Navigating the Beringian Age of Geopolitics

beringia

I have written numerous Eurasia geopolitics articles, North America articles, and a South American article on here so far. It was my plan to do Africa next, but instead it seems first comes one which is both Eurasia and North America together. Go figure.

Eurasia is what is often referred to as ‘The World Island’ in classical geopolitics. The closest thing our present geological era has to a supercontinent. For much of history land power was easier and cheaper to wield than sea power-though obviously this has changed since-and Eurasia, being directly connected to humanity’s birthplace of Africa and the birthplace of both agriculture and animal domestication was the location of the strongest and most technologically advanced states. Up until the rise of the United States this was almost always true, with a one off in Carthage, a possible economic Malian interlude in the Middle Ages, and Egypt really being the only periodic exception (and even then just barely as it straddled two continents). Having the majority of Earth’s population and societies, Eurasia was the natural laboratory of state formation and warfare innovation, especially connected as it was with other parts of its own massive expanse due to a plethora of natural harbors an an ‘inland sea’ of sorts in the grasslands of the Eurasian steppe that stretch from Hungary to Manchuria.

The first geopolitical thinkers to really get into this World-Island thesis were people like Halford Mackinder, who came of prominence in a time when the British were still top dogs but knew their time was running out due to the rapid rise of German, Russian, and American power. He was the first to postulate that the rapid industrialization of these powers and the expansion of their railroad networks would return the logistical and military initiative to land powers for the first time since the decline of the steppe nomads who had once been the qualitatively dominant military force in world history. It would become a British obsession, soon to be inherited also by the Americans, French, and Japanese as well, to hinder any one power from exerting this level of dominance over Eurasia, the continent-of-continents. The French would use alliances and dominance of Africa to attempt to be a secondary player in this game, the Japanese would attempt to carve out their own exclusive sphere, and the Americans would use their fortunate geography to sit around, sabotage everyone else from a distance, and then come roaring in with economic power and naval power. Russia, the second place player, had become the Eurasian colossus always feared in the form of the Soviet Union. But a rising China and a hostile Western Europe and Japan kept it safely in check and America secure. Eurasia was still too big and too diverse to become someone’s private world-island. Even in the face of the power and prestige of the largest an most mobile army the world had yet to see.

But this very falling of the dice called into question the Eurasian presumption. It was a North America, dominated by one power which also in turn dominated South America, that became the first truly global maritime power. As I wrote about on here previously, this leads to many factors to reconsider the concept of the ‘world island’: be it the very concept itself or which continent it might be. I argued that North America makes a better case if the concept is to be used.

What is clear, however, is that great power rivalry in the near future will more heavily involve North America and Eurasia as the central poles of alliance networks. This does not mean that major conflicts and powers will not arise elsewhere, but for the time being the changes that will matter most will happen on these two land masses. Their past interactions have already had a massive import on the world we live in causing spillovers across the planet, even pre-dating modern humanity when a more Eurasia-connected North America wreaked disproportionate devastation on South America.

There is nothing mystical or obscure about this. These are the continents with the largest East-West widths which enable an easier and more rapid spread of flora and fauna within climate zones, something that quite possibly helps the spread of human technology and infrastructure as well. Both have long productive coastlines, vast stretches hospitable to life but also diverse in biome, and connecting interior highways of grasslands and big navigable rivers. Due to the movement of plate tectonics and shifting sea depths due to ice ages, both continents would periodically compete and exchange life forms in evolution in more recent history than many other continental collisions. For most of history Eurasia was clearly the place to be for humans maximizing their power. The horse, a North American creature originally, would die out there before being reintroduced by the Spanish but thrive in Eurasia. Eurasia was bigger, most diverse, more connected with other places. It had the good fortune to have a larger span of dray-maritime real estate for agriculture and the most animals situated for domestication. North America lacked this critical large pack beast advantage. It was also, of course, settled by humanity significantly later than Eurasia was due to simple reason of location and distance from Africa.

The human version of the Great American Interchange would begin in 1492, though the uneven nature of it would not be apparent until the fall of the Aztec Empire to the Spanish decades later. Spanish iron, gunpowder, pack animals, and sea power would be decisive despite the fact that North America had on average even larger cities than Europe in Mesoamerica and just as-if not more diverse-agricultural crops and practices. Despite their late comparative peopling and isolation, Mesoamerica (and the Andes) had numerous inventions and highly advanced urban planning, irrigation systems, and in the Aztec and Mayan worlds specifically, written bureaucracies.

