Last time we looked at how Mackinder’s Heartland Theory shaped UK and US foreign policy in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Now, as the era of US hegemony winds down, the peace dividend for Eurasia could be enormous.
Short version: Russia and China aim to unify the Eurasian 'World-Island' via energy sales and infrastructure, creating a single economic entity. The EU is trying to become the world's trade hub, and regulation setter.
I’m not a soothsayers and I don’t have a crystal ball. But if we want to know the future, a good place to start is with the most powerful players' intentions. Here are the big 3 visions in brief:
1. Russia Supplies Oil and Gas
In 2017 Igor Sechin, head of Russian energy giant Rosneft, presented his vision of an 'economically unified Eurasian landscape'.
The areas inside the green lines (Europe and Asia-Pacific) are relatively rich and industrially advanced, but lack natural resources. The area inside the orange line (Russia, the Middle East and parts of central Asia) have loads of oil, gas and other resources, but lack capital and technology.
Sechin proposes the obvious: the people with natural resources sell them to those with money.
Detractors say: Europe should not become dependent on unstable Middle East oil supplies, or Russia, which could use gas as a geopolitical weapon.
China Builds the Infrastructure
China's Belt and Road initiative aims to create a vast transport network linking Europe, Asia and East Africa.
China's manufacturing economy requires improved transport links to import natural resources, and export manufactured goods.
Detractors say: the Belt and Road project gives China too much control over supply chains, and creates Chinese client states and debt slaves wherever it goes.
Europe Makes the Rules
While Russia and China focus on energy and physical infrastructure, the EU aims to become a new kind of economic and regulatory superpower. This is best explained by Anu Bradford in 'The Brussels Effect':
The EU's power is the ability to regulate the world. The European Union is one of the largest and wealthiest consumer markets in the world, and there are very few global companies that can afford not to trade in the EU. So in order to have access to the EU market, these companies need to obey the European rules. And they often apply European rules across global production … Market forces, and the self-interest of global companies allow the EU to export its rules across the world.
Detractors say: The EU is run by incompetent do-gooders who (among things) are forcing Germany's failed green energy policies onto the world. These policies have led to massive under-investment in fossil fuels, bringing the prospect of Europe shivering through dark winters.
'The Zone of Percolating Violence'
I did not mention a Middle Eastern plan for a unified and prosperous Eurasia, because there isn't one. In the last two decades many nations were too busy being flattened or fighting to work out a cohesive vision.
That was not an accident.
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, the US became the world’s only superpower. With no obvious enemies, a new unifying threat was required.
Zbigniew Brzezinski found it. His book ‘The Grand Chessboard’ created new targets for US adventures. He wrote:
Eurasia is the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played.
Brzezinski's vision was influential and centered around what he called a ‘global zone of percolating violence’ – the Middle East, and areas to the north and east (overlapping Russia, India, and China).
The book was first published in 1997 and a few years later the shit hit the fan:
- In 2001 the US invaded Afghanistan in response to 9/11.
- In 2003 Iraq was invaded because of Saddam's imaginary WMDs.
- After that there were overt and covert entanglements in Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen and other places.
Did the violence in the 'zone of percolating violence' magically percolate itself? Or was there outside help?
Here is a 2105 map showing nearly 800 US military bases in more than 70 countries – with most around the Middle East and Europe.
If the bases were meant to 'de-percolate' the violence they did not succeed.
Can Commerce Bring Peace to Eurasia?
The last 100 years showed Eurasian powers that:
- War against your next door neighbours is a very bad idea, and
- Eurasian wars are much more risky for Eurasians than for the US and UK.
The Anglo maritime powers are protected by sea, ocean and distance, so could safely play on 'the Grand Chessboard' from afar (via long-range bombers, proxies and drone strikes etc.)
The best strategy for Eurasian powers is to avoid major wars and find ways to cooperate – however much they might distrust each other. Or as Frédéric Bastiat pointed out a long time ago:
"When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will."
Creating physical infrastructure across Eurasia also gives cooperating powers an increased advantage in militarily defending against the island powers.
Outsize armies bankrupt empires, and America is slowly waking up to the fact the US debt bomb is a more immediate threat to the homeland than anything Russia or China have in mind.
There are many signs of accelerating US military withdrawal from Eurasia. Here's three:
- The Nord Stream (NS2) pipeline is ready to provide Russia gas to Germany, after years of opposition from successive US administrations.
- China covets Taiwan, and the US looks unable or unwilling to fulfill its legal commitment to defend Taiwan if China invades.
- Afghanistan: insurgents and armed with strong religion and not much else saw off the most expensive fighting machine ever created.
That was a quick introduction to the major plans for a unified Eurasia.
There are long lists of crimes and failures we can assign to the major players in this story, and there are plenty of other places to get moralizing and outrage if that’s your bag.
I skip all that and focus on what will happen, not what I think should happen.
There are things to be optimistic about in new era, but humans being human there are plenty of ways to fuck everything up.
It's possible that a China-dominated world would be worse that what went before, but I don't think that will happen … For reasons we can go into another day.
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