in long-run history. All of the examples that Spykman introduced in his 1938 and 1939 articles were taken from history, instead than from mere theories. Just like Mahan before him, Spykman devoted a considerable part of his theoretical introduction to geopolitics to the effects of size of territory and location upon a state’s political and strategic history. The Dutch-American authors recognised that “size is not strength but potential strength”, since geopolitics is a multi-factorial method of analysis (a fact widely accepted by modern authors such as Randall Collins or François Thual). Size is strength insofar as it is “equivalent to arable land and therefore to man power, and, reasoning from this premise, most land powers have in the past followed a policy of territorial expansion. Since the Industrial Revolution, however, strength has become more and more identified with industrial strength. Raw material resources and industrial organization have therefore become the prerequisites of power whether by land or by sea. But size is still operative in the sense that the larger the area the greater the chances that it contains varying climatic ranges and varying topography, and therefore varied resources and economic possibilities” (Spykman 1938:32).

Shape and topography of territory

Size could be exploited fully only if “effective centralized control” could be exerted, thanks primarily to “an effective system of communication from the center to the periphery” and to “the absence or the successful counterbalancing of centrifugal forces of separatism”. But especially in order to establish a modern and articulated system of communication, Spykman explained, geography again played a crucial role, since the shape and topography of territory heavily conditioned such an enterprise. Examples of strategies implemented to overcome natural barriers and to exploit territorial potential were found by Spykman in ancient, medieval, and modern history, in European as well as in American or Asian history (Spykman 1938:36). From a military-strategic point of view, Spykman pointed out that “Size is of primary importance as an element of defense, particularly if the vital centers of a country are far removed from the border”, quoting Russia’s defence of her territory against Napoleon and other examples (Spykman 1938:32).

Two superpowers

The decades that followed Spykman’s writings confirmed his views. In the industrial-technological era of the Cold War, the two superpowers were very large states: U.S. and USSR, while China was rapidly emerging as a new power. On the other hand, comparatively small countries with large industrial bases could still rank among the medium-sized powers, like Germany, Japan, France, the UK, or Israel, but they could certainly not compete with the giants for world domination. Therefore, what geopolitical analysis discovered to be true for the agrarian states turned out to be still theoretically valid for 20th century’s politics – the necessary changes having been made. Moreover, the extent, shape, and topography of Soviet territory proved once again a provider of strategic depth and defensive strength during the Second World War, as it frustrated the Third Reich’s offensive under the Barbarossa Plan. He then speculated how territorial size and resources, when coupled with technological strength, would project a state – or an alliance of states – to the status of great power, and he predicted in 1938 that in fifty years, a confederation of European states might have joined the likely “quadrumvirate of world powers” formed by the U.S., the U.S.S.R., China, and India. He was, in this respect, strikingly prescient, and well ahead of his time.

Significance of location

Probably, the most interesting part of Spykman’s theoretical geopolitics is the one devoted to the significance of location for a state’s power potential. “The location of a state may be described from the point of view of world-location, that is, with reference to the land masses and oceans of the world as a whole, or from the point of view of regional location, that is, with reference to the territory of other states and immediate surroundings. The former description will be in terms of latitude, longitude, altitude, and distance from the sea; the latter will be in terms of relations to surroundings areas, distances, lines of communication, and the nature of border territory” (Spykman 1938:40).

Geopolitical change

He then highlighted the crucial importance of geopolitical change, as history had changed the salience of certain areas and resources. Spykman noticed that “A complete description of the geographic location of a state will include […] an analysis of the meaning” of the facts of location, since while the latter “do not change, the significance of such facts changes with every shift in the means of communication, in routes of communication, in the technique of war, and in the centers of world power, and the full meaning of a given location can be obtained only by considering the specific area in relation to two systems of reference: a geographic system of reference from which we derive the facts of location, and a historical system of reference by which we evaluate those facts”.

The importance of such an insightful consideration could be hardly overstated. It demonstrates how much off the mark are the frequent charges of “determinism” and obsolescence against classical geopolitical thinking, while at the same time it helps rediscovering the “other” Spykman, i.e., the analyst of the geographical bases of power, who was writing on geopolitics years before his “Rimland thesis” became known.

North Atlantic basin

Spykman’s analysis of great powers’ relative location took him to the conclusion, in 1938, that “The northern Atlantic is today the most desirable body of water on which a state can be located”. Contrary to Mackinder, he believed that geography gave the U.S., not Russia, a decisive strategic and economic advantage. Although Mackinder’s “Heartland thesis” (Mackinder 1904, 1919) remains a masterpiece of geopolitical thinking, and albeit the rise of Moscow to the status of superpower can be considered to have been, at least in part, forecast by Mackinder, the British geographer had apparently underestimated the power potential of the United States and the growing importance of the North Atlantic basin, at least until 1943 (Mackinder 1943). Presciently, Spykman also foresaw the irresistible rise of the Pacific Ocean as a key route for world trade. He believed that although it would have taken a long time before the Pacific basin could compete with the Atlantic, the “relative position” of the two oceans was “shifting” in favour of the former (Spykman 1938:42).

Spykman’s predictions

As a proof of Spykman’s forecasting ability, one can quote the episodes reported by David Wilkinson, one of the few scholars to have devoted attention to Spykman’s early works and biography. In 1942, during some of the hardest times in WWII, he almost caused a scandal as he publicly expressed his unconventional views about the desirable post-war American diplomacy. He was convinced that, once Germany and Japan had been defeated, they should had both been included into an anti-Soviet alliance, due to the fact that Moscow would be left in a too favourable position in Eurasia. He thus anticipated the end of the Soviet-Western alliance and the formation of a Western alliance against Moscow axed on the North-Atlantic. Such views were expressed by Spykman when the anti-Japanese and anti-German propaganda was at its heights in America and Washington was allied with the Soviets against the Tripartite Pact (Williamson 1985:83-86). Of course, not all of Spykman’s predictions turned out to be true. In 1942, he incorrectly forecast that Britain would be a third force between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. after WWII, and he thought that Germany would survive as a great power instead of France (Williamson 1985:85). However, his track record remains impressive.

Territorial resource and geo-positional advantages

It is remarkable that Randall Collins, the American sociologist who built a brilliant geopolitical theory in the late 1970s in order to predict the Cold War’s outcome, as well included territorial size and resources and geographic location among his theoretical principles (Collins 1981, 1986). While Collins never quoted Spykman’s 1938 article, he acknowledged the importance of classical geopolitics as he introduced the bases of geopolitical method. For Collins, territorial resource and geo-positional advantages were the two fundamental geopolitical advantages of world power, and they worked cumulatively over time. In his early formulation of the theory (see Collins 1981), the American sociologist devoted the introductory part to the examination of the facts of extent, shape, topography, and location of the world heartlands, in a way that resembles Spykman’s 1938 investigation.

Rediscovered geography

Spykman also anticipated most of the themes of the so-called “offensive realism”, a branch of neo-realism in IR theory that emphasises the great powers’ lust for territorial expansion and power maximisation as a means to security maximisation (see Mearsheimer 2001). Spykman’s focus on geography as the most conditioning factor of world politics decisively separates his work from the body of IR theory. However, in the last decade, IR theory, and particularly offensive realism and neo-classical realism, seems to have rediscovered geography (Mearsheimer 2001; Mouritzen and Wivel 2005). The implications of the geographical and ecological settings for human aggressiveness and expansionism have been also analysed by Bradley Thayer in his groundbreaking work on evolutionism and international relations (Thayer 2004). As a result, Spykman’s works, and especially America’s Strategy and World Power may be seen as a precursor of today’s new theoretical evolutions of realism.

Conclusion

The aim of this short paper has been to stimulate a fresh reading of Spykman’s early writings on geopolitics, and especially of his 1938-1939 articles. Since geopolitics has been rediscovered in the West in the 1970s, Spykman has been almost always identified as the author of the “Rimland thesis”. However, his contribution to geopolitical analysis has certainly not been limited to that. His intellectual relationship with Mackinder, Mahan, and German Geopolitiker is a fascinating and complex one, as it is his cultural formation as a conflict sociologist who specialised in Georg Simmel’s work.

At a time when the world geopolitical struggle continues to unfold mainly in the Rimland (the Middle East, south Asia, and with less intensity in north-east Asia), Spykman’s geopolitical writings deserve a careful reading also beyond the Rimland question.

Literature

  • Blouet, Brian (1987), Halford Mackinder: A Biography
  • Blouet, Brian (ed) (2004), Global Geostrategy: Mackinder and the Defence of the West
  • Collins, Randall (1982), Sociology since Midcentury,
  • Collins, Randall (1986), Weberian Sociological Theory
  • Gerace, Michael P. (1991), Between Mackinder and Spykman: Geopolitics, Containment, and After, in “Comparative Strategy”, vol 10, pp. 347-364
  • Gray, Colin S., and Geoffrey Sloan (1999), Geopolitics: Geography and Strategy
  • Mackinder, Halford J. (1904), The Geographical Pivot of History
  • Mackinder, Halford J. (1919), Democratic Ideals and Reality
  • Mackinder, Halford J. (1943), The Round World and the Winning of Peace, in “Foreign Affairs”, July 1943
  • Mahan, Alfred T. (1890), The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660-1783
  • Mearsheimer, John (2001), The Tragedy of Great Power Politics
  • Mouritzen Hans, and Anders Wivel (2005), The Geopolitics of Euro-Atlantic Integration
  • O’Laughlin, John (1994), Dictionary of Geopolitics
  • O’ Tuathail, Gearoid (1996), Critical Geopolitics: The Politics of Writing Global Space
  • Parker, Geoffrey (1998), Geopolitics: Past, Present, and Future
  • Spykman, Nicholas J. (1938), Geography and Foreign Policy I, in “American Political Science Review”, n. 1, February 1938, pp. 28-50
  • Spykman, Nicholas J. (1939), Geographic Objectives of Foreign Policy I, in “American Political Science Review”, n. 3, June 1939, pp. 391-340.
  • Spykman, Nicholas J. (1942), America’s Strategy and World Politics
  • Spykman, Nicholas J. (1944), The Geography of the Peace
  • Sumida, John (1997), Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command
  • Sumida, John (1999), Alfred Thayer Mahan, Geopolitician, in Gray and Sloan (1999), pp. 39-63
  • Thayer, Bradley (2004), Darwin and International Relations
  • Williamson, David (1985), Spykman and Geopolitics, in Ciro E. Zoppo and Charles Zorgbibe (eds), On Geopolitics: Classical and Nuclear, NATO ASI Series, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, pp. 77-130.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Russia and the US in a New World Energy Order

Russia and the US in a New World Energy Order

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics
Article by: Timothy Boon von Ochssée, CIEP researcher and PhD candidate, July 2007 Tags: Russia US world energy order

Timothy Boon von Ochssée

Timothy Boon von Ochssée

Timothy Boon von Ochssée is a researcher at the Clingendael International Energy Programme (CIEP) and works on a PhD about the global gas market.

This article is basically an account of the changing relationship between Russia on the one hand and the US on the other in the context of a changing energy security environment.

Since the end of the Cold War, and as the twenty-first century continues to unfold, international relations amongst the great powers have undergone fundamental changes. In one important respect, access to energy – and in particular fossil fuels – is reshaping the post-Cold War environment today more profoundly then could have been foreseen during the 1990s. High oil prices, underpinning geopolitical tensions, increased demand for energy at large and a host of other factors testify to the prominent position energy has been given on the international agenda. Energy security was on the top of the agenda during the G8 summit, held in St. Petersburg in July 2006. Indeed, many experts predict that fossil fuels and their transport will be the single dominant factor in international politics in the coming years and decades.[1]

With fossil fuels set to dominate energy consumption for many years to come, and with demand projected to rise even further in combination with a greater import dependency on the part of importing countries such as the US and Europe (holding for China and India as well), this trend is likely strengthen inexorably. In addition, large oil and gas consuming regions will become increasingly dependent on fewer and fewer countries. This fundamentally shifts the balance of power to those countries upon whom continued energy flows depend. Several dimensions coalesce to bring an increasingly complex kaleidoscope of relationships between consumer and producer countries. In the context of this article, there are three dimensions: the first one pertaining to a changing gas industry, the second to a changing relationship between Russia and the US (and a changing Europe) and the third to a complex Russian energy strategy.

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Natural gas

Natural gas, found in abundance in only a handful of countries (Russia, Iran and Qatar together possess over half the world’s proven gas reserves, see Figure 1 below), is increasingly the fuel of choice for a number of end-uses. Natural gas has several advantageous: for example, it is cleaner then oil and coal in terms of CO2 output and gas-to-power stations take less time to build than nuclear power stations. In a post-Kyoto world, gas is a relatively important source of energy not only for power generation but also for household activities and large industries such as those found in the petrochemical sector. A development that has and is transforming the landscape of the natural gas industry is the advent of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). The share of natural gas in the primary energy mix is rising faster than that of oil and coal [2] and the gas industry is simultaneously undergoing immense changes as new technologies, demand and supply patterns entice new market forces.

Figure 1: The concentration of the world’s largest known gas reserves, 2007:

Source: Figures are from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2007. Note: tcm: trillion cubic meters.

This mode of transport allows gas exporting countries to ship their gas over long distances and releases them from the traditional dependence issues associated with pipelines. Pipelines are expensive and once built indefinitely tie producers and consumers while LNG allows both exporting and importing countries to escape this form of captivity. This understandably has both commercial as well as geopolitical consequences. Be that is it may, Europe is increasingly dependent on rising pipeline imports from Russia and Norway as well as Algeria while LNG imports form only a modest share of Europe’s gas imports (10 percent)[3], concentrated mainly in Spain, France and Italy. The US too is bound to become a major LNG importer over the coming decades, according to the IEA.[4]

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Russia in transition

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has undergone momentous changes and has, as a great power, experienced internal economic and political upheaval under Yeltsin during the 1990s and has had to cope with a loss of influence in the post-Soviet space. The CIS, established amongst the leaders of the former Soviet states, replaced the Soviet Union, paving the way for entirely new relationships between Russia, the US and these newly independent states. During Yeltsin’s administration, the hope was in Europe and the US that Russia would develop in ways favoring Western interests. The expectation during the first half of the 1990s was that Russia would continue on its path towards ‘Westernization’ and that ultimately it would join the market-oriented system that has so shaped the development of Western Europe and the US[5]. In the midst of NATO and EU expansion as well as the changing dynamics of international relations mentioned above, Russia under Putin is attempting to rediscover its former status as a great power equal in status to the US and now also China. At the same time, Putin is pursuing a second goal: the integration of Russia into the global economy.[6]

Buoyed economically by high oil and gas prices, Russia is experiencing a new ‘state capitalist’ transformation based on the centralization of political and economic power in the Kremlin through state control of key strategic industries. Moscow believes the rising geopolitical and economic importance of oil and gas can reverse Russia’s old dependency on the West.[7] This is part of Russia’s reintegration process, not only domestically but also in the post-Soviet space. Putin sees the restoration of Russia’s international prestige as a priority. It would seem that, as an actor in international relations, Russia wishes to reacquire an important status in international affairs. In other words, its self-image could arguably be one of a great power returning to the global arena, with a desire to leave behind an economically and politically painful past. In that regard, it sees countries such as the Ukraine, Belarus and other CIS countries as part of its traditional sphere of influence.[8]

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EU – NATO expansion

Meanwhile, the US appears to aim at maintaining its status as the sole superpower and as a lone global hegemony. For the US, maintaining and expanding its spheres of influence through a number of channels such as NATO and the EU is important to achieve this end. Consider the fervent support of the US for NATO expansion into the post-Soviet space (Georgia, Azerbaijan, etc.) as well as its continued ability to compel various NATO members to engage in US-led military operations. In the new and still-evolving post-Cold War environment Europe as a geographic area can be seen as a geopolitical battlefield between on the one hand the US and on Russia on the other. As the Soviet Union collapsed, many countries in Eastern Europe were quick to join NATO in an initial stage of breaking from their past as Soviet satellites, from a security perspective, while many of these joined the EU in a second, follow-up stage.

Under Yeltsin, NATO expansion was not seen as a major issue, however, under Putin, especially over the last two years, NATO expansion is increasingly seen as a renewed containment effort. Indeed, containing Russia has been the cornerstone of US foreign policy from the first years of the Cold War onwards, starting with President Truman’s term. There are clear indications that US foreign policy is still aimed at containing Russia, containment is still the paradigm in US foreign policy thinking. David Kramer, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs claimed in May 2007 that US policy toward Russia is mainly “cooperate wherever we can, push back whenever we have to.”[9]

Indeed, Russia’s growing energy clout, and its expanding influence in Europe through major energy projects such as the Nordtsream pipeline (which is to start exporting Russian gas to Germany from 2010 – 2011 onwards) and more recently the Southstream pipeline agreement between Russia and Italy is observed with increased irritation in US policy circles. Vice President Cheney’s comments about Russian policy at an international pro-democracy conference Vilnius, Latvia during May 2006 and statements made by Senator Lugar on NATO’s involvement in energy security at large at a NATO conference in Riga, Latvia in November 2006 (especially with regards to new NATO members) are manifestations that the US is keen to exploit changing CIS relationships to depict Russia’s energy ambitions as predatory. Then again, this is nothing new; when the Orenburg pipeline was laid from the Soviet Union to East and West Germany in the early 1980s the Reagan administration was quick to try to hamper its further development as a Soviet export channel for its natural gas. The fear amongst US strategists was that European dependence on Russian gas would provide Russia with additional leverage in its dealings with the US as far as Europe was concerned.

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New US plans for missile shield

Having said the above, it is clear from the missile defense and Kosovo issues that Russia and the US have further high level disagreements, not to mention Iran’s nuclear program. The ‘missile defense’ system the US wishes to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic is controversial indeed. Besides the question whether the system is at all technically feasible and whether Iran is capable of forming the perceived threat, the missile defense system is actually further evidence of US plans to consolidate its military presence in the post-Soviet space, at least the part now absorbed by the EU and NATO. Then, it is of course possible to use the system as a tool to control Russian air space west of the Urals, at least in theory.

It would seem that, in response to US plans to deploy the system, and to what it sees as US expansionism through NATO and the EU, Russia is withdrawing from the Conventional Forces Europe Treaty, which limits the number of conventional troop deployment in Europe. Russia will take “military measures” to counter the US plan to install the system, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said. “Expansion of that kind into the area which is absolutely right next to our borders is increasing the military potential in that area,” Losyukov said in an interview at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.[10] “Russia cannot but react to that increase,” Putin said, making clear his concern about US plans to build the missile defense system and the expansion of NATO as being possible challenges to Russia.[11]

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Conclusion

As an institution and as a group of member states with widely diverging interests and foreign policies, the EU lacks a single foreign and energy policy and it cannot be seen as a single bloc. It is therefore logical that actors such as the US and Russia are likely to compete for influence by differing means in a region both see as their sphere of influence. Germany’s increasing dependence on Russian gas bears witness to the fact that Russia’s influence in terms of gas exports is not – or no longer, and actually never really has been – restricted only to CIS countries. Ever since the late 1960s, East-West gas trade has been an issue of ‘leverage’ for the US. The EU-Russia energy relationship underlines the key questions of international energy security, particularly as far as gas is concerned as well as the political dimensions: the tension between producers, consumers and transit states.[12]

Footnotes

[1] A. Rahr, ‘The New OPEC,’ Internationale Politiek, Spring 2006, p. 69.

[2] IEA, World Energy Outlook 2006, p. 67.

[3] IEA, World Energy Outlook 2004 and E.On estimates from 2005.

[4] IEA, World Energy Outlook 2006, p. 112.

[5] D. Trenin, ‘Russia leaves the West’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 85, no. 4, pp. 87 -96.

[6] A. Rahr, ‘The New OPEC,’ Internationale Politiek, Spring 2006, p. 69.

[7] A. Rahr, ‘The New OPEC,’ Internationale Politiek, Spring 2006, p. 69.

[8] A. Rahr, ‘The New OPEC,’ Internationale Politiek, Spring 2006, pp. 69 – 76.

[9] Russia Profile, ‘Russia Profile weekly experts panel: Assessing the new Cold War’, June 8th 2007.

[10] Bloomberg, ‘Russia to take military steps on US missile shield’, March 15th 2007.

[11] Associated Press, ‘Putin blasts US for its use of force’, February 10th 2007.

[12] A. Monaghan, ‘Russia-EU relations: An emerging energy security dilemma’, Pro et Contra, vol. 10, no. 2-3, summer 2006, p. 10.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Mackinder and Spykman and the New World Energy Order

Mackinder and Spykman and the New World Energy Order

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics
Article by: Timothy Boon von Ochssée, CIEP researcher and PhD candidate, July 2007 Tags: Mackinder Spykman world energy order

Timothy Boon von Ochssée

Timothy Boon von Ochssée

Timothy Boon von Ochssée is a researcher at the Clingendael International Energy Programme (CIEP) and works on a PhD about the global gas market.