The technological disparity forged in the furnace of Eurasian state formation was an obvious advantage to the invaders, but it was not the most important one. Technology can be adopted and copied. The Spanish were few and far from home. It was the pathogens they brought from their long contact with pack animals that were truly decisive. The labor saving animals may have jump-started resource collection and travel, but for the point of the Columbian Exchange, the most important part was the diseases the Eurasians had partial immunity to that the Native Americans did not. On reading in this topic I have seen estimates of death rates due to disease anywhere from 80%-95%. It remains an open issue, but this was a far deadlier outbreak of pestilence for the western hemisphere than the Bubonic Plague ever had been in Eurasia. It also led to ridiculous myths about Native Americans being backward as many of their societies had been fatally weakened if not outright destroyed before they had ever even been seen by the newcomers. The western hemisphere had become a post-apocalyptic tableau of societal collapse. Spain had the keys to be the pre-eminent world power, the only country in that era that realistically could have equaled or surpassed Ming China.

And yet the technology was still too young. Spain squandered its gains by using pillaged gold in galleon convoys to basically drive up inflation. Its infrastructure would remain largely feudal at home and in the colonies. Meanwhile, piracy on the high seas of these easy Spanish pickings by British, French, and Dutch privateers would in fact end up benefiting those countries more at Spain’s expense. The cauldron of Eurasian competition was offshore to the oceans and outside of Europe, relocating to the Americas. By having to hack out self-sustaining colonies out of the blue these more northerly powers would end up getting more of the benefit from the new world with tobacco, cotton, furs, and timber. Native Americans north of Mesoamerica were less ‘advanced’ and lesser in numbers than those further south, but this in fact made them far more difficult to conquer. They were mobile, more open to adaptation in war, and could not be simply overrun by a specific region or city. Plus, they now had competeing powers to play off each other for weapons, horses, and supplies. For about a century, from the mid 17th to mid 18th Century, the Natives of North America would in fact be equal partners in the great power rivalry that dominated the continent. Either way, the Spanish unipolar moment in the hemisphere (and thus the potential of bringing that power home as well) was over. Even without the arrival of the new European powers, the Pueblo Indians and the Comanche had already rolled back the Spanish frontier in the north, and the Mapuche had stopped it in the southern cone of South America.

In many ways the European nations could only thrive in North America if the natives were fighting each other. But many of the natives gained when European fought as well. The Iroquois would destroy their long tong rivals, the Huron, and then go on to roll back Quebec’s frontier with their musket-armed forces. Hudson’s bay firearms-for-fur trading would empower the Blackfoot to heights previously unheard of for them, and the previously mentioned Comanche basically ran their own horseback empire in the southwest for a century at Spanish expense. This was a multipolar world. Then British naval power took Quebec and expelled the French from the continent. A defensive Spain could only play catch up as British goods and settlers flooded the continent. Unipolar domination of the Western Hemisphere, an explicit goal of William Pitt the Elder, then Prime Minister, once again looked in sight with London-rather than Madrid-its true heir. Demographics had now tipped in favor of the settlers. Europeans outnumbered Native Americans in their own continent. Despite the partial rolling back of the frontier in Pontiac’s War, Native solidarity could not survive the American Revolution and the subsequent Northwest War where the US army was born after its largest ever battlefield defeat at the hands of the Shawnee, Miami, and Lenape-but critically from the geopolitical (if not cultural) perspective, neither did Britain’s North American empire. The first independent country of the colonial era had arisen in the Americas, it would soon be followed by many others. Events in Europe were about to give the Americas a big break.

Napoleon upsetting Europe’s apple cart turned out to be the most important thing. Haiti would be the next country to fight for and gain independence. With Spain reeling from French occupation, its colonies in Central and South America would soon follow. Kicked out of North America south of Canada (aside from Caribbean Isles and Guyanas of course) and much more into India these days anyway, the British would pull a 180 degree turn after the stalemate of the War of 1812 and thoroughly support the independence of Spain’s former colonies in order to keep them out too and open the markets of these new countries to British goods. It was in this world that North America’s first diplomatic counter-blow to the dominance of Eurasian-based states would come: The Monroe Doctrine.

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At the time of its formulation in the early Victorian era the United States most certainly did not have the power to enforce the claim of the doctrine, which was to oppose European re-colonization or re-establishment of spheres of influence over their former territories. Britain or France could have swept the American navy aside had they so chosen. But now Britain was the secret enforcer behind the American declaration. They weren’t going to take Latin America directly for themselves, so they would make damn sure no one else did, either. After the US-Mexico War it was obvious the U.S. was growing in power to one day enforce it on its own, however.

