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Author Topic: Stratfor: New Era of Geopolitics?  (Read 2331 times)
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« on: July 09, 2008, 11:52:23 AM »

By Peter Zeihan

As students of geopolitics, we at Stratfor tend not to get overexcited when this or that plan for regional peace is tabled. Many of the world’s conflicts are geographic in nature, and changes in government or policy only rarely supersede the hard topography that we see as the dominant sculptor of the international system. Island states tend to exist in tension with their continental neighbors. Two countries linked by flat arable land will struggle until one emerges dominant. Land-based empires will clash with maritime cultures, and so on.

Petit vs. Grand Geopolitic
But the grand geopolitic — the framework which rules the interactions of regions with one another — is not the only rule in play. There is also the petit geopolitic that occurs among minor players within a region. Think of the grand geopolitic as the rise and fall of massive powers — the onslaught of the Golden Horde, the imperial clash between England and France, the U.S.-Soviet Cold War. By contrast, think of the petit geopolitic as the smaller powers that swim alongside or within the larger trends — Serbia versus Croatia, Vietnam versus Cambodia, Nicaragua versus Honduras. The same geographic rules apply, just on a smaller scale, with the added complexity of the grand geopolitic as backdrop.

The Middle East is a region rife with petit geopolitics. Since the failure of the Ottoman Empire, the region has not hosted an indigenous grand player. Instead, the region serves as a battleground for extra-regional grand powers, all attempting to grind down the local (petit) players to better achieve their own aims. Normally, Stratfor looks at the region in that light: an endless parade of small players and local noise in an environment where most trends worth watching are those implanted and shaped by outside forces. No peace deals are easy, but in the Middle East they require agreement not just from local powers, but also from those grand players beyond the region. The result is, well, the Middle East we all know.

All the more notable, then, that a peace deal — and a locally crafted one at that — has moved from the realm of the improbable to not merely the possible, but perhaps even the imminent.

Israel and Syria are looking to bury the hatchet, somewhere in the Golan Heights most likely, and they are doing so for their own reasons. Israel has secured deals with Egypt and Jordan already, and the Palestinians — by splitting internally — have defeated themselves as a strategic threat. A deal with Syria would make Israel the most secure it has been in millennia.

Syria, poor and ruled by its insecure Alawite minority, needs a basis of legitimacy that resonates with the dominant Sunni population better than its current game plan: issuing a shrill shriek whenever the name “Israel” is mentioned. The Alawites believe there is no guarantee of support better than cash, and their largest and most reliable source of cash is in Lebanon. Getting Lebanon requires an end to Damascus’ regional isolation, and the agreement of Israel.

The outline of the deal, then, is surprisingly simple: Israel gains military security from a peace deal in exchange for supporting Syrian primacy in Lebanon. The only local loser would be the entity that poses an economic challenge (in Lebanon) to Syria, and a military challenge (in Lebanon) to Israel — to wit, Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, understandably, is more than a little perturbed by the prospect of this tightening noose. Syria is redirecting the flow of Sunni militants from Iraq to Lebanon, likely for use against Hezbollah. Damascus also is working with the exiled leadership of the Palestinian group Hamas as a gesture of goodwill to Israel. The French — looking for a post-de Gaulle diplomatic victory — are re-engaging the Syrians and, to get Damascus on board, are dangling everything from aid and trade deals with Europe to that long-sought stamp of international approval. Oil-rich Sunni Arab states, sensing an opportunity to weaken Shiite Hezbollah, are flooding petrodollars in bribes — that is, investments — into Syria to underwrite a deal with Israel.

While the deal is not yet a fait accompli, the pieces are falling into place quite rapidly. Normally we would not be so optimistic, but the hard decisions — on Israel surrendering the Golan Heights and Syria laying preparations for cutting Hezbollah down to size — have already been made. On July 11 the leaders of Israel and Syria will be attending the same event in Paris, and if the French know anything about flair, a handshake may well be on the agenda.

It isn’t exactly pretty — and certainly isn’t tidy — but peace really does appear to be breaking out in the Middle East.

A Spoiler-Free Environment
Remember, the deal must please not just the petit players, but the grand ones as well. At this point, those with any interest in disrupting the flow of events normally would step in and do what they could to rock the boat. That, however, is not happening this time around. All of the normal cast members in the Middle Eastern drama are either unwilling to play that game at present, or are otherwise occupied.