The US approach to containing Russia’s strategy as described in “Russia and the US in a New World Energy Order” (also published by ExloringGeopolitics) is not entirely new. It is based on geo-strategic thinking by Mackinder.

Mackinder theorized that the Eurasian landmass, should never be dominated by a single power or a coalition of powers and that a land power could always defeat sea power if this was allowed to occur[1]. The British admiral was therefore concerned that even the mighty British Navy would be no match for any power that dominates the Eurasian landmass, particularly through the construction of railways across the Eurasian landmass. Mackinder referred to a particular area on the Eurasian landmass that he deemed of critical geo-strategic importance, i.e., the ‘Pivot area’ (which coincides strongly with much of the post-Soviet space and the location of many of the world’s largest gas deposits today) surrounded by the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ crescents, see Figure 1.

Prof. Spykman[2] later refined Mackinder’s strategy to adapt it to the new post-World War Two reality of the Cold War, doing so as early as 1944. Spykman came to the conclusion that the US was bound to face off with a strong Soviet Union on the Eurasian landmass in the aftermath of World War Two. The basic premise of Spykman’s geopolitical school of thought is that the balance of power in Eurasia directly affected US national security. Under President Truman, containing the Soviet Union became a top priority for US foreign and security policies in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Spykman reasoned that a prerequisite for the US to be able to maintain its supremacy in the world, just like the British Empire did before it, is developing a strong navy and maintaining a strong presence in what he called the ‘rimland’ (or Mackinder’s inner crescent) either through military outposts or pro-US allied governments.

The NATO alliance system hinges geographically on the Western portion of the landmass and constituted the western flank of the US containment effort. In the south lay the Middle East and the southern portion of Central Asia (as for the Gulf, for some time Iran was a pro-US ally under the Shah until the Islamic Revolution in 1979), and to the East lay Japan as well as other countries in the US camp as well as naval bases, all positioned, in fact, to prevent any one power in the pivot area from dominating the Eurasian landmass through the rimland. The result of this strategy or at least its purported goal was to prevent the heartland (or Mackinder’s pivot area) from being dominated by a single power or coalition of powers (just as Mackinder prescribed).

Mackinder World Map

Figure 1: Mackinder’s ‘pivot area’, the ‘inner’ and ‘outer crescents’: Source: H.J. Mackinder, ‘The Geographical Pivot of History’, The Geographical Journal, vol. 24, no. 4, 1904, p. 435.

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Containing Russia and developing alternative transport routes for Central Asian gas

The US wishes to prevent a strengthening Russia from resurging to great power status and it employs the expansion of non-state actors such as the EU and NATO (under the banner of democratic ideals such as ‘freedom’[3]) to reduce Russia’s ability to exert influence in the post-Soviet space. With its vast energy resources and lacking the appropriate tools of hard power, Russia is bent on employing its soft power as an energy broker (particularly with respect to gas) in order not only to exert influence but also to defend its interests in what it sees as an ongoing process of US expansionism. For Russia, the post-Soviet space (which includes the CIS countries) coincides with much of Mackinder’s pivot area and Spykman’s heartland. The Central Asian countries play a crucial role in Russia’s energy strategy, besides the fact that it sees this part of the post-Soviet space as part of its own sphere of influence.

Russia is currently involved in a complex game where it must balance security of demand in the medium- to long-term with essential Central Asian (primarily Turkmen) gas for domestic consumption as well as its own exports; while new gas provinces in Yamal and Shtokman remain difficult to fit into a production strategy[16]. Indeed, in order to resurrect its empire, Russia must reassemble the lost Soviet energy complex, for without those other bastions of raw materials – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – it can never be an energy superpower[17]. The concentration of the world’s gas reserves in the ‘strategic ellipse’ (see Figure 2 below) illustrates the geo-strategic significance of Spykman’s strategy as well as Russia’s energy strategy.

Strategic Ellipse

Figure 2: The strategic ellipse and the heartland. Source: BGR

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Considering the above and the fashion in which Russia-US relationships are developing at present, US goals vis-à-vis Russia are appear two-fold:

  • To prevent Russia from re-emerging as a superpower, while the US sees itself aims to protect its status as the world’s only hegemony.
  • In support of 1), to undermine Russia’s ability to regain control of the post-Soviet space (the CIS countries) and contain its ability to exert influence on Europe.
  • To chip away at Russia’s energy clout by promoting alternative routes of transport for natural gas from Central Asia through the Caucasus and Turkey as well as through Afghanistan.

The resulting geopolitical dynamics are not necessarily conducive to a situation of absolute gains and losses in a geopolitical contest between Russia and the US and/or the EU. Rather, the major actors are involved in a complex game of relative advantage, hinging on economic interdependence, geo-economic competition and shifting alliances. In this process of gamesmanship, pipeline routes and gas flows play a decisive role in determining the relative strength and bargaining power of all parties involved in the present and future international gas market.

In the ongoing process of containing Russia, and in wrestling key strategic areas away from its control, US policy has already had its tactical successes. These tactical successes are derived from the rimland strategy pursued by the US, one in which fragmenting the rimland becomes a key strategy in achieving the further containment and roll-back of Russian influence, in particular as far as oil and gas flows are concerned. Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example, have expressed their interest for joining the pro-NATO camp. The pattern emerging from the current US containment strategy is as follows, split into three-phases:

  • Tie former Soviet states into its sphere of influence, primarily under the banner of the ‘war on terror’, e.g., Georgia and Azerbaijan.
  • Establish a military presence in Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan (and Uzbekistan, though the US was evicted there in July 2005), and more recently Afghanistan.
  • Promote the development of new pipeline routes for oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea through the Caucasus and on to Turkey, as part of a strategy to undermine Russia and decrease oil supply reliance on the Persian Gulf region.

To Top of Page

The exponent of this approach thus far is the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, built to transport oil from the Caspian Sea, at Baku, to an oil terminal in Ceyhan, Turkey. The pipeline avoids Russian as well as Iranian territory and enhances Western, particularly European, energy security. Just as the BTC pipeline carries Caspian oil from Azerbaijan to the Mediterranean, there are other transport routes which already exist on paper designed to transport natural gas from the region. A brief list follows below:

  • The NABUCCO pipeline: Starting from Azerbaijan and perhaps Iran (both Russia as well as the US wish to avoid seeing Iranian gas reach Europe)
  • The South Caucasus pipeline (SCP): Designed to feed into the NABUCCO pipeline to transport Caspian gas from Azerbaijan (parallel to the BTC pipeline).
  • The Trans-Caspian pipeline: Originating in Turkmenistan and transiting the Caspian Sea, feeding into the SCP at Shah Deniz (a gas field offshore in Azeria waters in the Caspian Sea.
  • The Trans-Afghanistan pipeline: Originating in Turkmenistan, potentially bringing Turkmen gas to Pakistan through Afghanistan.

All four routes have several common denominators:

  • They skirt Russian and Iranian territory, just as the BTC pipeline does for oil.
  • Specifically also, they imply a zero-sum type loss to Russia when it is taken into consideration that gas volumes traveling through these routes (from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, primarily) will not travel via Russia. Russia needs as much Central Asian gas as it can obtain for own consumption and to bolster its ability to maintain exports to Europe. Therefore, developing alternatives for Central Asian gas can only undermine its energy clout.

The peculiar aspect of this evolving situation is that the US does not even import any natural gas beyond Canada and Trinidad and Tobago. The pipelines mentioned above all strengthen European gas supply security while the US is more concerned, with respect to its own energy security, about oil in the Central Asian and Persian Gulf regions. The strategy described above thus has an unambiguous set of goals: to undermine Russia’s energy strategy by attempting to divert Central Asian gas volumes. The ultimate result of the implementation of these alternative routes is that Russia’s potential as a regional hegemony on the Eurasian continent is diminished.

Footnotes

[1] H.J. Mackinder, ‘The Geographical Pivot of History’, The Geographical Journal, vol. 24, no. 4, 1904, pp. 421 – 437.

[2] Nicholas Spykman was a Dutch American geo-strategist, known as the ‘godfather of containment’. See N.J. Spykman, The Geography of the Peace, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1944)

[3] The White House officially described Bush’s last trip to the Baltic countries in November 2006 as being in “support the advance of freedom and to strengthen the NATO Alliance.” See http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/09/20060907.html

[4] C. van der Linde, ‘Een nuttig reisje’ (‘A useful trip’), EnergieNed, May 2007.

[5] A. Rahr, ‘The New OPEC,’ Internationale Politiek, Spring 2006, p. 69.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on State terrorism: definition, geographic spaces and place destruction

State terrorism: definition, geographic spaces and place destruction

Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics
Article by: Jonathan Armstrong, King’s College London (July 2010) Tags: State terrorism Definition Geographic Spaces Place Destruction Social Personal Alienation Victims Urbicide Total Just War Theory

Jonathan Armstrong

Jonathan Armstrong

Jonathon Armstrong is currently studying for an MA in Geopolitics, Territory and Security at Kings College London after obtaining a BA in Government at the London School of Economics.

This article will argue that States can and frequently do commit terrorism. Furthermore the geographies of State terror can be divided in to personal, social and geographic spaces. The latter is particularly prominent when compared to non-state terror because of its connection to human identity, the destruction of which is the goal of State terror.

The question as to whether a State can commit terrorism rests almost entirely on one’s definition of the phenomenon. This is inherently problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, those who control the definition may have a vested interest in the matter, particularly where the label can be a powerful delegitimizing tool. Gibbs (1989) makes precisely this point, “labelling actions as terrorism promotes condemnation of the actors and may reflect their ideological or political bias”. A clear example of this is the US State department’s definition in which terrorism is committed only by “sub-national groups or clandestine agents” (Tilly 2004), thus excluding States as protagonists of terror.

It allows, as Connolly (1991) has it, “the state and the interstate system to protect the logic of sovereignty in the international sphere while veiling their inability to modify systemic conditions that generate violence by non-state agents”. This provides a powerful disincentive for a State to define terrorism. Definitions therefore tend to be a paternalistic and dramaticised description of the victim-terrorist relationship, where readers are encouraged to identify with the victim (Fortin as cited in Maskaliunaite 2002).

The second issue of concern is illegality as a necessary condition for terrorism. For Kofi Annan, terrorism is always a crime (Lind 2005) and the FBI defines terrorism as an “unlawful act” (Mustafa 2005). Both statements have important implications, they suggest terrorism is a necessarily illegal act and when one considers the acceptance of a State’s monopoly on coercive force it becomes difficult to separate legal from illegal State violence and thus this condition would exclude States from terrorism.

There is also, Gibbs asserts, often no law “but the will of the despot”, under this understanding States can commit acts of terror, but cannot be ascribed as terrorists. Conversely, a sufficiently vague definition such as Zinam’s (1978), would allow the State prosecution of illegal activities to be classified as terrorism. These considerations along with the confusing nature of including criminality into a classification (Lomansky 1991) (i.e. how crime is substantiated (Gibbs 1989) and where it is constituted Mustafa (2005)), makes it clear that a definition is therefore required that excludes illegality as a necessary criterion for terrorism.

There is more ambiguity when one considers the overlap between militarism and terrorism. The problem arises from the inclusion of civilians as legitimate targets which is the case with terrorist attacks but equally Total War Theory allows for State violence against “every man woman and child” (Hewitt 1987). Furthermore, the majority of war victims are non-combatants who are intentionally targeted as a “strategy of terror”. Just War Theory further complicates the matter, for example “a guerrilla fighter is simply a ‘terrorist’” however, if he is fighting a ‘just war’ than he is not (Freymond 1973).

However, this issue can be teased apart to reveal important ways of distinguishing between the two. Firstly, States are obliged to follow international law, which strictly governs the resort to war and the use of force during war. Therefore neither Just War Theory nor Total War Theory can be used to excuse State violence against non-combatants. For example, whether the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison amounts to torture is not a question for US political elites as Just War Theory would have it, but a decision ultimately for international lawyers (Lind 2005). Therefore under the UN charter there can be no place for these theories in the modern international order.

Academics have also drawn the line between terrorism and militarism with their definitions, Gibbs (1989) suggests that the difference lies in the purpose of the violence, an act is terrorism when it is not for the “permanent defence of the area” and “not expected to conceal the personal identity or future location of those committing it.” Therefore that differences can and should be drawn remains.

To answer the question, a definition must therefore be selected which does not require terrorism to be necessarily illegal and distinguishes it from militarism. The definition provided by Mustafa (2005) fulfils both these conditions; “an act of violence, different from other acts of violence, e.g. genocide, war, war crimes, political assassinations, etc” as well as providing three criteria, which can be used as a framework to compare the geographies of non-state terror from state-terror. These are ‘spectacle’, ‘place destruction’ and ‘place alienation’. Place is defined here as “constituted at the intersection of socio-economic processes and human experience of those processes”, which is particularly important because “terrorism is a phenomenon intricately tied to the concept of place” (Mustafa 2005). Later, this article will attempt to make the case for a fourth criterion, the legitimation of violence through the dehumanisation of the ‘Other’.

When Mustafa’s definition of terrorism is taken alongside Gibbs’s (1989) characterisation of State terrorism as “when a government or official engages in terrorism at the direction of or with the consent of a superordinate”, or as Tilly (2004) has it “governmental intimidation of citizens”, it will be concluded that states can commit terrorism.

Turning now to address the second part of the question this article will examine some of the differences in characteristics between non-state and state terror to establish the framework from which to approach the specificities of the differences in their geographies. Some of these are self-evident, such as the differences in scale.

Hewitt (2007) for example states that in the previous century “more civilians were killed by their own government than in any other form of armed violence”. Moreover, the Khmer Rouge executed a million of their own people in just four years and more Palestinians have been killed by the IDF than Israelis killed by Palestinian suicide bombers (Mazower 2002). State violence also tends to be systematic and well organized, largely as a result of the institutional structures available to them.

However, the most important difference between the two is their goals. These feed directly into their methods of terror and as a result explain the differences between the geographies of state and non-state terror. The aims of non-state terror as defined by Gibbs (1987) are to alter or maintain “a putative norm in a territorial unit or population”, while the goal of state terror as defined by Hannah Arendt (1970) is “the destruction of the human spirit for total submission to the regime”.

Arendt explains terror as a process “without end whose goal it is to reveal the superfluousness of human beings, to strip them of all dignity and demand absolute submission to the regime”. However unsavory, this is a goal that requires far more than just fear, but rather the infliction of total hopelessness, which, it will be argued is achieved through, among other means, methods of place destruction that are employed to a far greater extent than in non-state terror.

Hanlon (2000) divides the geographies of terror into visible and invisible acts, the former consisting of tangible acts of violence that could loosely be associated with the ‘spectacle’, examples of these may be dumping of bodies on roadsides or the militarisation of village life. The latter are the long-term psychological effects that one might loosely associate with ‘place alienation’. Moreover, because spaces define those to be included, or excluded through unequal power relations and boundaries that are both “spatial and social” (McDowell 1999), the outcomes of terror can be further classified in to personal, social and geographic spaces.

The personal space of terror can be equated with ‘personal suffering’; an example of this would be the targeting of the bodies of Maya women by Guatemalan state forces. In horrifying accounts collected by Hanlon (2000) they are identified as visible representations of their culture and community. The visible manifestation of this was the often public and systematic raping of these women, while the invisible were for example, children born to the victims. The effect this has on the mother, child and village community lasts therefore, over a number of generations.

Social spaces are expressed where state violence and terror shapes behaviour and human interactions. Hewitt’s (2000) description of Chile as ‘two countries’ is the case in point. Places of social gathering and communal life were targeted as massacre scenes. The effect was total alienation from one’s own home, where fear shaped movement in both private and communal areas with the aim of creating social disintegration and an atmosphere of mistrust. Similarly, Arendt (1970) argues that the real horror of the concentration camps was that the inmates were more removed from the world than the dead. They are denied their appearance in the world and are thus excluded from social spaces.

Geographic spaces of terror consist of attacks on the physical landscape itself, tactics such as scorched earth physically scar the land and violently change “geographic meanings and associations” (Hewitt 2000). This is particularly important because of the centrality of place to human identity, its destruction denies one a part of their identity and is by extension therefore, an attack on your humanity. Mustafa (2005) also makes this point, “sudden destruction of geographical spaces deprives the victims of a whole set of memories, meanings, and identities invested in their communities and life spaces”. This ties in with Arendt’s (1970) definition of the aim of state terror.

This geographical aspect of State terror is far more prominent than it is in non-State terror. For example, while the attack on the World Trade Centre buildings in 2001, changed the skyline of New York, it was primarily an attack on the institutions of global capitalism rather than an attempt to reshape the physical geography itself as opposed to the case in Guatemala (Hanlon 2000).

Before concluding, the arguments of this paper will be set against the case study of Israel, which demonstrates all three criteria set out by Mustafa (2005) and thus can be said to commit terrorism. Specifically, it is carrying out a systematic destruction of places, “designed to make things so unbearable that the Palestinians are forced to move” (Gregory 2004).

To begin with, there are clear instances of place alienation, Gregory (2004) points to the changing of names from the occupied territories to the disputed territories and then to zones a, b and c in order to remove associations and turn place to space, a strategy he calls ‘de-placing’. There is also place destruction, Graham (2002) among many others, documents the campaign of ‘urbicide’ of Palestinian homes and refugee camps where bulldozing has become a symbol of state oppression and acts to prevent modernisation. Salmon (as cited in Graham 2002) states, “What is most striking in Palestine now is the violence wrought against the land, the terrain”. Thirdly, there is the spectacle; in this case one could see the purpose of the Israeli West Bank Barrier not for keeping out non-state Palestinian terrorism but instead a reaffirming performance for the projection of Israeli state terror in to Palestine.

There is also, a fourth condition not part of Mustafa’s (2005) criteria and that is the legitimation of terror through the dehumanisation of the ‘Other’. “If a people are not thought of as human then you can justify any damage or pain you inflict on them” (Gregory 2004). In this case it is the representation of all Palestinians as suicide bombers or ‘barbarians’. We see therefore, that the conditions laid out by Mustafa (2005) bear close scrutiny and demonstrate the important differences between the geographies of State and non-State terror.

To conclude, it is clear that States can commit terrorism, the geographies of which can be split in to three spaces. Of these, geographic is the most important when compared to non-State terror because of its contribution to the destruction of the human spirit.

References

  • Arendt, H., (1970), ‘On Violence’, Fort Washinton, PA: Harvest Book Connolly, William, (1991), ‘Identity/Difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox’, Ithaca: Cornell University Press
  • Duke, D., (2002), “What is anti-Semitism”, Davidduke.com, 24th June. Available at: http://www.davidduke.com/general/what-is-anti-semitism_119.html [Accessed: 8 March 2010] Drake, R., (1989), ‘Revolutionary Mystique and Terror in Contemporary Italy’, Bloomington: Indiana University Press
  • Elden, S., (2009), Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  • Freymond J., (1973), ‘Confronting Total War: A “Global” Humanitarian Policy’, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 67, No. 4, pp. 672-692
  • Gibbs, Jack, P., (1989), ‘Conceptualisations of Terrorism’, American Sociological Review, Vol. 54, No. 3, pp. 329-340
  • Graham, S., (2002), ‘Bulldozers and Bombs: The latest Palestinian-Israeli conflict as asymmetric urbicide’, Antipode, 34 4, pp. 641-649
  • Greaves, D., (1981), ‘The Definition and Motivation of Terrorism’, Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol.123, No.4, pp.160-166
  • Gregory, D., (2004), ‘Palestine Under Siege’, Antipode, 36 4, pp. 601-606 Hanlon, C., N., and Shankar, F., (2000), ‘Gendered Spaces of Terror and Assault: The Testimono of REMHI and the Commission for Historical Clarification in Guatemala’, Gender, Place and Culture, 7 3 pp.265-286
  • Hewitt, K., (2001), ‘Between Pinochet and Kropotkin: State Terror, Human Rights and the Geographers’, The Canadian Geographer, 45 3, pp.338-355
  • Hewitt, K., (1987), ‘The Social Spaces of Terror: Towards a Civil Interpretation of Total War’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 5, pp.445-74
  • Lind, M., (2005), ‘The Legal Debate is Over: Terrorism is a War Crime’, Financial Times, 3rd May
  • Lomansky, Loren, (1991), ‘The Political Significance of Terrorism’, Frey, M., (eds.), ‘Violence, Terrorism and Justice’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Maskaliunaite, Asta, (2002), ‘Defining Terrorism in the Political and Academic Discourse’, Baltic Defence Review, No. 8, Vol.2 pp. 36-50
  • Mazower, M., (2002), ‘Violence and the State in the Twentieth Century’, The American History Review, Vol. 107, No. 4, pp. 1158-1178
  • McDowell, L., (1999), ‘Gender, Identity and Place: Understanding Feminist Geographies’, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  • Mustafa D., (2005), ‘The Terrible Geographicalness of Terrorism: Reflections of a Hazards Geographer’, Antipode, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 72-92
  • Tilly, C., (2004), ‘Terror, Terrorism, Terrorists’, Sociological Theory, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 5-13
  • Zinam, O., (1978), “Terrorism and Violence in Light of a Theory of Discontent and Frustration”, International Terrorism in the Contemporary World, (ed.) Livingston, M., Westport, CT: Greenwood, pp. 240-268
  • Whitaker, B., (2001), ‘The Definition of Terrorism’, Guardian, May 7th Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,487098,00.html [Accessed: 19 April 2010]

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on New regionalism of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

New regionalism of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Article by: Judith Akkerman MA MSc, August 2007 Tags: Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN New Regionalism

Judith Akkerman

Judith Akkerman

Judith Akkerman is PhD student at Leiden University, The Netherlands.