The doctrine had only one failure, the American Civil War. With the one great power of the western hemisphere divided against itself in a death struggle, and the secondary power of the region (Brazil) involved in a surprisingly costly war with a delusionally expansionistic Paraguay and without much of a navy, France moved in to establish a proxy-state in a weakened Mexico. Though the Mexicans would hold their own under Benito Juarez, the French would not be evicted fully until the American Civil War was over and the US army was redeployed on the border to threaten them and ship weapons directly to the Mexican forces.

The Civil War made a federation of squabbling pseudo republics into a proper nation. This nation was the empire of the west in all but name. With growing modern naval power and a final bookend of sweeping Spain from its remnants in 1898, the last vestiges of the old order had been relegated to a few isolated enclaves and Canada, itself already beginning the process of unofficially turning south. The worlds biggest economy and industrial producer now lay there, after all. Available resources and land along the wide continent were fueling a growth in power rapid beyond any previous one in recent history.

In this light of viewing the poles of conflict as geographic, it was now time for the power or North America to come to benefit from the misfortune of Eurasia. This time it would be neither disease nor technology but Eurasia’s multitude of great powers that would spell the reversal of the location of the world-island. From a large and removed scale much as multiple conflicts could be viewed as different phases in one grand struggle for mastery in America (Piracy and the Beaver Wars in the late 17th Century through the Mexican-US War), so too would the rise of new and fall of old powers in Eurasia set up a struggle for master in Eurasia which would last from 1902-1945 (the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, Russo-Japanese War, First World War, Russian Civil War, Turkish War of Independence, The Second World War). Britain sought to sure up its declining position by breaking its ‘splendid isolation’ and joining with Japan. Japan put the brakes on Russian expansion in southern Manchuria and its eventual dream target, Korea, eventually taking these things for itself and starting its own growth as a new power. This made Germany more a threat to the maritime alliance than Russia and made Russia more bellicose in its European objectives towards German allies. France, already in danger of being eclipsed, linked with with Russia and Britain to stave off this threat. The dying old empires of Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans would hitch a ride on German power in order to reverse their decline and ensure survival. They would end up the biggest losers of all in eventual Allied victory.

The United States played an important, but not decisive role in the First World War, but it was clearly now one of the big players at the global level. Though on the surface it seemed France and Britain had gained much from the conflict, the gains were of little long term value and their overall global position had actually been weakened. The British solider and poet Siegfried Sassoon ruminated that the only nations to gain from the war he fought in was the United States and Japan. Indeed, there were now three established naval powers by treaty, Britain, the USA, and Japan. Britain was part of a triumvirate that couldn’t get along. So much for ruling the waves. Not only that, but the Russians and Turks both, whose empires had utterly collapsed in the war, successfully fought to expel Allied backed foreign intervention in their lands leading to near immediate revisions of the postwar settlements made at their expense. Turkey would become an independent republic and the Soviet Union would reclaim most of the Tsar’s collapsed domains. Both would make rapid gains in development and education that would outstrip their less fortunate semi-colonized neighbors. More importantly, until WWII, they would be tacitly allied with each for precisely this end. The first tremors of independence movements started to rock India and Ireland. The colonial powers were living on borrowed time. Japan, having yet to experience a reverse outside of the Siberian Intervention, largely continued forward with that previous era’s policies of expansion, however, putting on a collision course with the United States.

World War II would settle Eurasia’s issue. Despite the ‘Great Game’ beginning due to fears of Russian domination, that would be exactly the outcome of all of this. Russian and American domination, that is. For all the death, destruction and misery The Second World War would cause a majority of the planet and especially the eastern and western edges of Eurasia itself, The Axis Revolt, as it could be termed, served much like the American Civil War only to delay the inevitable at great cost. In fact, it aided what was coming. The Soviets broke Germany, the Americans broke the Japanese, and each fought the other Axis powers at some time or another victoriously. But before this outcome it is relevant to note that the Germans had also now broken the French, and the Japanese had broken the British. There were only two powers. The Soviet Eurasian Heartland and the United States Western Hemisphere Dominion. The world was getting smaller due to technology, but the powers only got larger. When Britain and France tried to re-insert themselves as decisive actors in the great power game with the Suez Crisis, they found only embarrassment as the Russians threatened them and the Americans scolded them and offered no support.