The country with the most to lose is Iran. A Syria at formal peace with Israel is a Syria that has minimal need for an alliance with Iran, as well as a Syria that has every interest in destroying Hezbollah’s military capabilities. (Never forget that while Hezbollah is Syrian-operated, it is Iranian-founded and -funded.) But using Hezbollah to scupper the Israeli-Syrian talks would come with a cost, and we are not simply highlighting a possible military confrontation between Israel and Iran.

Iran is involved in negotiations far more complex and profound than anything that currently occupies Israel and Syria. Tehran and Washington are attempting to forge an understanding about the future of Iraq. The United States wants an Iraq sufficiently strong to restore the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and thus prevent any Iranian military incursion into the oil fields of the Arabian Peninsula. Iran wants an Iraq that is sufficiently weak that it will never again be able to launch an attack on Persia. Such unflinching national interests are proving difficult to reconcile, but do not confuse “difficult” with “impossible” — the positions are not mutually exclusive. After all, while both want influence, neither demands domination.

Remarkable progress has been made during the past six months. The two sides have cooperated in bringing down violence in Iraq, now at its lowest level since the aftermath of the 2003 invasion itself. Washington and Tehran also have attacked the problems of rogue Shiite militias from both ends, most notably with the neutering of Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia, the Medhi Army. Meanwhile, that ever-enlarging pot of Sunni Arab oil money has been just as active in Baghdad in drawing various groups to the table as it has been in Damascus. Thus, while the U.S.-Iranian understanding is not final, formal or imminent, it is taking shape with remarkable speed. There are many ways it still could be derailed, but none would be so effective as Iran using Hezbollah to launch another war with Israel.

China and Russia both would like to see the Middle East off balance — if not on fire in the case of Russia — although it is hardly because they enjoy the bloodshed. Currently, the United States has the bulk of its ground forces loaded down with Afghan and Iraqi operations. So long as that remains the case — so long as Iran and the United States do not have a meeting of the minds — the United States lacks the military capability to deploy any large-scale ground forces anywhere else in the world. In the past, Moscow and Beijing have used weapons sales or energy deals to bolster Iran’s position, thus delaying any embryonic deal with Washington.

But such impediments are not being seeded now.

Rising inflation in China has turned the traditional question of the country’s shaky financial system on its head. Mass employment in China is made possible not by a sound economic structure, but by de facto subsidization via ultra-cheap loans. But such massive availability of credit has artificially spiked demand, for 1.3 billion people no less, creating an inflation nightmare that is difficult to solve. Cut the loans to rein in demand and inflation, and you cut business and with it employment. Chinese governments have been toppled by less. Beijing is desperate to keep one step ahead of either an inflationary spiral or a credit meltdown — and wants nothing more than for the Olympics to go off as hitch-free as possible. Tinkering with the Middle East is the furthest thing from Beijing’s preoccupied mind.

Meanwhile, Russia is still growing through its leadership “transition,” with the Kremlin power clans still going for each other’s throats. Their war for control of the defense and energy industries still rages, their war for control of the justice and legal systems is only now beginning to rage, and their efforts to curtail the powers of some of Russia’s more independent-minded republics such as Tatarstan has not yet begun to rage. Between a much-needed resettling, and some smacking of out-of-control egos, Russia still needs weeks (or months?) to get its own house in order. The Kremlin can still make small gestures — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chatted briefly by phone July 7 with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the topic of the nuclear power plant that Russia is building for Iran at Bushehr — but for the most part, the Middle East will have to wait for another day.

But by the time Beijing or Moscow have the freedom of movement to do anything, the Middle East may well be as “solved” as it can be.

The New Era
For those of us at Stratfor who have become rather inured to the agonies of the Middle East, such a sustained stream of constructive, positive news is somewhat unnerving. One gets the feeling that if the progress could hold up for just a touch longer, not only would there be an Israeli-Syrian deal and a U.S.-Iranian understanding, the world itself would change. Those of us here who are old enough to remember haven’t sensed such a fateful moment since the weeks before the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And — odd though it may sound — we have been waiting for just such a moment for some time. Certainly since before 9/11.

Stratfor views the world as working in cycles. Powers or coalitions of powers form and do battle across the world. Their struggles define the eras through which humanity evolves, and those struggles tend to end in a military conflict that lays the groundwork for the next era. The Germans defeated Imperial France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, giving rise to the German era. That era lasted until a coalition of powers crushed Germany in World Wars I and II. That victorious coalition split into the two sides of the Cold War until the West triumphed in 1989.