This publication is based on the master thesis “Geopolitics and regionalism in a changing world. The case of ASEAN”

Since the end of the Second World War, the world has changed substantially. The disintegration of the Soviet Union, the end of the bipolar world system, the (alleged) decline of the US hegemony and the adoption of new technologies have created shifts in the world order of which the future outlines are yet unclear.

Regionalism

As the seemingly fixed Cold War bipolar world order came under threat, weak states started to fall into conflict and ethnic rivalry. Weakened borders aggravated organized drug traffic, people-trafficking and terrorism, which impacted security dialogues throughout the world.

Regional leaders throughout the world sought for new structures in which they could manage shared interests, threats and opportunities. Marginalized economies that had been excluded from the world market, were increasingly seeing renewed opportunities in the collaboration with neighbouring countries. Different actors (like non-state actors and ideological groups) also progressively entered the vacuum that was left in global governance.

Regionalism (the collaboration of (usually) neighbouring states) since the 1990s has drastically changed compared to the Cold War regional cooperations, from being a merely security-driven organization, sponsored by nation-states, to dynamic and multidimensional integrations that deal with economy, culture, politics and social aspects. Today’s New Regionalism, a theory that has been elaborated by Hettne, is a process of construction and deconstruction by different players and changes according to the global processes. The strategic goal behind the initiatives is the establishing of a firm, coherent region that can collectively react to global pressures, tensions and challenges.

ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a perfect example of a fairly successful regional cooperation that responds to external pressures and common challenges. At its establishment in 1967, the reasons for cooperation came primarily from the outside. The US feared the spreading of communism to Southeast Asian countries and sponsored the creation of the association for stability reasons. After the Cold War however, ASEAN started to steer its own course. From within it further developed regional arrangements by expanding with Lao PDR, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar and adopting the ASEAN Free Trade Area to attract Foreign Direct Investment.

The Asian financial crisis that struck the region in 1997/98 made ASEAN increasingly aware of the importance of cooperation among members and non-members. One of the outcomes of the crisis was an Asian monetary policy that, despite its connection to the IMF, was a statement that Asia was enforcing their own financial framework for future crises and no longer wanted to depend on the US. Furthermore, ASEAN created bilateral agreements with China, Japan and South Korea (ASEAN+3), a framework that besides financial issues also includes deeper economic cooperation.

Other players in the region have not sat still as these transformations unfolded and a period of building other institutions and reinforcing other regionalisms, have up to today set the tone in the Asia-Pacific region. The primary regional cooperations that were set up were the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Other global forces that meet in the region are the United States, the European Union, China and Russia. The United States has promoted economic cooperation in the APEC, because it had no role in the ASEAN association. ASEAN is also a member of the APEC and has implemented its ‘open regionalism’ rhetoric, based on sovereignty, non interference and consensus in order to retain a certain degree of independence within the organization.

The SCO is a forum between China, Russia and five central Asian (oil rich) countries. This initiative is being closely watched and ASEAN has been trying to create a dialogue with the SCO, aware of the importance of its involvement in this cooperation.

Since 9/11, regionalism seems to have boosted once more in the region. The US discourse of the War against terror was also articulated in the APEC, forcing the members to take action towards their Muslim extremists’ population. ASEAN, not willing to awaken extreme responses in its population, acts with caution. In this new situation, ASEAN will have to assess its position that will not jeopardize the access to the US market, but neither grants a US influence in the association’s affairs. The war against terrorism is not fully backed by all countries, moreover, the reaction of the US during the Asian financial crisis has caused a lot of resentment and the unilateral world order that is advocated by the US is a much contested form in Asia, as in most other parts of the world.

Uncertainties about the shape of the world order have been an incentive to the ASEAN+3 framework (including ASEAN and China, Japan and South Korea). It may just be another sign for increased regionalism of the Southeast and East Asian region. In the words of Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, a wider regionalism, under auspices of ASEAN is “an idea that would not go away.” (cited in Kim 2004: 18-19). It may be still too early to predict the exact outcomes of Asian regionalism and ASEAN’s role in it, but the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area has been a sign for increased integration. Even though China poses a challenge to the region and the world, it will most likely benefit the growth of ASEAN.

Conclusion

ASEAN is often referred to as the example of successful Third World Regional cooperation. It is remarkable that a region so diverse, ‘Unity in diversity’ has become a slogan in the region, has been able to agree on common issues within a regional governmental framework. It is also remarkable that ASEAN has put its stamp, norms and visions on organizations such as the APEC, the ASEAN-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the ASEAN+3 (APT). If ASEAN is able to keep hold of its role in the contested world order, US’ pursuit for unilateralism and advancing Chinese economy, remains to be seen. But the signs so far show that ASEAN is willing to start negotiations with the SCO, that it is interested in extending relations with the EU and through the ASEAN+3, it will continue to strengthen the relationships with its Eastern neighbours. ASEAN knows it does not provide an own regional hegemon within the organization and therefore it will seek relationships with its contenders, envisioning a new world order of multiregionalism and multipolar hegemonies of which ASEAN will possibly be part.

Literature

  • Agnew, John. Geopolitics. Re-Visioning World Politics. Oxon: Routledge, 2003. 2nd edition.
  • Dodds, Klaus. Global Geopolitics. A Critical Introduction. Essex: Pearson Education Limited, 2005.
  • Hettne, B. Global Politics of Regionalism. Theory and Practice. Eds. M. Farrell, B. Hettne and L. van Langenhove. London: Pluto Press, 2005.
  • Kim, Samuel S. “Regionalization and Regionalism in East Asia.” Journal of East Asian Studies 4.1 (2004): 39-68.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Geopolitical Review 2012 – The Arab Spring in Egypt: From Uprising to Revolution?

Geopolitical Review 2012 – The Arab Spring in Egypt: From Uprising to Revolution?

Article by: Andrea Teti, March 2013 Tags: Arab Spring Egypt Uprising Revolution 2012

Andrea Teti

Andrea Teti

For the fourth consecutive year, contributors of ExploringGeopolitics share their views on the most significant geopolitical developments of the year. Andrea Teti gives his views on the aftermath of the Arab Spring in Egypt.

Andrea Teti is Director of the Centre for Global Security and Governance at the University of Aberdeen, and Senior Fellow at the European Centre for International Affairs. His research focuses on Mediterranean politics and political theory. He appeared on Al-Jazeera English and regularly contributes to OpenDemocracy on Egyptian and Italian politics.

For more perspectives on 2012, please have a look at the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:

Various contributors: Geopolitical Review 2012 – Global and Local Trends, Events and Risks

Saul Cohen: 2012 – Events that Impacted US Foreign Policy

Various contributors: 2012 – South Asia: US-Pakistan relations, ISAF, Great Game, Kashmir

Two years after Egypt’s ‘January 25th Revolution’

Two years after Egypt’s ‘January 25th Revolution’, the pro-democracy groups that were instrumental in bringing about the demonstrations find themselves isolated, both domestically and internationally. Their isolation is testament to just how radical a threat the Uprising represented.

The threat to Egypt’s established order the protesters can be summer up in two of its most popular slogans. The first was ash-sha’b yurid isqaat al-nizaam, the people want the downfall of the regime. Changing the nizaam, the ‘system’, doesn’t just mean the removal of Mubarak as head of state or preventing his son Gamal from ‘inheriting’ the presidency: the slogan symbolized the rejection of the parasitic corruption and abuse of power that permeated every aspect of life, from ordinary people to the highest echelons of public life. The second slogan was aish, horreya, adala igtema’eya: bread, freedom, social justice. This slogan outlines the kind of society protesters wished to see the nizaam replaced by: protesters wanted a more inclusive social, economic and political system to replace the oligarchic, authoritarian kleptocracy which has ruled Egypt and continues to do so to this day.

The contemporary incarnation of the nizaam is founded upon an at least temporary compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the armed forces, in which the former are allowed to front state institutions fronted – but in key senses not control them – while the latter retain their vast economic privileges thanks to a constitutional guarantee of inscrutability for their budget and presence in the government. Key to this compromise is the shared – if not common – interest in growing their economic influence through a privileged access to and control over state resources (whether as material assets or as legislator).

Still today, these slogans epitomize the root causes for the protests against the Muslim Brotherhood-fronted nizaam. They also help explain democratic forces’ isolation from the groups closest to power in Egypt today and from their international backers, the Gulf states and their Western counterparts.

For the Brotherhood’s leadership – although not for its more progressive youth – January 25th came as a shock. In the days before the demonstrations, and indeed even after the first protests until the even of January 28th, leaders like Essam El-Erian were disassociating the MB from the protests and encouraging Egyptians to stay at home. The Brotherhood preferred negotiations with Mubarak both before and during the protests, just as they negotiated with the military that removed Mubarak. Brotherhood youth were on the streets, but, just like progressive leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Futouh, they were either silenced or expelled. The Brotherhood’s strategy was the result partly of its long-standing strategy of negotiating with Egypt’s authoritarian rulers, and partly of the economic empire the Brotherhood has built up, driving it far from the ideas of economic rights and social justice protesters were – and still are – calling for: its most powerful leaders, like Khairat el-Shater, are businessmen who made their fortune in precisely the oligarchic capitalist system which the Mubaraks represented.

The military, for its part, always seemed to be defending its own role within this system far more than it supported protesters or their ideals. The elites of the armed forces control a vast economic empire, and retire to plum jobs in state or local administration, or in business. When the army poured onto the streets of Egypt – the same army that would later stand by as baltageyya attacked protesters – they seemed to place themselves between the masses and Mubarak more as a negotiating position than out of any kind of idealism. For a time, it was unclear whether the armed forces intended to protect their interests by intervening in politics directly, or by striking a bargain with part of Egypt’s political elites, but eventually it became clear that a deal had been struck with the Brotherhood in which the army would keep its privileges, the Brotherhood would be allowed to govern, and the ‘deep state’ would remain essentially untouched. Given their financial interests, the fiscal privileges and the labour exploitation these involved, the armed forces were always unlikely to side with protesters.

At an international level, Gulf states – above all Saudi Arabia and Qatar – have also opposed the attempt to turn the 2011 uprising into a revolution. For example, when, on February 8th, US Senators John McCain and Patrick Leahy stated publicly that part of the US’ $3bn total annual aid might be made conditional on human rights conditions, the following day the Saudi government announced its willingness to replace all that aid if the US acted on its threat. Since then, the Saudis have invested billions in Egypt, acting systematically to oppose any radical change in Egypt’s domestic or foreign policy.

Finally, Europe and the United States were initially over-cautious, perhaps understandably since they feared the consequences of losing Mubarak as an ally and the potential political and economic destabilization radical change could have. Their reaction to the fall of dictators, however, has been disappointing. The EU, for example, has published several new policies, which for the most part reproduce the mistakes of the past: while Egyptian citizens call for social justice and a fair economic system, EU policy relies on ‘Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas’ and the neoliberal economic policies which lead to the enrichment of Gamal Mubarak and his friends, and the impoverishment of millions of Egyptians.

The January 25th Revolution and all the Arab Uprisings, from Tunisia to Bahrain, Yemen to Syria to Libya, reminded us of important lessons. First, that dictatorships can be brittle and fragile even when they are fierce and violent. Second, they have shown that neoliberal policies which lead to the enrichment of the few eventually cause a backlash. Third, the initial opposition to the revolution by religious elites shows that there is a demand in Egypt for social justice and for political participation beyond religious parties. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Coptic Church, the Azhar, and Salafis all joined the revolution only when it was clear they couldn’t stop it.

Until now, the Muslim Brotherhood, the armed forces, and their international supporters have been willing to pay the price of continuing to repress the opposition or just frustrate Egyptians’ expectations. Mostly, this is because these disparate groups – civil society, trade unions, NGOs, splinter Islamist groups and new parties – have been unable to unify and build a truly national movement. For the moment, the influence of these groups is largely limited to major urban areas – particularly Cairo and Alexandria – where the Brotherhood has often struggled to mobilize the same support as opposition groups, and where it has been repeatedly defeated in polls.

The factors which lead to the January uprising, the forces which took part in it, and the post-Mubarak reactions all take place in a complex economic and political landscape. Liberal and particularly leftist groups which took part in the Uprising are increasingly under attack by the security forces, former elements of the regime (felool), and by the Brotherhood. The vast organisational and financial resources these different groups can draw upon far outmatch any resources pro-democracy groups can muster, as recent controversies over ‘foreign funding’ and the military’s effective use of state-controlled media show. From this point of view, prospects are far from optimistic. The basic, long-term issues which lead to the uprising, however, are not being addressed by the dominant forces of the post-Mubarak landscape, and in this respect there remains a space to build an effective opposition movement, much like independent trade unions have managed to do over the past decade.

The two and a half weeks between January 25th and February 11th 2011 proved that in Egypt there is a strong demand for social, political and economic justice, and that the established political elites – religious or secular – are badly out of step with those aspirations. For these elites the risk is considerable: continuing to frustrate and repress a newly mobilized population, particularly in the face of coming economic reforms which will hit the poorest hardest, could be a dangerous strategy. But for the uprising to become a revolution, opposition groups must build on this demand, reach out to all parts of the nation, and unify in their struggle against the old regime’s new mask if they are to remain relevant.

More contributions to the Annual Review

For more perspectives on 2012, please have a look at the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:

Various contributors: Geopolitical Review 2012 – Global and Local Trends, Events and Risks

Saul Cohen: 2012 – Events that Impacted US Foreign Policy

Various contributors: 2012 – South Asia: US-Pakistan relations, ISAF, Great Game, Kashmir

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Geopolitical Review 2012 – South Asia: US-Pakistan relations, ISAF, Great Game, Kashmir

Geopolitical Review 2012 – South Asia: US-Pakistan relations, ISAF, Great Game, Kashmir

Article by: Claude Rakisits and Nathalène Reynolds, January 2013 Tags: South Asia US-Pakistan Relations ISAF Great Game Jammu Kashmir Afghanistan India Drones Civil Society 2012 logo ExploringGeopolitics

For the fourth consecutive year, contributors of ExploringGeopolitics share their views on the most significant geopolitical developments of the year. Claude Rakisits comments on US-Pakistan relations and Nathalène Reynolds on the Valley of Kashmir and the civilian population of Pakistan in this Annual Geopolitical Review.

For more perspectives on 2012, please have a look at the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:

Saul Cohen: 2012 – Events that Impacted US Foreign Policy

Andrea Teti: 2012 – The Arab Spring in Egypt: From Uprising to Revolution?

Various contributors: Geopolitical Review 2012 – Global and Local Trends, Events and Risks

Geopolitical significance of US-Pakistan relations

Claude Rakisits

Claude Rakisits

Claude Rakisits, Associate Professor, Strategic Studies, Deakin University

Bilateral relations between Washington and Islamabad were for the half of 2012 very poor – probably the worst they had been in many years. This was as a result of the death of 25 Pakistani soldiers by ISAF fighter jets at an Afghanistan-Pakistan border post in November 2011. Pakistan demanded an American apology for this incident and until it did it refused to allow the truck convoys, which provide some forty per cent of ISAF’s non-lethal material, to travel through Pakistan.

Both countries realised that the deep freeze in bilateral relations was in no one’s interest. And, accordingly, Secretary of State Clinton agreed to give an apology of sorts in July. This was the best the Pakistanis could expect to get.

The end of the deadlock allowed for the convoys to be resumed. In geopolitical terms, this was critical, and will be increasingly so as we head towards December 2014 when ISAF combat troops leave Afghanistan, because these convoys will need to transport all the material out of Afghanistan through Pakistan to be sent back home.

Also important in geostrategic terms, the end of the deadlock has allowed Pakistan to play a more constructive role in trying to find a peaceful political solution to Afghanistan post-2014. Washington has always made it clear that Islamabad has a crucial role to play in that political process. And we have seen in the last few weeks Islamabad release a number of high-level Taliban prisoners with the aim of assisting that process.

Of course, the end of the deadlock did not mean a resolution to two other major irritants in the bilateral relations, notably, the continued presence of the Haqqani Network fighters in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the continued use of un-manned US drones against Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters hiding in Pakistan. However, given the geopolitical importance in keeping Pakistan on board in the lead-up to 2014, Washington has stopped demanding that the Pakistani Army hunt down the Haqqani Network fighters. By the same token, while the Pakistani authorities continue to be highly critical of the drone attacks because of the many civilian casualties they cause, privately they welcome their use given that these drone strikes have been very successful in killing many high-level Pakistan Taliban militants as well.

Let us hope that US-Pakistan relations will remain on a steady footing in 2013 because this will be crucial not only for the two countries given their involvement in Afghanistan but for the stability of the whole region, a critical factor if a smooth transition to 2014 is to be achieved.

Pakistan’s civilian population confronted with the consequences of the ‘great game’

Nathalène Reynolds

Nathalène
Reynolds

With the approach of the announced withdrawal of American armed forces from Afghanistan, it is high time to examine the perspectives for the future. Attempting to judge without criticising or even condemning the US intervention in the region in the aftermath of September 11th 2001 (1), Western observers, journalists and political scientists blame what they call a ‘double game’ played by an Islamic Republic of Pakistan pushed into joining the ‘war on terror’ initiated by the United States. However, they recall – correctly – the attachment of the politico-military elite of Pakistan (2) to an analysis made subsequent to the defeat of December 1971 (3).

In effect, Pakistan remains concerned by its Eastern border. India, taking advantage of the fall of the Taliban regime, has rebuilt political, economic and even military links with Kabul, nourishing fears in Islamabad (and Rawalpindi) of encirclement. Facing such a situation, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan remains attached to the security doctrine that it inaugurated following the departure of the Red Army from Afghanistan (May 1988-February 1989). And the Afghan ‘backyard’ is the key to a strategy known as ‘strategic depth’ which, according to the policy-makers in Rawalpindi, would allow the country breathing space in the event of a new conflict with New Delhi. The same individuals give little credence to the support that they might receive – in such circumstances – from the so-called ‘international community’, given that world powers, contrary to the hopes Pakistan had from the end of the 1940s, have scarcely lifted a finger to promote a settlement to the Kashmir conflict, an ‘omission’ that has favoured Indian ambitions.

Rather than attempting my own effort at judging the likely impact of the less than glorious withdrawal of troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the American contingent from Afghanistan, I would like to fill, in a sense, a gap. If observers may wonder about the future of a West that aimed to assert itself more strongly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they are frequently unaware as to how the social fabrics of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been further damaged by the effects of the long conflict on their soil. We will leave the case of Afghanistan to specialists of that country. Access to the ‘field’ in Pakistan is sensitive, given the ongoing operations conducted by the Pakistani armed forces, the intensification of American usage of drones in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), but also given the tiredness of a population deeply hurt by Western propaganda that depicts it in far from flattering terms.

Regularly spending time in Pakistan since 2006 and benefitting from the mehmanawazi (the hospitality that the country’s people invariably offer to foreigners), I would like – by way of summing up developments in 2012 – to look briefly at a Pakistani society that has been battered with criticism, even though the Western media generally are little aware of the efforts made by the think tanks and NGOs of the country. It is undeniable that these two ‘parties’ have in a sense benefitted from the Western strategy that followed the attacks of September 11th 2001. In effect, the United States and its European allies have made broad use of a rhetoric about the oppression of women in Islamic lands, rapidly attracting the interest of donors. In the same way, an increased influx of funding was a corollary of the earthquake of October 2005, with donors particularly interested in the aggravation of the situation of women by natural and human disasters.

Certain quietly point out that the multiplication of Pakistani NGOs working on gender issues is of questionable utility (4), but they add that a dozen or so amongst them carry out remarkable work, all the more so in having been able to influence a Western agenda – not with a whiff of neo-colonialism – that was often lacking a sense of ground realities. It is doubtless too early to talk of a genuine partnership between Pakistani NGOs and what remain, in their majority, Western donors, but nonetheless one can already consider that a constructive dialogue has begun. The two ‘parties’ thus consider that the improvement of living conditions for women, victim of cruel, retrograde ancestral practices, is a key to the promotion of peace and prosperity. However, one remains worried by a ‘Talibanisation’ of a society still more inclined to limit the movements of, and perspectives offered to, women, making further use of ‘regulatory mechanisms’ such as ‘crimes of honour’.