But despite the one sided history in Eurasia’s favor, the Cold War would show that North America finally had the leg up. Naval power did still rule over land power despite Mackinder’s fears. Eurasia was too multi-polar and divided and it was harder for the USSR to export power when their Chinese proteges (now having replaced Japan to regain their traditional place as East Asia’s most strategically relevant country) could turn to their own interests once they were strong enough to stand up to a domineering partner. There was not, yet, an equivalent of this in the America’s to complicate the United States’ position-though if there one day were it would most likely be Brazil.

It was with deftness and skill that Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger saw that world that was coming out of a simple binary. The Cold War was a power struggle, in my opinion, and the ideology that marked so much of it on both sides was largely intellectual cover for competition in the ripe proxy combat ground of the third world and newly independent former colonies. Both feared the world hegemonic goals of the other. Mix and match any number of socio-economic models with globe-spanning powers that big and strong and you would have a rivalry no matter what. So it was that two pre-eminent wingnut cold warriors of their respected countries created the conditions for bringing China in as a third pole to the rivalry, one that would send the Soviets into a conniption and, in the end, fatal death spiral of defense spending. It was this, in my opinion, that decided the Cold War more than any of Reagan’s policies, which largely took effect when the terminal decline was already taking place in Moscow. But it is worth noting that in the 60s and 70s the growth of the Soviet economy and tech sectors made many people, Kissinger included, convinced that the future was theirs more than the USA’s. China sold the new alliance to its people with much the same thinking as rhetoric. ‘The Americans will decline, the Russians are more the threat.’ In geopolitics the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Cold Warriors of the smarter varieties could see that their societies were no different from others with interests like when the Catholic French supported the Protestants in the 30 Years War against their fellow Catholics in Hapsburg Austria. Its the traditional cost benefit calculation of Cardinal Richelieu.

nixon and me

With the breakup of the USSR this proved to be the opposite. Or, more accurately, the USSR declined *first*. The United States did not gain in power in the post-Cold War era so much as have all checks on its preexisting power removed. Now Washington would call the shots directly in Eurasia in places never before imagined. China had ways to go at that point to replace Russia as the bipolar competitor, but by now its safe to say it may well reach that point in my life time. But much like how the USSR could alienate China, so too could China alienate India, or one day even Russia.

This brings us to the present, and many topics I have and will go over again and have before in other entries. So, to go full circle, the fate of geopolitics in the foreseeable future relies on events in North America and Eurasia and their interaction with each other. Right now, North America still holds an advantage, though having foolishly driven Russia into China’s arms by its own hubris, (thus counteracting Brzezinski’s grand strategic advice) its an advantage rapidly being squandered. Meanwhile, China’s One Belt One Road initiative resembles another attempt to create the internal ‘world island’ where a dominant power in Eurasia is safe from the sea-power of its foes. Having learned many lessons from Soviet and, increasingly, American failure, a concerted buildup of this inland international interior could end up being a challenge the USSR never was. Or not. Eurasia’s multipolar and divided nature still counts against it and India seems to be solidly orienting towards the oceanic world for obvious geographic reasons. Still, there is nothing so complacent as assuming the present state of sovereign nations is in any way permanent. That never has been true in the past.

Something that I could see if things changed more drastically is a Beringian World. In a Beringian World, the geopolitical alliances that matter most are a dominant power or alliance network in one continent being opposed in its own hemisphere by a defensive coalition backed by the dominant power of the other continent, which in turn is opposed by its own local coalition backed by the dominant power of the other continent. What this might look like with the present international states would be a China-backed Brazil or even Mexico (though that is less likely I think) or collection of South American states under Chinese partnership which in turn is reciprocated by a US-backed India or even eventually Russia. If China and Russia somehow stay friends permanently, this will be manifest in bringing Japan, Indonesia, and India closer together, a project which, arguably, is already underway in those countries.

Should China experience a decline or a shocking sudden state failure, however, this may reverse. If Japan and India are close together they might take up the mantle of Latin America’s revisionist states and the US will have to find no friends to balance against them. This is, of course, all very long term and hypothetical.

The point is, once Eurasian countries divided up North (and South) America for their spoils. Then North America rode a wave of Eurasia dividing itself up to become the center of political power. But now the technological disparities have largely gone from between them and the world continues to shrink bringing both new allies and new enemies. In a future Beringian World the geopolitical center of gravity might be split between both continents, which will, strategically speaking, come together as part of the same world in a way not seen since the seas were low and the Bering Strait open, when wild canines left the Americas to colonize and independently evolve all over the world.

Of course, some new exclusive resource revolutionizing technology could always finally through the ball to another region. You never know.

In the more near future don’t be surprised if you see another Nixon-goes-to-China moment except more likely with another power being the recipient of the visit and no one as smart as Nixon to do the visiting. If you see it, I encourage you to follow it as it flies away, it will be relevant if it fails or succeeds.