New eras do not form spontaneously. There is a brief — historically speaking — period between the sweeping away of the rules of the old era and the installation of the rules of the new. These interregnums tend to be very dangerous affairs, as the victorious powers attempt to entrench their victory as new powers rise to the fore — and as many petit powers, suddenly out from under the thumb of any grand power, try to carve out a niche for themselves.

The post-World War I interregnum witnessed the complete upending of Asian and European security structures. The post-World War II interregnum brought about the Korean War as China’s rise slammed into America’s efforts to entrench its power. The post-Cold War interregnum produced Yugoslav wars, a variety of conflicts in the former Soviet Union (most notably in Chechnya), the rise of al Qaeda, the jihadist conflict and the Iraq war.

All these conflicts are now well past their critical phases, and in most cases are already sewn up. All of the pieces of Yugoslavia are on the road to EU membership. Russia’s borderlands — while hardly bastions of glee — have settled. Terrorism may be very much alive, but al Qaeda as a strategic threat is very much not. Even the Iraq war is winding to a conclusion. Put simply, the Cold War interregnum is coming to a close and a new era is dawning.

« Last Edit: July 09, 2008, 11:54:19 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2009, 02:00:42 AM »
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« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2009, 09:39:07 AM »

Very intriguing.  Not sure I think Poland will be that significant, but they do seem to have a great opportunity.  Turkey and the middle east I find very appealing and exciting.   I hope he is right.  His views on China and I will extrapolate India are well taken.  I think we may see turmoil in the up coming bump, he calls our economic crises, in China anyway.  Thanks Crafty
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« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2017, 06:06:33 AM »

Not so sure about the final conclusions, but an interesting piece:

Weathering the Rise of a New World Order
By Ian Morris
Board of Contributors
Ian Morris
Ian Morris
Board of Contributors

Contributor Perspectives offer insight, analysis and commentary from Stratfor’s Board of Contributors and guest contributors who are distinguished leaders in their fields of expertise.

Here comes the rain again. The skies darken and the winds howl; storms of a kind that should show up only once every half-millennium now arrive every 10 years. The world is warming up. The hotter the oceans get, the faster they evaporate, and the hotter the air gets, the more moisture it holds, with one devastating result: When the clouds let go of their watery load, it now pounds the earth for days at a time, washing away hillsides and flooding valleys and plains. Even when it isn't raining — the terrible storms alternate with equally terrible droughts — the glaciers go on melting, relentlessly raising sea levels and pushing waves farther and farther inland.

This isn't a bad description of the events of the past month. Hurricane Harvey has killed at least 50 people in Texas and one in Guyana, a death toll that will likely rise; torrential downpours have set off massive mudslides in Sierra Leone, killing more than 1,000; and violent monsoons have flooded Bangladesh, India and Nepal, killing nearly 1,300. But these tragedies aren't what I intended to describe when I originally wrote the paragraph above. Instead, it was an account of what happened 15,000 years ago, when the world was warming up at the end of the last ice age. In many ways, the wild swings in weather, ferocious storms and coastal inundation were not so different from what the 21st century looks likely to bring, and we can learn a lot — much of it alarming, but some of it reassuring — from humanity's previous encounters with the floodwaters. After all, we have been through this before.

'The Long Summer' Comes to an End

Twenty thousand years ago, much of the world was more than 10 degrees Celsius colder than it is now (although, climate being the complicated thing it is, a few places were actually warmer than they are in our own age). Sea levels were 125 meters (410 feet) lower than today's, leaving vast stretches of dry land where there is now ocean. And, with trillions of tons of water locked up in ice sheets as much as 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) thick, the intensely arid atmosphere carried 20 to 25 times as much dust as today. Far fewer plants could grow in that climate, meaning far fewer animals could exist either. In all likelihood, there were barely 500,000 humans in the world — just half as many as currently live in Austin, Texas.

The main culprit was Earth's orbit, which, over a roughly 200,000-year cycle, shifts from being roughly circular (as it is now) to being noticeably more elliptical, taking our planet closer to, then farther away from, the sun. Combined with a separate 22,000-year rhythm of tilts in the axis on which the Earth rotates plus a 41,000-year cycle of wobbles around the axis, this pattern makes the Earth sometimes into an icebox and other times into a hothouse. Until 3 million years ago, the world was so warm that there was no year-round ice cap at the North Pole, but by 18,000 B.C. — the coldest point of the last ice age — ice permanently blanketed most of Northern Europe and North America. After that, a long-term warming trend began, punctuated by shorter periods when the climate went haywire, producing sudden and extreme warming or cooling temperatures.