Recent events have shone a piercing light on the deteriorating humanitarian environment, as is demonstrated by the attempted assassination of an adolescent from Mingora (in the Swat Valley) at the beginning of October 2012. Malala Yusufzai had ‘wronged’ in defending the need to educate girls. It should be underlined that girls’ schools have been a chosen target of Taliban groups. The Swat region had been briefly taken over by Taliban groups, until the army launched an operation in 2009. Malala Yusufzai, then aged eleven, anonymously wrote a blog for BBC Urdu that described the lives of the population under the Taliban regime.

book

In December 2012, a dozen Lady Health Workers (5) engaged in the campaign against the resurgence of polio in Pakistan were assassinated. Taliban groups called them foreign agents, in the pay of the US, the latter being accused of endeavouring to systematically sterilise the Pakistani population. The context was, it should be acknowledged, odd: Washington, deeming the end to justify the means, had not held back from using a phoney vaccination campaign to try to confirm the presence (in Abbottabad) of Osama Bin Laden through DNA samples of his children.

1 The White House named the military operation ‘Enduring Freedom’.
2 Given the situation in the country since the departure of President General Pervez Musharraf in August 2008, the term ‘politico-military elite’ appears to best summarise the balance established between Islamabad, the political and administrative capital, and Rawalpindi, seat of power of the military that continued to define in large part national foreign policy.
3 The Eastern part of Pakistan, that was to take the name Bangladesh, seceded as New Delhi (that had supported the Bengali secessionists militarily) crowed about the collapse of the ‘two-nation theory’ that had been the premise for the division of British India: that which postulated the existence of a Muslim nation and a Hindu one.
4 A social fact born of troubled economic realities is that social workers try to find shelter, hoping for better times ahead.
5 To note that the LHW receive summary health training allowing them to provide some care and make very basic diagnoses, after which they return, for the most part, to their village of origin to ‘practise’, since they already enjoy the confidence of the resident population.

The ‘forgotten’ of the Valley of Kashmir

Nathalène Reynolds

Nathalène
Reynolds

Since the beginning of the insurrection that erupted at the end of the 1980s, observers have often looked at the human rights violations of which the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been the stage. However the sad fate of the mothers, wives and sisters that a patriarchal society confined to a role of waiting for men who had disappeared or returned profoundly marked by events that they sought to forever bury in their subconscious was but rarely mentioned.

When I first visited this state of the Indian Union, my contacts readily asserted that women were enveloped in respect. At the time, even in the West, conjugal and domestic violence did not attract the interest of the general public. As for the rapes that took place in Jammu and Kashmir, they were – I was told – infrequent, and the guilty were always Indians from outside the state. For their part, the victims were never excluded from society; on the contrary, they were reintegrated into their community, which went to great pains to care for them.

Historians, political scientists and journalists seemed to be following ‘instructions’: they were to continue to examine the conflict of Jammu and Kashmir through the lens of geopolitics and the ambitions that Indians, on the one hand, and Pakistanis and Kashmiris on the other, harboured (1). Foreign observers faced a challenge: to go beyond the idealised images that their contacts in the Valley sought to portray to them, not least as the latter were skilled in depicting the society in the Valley as one of great moderation. Reading a collection of witness account published as Speaking Peace. Women’s Voices from Kashmir at the initiative of Urvashi Butalia (2) in 2002 provoked a Manichean question in me – was the work just another piece of Indian national propaganda? My doubts vanished quickly given the quality of the texts and the seriousness of the issues raised. In short, I saw the book as indispensable to those seeking to understand what civil society was experiencing. Butalia, whom I met shortly afterwards, sent a team to collect witness accounts from women of all ages who dared recount their daily lives.

Other analyses were made, such as that of the BBC journalist, Justine Hardy (3), who gave her account of the mass rape carried out by 800 soldiers of the Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army in Kunan Postpura, a village situated in the district of Kupwara, bordering Pakistani Azad Kashmir. During a night of horror, February 22nd 1991, local men were forced to wait aside while women aged between 15 and 85 years were systematically raped (4). The Kashmiris, whatever the ambitions of glory that are common to those taking up arms, were at base an agrarian people, little prepared for armed struggle. Faced by a powerful army, they failed in the role that patriarchy dictated to them: that of their family’s protector.

Following Kunan Poshpura, husbands avoided their wives; some villagers even asked publically whether the victims had got pleasure out of the terrible experience; and no-one asked the hand in marriage of any women from the village, not even of the youngest girls who had been spared. This was an episode that observers themselves from Jammu and Kashmir scarcely mentioned, especially not in public. Nevertheless the issue of women violated by the Indian security forces backed up the secessionist demand made by Muslims in Kashmir. The silence surrounding the issue of rape by militants, however, was deafening (5).

The movement of stone-throwers (6) that emerged in the second half of 2010 seemed in a sense to have broken a taboo – that of the limits on freedom of expression that Kashmiri civil society (which was still embryonic) had placed. The enemy was still Indian, and didn’t one have to display unanimity – or at least a facade thereof – with the slogan of ‘azadi’ on everyone’s lips? Sympathy that the rest of the Indian Union demonstrated for the stone-throwers? A rising of voices in the Union on similar issues, voices that had long been cowed into silence by political imperatives? Civil society in the federation (and in the Valley) now seems ready to look publically at the issue of women in the Kashmir conflict.

Conservative voices in Kashmir focused on speaking against the adoption of Indian-style clothing – some younger urban women had taken to wearing short-, rather than long-sleeved kamiz in summer; these individuals had little to say about the more, deep-rooted problems faced by women. In a move almost without precedent, in December 2012, the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Analysis, supported by the All-India Democratic Women’s Association, the Joint Women’s Programme, the National Federation of Indian Women and the Young Women’s Christian Association, proposed holding a conference, in Srinagar itself, titled ‘Peace and Justice for Kashmiri Women’ (7). Well-known personalities sat side by side. One may also the presence of Parveena Ahangar, who, despite her illiteracy, had founded the Association of Parents and Disappeared Persons (APDP) in 1994, four years after the disappearance of her son, then aged sixteen. The APDP, in troubled circumstances, had dared compile a list of those who had disappeared, while also underlining the sorry conditions in which mothers, but also those termed ‘half-widows’ (8) in Kashmir, were living.

Apart from post-traumatic disorders, the disappearance in a conservative society of a man, particularly one with the position of a husband or father of sons too young to work, is synonymous with worsening poverty. The claim to self-determination that many Kashmiris continue to make is, of course, a long-standing issue, but the women’s issue is now coming to be seen as one of a pressing humanitarian character.

book

A dimension whose importance is still difficult to gauge: participants to the conference adopted a resolution demanding the demilitarisation of Jammu and Kashmir, the abrogation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and of the Public Safety Act (PSA), the immediate trial and punishment of all guilty of rape (whatever his background), measures to rehabilitate ‘half-widows’ in order that they may live a decent life, and finally the creation of a commission tasked with examining the lives of women in Kashmir. Is it time to think that the day-to-day lives of the population in the Valley may finally be given priority ahead of the geopolitical and geostrategic concerns of states?

1 The latter, considering Islamabad’s support, did little to conceal their desire for independence.
2 Urvashi Butalia, Speaking Peace. Women’s Voices from Kashmir, New Delhi, Sage Publications, 2002, 316 p.
3 Cf. Justine Hardy, In the Valley of Mist. One family’s extraordinary story: from peace to war in Kashmir, London, Rider, 2009, 269 p.
4 In a 300-page report, a commission of enquiry mandated by India concluded that these forces were innocent.
5 Activists blame an unnamed Kashmiri female academic who apparently popularised a slippery distinction between two kinds of rape: those committed by militants ‘missing female company’, and those whose perpetrators, Indian security force personnel, sought to humiliate Kashmir. It seems this distinction is popular amongst many young (male) Kashmiris.
6 While their elders had implicitly encouraged to no longer question the Indian presence, these youths, armed with stones, rose up at the impunity of the security forces, who could commit ‘errors’ through over-zealousness without risking disciplinary measures – even if the victims were young children.
7 Such a forum continued a reflection begun during two similar meetings held in February and July 2012.
8 Wives whose husband is missing but not officially dead.

More contributions to the Annual Review

For more perspectives on 2012, please have a look at the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:

Saul Cohen: 2012 – Events that Impacted US Foreign Policy

Andrea Teti: 2012 – The Arab Spring in Egypt: From Uprising to Revolution?

Various contributors: Geopolitical Review 2012 – Global and Local Trends, Events and Risks

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Geopolitical Review 2012 – trends, events and risks

Geopolitical Review 2012 – trends, events and risks

Article by: Simon Dalby, Stuart Elden, Virginie Mamadouh and Gerard Toal; January 2013 Tags: Geopolitical Review 2012 Global Regional Local Trends Events Risks logo ExploringGeopolitics

For the fourth consecutive year, contributors of ExploringGeopolitics share their views on the most significant geopolitical developments of the year. This page contains contributions by Simon Dalby (on Syria and Climate Change), Stuart Elden (on Nigeria), Virginie Mamadouh (on EU Nobel Peace Price) and Gerard Toal (on Hurricane Sandy).

For more perspectives on 2012, please read the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:

Saul Cohen: 2012 – Events that Impacted US Foreign Policy

Andrea Teti: 2012 – The Arab Spring in Egypt: From Uprising to Revolution?

Various contributors: 2012 – South Asia: US-Pakistan relations, ISAF, Great Game, Kashmir

No foreign intervention in Syria / No media coverage of Doha Climate Conference

Simon Dalby

Simon Dalby, Professor of Geography/Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University

Two things seem to be moderately significant in 2012. The first is the lack of foreign intervention in Syria, not least because of the very messy situation on the ground, the presence of sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft weapons in Syria and the international opposition to further interventions in the region by the Russians in particular.

Dalby cover

The second one concerns the media silence over the climate change conference in Doha, where, given the 2015 deadline for a binding international treaty to be negotiated, much further preliminary work would have seemed to be necessary to set things in motion on a sensible timescale.

Nigeria: The Kano attacks one year on

Stuart Elden

Professor Stuart Elden, Durham University

On the 20th January 2012, a series of attacks were launched by the Boko Haram group against the northern Nigerian city of Kano (the second biggest city in the country). A number of government buildings including passport offices and immigration centres, several police stations, the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS), as well as some churches were targeted. There were several bombs, but also firefights between Boko Haram members and the Nigerian security forces. Most estimates put the number of deaths at around 150-170, but people I’ve spoken to that were in the city that day put the number much higher.

Book cover Stuart Elden

Boko Haram is an Islamist group, seeking to have Sharia law imposed in the north of Nigeria. The name means something like ‘Western Education is forbidden’, but it has wider resonance of Western values or those who take Western money and don’t act charitably towards the normal people. ‘Boko’ originally meant fake; ‘Haram’ means forbidden, sinful or sacrilege. Their base is in the north-eastern states of Yobe and Borno. The Nigerian state response has been heavy handed, with reports of door-to-door raids in Boko Haram strongholds such as the city of Maiduguri. In 2009 raids led to the death of the group’s leader Mohammed Yusuf, and several members were imprisoned, but in September 2010 they freed several prisoners from a jail, and the group continued under the leadership of Abubaker Shekau with new attacks on the city of Jos and on barracks in the capital of Abuja. Their strategies have included remote detonation of bombs, suicide bombers, and shootings. The group have claimed responsibility for numerous further attacks, some of which are further from their northeast bases, including the bombing of the Abuja police headquarters in June 2011, the bombing of the UN building in the capital in August 2011, various attacks on churches, and are likely behind the attack on the Emir of Kano just yesterday (19th January 2013). The Emir is a Muslim religious leader, but Boko Haram have attacked Muslim leaders before for their criticism of the group. The Emir survived the attack, but his guards and driver were killed.

Kano has changed since the 2012 attacks, with a much stronger security presence, and many Christians moving south. A number of aid agencies or foreign government workers have been relocated to Abuja or elsewhere in the country. Boko Haram have often started their attacks with men on motorbikes – easier to manoeuvre through road blocks and Nigeria’s traffic, and quick to use for escape afterwards. Many of the 20th January 2012 Kano attacks were launched in this way, as was the attack on the Emir. This has led to increased police and military presence in the city, with riders forced to dismount and wheel bikes through checkpoints. There are various reports of police and military atrocities following attacks, which often produce more supporters for the group being targeted.

This contribution has earlier been posted by Stuart Elden on his blog ProgressiveGeographies.com. It has been re-published here with permission of author.

Geopolitics and the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize

Virginie Mamadouh

Virginie Mamadouh, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Amsterdam

Since 1901 a Nobel Peace Prize has been (almost) yearly awarded to follow the will of Alfred Nobel. Ever since decisions of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee have often been criticized. The award of the 2012 Peace Prize to the European Union will remain one of the noted controversies. Beyond the traditional discussions about the merits of the laureates and those of alternative candidates, this was the first time the Nobel Peace Prize was attributed to an organization that is regularly described as a state, either a super state, a post-national state or a federal state in formation.

Book cover

This is rather surprising as Alfred Nobel’s formulation in his will was that the fifth and last part of the Nobel Prize should be attributed to “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Nevertheless since 1901 several organizations have been awarded the Peace Prize, some of them international organisations like the United Nations (2000) and the International Panel on Climate Change (2007); others were NGO’s, like the Red Cross (1917, 1944 and 1963) or Médecins sans Frontières (1999), and private organisations (the Grameen Bank (2006), but none has ever been a state.

Likewise several statespersons were awarded the Prize for their individual work for peace as a statesperson, for example the American presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1906), Woodrow Wilson (1919), and Barack Obama (2009) or the last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (1990). Note that the Committee did not designate any influential EU politicans to share the honour with the itself.

The message sent by the Nobel Prize Committee is consequently ambiguous, and geopolitically challenging. Is the EU an organization with a project or a state-like political configuration? When getting the prize in Oslo, the troika representing the EU, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, stressed it was a prize for all EU citizens, foregrounding EU citizenship and therefore EU stateness.

It should be noted too that the EU is awarded the Prize both for international peace (the maintenance of peace for 60 years on most part of the continent and especially the reconciliation between France and Germany, and since the 1990s in the Balkan) and for domestic peace (human rights, democracy, and prosperity), while recipients are generally either involved the global peace processes (like the International Campaign to ban landmines (1995) and in peace processes to solve a specific conflict (like Yasser Arafat, Yizhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in 1994, or in the promotion of domestic human rights and democracy(for example Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991). The award is also both a recompense for past achievement (60 years of peace) and an encouragement for sound economic policies in the present Eurocrisis.

Last but not least, it is unclear who is the addressee of the Nobel Prize Committee that should be impressed by the moral support so demonstrated to the EU: the governments of the Member States that counterweight EU institutions? Third states that face the EU in its neighborhood and on the global stage? Or more likely anti-EU movements inside the EU itself?

Interestingly enough the Nobel Prize Committee seems also to see this particular Prize as a culmination of its own status in world politics, as the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland in a video put on You Tube by the Council European Union (EU awarded Nobel Peace Prize – a view from the backstage):

“I think it is one of the most important days in the Nobel history, because this price is really about what Alfred Nobel wrote in his will, namely about fraternity between nations, and having peace congresses which was very important at the time when he lived. Today a peace congress is really to sit around the table, find compromises, and in that respect the European Union has been a continuing peace congress.”

In the middle of the deepest financial, economical and political crisis of its history, we – EU agents, citizens, or lay and academic observers alike – are reminded of the extraordinary feature of the geopolitical project that the European Union embodied.

Hurricane Sandy

Gerard Toal

Gerard Toal

Bosnia Remade: Ethnic Cleansing and Its Reversal

Gerard Toal, Professor of Government and International Affairs, Virginia Tech

The most remarkable development of 2012 was how climate change hit home in the United States. Hurricane Sandy arrived in the last few weeks of a nasty presidential contest, and pummeled the commercial and financial capital of the United States.

Lower Manhattan, arguably the greatest concentration of financial power on the planet, was plunged into darkness and its transportation arteries flooded to an unprecedented degree. Normal life was upended for weeks, and for many will never return.

The picture of the headquarters of Goldman Sachs surrounded by sandbags symbolizes the emergent era. The Australian urbanist Brendan Gleeson wrote a book in 2010 called “Lifeboat Cities” that lays out the urban condition in emergency times. In 2012 it landed in the home of the US power elite.

Other contributions to Annual Review 2012

For more perspectives on 2012, please read the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:

Saul Cohen: 2012 – Events that Impacted US Foreign Policy

Andrea Teti: 2012 – The Arab Spring in Egypt: From Uprising to Revolution?

Various contributors: 2012 – South Asia: US-Pakistan relations, ISAF, Great Game, Kashmir

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Geopolitical Review 2012 – Events that Impacted US Foreign Policy

Geopolitical Review 2012 – Events that Impacted US Foreign Policy

Article by: Professor Emeritus Saul Cohen, Hunter College/City University, January 2013 Tags: Geopolitical Events Impact US Foreign Policy 2012

picture Saul Cohen

Saul Cohen

For the fourth consecutive year, contributors of ExploringGeopolitics share their views on the most significant geopolitical developments of the year. Saul Cohen again contributes an essay to the Annual Geopolitical Review. He focuses on key geopolitical trends in various regions and relate these to US foreign policy.

Andrea Teti: 2012 – The Arab Spring in Egypt: From Uprising to Revolution?

For more perspectives on 2012, please have a look at the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:

Various contributors: Geopolitical Review 2012 – Global and Local Trends, Events and Risks

Various contributors: 2012 – South Asia: US-Pakistan relations, ISAF, Great Game, Kashmir

United States no longer the world’s leading superpower

Geopolitics: the Geography of International Relations

The year 2012 provided additional confirmation that the United States was no longer the world’s leading superpower. Nor for that matter, was any other Great Power predominant in this polycentric world.

During the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney promised the American people that he would restore the country to its former preeminence. However, ongoing geopolitical events, as well as those of the past few years, demonstrated that this possibility was rhetoric and not reality. Washington had neither the surplus energy nor the appetite to regain its former role as the global policeman.

The year 2011 was marked by the convergence of events that confirmed the end of America’s role as the world’s dominant power. Even though a multipolar geopolitical world had emerged by the onset of the 21st century, the George W. Bush administration continued to behave as though it were still the global hegemon. It plunged into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while lowering taxes and without a long term occupation strategy.

Lulled by the rapid success of the 1991 Gulf War, Washington was convinced of the invulnerability of its armed forces. Consequently it placed the burden of fighting upon volunteers and contractors, rather than adopting universal military service.

In 2012, the United States took only a minor role in the various international efforts to support the Syrian rebels in their efforts to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, leaving this to Turkey, Qatar, France, Britain and the international community. It also failed to secure Russian agreement to join in this effort.

When Israel announced that it would build a total of 9,000 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Obama administration could only characterize the move as ‘unhelpful’, despite US commitment to a two-state solution. Washington has left the initiative to Europe to exert pressure on Israel by threatening trade restrictions.

In Iraq the United States had little success in persuading the Shiite-dominated government, which it had sponsored and financed, from prohibiting air craft over-flights carrying arms to Syria. Washington also unfroze relations with Pakistan, accepting Islamabad’s tolerance of Taliban use of North Waziristan as a safe haven, in exchange for Pakistan reopening the American military supply route from Karachi through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan.

While rebalancing US military forces to reinforce its treaty commitments to the nations of the Asia-Pacific Rim, Washington did not challenge China directly, but sought to engage Beijing in softening its verbal threats and aggressive naval moves in the East and South China Seas.

All of the above reflect the Obama administration commitment to use of ‘soft’ economic and diplomatic rather than ‘hard’ military power. This includes seeking partnerships with other major and regional states in attaining its geopolitical objectives.

Decline of the Atlantic Alliance Economy

US policy in 2012 was heavily influenced by overriding concerns with domestic economic weakness and the political chasm between Democrats and Republicans as to how they should be addressed. While the nation’s GDP did improve modestly during the year, the national debt increase was double that of the GDP rise. Thus American economic progress continued to depend on unsustainable borrowing. More broadly, the dysfunctional state of the US Congress and its confrontational relations with the administration brought to a standstill possible changes in both domestic and foreign policy.

In Europe, the fiscal crisis was more extreme. Within the Eurozone, a deep schism arose between its northern and southern members. The stagnation of the European economy made a major impact upon political, as well as economic relations, both within the Zone and the European Union as a whole. This was exacerbated by the rise of Euro-skepticism within the U.K.’s Conservative Party, leading to some of its key members to call for Britain to opt out of the EU.

Although the economies of the United States and Europe are so closely intertwined, much of the year was spent on finger pointing by each side to the flawed policies of the other. No effort was made to address the fiscal crisis as a trans-Atlantic one which could be eased through free trade agreements, harmonizing banking regulations and rationalizing defense expenditures.