 

‘Russiagate’ Will be Terrible for Everyone (Except Geotrickster and Independents)

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So far in the unfolding saga of The Election That Never Ends two members of the Trump Administration have been found pretty much dead to rights on being guilty of collusion with a foreign power. One, with Israel. One with both Israel and Turkey. Their names are Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn. Meanwhile, so far, Russia has only been found to have spent a few hundred thousand dollars on facebook ads almost no one clicked on and smugly giggling as America’s political system melts down in a way that gives the Kremlin inordinate credit.

Is it possible that that Russia had sketchy contacts with Trump campaign, for sure. It is more then justified to have an investigation into this issue given its potential importance. It is not, however, something to A. assume is true with what little we know now, and B. assume is a unique event. The way the partisan ‘return to the status quo at all costs’ types of the Democrats and disaffected rump Republicans act about this issue, one would assume Pearl Harbor and 9/11 just happened at once but no one can see it except people who get Verrit verification codes and write tired and scolding op-eds.

So far, we have been given far more evidence of collusion with foreign governments for Israel and Turkey than Russia, yet this elicits next to no reaction in the mainstream press. The reason is, well, the main topic of this blog: Geopolitics, baby. Turkey and Israel are allies of the United States, if awkward ones. As such, they have numerous think tanks and lobbyists, along with the far more odious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to shape a narrative and be part of the networked in-crowd. I even remember (though sadly cannot find right now) a commercial from around the time of W’s re-election campaign that ran which was just a really blatant and gross ‘your friends in the KSA are your strong allies in the War on Terror piece of propaganda.

It would cost too much to go after these countries, as they have friends in both major parties. Russia, however, has few friends in America outside the diseased corners of the alt right and edgy conspiracy theorists. It is an easy to target to go after, and it is certainly not an ally in any capacity. It is a deeply unsympathetic nation to most people, and, after the invasion of eastern Ukraine, rightly so. Russia further likes to bolster its cred as the anti-west on the world stage by serving as a kind of reactionary foil to the America’s liberal overreach, a set of policies yet to reach the ghastly conclusion I suspect (though we see dark ruminations in Chechnya). There are many points that the U.S. is right to rival Russia on, and other points it should not (such as Syria and combating Daesh). But it should not conduct its foreign policy merely on a popularity contest which as of yet still resides on assertions and not proof.

And then the question is: What if RussiaGate is true? It is still possible, after all. Well then, the problem is that while such proof will obviously necesitate an upgrade in national cybersecurity, it will also count as a well played payback for the late 90s.

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Whoops.

Turns out, in geopolitics there may be friends and foes, but no one is exceptional unless everyone is. And if everyone is exceptional than really no one is.

For context, as recently as 2012 the Obama Administration (who began as quite naive about the dangers Putin posed to them it must be admitted) was still, rightly, criticizing Mitt Romney and his campaign’s ‘Russia is the real enemy’ line of attack on foreign policy. See below:

At the time this was an example of rote-wisdom hawkishness from the Beltway war lobby (which Obama famously referred to as ‘The Blob’) and the Republican Party. But only a year later decidedly unqualified pundits affiliated with the Democratic Party began to take over the exact same opinions they had once mocked of the McCain-Romney wing. I remember the first time I noticed this fixation with Russia was when this clip was brought to attention of a clueless pundit trying to lecture a journalist with on the ground experience in Russia and reporting on Russia based off of bland moralism inheirited from the Cold War:

This has been building for a long time. The neoliberals need a scary and large foreign entity with which to rally support behind them. With the failure of Huntington style ‘Clash of Civilizations’ rhetoric to galvanize the right about anything but the Middle East, the center and center-left have taken that tired old thesis and re-purposed it away from culture and into a new cold war narrative about political ideologies.

Considering the low priority this issue carries with most American voters, whose situation only continues to get more dire due to entirely to domestic factors, its already a bit of a trap. If the best it could get us even was a resignation do we then get President Pence? This seems the absolute worst-case scenario to me. Pence, despite being a theocratic dingus and probably a harvester of torsos (male only, I imagine), would then be acclaimed as ‘respectable’ for not being abrasive, which would only allow him more ability to enact his twisted ideologies. This seems a bad move for Democrats.