Around 12,700 B.C., temperatures apparently jumped by 3 degrees Celsius in a single generation. Massive glacial runoff raised the sea level by 10 meters over the next century or two, and humidity leaped upward. Around 10,800 B.C., though, another episode of rapid warming had the opposite effect: Ice ridges in North America melted and collapsed, allowing what geologists call Lake Agassiz — a body of frigid water four times the size of the modern Lake Superior — to drain into the North Atlantic. So much icy water was involved that it made the Atlantic Ocean too cold for the Gulf Stream (which carries warm tropical waters from the Caribbean to the coast of Norway) to work, plunging the Northern Hemisphere back into a mini-ice age that lasted another 1,200 years. When the effects of this period wore off around 9600 B.C., the world once again began warming, and by 5700 B.C., temperatures may have been higher in some places than they are today. Archaeologists often call the period between 9500 B.C. and A.D. 1950 "the long summer" because of its warmth and relative stability.

To be sure, the changes of the past half-century differ in important ways from what happened 15,000 years ago. Unlike the end of the ice age, the end of the long summer owes more to humans burning fossil fuels than to tilts and wobbles in the Earth's orbit.

This label was popularized before it became obvious that we are now entering a new age of warming and flooding, and that the long era of relative climatic stability following the ice age might now be ending. To be sure, the changes of the past half-century differ in important ways from what happened 15,000 years ago. Unlike the end of the ice age, the end of the long summer owes more to humans burning fossil fuels than to tilts and wobbles in the Earth's orbit. Global warming is also starting from a higher base temperature than it did 15,000 years ago, and it is acting on a world of megacities and advanced technologies rather than one of Stone Age hunter-gatherers.

For all the differences, though, looking at the past is the only way to know how humans respond to warming and flooding. And the evidence, drawn not only from the end of the ice age but also from milder episodes known as the Roman and Medieval warm periods, teaches us four lessons.
The Good, the Bad and the Unfair

The first is that much of the current thinking about climate change is simplistic, because it ignores history. Previous episodes of global warming certainly produced mass mortality and disruptions that, measured against the scale of the societies of the day, were even more terrible than the events we are now seeing. Although this will be cold comfort to those enduring disaster in Houston or Freetown, global warming perhaps has even been a net positive for humanity in the long run, and it certainly has been better than global cooling.

There are many ways to measure the impact of climate on human welfare, but I will take just the crudest: the number of people alive. The global population has been increasing at an accelerating rate for most of the past 100,000 years. But, although the relationship is messy and complicated by multiple factors besides heat and humidity, growth generally has been fastest in times of warming. During the ice age (roughly 100,000-10,000 B.C.), the world's population probably doubled once per 10,000 years, but during the great warming period from 10,000 to 3000 B.C., the time required for doubling fell to roughly 1,600 years. Between 3000 and 500 B.C., when temperatures overall remained rather steady, the doubling time continued to fall to 1,000 years; but during what climatologists call the Roman Warm Period (about 200 B.C.-A.D. 300) it fell much more dramatically, to just 500 years. In the subsequent Dark Age Cold Period (roughly 300-950), global cooling set in and the world's population actually shrank slightly; then, in the succeeding Medieval Warm Period (950-1300), it once again exploded, with the doubling time falling to just 250 years. The Little Ice Age (1300-1800) again saw cooling, but while population growth did continue, the doubling time slowed to 500 years. It then fell sharply to just 100 years in the period of relatively stable climate between 1800 and 1950, but since 1950, as the world has rapidly warmed, the doubling time has fallen even more spectacularly to 40 years. By 2050, the United Nations predicts, population growth will once again start slowing down, though there is every reason to expect temperatures to keep rising.

There is a lot of noise in this story, and other proxies for well-being such as living standards or the stock of knowledge tell different — though not wildly different — tales. If there really is a positive long-term causal connection between global warming and human well-being, it is clearly complicated by many other factors. But it is also clear that previous episodes of global warming have not automatically been long-term disasters for humanity.