Shifting Alliances within the Middle East Shatterbelt

The rise to power of Islamic parties in Egypt, Tunisia and, potentially, Syria, is a harbinger of the loss of Western, and especially American, influence within the region. It also presages a regional schism between a Shiite bloc of Iran and Iraq, and a Sunni bloc that includes Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Caught between the two are Bahrain and Kuwait, both of whose respectively Shiite majority and considerable Shiite minority populations are ruled by Sunni monarchs.

Syria also has become a battleground between its majority Sunni population that has risen in revolt against the Shia Alawite Assad regime. Shiite minorities in north Yemen and south Lebanon, and Sunni minorities in western Iraq are also sources of major civil unrest. The Kurds in Iraq and Syria also threaten to destabilize the region, especially in view of their relations with the Kurds of Turkey. In addition, Ankara has made agreements with the Kurdish leadership in Iraq to invest heavily in the oil fields of Kirkuk, and to rebuild the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. This is likely to bring Turkey into contention with the Shia government in Bagdad.

Turkey aspired to become the leader and peacemaker of the Middle East. It failed in this effort because of both Egypt’s rise and its own entanglement in Syria. The odds are that this failure will prompt Ankara to renew its efforts to join the European Union.

US Energy Independence Progress

In 2012, the US made rapid strides toward gaining energy self-sufficiency. Energy independence within five years has been forecast with the hydrofracking in the continental US of shale rock containing natural gas and oil, and intensified off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Natural gas from fracked shale already supplies half of all US gas consumption. The rapid increase in supply has driven prices to all-time lows, stimulating the replacement of coal in retrofitted electric energy plants. So vast is the potential of shale gas that liquefied natural gas plants (LNG) are already being built along the Gulf coast to export the product. Oil production has also increased rapidly, satisfying 40% of all oil requirements in 2012.

The forecast for US self-sufficiency is based not only on oil and gas increases, but also on alternative energy sources and greater fuel efficiency. Whether or not this goal is reached within the five year forecast, America will no longer have any need to import oil from the Middle East. Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and West Africa have more than ample capacity to fill US needs. This, along with the overthrow of established governments, will hasten America’s shift of interest away from the region in which it has had such strong influence. The implications are especially profound for Israel and for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

More contributions to Annual Review

Andrea Teti: 2012 – The Arab Spring in Egypt: From Uprising to Revolution?

For more perspectives on 2012, please have a look at the other parts of the Geopolitical Review:

Various contributors: Geopolitical Review 2012 – Global and Local Trends, Events and Risks

Various contributors: 2012 – South Asia: US-Pakistan relations, ISAF, Great Game, Kashmir

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Geopolitical Review 2011 – global events and US foreign policy

Geopolitical Review 2011 – global events and US foreign policy

Article by: Professor Emeritus Saul Cohen, Hunter College/City University, December 2011 Tags: US foreign policy Arab Spring Chinese American Global Century Pacific Rim Great Regional Soft World Powers Leaders Republican Presidential Candidates

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Saul Cohen

For the third consecutive year, the editor has invited the contributors of ExploringGeopolitics to define the most significant geopolitical development of the year.

Professor Saul Cohen has contributed an essay to this Annual Geopolitical Review. He argues that this year was not about a single development.

Instead, “the significance of 2011 is that a number of events converged to make for dramatic change.” Professor Cohen focuses on US foreign policy, but also puts various events in a global perspective.

Moreover, he explains why recent events are important for how world politics will evolve in the next decades.

The other parts of the Geopolitical Review have been written by Alex Chitty/Simon Dalby, Jeremy Crampton/Stuart Elden, Virginie Mamadouh and Andrea Teti:

Chitty / Dalby: Geopolitical Review 2011 – social media / Durban climate conference

Crampton / Elden: Geopolitical Review 2011 – WikiLeaks / ‘Occupy’ protests

Virginie Mamadouh: Geopolitical Review 2011 – financialization and resistance

Andrea Teti: 2011 – Egyptian Uprising, Regime Change, Muslim Brotherhood

Events that confirmed the end of America’s role as the world’s dominant power

The year 2011 was marked by the convergence of events that confirmed the end of America’s role as the world’s dominant power. Even though a multipolar geopolitical world had emerged by the onset of the 21st century, the George W. Bush administration continued to behave as though it were still the global hegemon. It plunged into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while lowering taxes and without a long term occupation strategy. Lulled by the rapid success of the 1991 Gulf War, Washington was convinced of the invulnerability of its armed forces. Consequently it placed the burden of fighting upon volunteers and contractors, rather than adopting universal military service.

Geopolitics: the Geography of International Relations

In Eastern Europe, the U.S. proposed to install an American ABM shield designed against Iran’s missile threat, without gaining a consensus from its NATO allies as to either its need or location. Its negotiations to locate it in Poland and the Czech Republic failed. Nor did it try to find common ground with Russia, which feared the location of the shield near its borders. Recently the project has been recast as a U.S.-NATO undertaking, and the location has been shifted to Romania and Turkey – less of a threat to Russia, but Moscow still objects. In a significant diplomatic setback during 2011, Washington’s efforts to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons through stiff sanctions were weakened by Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council.

During its first two years, the Obama administration made few significant foreign policy changes. Indeed it added troops in the Iraqi ‘surge’ and then expanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The events of 2011, however, have pressed the administration to set more realistic foreign policy goals and strategies, in spite of the political obstacles posed by Republican presidential candidates and Congressional leadership who cling to the notion that America can and must remain the world’s leader.

Arab Spring, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Libyan rebels and NATO

The significant events that have marked 2011 as the year of major geopolitical change with significant consequences for the U.S. include the following:

  • The Arab Spring, which toppled American- supported dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen, has challenged the regime in Bahrain, weakened the monarchies in Jordan and Morocco, and sparked the Civil War in Syria.
  • While U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by December 31, 2011, there is little confidence that Baghdad will not be plunged into civil war or become a Shiite-dominated state closely tied to Iran.
  • The future of Afghanistan after the proposed withdrawal of all Western forces in 2014 is in the hands of a corrupt and incompetent government that is asking for a decade of financial support following the withdrawal. In the meantime, Kabul, backed by the United States, is pursuing on-and-off negotiations with the Taliban that could lead to a Taliban return to power within an Afghan governance system. Pakistan’s ambivalent position on Afghanistan, and the fact that the Afghan Army on which the United States is counting to stabilize the country, is led and heavily composed of Tajiks, rather than Pashtuns, do not auger well for future peace. The aftermath of the American ‘victory’ may well be a return to the status quo ante of a failed state supported by the drug trade and controlled once more by the Taliban.
  • The widening rift between the United States and Pakistan over the latter’s harboring of Islamic militants within its border may turn out to be the most disastrous consequence of America’s war in Afghanistan. While Osama bin Laden has been killed and the ranks of Al Qaeda have been decimated, the Haqqani network has replaced them, mounting terrorist attacks from the bases in the Pashtun lands of Western Pakistan.
  • America’s failure to persuade Israel to engage in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority that could lead to a two state solution is a reflection not only of Israel’s right-wing nationalists and religious opposition to ending Israeli occupation of the West Bank. It is also due to the support of Israel’s policies by American Jewish and Evangelical lobbies that prevent Washington from bringing pressure on Israel to engage in negotiations.
  • The lead within NATO taken by France and Britain in support of the Libyan rebels who overthrew the Qaddafi regime demonstrated that Washington recognized the primacy of Europe’s strategic interests in North Africa. While American involvement was important, Washington took a backseat in the military campaign. Europe’s primary role in this operation, is an important milestone in shifting NATO from an American satellite to one that can become a genuine Trans-Atlantic partnership.

US foreign policy and Asia-Pacific Rim, Latin America, Europe and Middle East

The current dysfunctionality of the American political system has exacerbated Washington’s inability to deal with the deep economic recession and high unemployment rate that plague the country. Pressures to balance the federal budget have already led to Pentagon budget cuts and more are in the offing. These are now forcing the administration to reconsider its military strategic and foreign policy priorities, and a new pattern is emerging that places greater focus on three regions.

These changes include the following:

  • Washington has declared that the Asia-Pacific Rim is of vital strategic importance and indicated that it will build up its naval air and land forces to defend its Trans-Pacific allies in response to China’s assertive claims to control the South and East China Seas. Stationing a Marine brigade in Australia is an important American symbolic gesture of its commitment to remaining a Trans-Pacific power. The intention to increase the number of war ships in these seas is a more direct challenge to the Chinese. Secretary of State Clinton has made clear that the combination of trade ties, reinforcement of alliances and the pursuit of democracy is of the highest priority and that America’s future is linked to the future of the Asia-Pacific Rim.
  • The declining influence of the United States in Latin America, a region long regarded as America’s backyard, has generated deep concern in Washington. While US participation in the drug war in Mexico has been vigorously pursued, and free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama have been concluded, there are other concerns which await aggressive attention. These include addressing the deep poverty of Guatemala and Honduras, reversing the disintegration of the Organization of American States, endangered by the threat to withhold funding by Brazil, Venezuela and the Republicans in the U.S. Congress. Expansion of Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian political revolution, which embraces Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador in the Andes, and Cuba, Dominica, St. Vincent, Antigua and Nicaragua in the Caribbean, has been contained. However, Venezuela and Nicaragua have recently launched a new economic bloc entitled The Community of Latin American and Caribbean states. It includes 33 Latin American countries and excludes the U.S. and Canada. While prospects for this becoming a significant trade bloc are low, American efforts to reassert its economic presence throughout the Western hemisphere need to be stepped up. The key to such efforts will be the strength of America’s bonds with Brazil, which is not only Latin America’s strongest regional state, but also an emerging global power and a major source for future oil exports to the United States.
  • The strategic alliance with Europe needs revamping. The United States and the European Union are inextricably bound economically, culturally, politically and militarily. However, the partnership is asymmetrical. The U.S. has relieved Europe it of its need to bear its share of NATO’s defense burdens, and to become a genuine partner by assuming political responsibility for some of the Alliance’s strategic decisions. While Washington has in recent years prodded the Europeans to invest more in the defense system, it has done so with too little attention to Europe’s strategic and economic interests with respect to Russia, and its opposition to support of admission of Georgia and Ukraine to NATO.
  • Events of 2011 suggest that America’s interest in trying to remain as the dominant external power within the Middle East is coming to an end. The need for the United States to rely upon oil from the region is rapidly declining, with only 15 to 18% of all oil imports now coming from there. New oil and gas fields in Canada, the Arctic slope, Brazil and West Africa, shale gas in the United States and alternative energy resources suggest that oil will no longer be the determining factor in American Middle East policy. Instead the powers positioned to be the main external influences in the region are China, Japan and India, which will be increasingly dependent on the region’s oil, as well as Russia which has major economic and strategic interests in the Middle East. Turkey and Iran also continue to seek to expand their influence within the region.

Conclusion: partner with other Great Powers and selected Regional Powers

Events of 2011 highlight the U.S. need to partner with other Great Powers and selected Regional Powers, and to apply ‘soft’ power as the first recourse in furthering its strategic interests. This is likely to guide American foreign policy in the years ahead, as the international system becomes more strongly balanced. This era is likely to be defined neither as the American nor as the Chinese Century, but as the Global Century.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Geopolitical Review 2011 – Egyptian Uprising, Regime Change, Muslim Brotherhood

Geopolitical Review 2011 – Egyptian Uprising, Regime Change, Muslim Brotherhood

Article by: Andrea Teti, University of Aberdeen, February 2012 Tags: Egyptian Uprising Regime Change Muslim Brotherhood Reform Democracy Islamists Salafi Parties Human Rights Hosni Mubarak NDP NGOs Crackdown

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Andrea Teti

For the third consecutive year, the editor has invited the contributors of ExploringGeopolitics to define the most significant geopolitical development of the year.

Dr Andrea Teti (Naples, 1973) is Lecturer in International Relations at University of Aberdeen. His teaching focuses on Middle Eastern history and politics, and on political theory (particularly post-structuralism).

Dr Teti studied for his MA (Hons.) and PhD at the University of St Andrews.

In this contribution to the Geopolitical Review 2011, he gives his views on various aspects of the popular uprising in Egypt. Can we speak of regime change? How powerful are the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamists and the NGOs? And what are the consequences for the European Union?

The other parts of the Geopolitical Review have been written by Alex Chitty/Simon Dalby, Saul Cohen, Jeremy Crampton/Stuart Elden and Virginie Mamadouh:

Chitty / Dalby: Geopolitical Review 2011 – social media / Durban climate conference

Cohen: Geopolitical Review 2011 – global events and US foreign policy

Crampton / Elden: Geopolitical Review 2011 – WikiLeaks / ‘Occupy’ protests

Virginie Mamadouh: Geopolitical Review 2011 – financialization and resistance

Does Egypt have better chances today to become a liberal democracy compared with one year ago?

One often hears debates about what kinds of chances Egypt has of becoming a liberal democracy. This kind of focus on liberal democracy is misguiding, because while the uprising, for the vast majority of Egyptians who took part, was about democracy and opposition to authoritarianism, the uprising was not necessarily about liberal democracy. Western audiences and policy-makers – not least as a result of a consensus within the field of democratization studies – have become accustomed to thinking about democracy in what are normally referred to as ‘minimalist’ or ‘procedural’ terms, as something which has to do only with political rights such as voting, free speech and freedom of information. But for Egyptians from across the political spectrum the issue was always broader than that: they wanted political rights, but also social justice.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the combination of the two key slogans of the Egyptian Uprising: the first was ‘aish, horreya / adala igtema’eya (bread, freedom, social justice) and the second was ash-sha’b yurid / isqaat an-nizaam, “the people want the downfall of the regime”. This entails much more than just Mubarak’s removal, and a far greater challenge than simply holding ‘free and fair’ elections, both in terms of the objectives in themselves, and in terms of the resistance within and outside Egypt to this kind of change.

The situation in Egypt remains very fluid, and it is still possible a transition towards democracy will eventually occur, but the balance of conditions this requires is so delicate that precedents over the past twelve months are not at all encouraging.

The Military’s ‘revolutionary’ credentials

Another question one often hears is ‘Will the military ferry Egypt towards democracy?’ Most activists who have been involved in the pro-democracy struggle would probably answer in the negative, and from the standpoint of a detached observer, one would have to be very sceptical about the military’s track record so far.

In part, this is because the figures in government today present a strong degree of continuity with the regime under Mubarak. Field-Marshall Tantawi, the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, was Defense Minister and latterly Deputy PM (under Ahmad Shafiq, who is himself running for the presidency despite being reviled by pro-democracy activists). Other figures such as General Sami Enan, currently SCAF’s Deputy Chairman, were also very close to the centre of power under Mubarak. There are also some figures from the NDP government who have managed to survive – most notably the Minister for Social Affairs Faiza Abou el-Naga, who has gained notoriety for being at the centre of the recent and highly controversial crackdown on Egyptian and international NGOs which began in the aftermath of the January Uprising, intensified over the summer, and recently culminated in the raid of dozens of democracy and human rights NGOs – including the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, all unmistakably close to the US – and the arrest of 43 activists, not least of which the son of a serving US Senator.

But the greatest continuity can be discerned at the policy level. It is true that the military have made certain “concessions” towards democracy – and the fact that they’re commonly referred to as concessions ought to be indicative – including holding parliamentary elections, but all of these have come after a considerable amount of stalling, much pushback by pro-democracy activists, and grudging concessions by the military. Two examples are particularly significant: first, the use of emergency powers, and second, security sector reform. Upon taking office after Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak had an emergency law enacted which has been confirmed every two years since by his puppet parliament – legislation which effectively allowed the Ministry of Interior to arrest and detain without charge, or through state security courts, leading to what many have said was a massive increase in abuse of power by MoI forces, and the detention of several thousands of prisoners of conscience. Under Tantawi, that number grew at one point to over 14,000, and even the recent ‘repeal’ of the emergency law does not apply to ‘thugs’, i.e. the very category which the military have used to stigmatize pro-democracy activists. The second, closely connected issue, is security sector reform. Before the uprising, the security establishment felt it could operate with impunity outside the law or simply bending it to serve its purposes. This has not substantively changed since Mubarak’s departure, and for the moment there are only timid signs from the new Parliament that it will attempt to hold the military junta to account.

All this suggests a system in which few personalities and even fewer policies have changed since the uprising – and seems to be hell-bent on changing as little as possible, if not reversing the changes which occurred since the ouster of Mubarak.

The big question has always been: do the military simply want to secure their interests (which, economically, are vast), or do they no longer trust that a civilian administration and the Ministry of Interior (which grew much stronger under Mubarak) would respect those red lines? Certainly, in public the junta has been committed to a ‘transition’ towards a ‘civilian state’. In practice, however, the pattern of their actions is at the very best ambiguous – indeed, most observers are extremely sceptical about their proclaimed intentions, putting them down to ‘public opinion management’ alone.

The Internal Balance of Power

The security establishment as a whole is certainly as influential as it has ever been in Egypt, an influence which extends from security and policing, all the way into politics and economics. There is of course the Ministry of Interior discussed above, but the General Intelligence Service under Mourad Mouafi, successor to Omar Suleiman, also remains extremely influential in most aspects of Egyptian public life.

As far as political forces are concerned, the Muslim Brotherhood are often – and rightly – acknowledged as the best-organised and best-funded political force by far – although the gains by Salafi parties surprised everyone. There is little doubt that if the Brotherhood decided to take a confrontational stance against the security establishment, it would be impossible for the latter to maintain the façade of transition. This, however, is not the path the MB leadership has chosen – as they have done consistently over the past thirty years, they have opted for compromise in the hope that they will be allowed to share power. Having said that, at the forefront of the concerns for that leadership is certainly the initial cooperation with, and then oppression at the hands of the Nasser regime.

Salafists made considerable gains, but in Egypt’s confused parliamentary electoral process it is difficult to tell how much of their success is due to their policies, how much to their extensive funding, or other factors.

The groups with the least formal power include many which were at the forefront of the uprising. Liberal pro-democracy NGOs have come under sustained attack from all sides (last but not least, the ongoing persecution, including Western citizens). Independent trade unions have been absolutely vital both during the uprising and after it, and thus far are perhaps the best-organised force outside the political ‘mainstream’, but they were amongst the first to come under systematic attack by the military junta, which banned strikes and stigmatized union action as destabilizing the country. But the ‘lack’ of power for these groups needs to be qualified: these are the only groups that have consistently pushed for the original goals of the uprising, and one might say also that the very diligence with which they have been oppressed since Mubarak’s departure is an indication of just how much of a threat their agenda is to the elites in power (including the Brotherhood). Some of these groups do have the ability to mobilize and maintain a certain level of action, and could become a force to be reckoned with if they manage to build up a national movement with political consciousness. The independent labour movement in particular has proven this in the five-year cycle of strikes which preceded the January uprising.

Egypt’s Challenges

The goal of the uprising was – and still is – a change in the way Egypt operates as a country. The people demanded the fall of the regime, that is to say not just Mubarak, not just the NDP, but of an entire system which exploited the poor and defenceless, both economically and politically. This was and remains the main goal: to build a more inclusive and representative society, both politically and economically.

There are several obstacles which stand in the way of this objective, but I would single out three: security sector reform, economic reform, and political representation. Aside from the question of security sector reform outlined above, there are other two issues – economic and political reform – are more headline-grabbing, but no less thorny.

At an economic level, the relative impoverishment of considerable portions of the population were worsened by the ‘liberalization’ policies pursued by the regime under Mubarak. While these policies increased GPD-measured growth rates and per capita growth, that wealth was regressively distributed, and purchasing power actually declined since 1997. Moreover, privatization, which ought to have led to liberalization, amounted to a kind of Russian-style ‘oligarchization’, which has little to do with liberalism.

Politically, Egypt’s old political class was both deeply corrupt and unrepresentative. This is the daunting task new MPs face: to actually represent the interests of their constituents. The new groups which have gained representation in parliament – particularly the Muslim Brotherhood – face a dilemma: at the moment, the easy way to achieve and hold on to power seems to be to cosy up to the military junta; but doing so would risk simply reproducing the old regime in a new guise, and therefore quite rightly alienate voters. On the other hand, successfully opposing the security establishment would require popular mobilisation and a common front with groups such as independent trade unions which were at the forefront of the January uprising, but which have very different political agendas.

Implications for Western policy

There is no doubt that Egypt remains strategically important to the US and to the EU, not least in connection with Israel/Palestine. But as was recently highlighted in a hearing of the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, the unwillingness to support the democratic process rather than the person in charge – Mubarak – has led to an impasse not unlike that of Iran in 1979: by supporting an autocrat, Western governments had alienated the population at large, putting them in the impossible situation of having to chose, now, between a military government which to all intents and purposes appears to be blackmailing the US, and a population all too aware of the uses to which Western financial support has been put in the past. The GCC stance wholly – if quietly – hostile to any real democratic transition only deepens the dilemma for Western capitals.