Even if they got both Pence and Trump, then foreign connections become a major thing looked for as a viable political weapon on all sides. This would benefit me as Saudi Arabia and even possibly Israel would start to become toxic sledgehammers to wield against all sides, but that sure as hell will backfire on the Democrats who are just as in bed, on average, with those countries as the GOP is. So in a sense, even Russiagate skeptics like myself should hope it opens up a big nasty can of worms. The problem though, and its a problem for everyone, is the rank McCarthyism of all of this. I lived over 4 years in a foreign country. I have been to 20 others-including one which (when I was there) the US did not have full relations with yet. I have friends and contacts from all over the world. None of them, Im afraid, are Russian. Sorry Neera Tanden. But still, where does this end? Much of the rhetoric coming out in Democratic circles today is simply blatantly xenophobic ignorance, fearmongering, and redirecting away from obvious explanations for problems closer to home so that vested interests can blame someone else. It really ends up just looking like their side’s version of the infamous Freedom Fries.

If you wish to go further into this topic I recommend some of the episodes of the largely excellent ‘Moderate Rebels’ podcast:

The fact that RussiaGate is most popular with centrist neoliberals also begs one very salient question: If you believe in the free flow of information and capital across borders, then you have to own up that you will have difficulties with fully sovereign elections. And if you want fully sovereign elections you might have to re-think your support of an international system that prioritizes open borders for international finance at all costs.

MSNBTroll

Hello, my name is Rachel Maddow and I have exclusive never before seen video of Russian agents inside the White House.

But first, what is Russia? And what is the White House?

In 6,241 BCE, the descendants of Cain, brother of Abel, settled in a peat bog. The peat bog was known for its production of aromatic soaps. Soaps that caused divergence from the rest of the human evolutionary tree. These soaps were called Krokodil, and you probably have it in your house RIGHT NOW.

In the Middle Ages, this peat bog was invaded and conquered by the Mongols. The Mongols were decidedly un-woke, and engaged in many actions which contravened Immanuel Kant, who was so far up to this point the dominant influence on Russian culture aside from Krokodil soap. This was the final break, and in their humiliation an entire nation swore to conquer the world.

Fast-forward to the 1950s, great liberal democrat hero and ultra-woke Joe McCarthy discovered the the Union of Krokodil Addled Soviet Russian Oligarchs (USSR in Russian) had begun their plan to infiltrate the United States to begin the final phase of their wicked plot.

This brings us to our second topic, the White House. Built by the British in 1814 under my own Oxford Scholarship, the White House was long the abode of Andrew Jackson who shat in the lawn’s garden pottery. After the American Revolution of 1992, when all stamps were deregulated by our national founding parents, Bill and Hillary Clinton,who also invented the internet, decided to bravely stand up to this assault.

Enraged by this turn of events, Russian agents did everything they could to bring down this new benevolent order. They invaded Libya and framed the Clintons for it. They bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and framed America for it. They created Trump in a Krokodil Clone Farm and installed him upon the American people at gunpoint with the help of the Syrian army.

And now, *licks lips, swallos, gesticulates in pantsuit*, we have proof of collusion between the White House and the Krokodemlin. Actual direct footage from inside the Oval Office:

Meme War Does Not A Rising Power Make

russian-octopus

A Japanese take on the Russian Empire before the Russo-Japanese War.

Yes, I know, Fidel Castro died today. In many ways he was the ultimate trickster-figure of 20th Century International Relations and so it deserves mentioning on this blog. You will, no doubt, find many articles on him and his legacy today and in the near future so I feel no need to interrupt the upload of this post as it was originally conceived. Anyway:

From alleged interference in the U.S. election to  the obvious Russian preference for Donald Trump, Russia has factored more into American politics this year than at any point since the Cold War. It is kind of interesting that this is so now, as never before (excluding the Yeltsin era) has Russia been weaker compared to the United States. Sanctions imposed following the de facto invasion of Eastern Ukraine have been surprisingly effective against an economic model largely based on a few core resources and some oligarchs squatting-no doubt in track suits-upon the decaying remnants of once impressive Soviet infrastructure networks. The Democratic Party in particular seems to have absorbed fully the ghost of Joe McCarthy in its desperate attempts to fob off blame for its own abysmal performance. Whether their claims have merit or not (we simply do not yet know for sure), it is apparent that Russia is regarded as such a threat by segments of the American political class that a sane discussion on many foreign affairs is simply impossible to have with them. This also goes for many EUphoric chattering classes in the European Union, who above all fear the future of providing their own defense and having to play political hardball divorced from the Kantian platitudes they now internalize as part of their fundamental values.