The moment we start burrowing into the data, we learn a second lesson: Part of the reason for the messiness of the patterns is that global warming is unfair. It always affects different places in different ways, producing both winners and losers. Climate change essentially changes the meaning of geography, turning places that in cooler times were good to live in into ones that are bad or even uninhabitable. Sunbelts, for instance, become flood zones or disappear underwater altogether.

In the last few millenniums of the ice age and the first few millenniums following it, some of the richest hunting grounds in the world were broad, low-lying plains that now lie under the Persian Gulf and the South China, Black and North seas. Geologists have mapped the prehistoric North Sea Plain in some detail (they call it Doggerland, after the Dogger Bank shallows that were once an imposing range of hills), and trawlers have recovered hundreds of artifacts from what was, around 8000 B.C., one of the most densely settled parts of Europe. By 6000 B.C., though, huge storms and tsunamis and an underlying rise in sea levels had conspired to drown these prehistoric Gardens of Eden. When the land bridges connecting what are now the European and Asian parts of Turkey were finally breached and the Mediterranean Sea rushed into the Black Sea Plain (much of which was, by then, a huge freshwater lake), the waters may have risen by as much as 15 centimeters per day. Each time the sun came up, the waters had moved more than a kilometer inland. No wonder some geologists think this episode inspired the stories of Noah's flood.

But while global warming was dealing a deathblow to the world's richest hunting grounds, it was also doling out benefits to other places, most notably the borderlands of modern Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Israel, plus Pakistan, China, Peru and Mexico. Here, warmer and wetter weather made it possible for humans to domesticate the wild precursors of today's wheat, barley, rice, corn, quinoa, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and llamas, in the process turning themselves into farmers. And in all these places, populations boomed, and people began to find more sophisticated ways to organize themselves. Over the next few thousand years, farmers expanded outward from their original homelands, killing, enslaving or absorbing nearly all the foragers in the world and driving the few miserable survivors into jungles, deserts and tundras that were either too hot or too cold for the farmers themselves to want.

This depressing story points toward a third lesson. Global warming is not just unfair; it also turns the geostrategic order on its head. While 21st-century storms and floods will be less devastating than those that accompanied the end of the ice age, geologists assure us that the sea is likely to swallow up much of the coastal plains of India, Bangladesh, Northern Europe, eastern China and both coasts of North America. Just like Doggerland and Sundaland (now under the South China Sea) 10,000 years ago, these are some of the most densely populated and richest parts of the world. By contrast, the areas likely to benefit most from global warming — the frozen wastes of Alaska, Canada, northern Scandinavia and Russia — are virtually uninhabited. Billions of people will thus migrate from south to north in a process that will produce new superpowers and unprecedented geostrategic instability. More alarming still, the regions where climate change is already having the greatest impact contain a disproportionate number of the world's poorest societies, unstable governments and nuclear proliferators. If the worst-case scenarios come to pass, the 21st century might definitively disprove any notion that global warming has been a net positive for humanity after all.

That said, the fourth lesson of the history of global warming is more upbeat. Humanity is astonishingly resilient: For all the traumas it inflicts, global warming has not wiped us out. (Global cooling has actually come much closer; by some calculations, things got so bad around 100,000 B.C. that there were only 20,000 humans left alive, all clustered close to the equator in Africa.) We have always risen to the challenge, by migrating, by figuring out ways to buffer the impact of climate change, or even by finding unexpected benefits in it. These responses regularly required people to change how they lived, often in ways they must have found unappealing. But they did it anyway, because the alternative was extinction.

The Wrong Side of History

Of course, there are no guarantees that we will repeat this feat in the coming century. On the upside, the past decade has already seen astonishing shifts toward new, cleaner energy sources, new ways of producing food, new ways to protect coastal cities and new forms of cooperation among governments. We have even learned to mitigate the worst floods. The cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1970 killed 300,000-400,000 people, but the comparable disaster in 2007 killed only 4,234. In much the same way, Hurricane Katrina killed 30 times as many Americans in 2005 as Hurricane Harvey has so far this year.

On the downside, the past decade has also brought mounting resistance to change in some quarters. In the United States, the current administration has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, disbanded its advisory panel on climate change by failing to renew appointments, and defunded the National Flood Insurance Program as part of its effort to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. If global warming carries on as it has in the past, hanging onto our old ways while the floodwaters rise around us seems a surefire way to end up on the wrong side of the next geostrategic order.
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