Both the EU and the US have been reviewing their policies since the uprisings, but the outcome looks rather dismally similar to its predecessors. In particular, while these policies proclaim concern with both political reform and economic inclusion, their suggestions for how to deal with this is ‘more free market’ – the very same ‘liberalization’ which brought greater poverty under Mubarak.

The problem the US, the EU, and its Member States face is that adapting its policies to recognise the demands of the uprising – fairer distribution of wealth and proper political representation – goes against the broad thrust of economic and political trends in Europe over the past thirty years. Ashton and Clinton may be ready to acknowledge the role of poverty in stoking the uprising and even the role of independent trade unions in Egypt and Tunisia, but it is politically impossible to reform democracy assistance and – more importantly – economic policies on the basis of fairer wealth redistribution, as this is of course precisely the opposite of what is being argued to be ‘necessary’ most notably in Greece, Italy, and the other ‘PIIGS’ countries, but also in France, Germany and the UK.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Takashi Yamazaki: Japan’s foreign policy, China, South/North-Korea, US militarization of Okinawa

Takashi Yamazaki: Japan’s foreign policy, China, South/North-Korea, US militarization of Okinawa

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (February 2011) Tags: Japan foreign policy China South Korea North Korea US militarization of Okinawa

Takashi Yamazaki

Takashi Yamazaki

Takashi Yamazaki is Professor of Geography at Osaka City University in Japan. Moreover, he is a steering committee member of the Commission of Political Geography (International Geographical Union), and co-chair of Research Committee 15 (Political and Cultural Geography, International Political Science Association). Professor Yamazaki obtained a PhD in Geography (University of Colorado) in 2004, and a BA and an MA in Geography (Kyoto University) in the 1980s.Please have a look at this page for more information about his work: University page of Takashi Yamazaki

book Takashi YamazakiThe ‘Geopolitical Passport’ series offers visitors to ExploringGeopolitics a unique opportunity to find out more about the enormous variety of views within the geopolitical traditions. The floor has been given to scholars from several countries and various disciplines. The questions address issues all people with an interest in geopolitics grapple with. How should we define it? What are the most fascinating geopolitical ideas? And how will the geopolitical future look like?
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

Your relationship with geopolitics

At what age did you discover geopolitics and what attracted you to it?

When I was an undergrad in the 1980s, I was not interested in (classical) geopolitics because it was stigmatized as a problematic (e.g. militaristic) system of knowledge at that time. However, when I was in my thirties (in the 1990s), I read Peter Taylor’s Political Geography (Longman, 1989) and Gerard Toal’s Critical Geopolitics (University of Minnesota Press, 1996). Then I began to realize that geopolitical perspectives could provide me with a useful and critical insight into military campaign, foreign diplomacy, and even local politics in an era of globalization.

In post-war Japan, geopolitics, and political geography in general, have long been excluded from the subjects of geography due mainly to its relation to war aggression and ultra-nationalism. This association has ultimately contributed to limiting the scope of Japanese geographers to domestic or local issues.

After the demise of the Soviet Union, however, it became difficult to understand Japanese foreign /domestic policies and economic growth/decline without considering Japan’s geopolitical location and context. So I realized that geography in Japan needed to change to include the perspectives of geopolitics and political geography, which led to my decision to go to the US for my PhD.

Which geopolitical topics have your focus and why did you choose especially these?

When I decided to go to the US, I wanted to explore political geographical topics somehow related to Japan-US relations. After World War II, Japan became dependent on US military presence within Japan as nuclear deterrence. This was the core arrangement of the Japan-US alliance under the Cold War, and its significance has been repeatedly redefined according to new geopolitical contexts in the west Pacific.

Although this alliance has been maintained for the security of Japan as a whole, the actual geographical distribution of US military installations has been highly uneven; 74% of (the area of) them are concentrated in one prefecture, Okinawa. Okinawa was once an independent kingdom and annexed to Japan in 1879.

As socio-economically marginalized by Japan proper, it became a tragic battle ground in 1945 and was put under the US military administration until 1972 when it reverted to Japan. Even after reversion, however, there are still more than thirty US military installations left in Okinawa.

Ever since I went to the US, I have been looking at how Okinawans have protested against the continuing militarization of their islands according to the shifting geopolitical context of Okinawa.

What do you consider your most important contribution to geopolitics?

I do not think that my works have ever contributed to geopolitics as a system of knowledge but feel that my works have somehow stimulated young Japanese geographers by making them believe that it is OK to think about geopolitics in geography.

For this purpose, I have just published a text book on geopolitics and political geography in Japan. I hope that the book will have some positive impact on Japanese geographers’ perception of geopolitics. The book is titled “Seiji, Kukan, Basho” [Space, Place, and Politics]. It is the very first political geography textbook written by a single author in post-war Japan.

My geopolitical preferences

What is your favourite definition of geopolitics?

In the aforementioned book, I define classical geopolitics as “a system of knowledge or discipline that according to the deterministic understanding of the geographical locations of states and the geographical conditions surrounding them, analyzes political relations between great powers, particularly diplomacies including military confrontation, and attempts to apply the analysis to military and foreign policies.”

This traditional definition points to two major components of classical geopolitics as statecraft: environmental determinism and policy application. Critical geopolitics adds to this a new dimension of ‘geopolitics as discourse.’

I would like to extend these definitions to include multi-scalar aspects of geopolitics because politics towards land or geography (i.e. geo-politics) is not limited to statecraft. In an era of globalization, geopolitics can be seen at various geographical scales. So I think that a better definition of geopolitics consists of components such as environmental determinism, policy application, discourse, and multi-scale.

Which geopolitical scientist do you admire the most?

I would like to name political geographers and scientists rather than geopolitical scientists because I do not necessarily ‘admire’ geopolitical scientists as scientists; they tend to be ideologists and too state-centric.

Theoretically, scholars such as John Agnew, Peter Taylor, John O’Loughlin, Gerard Toal, Stain Rokkan, and Cynthia Enloe are influential on me. Agnew, Taylor, O’Loughlin, and Toal are founders of so-called ‘New Geopolitics’ and have opened new frontiers of geopolitical studies.

Rokkan’s model of center-periphery relations constitutes a theoretical basis of my works on Okinawa. Feminist scholars such as Enloe provide me with a new insight into the gendered militarization of Okinawa.

In Japan, most geopolitical scientists are realists or classical and not so influential on me.

What is your favourite geopolitical book?

For reference, I often use “Dictionary of Geopolitics” (edited by O’Loughlin) and “The Geopolitics Reader” (edited by Toal et al.). These give me very good guidance in understanding the history of geopolitics and geopolitical texts and discourses.Toal’s “Critical Geopolitics” has broadened my perspective of geopolitics in a more critical direction.

As mentioned above, I have often cited Rokkan and Derek Urwin’s “Economy, Territory, and Identity” as one of the theoretical frameworks for my research on Okinawa. Other than these, I really enjoyed reading Peter Taylor’s “The Way the Modern World Works” because this book succeeds in extending the notion of world politics into cultural hegemony.

My colleagues and I now plan to translate into Japanese Colin Flint’s “Introduction to Geopolitics”. We believe that this translation will promote a ‘sober’ understanding of geopolitics among Japanese readers.

What is your favourite geopolitical website?

I run my own Japanese website called “Seiji-chiri no peji”:

Website of Political Geography (in Japanese)

The website contains power point slides and course materials for my lectures and seminars and downloadable files of my publications on political geography and geopolitics. It seems to attract attention from Japanese university students and geographers.

There are some popular geopolitical websites run in Japanese, but generally their contents are biased from an academic point of view. My major sources of geopolitical information are websites of major newspapers and governmental organizations.

It is a shame that I had not known ExploringGeopolitics and the Geopolitical Passport series before I was interviewed. I will try to visit this website more often.

The geopolitical future

In what direction(s) will geopolitical science be heading the coming decades?

I predict that in Japan as well as the rest of the world classical or realist geopolitics will gain popularity in the public and revive in the academic circle as people and politicians become insecure and anxious about the future of their nation-states.

This tendency has become apparent in Japan since the late 1990s when North Korea and China began to be perceived as new security threats to Japan. September 11 and Japan’s subsequent involvement in US-led military campaigns in Central and West Asia have also promoted public sentiments in favour of more active foreign and security policies.

Japan’s long-term economic recession and political turmoil in the national government have further contributed to deepening the popular sense of ‘state crises’ In addition, territorial disputes that had been politically silenced are being revived against China, South Korea, and Russia.

Under such circumstances, I am sure that popular and academic demands for classical or realist geopolitics will grow for the coming years.

Which geopolitical subject has been too little in the spotlight and needs further research?

As Toal argues, classical geopolitics constitutes discourses about world politics that simplify and dichotomize inter-state relations and appear to chart the future of a nation-state. This aspect of geopolitical discourse attracts popular attention and tends to stimulate aggressive foreign policy.

Given that geopolitics and political geography once lost their critical gaze against war aggression, academics related to these disciplines should highlight how states wage a war, how people support it, and what kind of outcome will follow.

Moreover, the contemporary world faces crises of non-conventional military conflicts that classical geopolitics cannot necessarily comprehend. In this sense, geopolitics based on classical theories of inter-states conflicts tends to lose the power of explanation.

Beyond political discourses by powerful politicians and arm-chair political analysts, political geography needs to expose the material bases of political conflicts and represent silenced voices of the oppressed in the conflicts through empirical research and fieldwork.

In this sense, I argue that geopolitics and political geography with a critical gaze need to become important subjects to understand how the modern world works rather than stimulate nationalistic sentiments among the younger generation.

What will be the largest geopolitical challenge for the world in the 21st century?

As mentioned above, the largest geopolitical challenge for the world is now if we can understand how the contemporary world works using classical geopolitical theories formulated in the first half of the 20th century. Classical geopolitics tends to think that the geographical locations of states significantly influence their foreign policies, that such physical locations continue to be the same for a long period of time, and therefore that the geographies of states can continue to determine their politics.

Scholars in geopolitics and political geography, however, really need to scrutinize the shifting nature of violent political conflicts and ask themselves if they can explain them with existing geopolitical theories and if these theories limit our ability to understand them.

As Peter Taylor argues in the 1990s, while traditional concepts such as nation, state, sovereignty, and territory are based on a singular model of the nation-state, the actual world is comprised of the dynamic and interwoven web of multiple nations, states, sovereignties, and territories. We need to reexamine and re-conceptualize these concepts so as to better approach the more complex geopolitical reality of the contemporary world.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Arne Westad: Restless Empire – China and the World since 1750

Arne Westad: Restless Empire – China and the World since 1750

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (February 2013) Tags: Restless Empire China World 1750

picture Arne Westad

Arne Westad

Restless Empire - China and the World since 1750

O. Arne Westad is one of the world’s foremost experts on both the Cold War and contemporary East Asian history, having won the Bancroft Prize, the Michael Harrington Award and the Akira Iriye International History Book Award for his seminal book The Global Cold War.

A Professor of International History at the London School of Economics, he is also director of LSE IDEAS, a centre for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy. His latest book, “Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750” has been named among the best for 2012 by the Financial Times and The Guardian.

For more information, please have a look at:

University page of Arne Westad Website of the book

The Book “Restless Empire – China and the World since 1750”

How does your new book distinguish itself from the many other books about China?

“Restless Empire” is the first international history of China over the past 250 years. It attempts a China-focused form of history; this is the story of how Chinese have seen their own role’s in international affairs, not only how others have viewed China and the Chinese.

Why have you chosen to focus the book on the period 1750-2000?

In 1750 the Qing empire was at the height of its power. Since then China has gone through tremendous change economically, socially and politically. The book tries to catch the international implications of these changes in China, stressing not only state dissolution and decline, but also how Chinese have helped form these changes and the opportunities that have arisen from them.

China’s Selves and Others

What are currently the most popular national self images in China?

The images Chinese have of their own society are very diverse and sometimes contradictory. One the one hand there is what is sometimes called a ‘victim mentality’ – the sense that China has been exploited in the past and that the Chinese have to be on their guard so that this does not happen again. On the other hand there is an impression that China has indeed risen, and that the country is on its way back to a position of power and prominence internationally.

Why do you argue that ”the concept of China has been so durable [because among other reasons] it is so amorphous and so contentious”?

There has always been uncertainty among Chinese about what China is. Is it first and foremost a culture, in which the written language is the key? Is it all the territory that was conquered by the last dynasty? Or is it, today, something that is developing in the direction of becoming a modern nation state? These questions remain central to the debate in China today, and makes many Chinese concentrate on debating the ‘meaning’ of their identity.

What do you mean by “the boundaries between China and rest of the world are…not always clear”?

In form, China is an empire rather than a nation state. The borders of this empire has shifted over a very long time. Parts of what is now China has been outside the empire in the past (for instance Tibet and Xinjiang) and some areas now outside China have been within it (for instance Mongolia).

China’s foreign policy

What are the main aspects of China’s contemporary foreign policy?

The preoccupation with becoming the central power in the eastern Asian region and the need for a reasonably stable international environment in which to continue its economic growth.

What is the impact of China’s history since 1750 on its foreign policy and perspective on the world?

I am preoccupied with two aspects of this heritage: The concentration on its role in eastern Asia as a region and the belief that China has been treated very unjustly by the great powers (Britain, Japan, the United States) since the mid-19th century.

Which elements in representations of the Self (i.e. China) and the Other (here: Japan) explain the strong anti-Japanese sentiments in China?

The current conflicts all come out of the past. Many Chinese are furious with Japan simply because it is seen as attempting to replace China from its rightful position as Number 1 within the region. This is less about islands in the East China Sea or even about World War II than one should think. It goes deeper than that.

The Future of China

Which underlying “currents and fault lines” in China’s society will be decisive for its future development?

The big question is whether it can achieve a gradual rise in power within eastern Asia without war with other powers. One fault line which will determine this is whether Chinese nationalism can be kept within bounds. Another related issue is whether the Communist Party will be willing to accept more responsible forms of government before it is too late.

What do you consider the most likely scenarios for China’s future regarding economic growth, its relationship with the US and East Asian maritime conflicts?

I remain an optimist. China’s main interests are closely connected to some form of collaborative relationship with the United States and to preserving peace within its region. I am hopeful that the rise of China will also mean its taking on of responsible positions in regional and world affairs.

Arne Westad

picture Arne Westad

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on World order, Heartland, European sea powers, post-Columbian Epoch

World order, Heartland, European sea powers, post-Columbian Epoch

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (October 2011) Tags: World order Heartland European sea powers post-Columbian Epoch Pivot Area theory

Dale Walton

Dale Walton

Dale Walton book cover

Dr. C. Dale Walton is a Lecturer in International Relations and Strategic Studies at the University of Reading. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Hull.

His research interests include strategic relationships and security in Asia, geopolitics and the changing geostrategic environment, and U.S. military and strategic history.

This interview is about Dr. Walton’s most recent book, “Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-first Century: Multipolarity and Revolution in Strategic Perspective”. It focuses on the decline of U.S. unipolarity and the emergence of eastern Eurasia.

He also is the author of “The Myth of Inevitable U.S. Defeat in Vietnam” and a co-author of “Understanding Modern Warfare”. His forthcoming “Grand Strategy and the Presidency: Foreign Policy, War, and the American Role in the World”, will be released in early 2012.

More information on his work can be found here:

Website of Dale Walton

Halford Mackinder, Nicholas Spykman and Critical Geopolitics

What are the key concepts and ideas of Halford Mackinder?

“Sir Halford Mackinder was a key—arguably the key—figure in the development of classical geopolitics, and his ideas continue to influence geopolitical discussion today.”

Sir Halford Mackinder was a key—arguably the key—figure in the development of classical geopolitics, and his ideas continue to influence geopolitical discussion today. It is impossible to give full justice to his worldview in a short discussion, but I would say that his most important contribution was in developing what is commonly known as the ‘Heartland theory.’

Mackinder first put forward a variation of the Heartland theory forward in 1904—at that time, however, he referred to the Heartland as the ‘Pivot Area.’ His conception of the geographical boundaries of the Pivot Area/Heartland changed somewhat over time, but the region always consisted of a vast territory comprising much of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Siberia.

“Mackinder saw the political history of Eurasia as being driven largely by landpower forces surging out of the Heartland.”

He saw the political history of Eurasia as being driven largely by landpower forces surging out of the Heartland—the most famous example of this being the Mongols in the thirteenth century—and attempting to conquer European, East Asian, and South Asian polities.

How can they help to understand contemporary world politics?

“Mackinder did not believe that geopolitics was static—physical geography might only change with excruciating slowness, but technology and social organization can change rapidly. “

Mackinder did not believe that geopolitics was static—physical geography might only change with excruciating slowness, but technology and social organization can change rapidly. Therefore, I would say that, influential as the Heartland theory has been, that it becoming less salient in describing current geopolitical problems.

“Indeed, Nicholas J. Spykman’s work, which builds on, but also critiques, Mackinder’s ideas, is, in my view, probably is more directly useful in describing the geopolitical conditions prevailing today.”

Indeed, Nicholas J. Spykman’s work, which builds on, but also critiques, Mackinder’s ideas, is, in my view, probably is more directly useful in describing the geopolitical conditions prevailing today.

“Mackinder, however, offers great and enduring insights into the intimate relationship between geography and politics.”

Mackinder, however, offers great and enduring insights into the intimate relationship between geography and politics. It is not possible to have a rich understanding of strategy in any period of human history without grasping the web connecting people, physical geography, and technology.

To what extent do critical geopolitical concepts and ideas inform your work?

Critical geopolitics, to be frank, has not had a large influence on my work. One of the themes that I address briefly in Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-First Century is the vast gulf between classical and critical geopolitics.

“The worldviews of classical and critical geopoliticians simply are too radically different to allow for an academically fruitful dialogue — they cannot agree on the shape of the game board, much less the rules of the game.”

These two strains of thought simply are based on such different underlying assumptions—classical geopolitics being broadly Realist in its outlook, and critical geopolitics essentially having its origins in the Frankfurt School — that there is little common ground.

The worldviews of classical and critical geopoliticians simply are too radically different to allow for an academically fruitful dialogue — they cannot agree on the shape of the game board, much less the rules of the game.

The world order I – definition and history

How would you define the concept ‘world order’?

“I would describe a ‘world order’ as the way in which political power is distributed globally and expectations in the international community of how that power will be used.”

With ‘big definitions’, I favor simplicity!

So I would describe a ‘world order’ as the way in which political power is distributed globally and expectations in the international community of how that power will be used.

What is the difference between the Columbian Epoch and the post-Columbian Epoch and why is it relevant?

In Mackinder’s view, the seafaring polities of Western Europe made a critical ‘breakout’ through the use of seapower for exploration, trade, and overseas empire-building — he called this the Columbian Epoch. During this age, the seapowers (very much including England/the United Kingdom) enjoyed a critical advantage.

However, Mackinder believed that the Columbian Epoch was coming to an end during his own lifetime — he argued this in his 1904 paper that I mentioned above.

I think that Mackinder’s vision of the Columbian Epoch was a major historical insight, but in Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-First Century, I argue that Mackinder was not quite right in his assumptions about it end.

“The European seapowers proved more resilient than Mackinder thought likely, and, with the aid of the United States, defeated challenges to their political independence.”

The European seapowers proved more resilient than he thought likely, and, with the aid of the United States, defeated challenges to their political independence. Thus, the twentieth century was the Columbian Epoch’s ‘old age’ — it slowly wound down, with Europe remaining the center of geopolitical struggle and the main battlefield for a NATO-Warsaw Pact war, if such an event were to occur.

“The collapse of the Soviet satellite governments in Central Europe and the fall of the Soviet Union then allowed the opening of a new, Post-Columbian Epoch.”

The collapse of the Soviet satellite governments in Central Europe and the fall of the Soviet Union then allowed the opening of a new, Post-Columbian Epoch.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Revolutions in strategic perspective (RSP) and military affairs (RMA)

Revolutions in strategic perspective (RSP) and military affairs (RMA)

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (October 2011) Tags: Revolutions in strategic perspective RSP military affairs RMA Blitzkrieg Napoleon Alexander the Great Ottoman Ming Empire

Dale Walton

Dale Walton

Dale Walton book cover

Dr. C. Dale Walton is a Lecturer in International Relations and Strategic Studies at the University of Reading. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Hull.

His research interests include strategic relationships and security in Asia, geopolitics and the changing geostrategic environment, and U.S. military and strategic history.

This interview is about Dr. Walton’s most recent book, “Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-first Century: Multipolarity and Revolution in Strategic Perspective”. It focuses on the decline of U.S. unipolarity and the emergence of eastern Eurasia.

He also is the author of “The Myth of Inevitable U.S. Defeat in Vietnam” and a co-author of “Understanding Modern Warfare”. His forthcoming “Grand Strategy and the Presidency: Foreign Policy, War, and the American Role in the World”, will be released in early 2012.

More information on his work can be found here:

Website of Dale Walton

The world order II – revolutions in military affairs and strategic perspective

What is a revolution in military affairs (RMA) and how can it affect the world order?