Regardless of what Russia might have done in the election, and with cyber-espionage in general, I view these fears as massively exaggerated for a variety of reasons. In addition to the above-mentioned sorry state of Russia from an internal perspective, what we are really seeing here is the panic shown by people in America when they are forced to confront new and different tactics. Russia can no longer rely on ideological appeal or overwhelming conventional military power as it once did, so it has become a pioneer in two other fields, cyber warfare and faddish propaganda. It resembles less the Soviet Union than it does a type of meme-culture hipster who stays ‘ahead’ of the time by being on the avant-guard of witty if substance-free internet commentary. Kind of like an edgier version of J.K. Rowling’s twitter feed or a late night comedy show. Russia is merely the pioneer. Soon, every nation with technological capacity will be doing this. Already, the internet is a place of more disinformation than quality facts. This is why I always recommend that people stick to books, on the ground independent journalism, and academic and/or peer reviewed articles as the primary source of information in their lives. So much of the rest is really just rumor-mongering among various cliquish fads who live the postmodern dream of being able to construct their own hermetically sealed realities.

With less to lose than most powerful nations, Russia seeks to undermine consensus in established alliance networks. It cannot, however, fill the vacuum itself if successful, merely make others more insecure. Even with a chummy presidency in Trump, changing the head of the executive branch does not change America’s core interests or place at the top of the world stage. Trump will likely work with Putin in Syria-a position I have argued the U.S. should adopt for years. More dangerously, he might sell out eastern Ukraine for the sake of not caring about it/good relations with Russia. That would not be a position I would endorse as wise, but it still would not compromise fundamental U.S. interests. The real threat is the break up of the E.U., and even this would still not increase Russia’s influence in overall terms on the continent if Germany, France, and Britain (and a few likely others such as Poland) hung together in a defensive alliance. It is precisely to wound any such solidarity that Russia supports far right movements in western European nations. But, as with Trump, such people will (if victorious) inherit state apparatuses with certain interests that will prevent them from simply compromising their long term interest regarding other powers. The possible exception to this in a worst case scenario is France. Geography means France is not directly threatened by Russia and a powerful eastern ally against the center has often been the objective of historic French foreign policy. The Ottoman Empire was their ally in the renaissance and the Russians after the unification of Germany. This makes France the key to any issues of keeping western Europe stable and out of the Russian orbit, which means this is more a question for the E.U. itself than it is of Russia or America. If western nations can offer something positive rather than the simple Neo-McCarthyite rhetoric and complacent ‘stay the course’ talking points that the Democratic Party in America or the Remain campaign in Britain engaged in, the edgy hipster propaganda of Russia could actually be counteracted.

Perhaps the most important aspect of all of this, and the one most likely to somehow be *shocking news* to your average European liberal, is that Russia’s position in Europe is now no longer its sole concern. The temporary alliance of Russia and China simply cannot last forever as the Chinese make massive inroads of economic and political capital into once Russian dominated Central Asia. While Russian aid still tends to outstrip Chinese, and its military presence is very strong-particularly in Tajikistan-Chinese investments and trade have become the largest single potential factor in the region’s future. Something only likely to increase as the once bullish Kazakhstan begins to contract and Turkmenistan and Tajikistan continue to economically deteriorate. Uzbekistan, the most powerful and independent of the regional states, has long since courted China as a counter-balance to Russia. Only Kyrgyzstan seems firm in resisting Chinese expansion, something which could change. Also important is Russia’s reliance on being an arms exporter. It has no larger single-state market than India. India and China are basically guaranteed rivals due to Chinese chumminess with Pakistan and long simmering territorial disputes. Therefore, unless Moscow is willing to basically surrender many of its dominant diplomatic positions in Central Asia and weaken its relationship in India, it will simply not be able to become a hegemonic power in Europe, much less the world. Even the current (and quite clever) Moscow-Ankara detente is a short term arrangement that overlooked widely divergent objectives to the countries involved-particularly in the Caucuses.

None of this is to say that Russia has not carved out an interesting and potentially exploitable niche for itself-it certainly has. But it is one of many major powers in the world system. Its tactical innovations may be shocking to some now but as with all tactics they can be copied and refined. The overall geopolitical context from which Moscow operates remains, for now, unchanged. What we should perhaps be more concerned with is that other nation’s leadership might copy its internal method of rule by appeal to romantic nationalism, and that ball is entirely in the court of each countries’ domestic politics rather than a neckbearded self-proclaimed expert in Meme War in a St Petersburg basement. It is domestic elites seeing value in the model of the oligarch-mafia state that is the real threat, not the fact that inevitably someone was going to weaponize the internet’s habit of indulging the confirmation bias of low-information voters.

 

 

 

Russian Bombing in Syria

A very brief point I wish to make.