“Colin S. Gray’s definition of a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) — ‘a radical change in the conduct and character of war’ — might be the best.”

Many different RMA definitions have been offered, and they all have virtues and drawbacks.

However, Colin S. Gray’s definition—”an RMA is a radical change in the conduct and character of war”—might be the best, because it is, as he says, “truly minimalist.”

RMAs are often associated with technology, and some RMAs (such as the ‘nuclear RMA’ or, as I prefer to call it, the ‘First American RMA’) certainly are technologically driven. However, changes in military organization and tactics, socio-political changes, and other factors can all be drivers for an RMA.

“An RMA can shake a world order to its foundations, or even conceivably destroy it.”

An RMA can shake a world order to its foundations, or even conceivably destroy it. What often is called the Napoleonic RMA — which reflected an interlocking set of socio-political, military organizational, and tactical developments — very nearly destroyed the multipolar European great power system, and with it the existing world order.

Over a century later, the ‘Blitzkrieg RMA’ effectively did destroy the multipolar world system—though not with the results that the RMA’s originators intended.

“Both the Napoleonic and German examples illustrate a very important caveat: RMAs do not make a polity undefeatable.”

Both the Napoleonic and German examples illustrate a very important caveat: RMAs do not make a polity undefeatable. Given time to adapt, clever enemies can adapt to the changes unleashed by the RMA, adapting to, and even improving upon, new tactics and technologies.

What is a revolution in strategic perspective (RSP) and how can it affect the world order?

“Successfully adapting to a Revolution in Strategic Perspective (RSP) requires policymakers to radically alter the way that they think about politics.”

Revolutions in Strategic Perspective are a much rarer event than are RMAs. Successfully adapting to an RSP requires policymakers to radically alter the way that they think about politics. In my view, the last RSP occurred because of the European breakout and the Age of Discovery.

“Rather quickly after their realization that the Americas existed and that the entire globe was navigable using existing technologies, the leaders of the Western European seapowers came to think about politics in a truly global fashion.”

Rather quickly after their realization that the Americas existed and that the entire globe was navigable using existing technologies, the leaders of the Western European seapowers came to think about politics in a truly global fashion.

With the possible exception of outliers such as Alexander the Great — who may well have hoped to conquer the entire world — they were the first leaders do so in a systematic manner, asking how they could further their interests by acting globally.

Most of the powerful polities that existed in c. 1500 never made that transition. In the book, I take particular note of the Ottoman and Ming Empires, both of which were enormously powerful, populous, and wealthy political — but neither had a policymaking class that made the transition to seeing strategy as global enterprise.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on US-China relationship, Great Powers, non-state actors, 21st century

US-China relationship, Great Powers, non-state actors, 21st century

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (October 2011) Tags: US-China relationship Great Powers non-state actors 21st century Sino-Russian alliance Third World War prediction United Nations Security Council

Dale Walton

Dale Walton

Dale Walton book cover

Dr. C. Dale Walton is a Lecturer in International Relations and Strategic Studies at the University of Reading. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Hull.

His research interests include strategic relationships and security in Asia, geopolitics and the changing geostrategic environment, and U.S. military and strategic history.

This interview is about Dr. Walton’s most recent book, “Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-first Century: Multipolarity and Revolution in Strategic Perspective”. It focuses on the decline of U.S. unipolarity and the emergence of eastern Eurasia.

He also is the author of “The Myth of Inevitable U.S. Defeat in Vietnam” and a co-author of “Understanding Modern Warfare”. His forthcoming “Grand Strategy and the Presidency: Foreign Policy, War, and the American Role in the World”, will be released in early 2012.

More information on his work can be found here:

Website of Dale Walton

The world order III – the future

What kind of world order do you expect to emerge in the 21st century and why?

I have long expected that multipolarity will re-emerge, with several great powers competing for influence — and, hopefully, also cooperating to maintain global prosperity, deal with failed states, and address other issues.

“These great powers almost certainly will include the United States, India, China, Japan, and Russia. The European Union certainly would be one of them, if it were to pursue a truly unified foreign policy — this, however, seems increasingly unlikely.”

These great powers almost certainly will include the United States, India, China, Japan, and Russia. The European Union certainly would be one of them, if it were to pursue a truly unified foreign policy — this, however, seems increasingly unlikely.

“‘Eastern Eurasia’ is a meta-region that is basically comprised of East, South, and Southeast Asia. Eastern Eurasia is the center of the geopolitical system — the center of the global struggle for power — during the Post-Columbian Epoch.”

There also may be other great powers, too — for instance, Brazil seems to be a plausible long-term candidate. Medium powers, such as South Korea also will be key actors in the system.

Importantly, the geographic center of this system will be what I prefer to call ‘Eastern Eurasia’: a meta-region this basically is comprised of East, South, and Southeast Asia. Just as Europe was the center of the global geopolitical system during the Columbian Epoch — the center of the global struggle for power — Eastern Eurasia is the center of the geopolitical system during the Post-Columbian Epoch.

What will be the role of non-state actors in the 21st century world order?

That’s very difficult to say. I think that much will depend upon further technological developments and how political communities respond to those developments.

“Some kinds of non-state actors are likely to be increasingly important: transnational religious organizations and certain kinds of NGOs (such as those representing diaspora and other minority communities), for example.”

I do, however, think that some kinds of non-state actors are likely to be increasingly important: transnational religious organizations and certain kinds of NGOs (such as those representing diaspora and other minority communities), for example. Large multi-national corporations and global media outlets are already quite powerful, and I expect that to continue—although I would hasten to add that corporate and media power is no sure guarantee against great power wars.

“I do not, however, expect the United Nations to have a much more important role than it now has. Indeed, I expect that it will become less important, as the Security Council increasingly does not reflect the real distribution of power amongst states.”

Some international organizations, mainly those concerned with economics and trade, also will continue to be important. I do not, however, expect the United Nations to have a much more important role than it now has. Indeed, I expect that it will become less important, as the Security Council increasingly does not reflect the real distribution of power amongst states, and reforms that would correct that problem appear unlikely.

Moreover, in any case, it is too open a forum for the most serious sort of diplomacy; the Wilsonian concept of open diplomacy simply is unworkable. Diplomacy is an art form that is best practiced privately, not in a circus ring surrounded by crowds of hecklers.

“I do not expect the century to be defined politically by terrorist groups and their actions. Terrorism certainly is not going away. Indeed, I entirely expect that new ideologies will arise in this century, and some of those ideologies will be violent, so we may even see new and important terrorist groups that are not based on Islamism. “

I do not expect the century to be defined politically by terrorist groups and their actions. Terrorism certainly is not going away. Indeed, I entirely expect that new ideologies will arise in this century, and some of those ideologies will be violent, so we may even see new and important terrorist groups that are not based on Islamism. It is even possible that one or more terrorist groups will perpetrate nuclear or biological weapons attacks with truly horrifying results.

“In the 21 century, enormous social, technological, and economic change is going to occur globally, and a new multipolar international system will be born.”

However, that will only be, taking the long view, a small part of a century in which enormous social, technological, and economic change is going to occur globally, and in which a new multipolar international system will be born.

What are the most likely scenarios for the relationship between the US and China?

“My hope is that both the United States and China will be key actors in a basically peaceable system of the sort that I alluded to above.”

My hope is that both the United States and China will be key actors in a basically peaceable system of the sort that I alluded to above. In such a system, the great powers frequently would cooperate in ways that would serve the common good, rather like the Concert of Europe—a Global Concert, so to speak. I think that this is an eminently attainable goal, if both Washington and Beijing seek it.

“Unfortunately, I also can easily image scenarios in which the two countries have a progressively more sour relationship. I think the worst realistic case would be the development of a close Sino-Russian alliance that was unfriendly to Washington and assertive in the Asia-Pacific.”

Unfortunately, I also can easily image scenarios in which the two countries have a progressively more sour relationship. I think the worst realistic case would be the development of a close Sino-Russian alliance that was unfriendly to Washington and assertive in the Asia-Pacific. That would, quite rightly, frighten other powers, and I could easily image war eventually occurringunder such conditions.

“Indeed, if the great powers generally act in a moderate and responsible way, a Third World War is very unlikely. Whether the great powers actually will be prudent, however, is beyond prediction — we will have to see how history unfolds.”

Unlike some very thoughtful authors, such as Martin Van Creveld and John Mueller, I do not think that great power war has more-or-less become impossible. However, I also do not believe that great power war is not inevitable until the conditions prevailing in this century. Indeed, if the great powers generally act in a moderate and responsible way, a Third World War is very unlikely. Whether the great powers actually will be prudent, however, is beyond prediction — we will have to see how history unfolds.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Dale Walton: American Role in the World, Geostrategic Behavior, Defense Studies

Dale Walton: American Role in the World, Geostrategic Behavior, Defense Studies

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (October 2011) Tags: American Role in the World Geostrategic Behavior Defense Studies

Dale Walton

Dale Walton

Grand Strategy and the Presidency: Foreign Policy, War and the American Role in the World (Strategy and History)

Dale Walton book cover

Dr. C. Dale Walton is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Lindenwood University in St. Charles (Missouri, US).

A US citizen, his previous career experience includes teaching International Relations at the University of Reading (UK) from 2007-12, serving on the faculty of the Defense and Strategic Studies Department at Missouri State University from 2001-07, and working as a Senior Analyst with the National Institute for Public Policy. As a PhD student at the University of Hull (UK), he was an H.B. Earhart Fellow.

Dr. Walton is the author of three books: “Grand Strategy and the Presidency: Foreign Policy, War, and the American Role in the World” (Routledge, 2012); “Geopolitics and the Great Powers in the Twenty-first Century: Multipolarity and Revolution in Strategic Perspective (Routledge, 2007)”; and “The Myth of Inevitable U.S. Defeat in Vietnam” (Frank Cass/Routledge, 2002); and is a co-author of “Understanding Modern Warfare” (Cambridge University Press, 2008). In addition, he has published more than seventy chapters, scholarly articles, and book reviews.

Dr. Walton’s research interests include strategic relationships and security problems in Asia, geopolitics and the changing geostrategic environment, U.S. military and strategic history, and the influence of religious and ideological beliefs on strategic behavior.

More information on his work can be found here:

Website of Dale Walton

The ‘Geopolitical Passport’ series offers visitors to ExploringGeopolitics a unique opportunity to find out more about the enormous variety of views within the geopolitical traditions. The floor has been given to scholars from several countries and various disciplines. The questions address issues all people with an interest in geopolitics grapple with. How should we define it? What are the most fascinating geopolitical ideas? And how will the geopolitical future look like?
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

Your relationship with geopolitics

At what age did you discover geopolitics and what attracted you to it?

I first encountered geopolitical theory early in my postgraduate studies, when I was about 22 years old. My master’s program included a course on geopolitics taught, very dynamically, by Professor J.D. Crouch. I found geopolitics fascinating largely because it demanded that one step back from the fine details of current policy debates and consider the truly big picture—the role of human and physical geography in shaping strategic behavior.

That’s a perspective that is vital when tackling the truly big questions about human history, such as how polities are born, why they prosper, and why they die. Such questions must be asked and—and, albeit perhaps imperfectly—answered if one is going to be discern general principles about human strategic behavior from the thousands of years of history that are available for our study.

Which geopolitical topics have your focus and why did you choose especially these?

The core of my own particular interest essentially is the breakdown of Sir Halford Mackinder’s Columbian Epoch and its long-term impact, in which I am acutely interested because I believe it to be the most significant geopolitical development in centuries. Mackinder, writing in the early twentieth century, believed that the Epoch was coming to an end in his own day. I think that Mackinder’s view was very insightful, but that, for a variety of technological and other reasons, his timing was off and that, instead, the Epoch entered a long period of decay.

The strategic history of the twentieth century is the story of this breakdown. First, there was collapse of the multipolar great power system centered geographically in Europe and its replacement by a bipolar system in which the two superpowers, one North American and the other Eastern European and Asian, competed to play a hegemonic role in the former center of global power—Western and Central Europe. This bipolar system in turn was replaced by a unipolar one in which Western and Central Europe was no longer the object of geopolitical competition.

I regard the collapse of the Soviet Union as the end of the Columbian Epoch. We now are early in a new, Post-Columbian cycle, with the development of several great powers in what I prefer to call Eastern Eurasia (essentially, what generally is described as Eastern, Southeastern, and Southern Asia, as well as the Australian continent, New Zealand, and much of Siberia). As this multipolar system matures, Eastern Eurasia is solidifying as the geographical center of global power for numerous decades, if not centuries.

What do you consider your most important contribution to geopolitics?

My book “The Geopolitics of the Great Powers: Multipolarity and the Revolution in Strategic Perspective”, as it both describes the process addressed in the previous question and details why I believe it to be so important.

Your geopolitical preferences

What is your favourite definition of geopolitics?

I believe that geopolitics should be viewed holistically. As noted above, physical geography is an inescapable part of this definition—this includes topography, climate, the distribution of resources, and so forth. One should not, however, ignore human geography, including how the earth’s population is distributed, the cultural and religious characteristics of self-identified tribes, nations, or other socio-political units, the cultural divisions within delineated states, and the influence of these human factors on economic matters. Finally, the prevailing technology of a given time should be considered, as this is both the outgrowth of physical and political geography and, in turn, shapes how humans interact with the physical world.

Which geopolitical scientist do you admire the most?

In regard to this question, I must declare an interest, as Professor Colin S. Gray has been a personal friend for close to two decades now, serving as my PhD supervisor and otherwise acting as a mentor. Having said that, however, I think that he played a critical role in revitalizing what often is called ‘Classical Geopolitics.’

Works that he authored such as “The Geopolitics of Superpower” (University Press of Kentucky, 1988) demonstrated how geopolitical thinking still was relevant despite the technological advances of the twentieth century, in particular the development of long-range ballistic missiles equipped with nuclear warheads, and he continues to publish an extraordinary variety of scholarly works.

Of his more recent writing, I particularly would point to “The Strategy Bridge” (Oxford University Press, 2011), which is not a work of geopolitical theory per se, but certainly is informed by a deep understanding of the centrality of geography in human strategic behavior.

What is your favourite geopolitical book?

While there are many contenders for this title, I would say that it is Nicolas Spykman’s “America’s Strategy and World Politics” (Harcourt, Brace, 1942), a remarkable book. First, it took Sir Halford Mackinder’s geopolitical insights and critiqued and built on them in an extraordinarily useful way. Second, even though Spykman was writing relatively early in the Second World War, he has a very forward-thinking perspective, looking beyond the conflict itself and toward the world that would emerge once it ended.

What is your favourite geopolitical website?

Some of the best websites for good, accessible material on geopolitical issues are, unsurprisingly, published by magazines and journals addressing strategic affairs. These include the websites of Foreign Policy, World Affairs, World Politics Review, The National Interest and The American Interest.

From the latter source, I particularly would highlight Walter Russell Mead’s blog, Via Media, an excellent example of the policy blog as a means to communicate ideas to an informed audience—opinionated but thoughtful, well-written, and very wide-ranging.

The geopolitical future

In what direction(s) will geopolitical science be heading the coming decades?

I suspect that the major geopolitical project for classical geopoliticians will be describing in detail the characteristics and functioning of the multipolar world of the Post-Columbian Epoch. This will be an exceptionally challenging task, for it will not suffice only to look to the multipolar systems of the past. Although history is the most vital resource available to the geopolitical theorist, the context of the emerging multipolar system is radically different, both geographically and technologically, from that prevailing in any previous era.

The Columbian Epoch saw the development, over the course of many years, of truly global politics and economics, but the core of this global system was located in a relatively small part of the earth, Western and Central Europe. Now that core is shifting to a different, and enormously larger, geographical area which contains the majority of the world’s population and an enormous diversity of culture. Moreover, this is occurring at a time when numerous technologies are still very far from maturity, including robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology/genetics. These factors together create an environment with enormous promise for the future of humanity, but also one in which it is all too easy to imagine horrific disaster.

Which geopolitical subject has been too little in the spotlight and needs further research?

I consider technological factors to be critically important to understanding the geopolitics of a given era. The great geopoliticians always have emphasized this fact—Mackinder’s Columbian Epoch, after all, was shaped profoundly by the development of robust ocean-going vessels and sophisticated navigational techniques—but there has been relatively little work addressing the sort of cutting-edge technologies mentioned above.

Very important things are happening in the world’s research laboratories, and discussions of the geopolitics of the twenty-first century should not ignore this fact. This is inconvenient for geopolitical theorists. It is, for example, impossible to predict reliably precisely how great the ultimate potential is for the development of artificial intelligence (AI), but it is obvious that a world with very robust AI is quite different from one in which AI hits a technological “wall” and never develops much beyond where it is today. Yet, when discussing the possible future of global politics, we must consider both of these possibilities.

What will be the largest geopolitical challenge for the world in the 21st century?

Simply stated, it is to avoid the horrors of the twentieth century—in particular, great power war on a massive scale. This is something that virtually everyone agrees is enormously desirable, of course, but actually achieving this goal—given the human propensity for error, combined with the strategic instability inherent in a global political system that is changing as profoundly as ours is—unfortunately may prove difficult.

Thus, we must focus on this goal with tenacity, refusing to surrender to the tendency to ignore problematic developments or engage in wishful thinking. In this regard, I would compare the task at hand to that faced by American policymakers in the early years of the Cold War. However, rather than facing the difficult but comparatively straightforward task of containing the power of a single aggressive superpower, policymakers from all the major powers must consider how to balance their own national interests and aspirations with the need to develop and maintain a great power system that is reasonably healthy, insofar as all the major players feel reasonably secure and none are inclined to military aggression or are willing to take the sort of risks that resulted in the calamity of July-August 1914.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Alexandre Vautravers: Sea/air routes, arms industry/trade, military strategy

Alexandre Vautravers: Sea/air routes, arms industry/trade, military strategy

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (August 2008) Tags: Sea air routes arms industry trade military strategy technology equipment

foto Vautravers

Alexandre Vautravers

Dr Alexandre Vautravers (1956) was born in Madrid and holds the Swiss and EU nationality. He holds a PhD in Contemporary History (Hons, University of Lyon2) and in Social and Economic Sciences (Hons, University of Geneva).

Currently, he is Head of the International Relations Department (Refugee and Migration Program) of Webster University in Geneva. Moreover, Mr. Vautravers is Editor of the Revue Militaire Suisse (RMS) and Commander of a Tank Battalion of the Swiss army. Finally, he has been Scientific Director of Hepta.aero for many years now. Among his areas of expertise are commercial sea and air routes, the arms industry and technology transfer.

The ‘Geopolitical Passport’ series offers visitors to ExploringGeopolitics a unique opportunity to find out more about the enormous variety of views within the geopolitical traditions. The floor has been given to scholars from several countries and various disciplines. The questions address issues all people with an interest in geopolitics grapple with. How should we define it? What are the most fascinating geopolitical ideas? And how will the geopolitical future look like?
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

My relationship with geopolitics

At what age did you discover geopolitics and what attracted you to it?

I was only 9 at the time of the Falklands war. But I remember distinctly rushing back from school at noontime to watch the news, and the pictures of the ships or aircraft of the British Task Force. Two things seemed surreal to me: first, fighting in/for such a remote place; and second, fighting with 40 year-old equipment and armaments. This seemed to go so much against the ambient and conventional discourse over the Cold war. More precisely, I heard the word “geopolitics” for the first time in the German and American newsreels of World War II, presented in a weekly Arte programme by French Historian Marc Ferro: “Histoire parallèle”. This was in the early 1990s.

Which geopolitical topics have your focus and why did you choose especially these?

Military history is a good start. In the long term, conclusions can be drawn about national interests, build-ups and strategies.

I have also been deeply interested in the evolution of the armament industry, technology transfer and arms trade, as a way to bind political and military might. Even recently, the efforts at uniting the European countries’ procurement agencies and contracts is a good indicator of the pace and objectives of European foreign policy.

What do you consider your most important contribution to geopolitics?

I have written a number of articles on the field, related to my courses, in particular on economic interests and commercial lanes (sea- and air- routes). In my original area of specialty, I have done substantial research on the arms industry and technology transfer. I believe that decisive links can be made between the arms trade and geopolitical interests.

My geopolitical preferences

What is your favourite definition of geopolitics?

Fundamentally, geopolitics is taking into account geographical factors (physical, human, economic, social) in shaping policies and strategy.

But unlike the present post-modernist trend, I am cautious about definitions and labels. I see the interest of the field in the sense that so many different actors use it with different backgrounds and for different purposes. It tells us a lot about the present chaos of ideas, the desperate need for personification and sentiment of belonging to our traditions and Nation-states.

Which geopolitical scientist do you admire the most?

Some authors have been known to put together wonderful theories, but have demonstrated much difficulty, to say the least, in their application. I have always had considerable admiration for Martin Van Creveld and Alexandre Adler. They have shown courage and demonstration substantial innovation and insightful theories – in particular regarding the Middle East situation.

What is your favourite geopolitical book?

  • Aymeric Chauprade, Géopolitique: “Constantes et changements dans l’histoire”, Ellipses.
  • Yves Lacoste, “Geopolitique: La longue histoire d’aujourd’hui”, Larousse.

What is your favourite geopolitical website?

The Federation of American Scientists has an extraordinary history. I believe it is a model for independent research and strategy advising:

Federation of American Scientists

[Editor’s note: FAS provides timely, nonpartisan technical analysis on complex global issues that hinge on science and technology.]

In what direction(s) will geopolitical science be heading the coming decades?

I am extremely preoccupied by the generalization of post-modernist theories. These tend to deconstruct history and historiography, so as to create substantial confusion. This creates historiographical “clutter” in which an Orwellian “politically correct” or “pensée unique” speech is allowed to develop. This dominant approach subdues reflections by loud generalizations and demagogue conclusions (Chomsky) or saps historical and political research through unrestricted relativism (Derrida).

Reflections on the “responsibility to protect,” “human security” or “clash of civilizations” are therefore generalized way beyond the scope of their research foundation. These models are all imperfect, but their authors hide or minimize their limitations. These theories make us more certain, and therefore less secure.

Fundamentalisms, such as Islamic terrorism, are products of the North. Western society, disinterested with research and looking for easy remedies and formulas, creates peril.

Which geopolitical subject has been too little in the spotlight and needs further research?

Human sciences suffer both from the “best seller syndrome” -where essays quickly become dogmas- and the “bookshelf syndrome” –where books are revered but not read or understood. The academic system has therefore become prone to both fashions and bypass.

Much research is going on about emerging powers, in particular China, yesterday the Middle East, today Latin America, tomorrow India and Pakistan. I would like to see less pessimistic analysis and more work on the notion of economic and political interdependence between the great powers, not to mention civil society.

Today, 30% of the world’s conflicts are over 30 years old. We also now have to come to terms with the fact that “peace” may not always be “fair.” The International community, international actors and the public opinion often fail to realize that one may exclude the other.

I would therefore say that a substantial and non-political effort in the area of conflict resolution is needed. We need to stop opposing “peace” vs “conflict” research. Let us be pragmatic and try to rebuild collective security mechanisms.

What will be the largest geopolitical challenge for the world in the 21st century?

Today, even minor local or regional crisis have an international impact. Whether these crisis are natural, environmental, technical disasters, economic crisis or armed conflicts, all unfortunately have similar consequences. If we agree that most issues are international in scope, and that most if not all of the means of action are present in the national sphere, we have a problem. This is only exacerbated by the erosion of the Nation-state and national or supra-national governments, in which the consequences of post-modernism can obviously be felt.

As an optimist, I will say that there may be not one, but two solutions: the creation of an international governance/guidance, or the strengthening of national-level actors/governments. Considering that we are in an era of transition, and that everyone has an opinion between these two outcomes, my concern is that one should not be attained at the expense of the other.

Recent publications

Book cover 1

Book cover 2

Book cover 3

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Gerard Toal: Ireland, Bosnia, Russia-Georgia, Global Crash, Pandemic, Nuclear War

Gerard Toal: Ireland, Bosnia, Russia-Georgia, Global Crash, Pandemic, Nuclear War

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (October 2012) Tags: Ireland Bosnia Russia-Georgia Global Crash Pandemic Nuclear War State Failure Belfast Critical Geopolitics

Gerard Toal

Gerard Toal

Bosnia Remade: Ethnic Cleansing and Its Reversal

Dr Gerard Toal is Professor of Government and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, National Capital Region (US).

He studied History and Geography at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, between 1979 and 1982. He then studied political geography with Dr John O’Loughlin at the University of Illinois between 1982 and 1984, minoring in Latin American and African Studies. Thereafter he studied, under the director of Professor John Agnew, in the Department of Geography at Syracuse University, defending a PhD entitled “Critical Geopolitics: The Social Construction of Place and Space in the Practice of Statecraft” on 7 December 1988.

He writes about political geography and geopolitics at:

Blog of Gerard Toal

In this interview, Professor Toal elaborates among other things on his youth in Ireland, the state of geopolitics and possible scenarios for the future. The latter include a global crash or pandemic, a nuclear war and new cases of state failure.

The ‘Geopolitical Passport’ series offers visitors to ExploringGeopolitics a unique opportunity to find out more about the enormous variety of views within the geopolitical traditions. The floor has been given to scholars from several countries and various disciplines. The questions address issues all people with an interest in geopolitics grapple with. How should we define it? What are the most fascinating geopolitical ideas? And how will the geopolitical future look like?
Dear Sir, Madam, for an overview of my Summer courses on geopolitics, country risk and media framing/discourses, please go to GeoMeans Courses at Maastricht Summer School 2018. Kind regards, Leonhardt, editor of ExploringGeopolitics

Your relationship with geopolitics

At what age did you discover geopolitics and what attracted you to it?

This question has layers to it. First, I don’t think I discovered geopolitics so much as slowly realized that where I lived was not like other places in Ireland because we were so close to Northern Ireland. In driving there we were, weirdly, entering another world, another country.

A Companion to Political Geography

This question has layers to it. First, I don’t think I discovered geopolitics so much as slowly realized that where I lived was not like other places in Ireland because we were so close to Northern Ireland. In driving there we were, weirdly, entering another world, another country. Some might describe this as ‘political geography’ but where I lived, in an area where many people were strongly nationalistic, the border was perceived as a political construction. The term ‘geopolitics’ is, therefore, more appropriate. It was a geography made by politics, and that political order was under contestation (again) from the late sixties onwards.

I was quite aware of this, but never fully recruited by nationalistic sentiments. My dad’s family were supporters of Fine Gael, the right of centre political party in the Republic of Ireland, and thus strongly critical of Sinn Fein. My grandfather on my mother’s side was in the ‘old IRA’ but not in politics or part of ‘causes’ at that time. I became friendly with a boy who visited each summer from Belfast. He was in the thick of riots there, and I, by contrast to him, was a provincial innocent.

My family owned a grocery shop, which my dad had bought from a Protestant family. We inherited many of that businesses Protestant customers who came daily for then newspapers The Belfast Telegraph, The Newsletter and weekly for The Impartial Reporter. Protestants and Catholics got along fine in our village, so far as I knew, but my father and mother never talked politics in the shop.

This became difficult as ‘the Troubles’ forced divisions, and oppositional identities, upon people. After Bloody Sunday in 1972, my friend brought new ‘toys’ from Northern Ireland: spent tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets. Those things were huge, and made an impression on me. So also did the local murder of Senator Billy Fox in March 1974, the Monaghan and Dublin bombings of 17 May 1974, and the Miami Showband killings the next year. I stood for years near the ruins of Monaghan bombsite waiting for my school bus home. The local border post was blown up and replaced by a militarized British Army outpost.

One of my classmates was ‘lifted’ in Northern Ireland for suspected involvement in the ‘provos’ (IRA). I remember having to play a Gaelic football match one weekend without his brother, a star player, because the journey to the game went through Northern Ireland and he didn’t want to risk it. The conflict was then unavoidable. After the death of Bobby Sands, 5 May 1981, my father was intimidated into closing our shop to mark the event. Black flags flew from the street lamps. It was a tense polarized time, and required sensitivity in the grocery shop. Some of our Protestant customers had lost family members in IRA attacks in Northern Ireland. I was in university by then, and thoroughly sick of the politics surrounding Northern Ireland.

The second layer, beyond Ireland, was stimulated by Time magazine, which someone in our extended family received. I remember getting a bunch of these, and encouraged to read them to better myself. I didn’t care for this but I recall the ‘arc of crisis’ cover and stuff about Kissinger and then Iran. That would have been 1979. The third layer was in university where there was activism among left of centre Catholic missionary priests, influenced by liberation theology, about US foreign policy in Central America. The first time I saw the US Embassy was attending a protest about US military aid to El Salvador. This was after the assassination of Archbishop Romero (24 March 1980).

I also became slightly involved in the nuclear disarmament movement within Ireland and remember going on a relatively small march in Dublin where Bono got up and sang ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’ which Dylan wrote in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Disgust with Northern Ireland and passion about broader planetary issues drove me towards the study of geopolitics. My Irish university did not have a Politics, Political Science or International Relations program so ‘geopolitics’ was the pathway to study these issues through advanced study within Geography.

I knew what I wanted to do when I left Maynooth on 18th September 1982 for ‘the States’: geopolitics from a ‘radical geography’ perspective. I am grateful to the US for being open and welcoming to international students, including critics.

Which geopolitical topics have your focus and why did you choose especially these?

In writing a 2010 essay “Localizing Geopolitics” I found myself revisiting the subject of my BA thesis, which was on my home county of Monaghan during World War I, before there was a border. This began, for me, a lifelong interest in nationalist movements and how international events are experienced in local places. I begin with this because I’ve returned to these themes via the critical analysis of geopolitics.

Post-structuralist thinking helps reveal the politics of expert discourses, and, in the case of most forms of geopolitics, one of those political commitments is to national(ist) forms of identity. Critical geopolitics leads one to connect nationalist studies and international affairs. It also helps reveal the locals that are behind the globals, the parochial forms of globalism that one finds in many geopolitical discourses, and the smallness of the central sites of its production.

Dissatisfied with writing in a general way at the global scale, I decided to dive into the local with a research project on Bosnia conceived in 1999. I am continuing in this vein today with my current project on the Russian-Georgian August War of 2008, a project that involves a very small place shaped by and caught up in a global symbolic geopolitical struggle. It is allowing me to learn a lot about how my current hometown, Washington DC, works.

What do you consider your most important contribution to geopolitics?

I leave that for others to judge. I hope that my most important contributions are to come!

I certainly have plans for various publications to pull the various things I’ve been working on together. Let’s see if I can in the next few years.

Your geopolitical preferences

What is your favourite definition of geopolitics?

Book cover

Rich Schein, now a Professor of Geography at the University of Kentucky, used to rib me when we were in graduate school at Syracuse University by asking: “have you come up with that definition of geopolitics yet?” I remember struggling to understand how one could and should define geopolitics. After a while I realized that it was a trick question, the “what is..?” that demands an essentialism.

Thereafter, I’ve seen geopolitics as a problematique of writing on geography and politics, with fascinating historical dimensions and multiple contemporary aspects. For some time I’ve broken it down for my students into 4 separable (but not separated) traditions of thinking, each of which is still with us:

  • Discourse on the influence of ‘nature’ on politics. This discourse has generated ‘natural binaries’ – landpower vrs seapower, East vrs West, etc – that are put to work in many different contexts. Historically this discourse has tended to have a prevailing conceit of the revelation of timeless truths.
  • Social Darwinism on the map. A second vector is discourse is about population and the environment, an emergent theme from mid-eighteenth century onwards that reached ‘scientific’ expression with the development of ‘social Darwinism’ (not Darwinian at all, of course, but neo-Lamarckism). Nazism was the most infamous expression of this, of course, but it was widespread in the thinking of major powers from the late nineteenth century onwards.
  • Realpolitik on the map. The dominant understanding in Political Science and International Relations, this found full expression during the Cold War in the writing and practical geopolitics of Henry Kissinger. It too has social Darwinist prejudices.
  • Critical Geopolitics. I would use this term to describe any work that challenged the prevailing geopolitical assumptions and practices of the major powers.

But, as I write this, I find it unsatisfactory in certain ways. I think I’ll have to work on this some more, and find a great zinger for Rich Schein.

Which geopolitical scientist do you admire the most?

Ah so it’s a science! Well, looking at the folks in white coats I’d have to pick out Dr Jekyll over there next to the smouldering beaker.

Obviously, my academic advisers have been a major influence in my thinking and career. I deeply admire Dr John O’Loughlin and Dr John Agnew, two very different academics but equally generous advisers and splendid human beings. Tim Luke is equally great in my estimation.

Beyond them, I greatly admire the work of Simon Dalby, David Campbell, Gerry Kearns, John Pickles, Derek Gregory and, of course, Neil Smith, who is much on my mind these days because of his tragic death. Richard Ashley and David Sylvan in Political Science were very influential on my thinking while in graduate school.

There are other somewhat younger political geographers whom I admire also and learn from: Matt Sparke, Stuart Elden, Mat Colemen, Anna Secor, and others. Naming just these folks, however, is unfair to the many others who do great work that I also admire: Klaus Dodds, James Sidaway, Marcus Power, Jo Sharp, Paul Routledge, etc.

I have generally found Geography to be a supportive disciplinary environment and culture. So, in that sense, I admire the culture that we’ve created around critical endeavour in the field.

What is your favourite geopolitical book?

I don’t really have a favourite book that endures. Let me answer a different question: what books would you recommend to young scholars seeking to grasp Critical Geopolitics 1.0?

Here I’d want to take younger scholars through the significant publications of the early nineties beyond influential books like Said’s “Orientalism” and Todorov’s “The Conquest of America”. Here I’d cite:

  • Simon Dalby’s “Creating the Second Cold War” (1990),
  • David Campbell’s “Writing Security” (1992),
  • Rob Walker’s “Inside/Outside” (1992),
  • Agnew and Corbridge’s “Mastering Space” (1995).

What is your favourite geopolitical website?

WhiteHouse.gov

The geopolitical future

In what direction(s) will geopolitical science be heading the coming decades?

In the direction of the Enlightenment, I hope.

Which geopolitical subject has been too little in the spotlight and needs further research?

If we understand ‘the spotlight’ here to refer to issues on the political agenda of major powers, then clearly it is climate change. There has been next to no discussion of the topic in the US Presidential election, for example. The reasons are obvious but the failure is obvious too as we live through dramatic changes in the planetary weather system, and global ecological environment.

Nuclear proliferation issues do get attention but there is evidence that these deserve a great deal more attention as we could be on the verge of a ‘breakout’ of the current nuclear order. The vulnerability of the current interconnected global financial system to a major crash is also something that needs a lot more attention than it is getting. The capitalist system has a lot of dark corners, and hidden regions.

What will be the largest geopolitical challenge for the world in the 21st century?

There are many. The first is the danger of a systematic crash brought on by global fiscal imbalances. Current patterns are unsustainable. China cannot continue as the growth engine of the world economy, the US with deficit financed over-consumption, and the European Union with imbalanced national economies joined by the Euro. Something has to give, and the crash could be nasty.

The second is containing the possibility of a major inter-state war involving nuclear weapons. The recent riots against Japanese sites and symbols in China were ugly. This is probably inevitable before the end of the century – the empirical record of the twentieth century and before is not encouraging – and its literal fallout will be frightening. Reading John Dower’s superb “Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq” makes one very pessimistic about the human condition.

The third is a global pandemic of some sort. The state of the world’s health infrastructure is a cause for concern. Work in creating robust and resilient systems has occurred but there has insufficient investment in improving world health conditions and capacities in my opinion. This failure is providing deadly for millions at the bottom and could prove very costly for many more mid-century.

The fourth is dealing with civil wars and state failures. The situation in Syria is an indictment of the current international order, especially the current feeble United Nations permitted by the major powers, with no capacity for global protection forces to safeguard civilians. These issues are deeply complex but they are not beyond our capacity to address them.

In these conditions, Gramsci’s mantra is still appropriate: “Pessimism of the intellect. Optimism of the will.”

Book by Gerard Toal

Critical Geopolitics

“Critical Geopolitics”, Routledge, 1996.

Book by Gerard Toal

A Companion to Political Geography

Edited with John Agnew and Katharyne Mitchell, “A Companion to Political Geography”, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.

05/01/2015
by Leonhardt van Efferink
Comments Off on Andrea Teti: Middle East – security, Sunni-Shia divide and the Palestinian question

Andrea Teti: Middle East – security, Sunni-Shia divide and the Palestinian question

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (October 2009) Tags: Middle East Security Sunni-Shia divide Palestinian Question

Andrea Teti

Andrea Teti

Dr Andrea Teti (Naples, 1973) is Lecturer in International Relations at University of Aberdeen. His teaching focuses on Middle Eastern history and politics, and on political theory (particularly post-structuralism).

Dr Teti studied for his MA (Hons.) and PhD at the University of St Andrews.

In this interview, he elaborates on some of the key challenges for the Middle East in the 21st century.

Security in the Middle East

To what extent are the tensions in the Middle East rooted in the Shia-Sunni divide?

This ‘divide’ manifests in a series of cultural dimensions, but it would be a mistake to take the religious affiliation as a direct or even proximate cause of political divergence.

“Political differences are certainly framed in religious terms at times, but to forget that these are at root differences arising from political problems would be a very considerable mistake.”

Political differences are certainly framed in religious terms at times, just as they are sometimes expressed in ethno-national terms and so on, but to forget that these are at root differences arising from political problems would be a very considerable mistake. Western scholars and analysts do not make such mistakes in relation to conflicts such as Northern Ireland, so there’s no reason they should make them in this context.

“The point of ‘political Islam’ is not so much that it’s Islamic, but that it’s political.”

This is a mistake which many commentators make, despite what are now decades of scholarship which have demonstrated how erroneous and downright politically dangerous it is to look at ‘religious’ politics through culturalist lenses. Still today, thirty years after Edward Said’s Orientalism, and even longer after classic criticisms of Western attitudes and the political practises they give rise to – I’m thinking in particular of the Algerian struggle for independence, Fanon or Sartre – there are plenty of academics, ‘experts’ and politicians who view the Middle East (and Western Muslims) in such culturalist terms. The point of ‘political Islam’ is not so much that it’s Islamic, but that it’s political.

What scenarios are most likely for the relationship between Israel and the other countries in the region?

This is notoriously difficult to predict – at least, with any optimism.

“The differences between certain governments and Israel are often over-stated in the popular press.”

On the one hand, the differences between certain governments and Israel are often over-stated in the popular press – obviously the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians come to mind.

Then there is the question of Washington’s relationship with Israel, and the past few months have confirmed – if such a thing were necessary – both the importance of Washington’s position and the difficulty of making progress given the internal politics of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Obama’s first months have resulted in a surprisingly firm and uniform public message to Netanyahu’s government, as well as a considerable resistance from Tel Aviv.

Having said that, it is perfectly obvious – and has been for a long time – that several key Arab governments would privately prefer to see the Palestinian question, which can affect their domestic stability so much, resolved once and for all.

The obvious exception would appear to be Syria, but even here, there are very obvious limitations to its commitments dictated by self-interest (e.g. the Golan, Lebanon, their macroeconomic predicament) and attempts by Bashar’s regime to engage the ‘West’ in some form (witness the renewed discussion over an EU-Syrian Association Agreement, which Javier Solana recently optimistically stated would be done and dusted by the end of the year).

“This requires us to ask not just what the issues at stake are, but more generally what this conflict actually ‘does’, i.e. what practises, what kinds of actions does the existence of this conflict legitimise.”

Stepping back from the immediate issues which the conflict is articulated in terms of, any prospect for the conflict’s resolution has to be placed into a wider context. In particular, as analysts this requires us to ask not just what the issues at stake are, but more generally what this conflict actually ‘does’, i.e. what practises, what kinds of actions does the existence of this conflict legitimise.

Some answers are obvious – the usefulness of Israel as a US ally, and vice versa – while others are less often noted. For example, what makes things infinitely more arduous is the complicity – unwitting or otherwise – of important part of political leaderships on both ‘sides’ of the Palestinian-Israeli divide for whom the radicalisation of relations between Israel, its neighbours and particularly Palestinians both within and outside the country, are actually politically useful in order to stay in, or stake a claim in power (of course, this also goes for Israel’s counterparts).

“What are the implications of portraying the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis as intractable, and in particular as being somehow rooted in some kind of difference in cultural ‘essences’.”

This leads us to ask: aside from the obvious suffering of people, what are the implications of portraying – as often happens – the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis as intractable, and in particular as being somehow rooted in some kind of difference in cultural ‘essences’ which manifests itself religious radicalism (one should not underestimate the popularity of such interpretations – very recently Israeli historian Benny Morris has published and defended arguments very closely resembling Huntington’s or Lewis’ worst excesses, if not Patai’s infamous The Arab Mind)?

There are several other examples, truly too numerous to list, but they range from terrorist groups’ legitimisation of their own actions to Western foreign and indeed domestic policy choices. Just think of debates on ‘hijab’, the invocation of supposed Clashes of Civilisations in debates over democracy-promotion, over asylum and immigration, civil liberties, and so on, or the disgraceful practises which governments like Italy towards immigrants and even their own citizens (the Roma, for example).

“The ‘frontline’ actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have too great an interest in escalation rather than conflict resolution.”

The ripples of the Palestinian Question can be felt in all these contexts. Thus, it is important to recognise how the existence of a conflict such as this is ‘useful’ in a certain series of contexts before one can talk sensibly about prospects for its resolution. At the moment, despite the inclinations of conservative Arab governments, Europeans and the US, it seems that ‘frontline’ actors in this conflict have too great an interest in escalation rather than conflict resolution.