You are going to see a lot of headlines like this in American and European news outlets considering the deterioration of NATO-Russian relations. While I personally am not a fan of the present Russian state, I must re-iterate that they are getting Syria as right as they got the Ukraine wrong.

You see, Daesh in Syria is the scariest faction, but not the only scary faction. Well, technically they are all scary but you know what I mean. But in order to see the logic of Russian airstrikes in Syria you have to look at several maps of Syria. Take a somewhat up to date map of the conflict itself like so:

Syria-3-Jan-2016-static1

(Hope you don’t mind me using your map dude/dudette!)

Now take a look at population (and thus also major city) concentrations, geographically:

syria_pop_1979

Granted, 1979 census (it was the most photogenic) but even much more up to date ones show the same general distribution.

So, let us look at this strategically shall we? The largest and most capable ground force which could do the most damage to Daesh is the Syrian Arab Army. It is integral to any serious victory over the radicals no matter how much NATO wants to still pretend this can be a three-way war. This means the government must be strong and capable of holding most of the countries’ population centers.

What threatens that right now is not Daesh, but the FSA, Al Nusra, and others. Al Nusra, by the way, is a goddamn Al Qaeda affiliate. That’s right, the Pentagon is now complaining that Russian bombs are hitting Al Qaeda and their allies. This is the world we live in now.

So in the long game, we all want Daesh taken out, but the government is going to have to recapture more territory, specifically in the north-west, to do so. America shouldn’t complain that Russia is doing their own work for them for free, while also blocking a chance for the US to admit its Syria policy errors and open up real dialogue with Damascus.

 

Just a brief thought on the Russo-Turkish Fiasco

I’m kind of thinking two things which are not exclusive:

Turkey shoots down Russian plane to sabotage greater Franco-Russian collaboration in Syria, which undermines their little shitshow on the ground with the terrori-I mean rebels.

Russia intentionally violates Turkish airspace in order to force some kind of rupture in the already crumbling NATO over this issue and the fact that Turkey’s popularity in the alliance is plummeting largely over Syria-Iraq issues.

Both could be wrong, but one or both could be right.

The biggest problem is that the most powerful individuals in each of these nations are both clever but also dangerously ambitious and beholden to terrifying domestic (and in Turkey’s case international) constituencies. A crisis which takes a life of its own is the last thing anyone wants even if the cause is simple pilot error. It probably was, but considering the convoluted nature of everything going on there now, let’s keep our eyes open.

One does wonder what the South Caucasus equivalent to Plevna would be…

Multipolarity or Unipolarity for Eurasia’s Future?

russia-china-bears

Answer: I don’t know. Let’s dig deeper! Here is a good article from The New Statesman. I have a few additional points I would like to add to it.

Moscow is only going to take expanding Chinese influence in the region for so long without some sort of give and take, especially as they have potentially more to offer. Its hard to see the ultranationalist and increasingly xenophobic Russian state asserting itself towards the west and giving up in the east. Of course, that might also be the idea. Secretly Moscow might see such a bend as inevitable and thus the immense pride and low risk force projection towards geriatric Europe and world-hated ISIS is the cover for a massive but calculated preparation to take junior status to China in all but name on the world stage.

Either way, the United States and its allies are doing everything they possibly can to shoot themselves in the foot right now as a big part of what draws these powers together is the scheming of Atlantic nations who have little strategic gain in the region but at least superficially and sometimes directly support opposition movements anyway. It is fascinating to watch American grand strategy drive two natural rivals closer together based on nothing but overconfidence and overreach. We don’t just have a military-industrial complex, we have a liberal-humanitarian NGO complex too. Both influence strategic decision making in often unwise directions.

I would be willing to bet that the Sino-Russian relationship would have already started breaking down by now if not for the complacent imperial overreach and narcissistic Wilsonianism of the US and its allies. And if they keep pushing they risk making this otherwise temporary arrangement of convenience a permanent one, locking them out of the region entirely for sure.

But no matter what happens in this arrangement Russia might still be the loser. A rivalry with the US is much less dangerous than a rivalry with China for them, whereas a rivalry with Russia is significantly less dangerous for China. Expanding influence into Central Asia seems a much less risky move than the South Pacific on the part of Beijing. Any such action could be more exploited by the US to divide the powers. Of course, if these countries do hold onto a Eurasian lock together against the odds long term they really would have made the first large scale and successful multi-regional check on US ambitions…well, possibly ever.

It is a fascinating time for grand strategy, that is for sure. There is nothing else (contemporary, anyway) I would rather study.