In a world of global financial markets, 5G networks and cyberwar, geography still rules. The two shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, each two miles wide, hold the key to the Persian Gulf and roughly half of the world’s proven oil reserves and production capacity. That is why the recent attacks, widely assumed to have been ordered by Iran, on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a strategic waterway just outside the Strait, have frayed geopolitical nerves the world over.
The Iranians understand that because geography is so precious in the Gulf region, small actions have magnified effects. Likewise, the Americans know that in the constricted waters of the Gulf, their large warships are prone to attacks by Iranian swarm boats, even as Iran’s proximity to Saudi Arabia threatens that fragile kingdom and American ally.… Seguir leyendo »
The decision by President Trump to withdraw 7,000 of the roughly 14,000 American troops left in Afghanistan, possibly by summer, has raised new concerns about his impulsive behavior, especially given his nearly simultaneous decision to pull out all American forces from Syria against the advice of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But the downsizing of the Afghan mission was probably inevitable. Indeed, it may soon be time for the United States to get out of the country altogether.
No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy — facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept.… Seguir leyendo »
China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, an economic expansion plan that follows the trade routes of the medieval Tang and Yuan dynasties across Eurasia, is overly ambitious because, like all grand strategies, it is aspirational. Yet the future of Eurasia is written into its design.
This new Silk Road serves several goals of China’s leaders, who are intent on making their country a full-fledged superpower. It is a branding operation for many of the roads, bridges, pipelines and railroads that China has already built, linking it with the former-Soviet-controlled countries of energy-rich Central Asia. In the process, One Belt, One Road seeks to develop — and at the same time surround — the Muslim region of China that abuts Central Asia.… Seguir leyendo »
The West stands captivated by Tunisia, where a month of peaceful protests by secular working- and middle-class Arabs has toppled a dictator, raising hopes that this North African country of 10 million will set off democracy movements throughout a region of calcified dictatorships. But before we envision a new Middle East remade in the manner of Europe 1989, it is worth cataloguing the pivotal ways in which Tunisia is unique.
Start with a map of classical antiquity, which shows a concentration of settlements where Tunisia is today, juxtaposed with the relative emptiness that characterizes modern-day Algeria and Libya. Jutting out into the Mediterranean close to Sicily, Tunisia has been the hub of North Africa not only under the Carthaginians and Romans, but under the Vandals, Byzantines, medieval Arabs and Turks.… Seguir leyendo »
President Obama has insisted that his 10-day Asian journey is all about jobs: “The primary purpose is to … open up markets so that we can sell in Asia, in some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, and we can create jobs here in the United States of America.” But this recasting of the agenda, a late reaction to the midterm election, obscured the vital geopolitical importance of the trip.
In fact, the president has been confronting a new strategic map that lies beyond our messy and diversionary land wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In geographical terms, two of the countries on the itinerary, India and Indonesia, are in the same increasingly pivotal region: the southern coastal areas, or “rimland” of Eurasia, which is emerging as the world’s hydrocarbon interstate, uniting energy-rich Arabia and Iran with the growing economies of the Pacific.… Seguir leyendo »
The greatest geopolitical development that has occurred largely beneath the radar of our Middle East-focused media over the past decade has been the rise of Chinese sea power. This is evinced by President Obama’s meeting Friday about the South China Sea, where China has conducted live-fire drills and made territorial claims against various Southeast Asian countries, and the dispute over the Senkaku Islands between Japan and China in the East China Sea, the site of a recent collision between a Chinese fishing trawler and two Japanese coast guard ships.
Whereas an island nation such as Britain goes to sea as a matter of course, a continental nation with long and contentious land borders, such as China, goes to sea as a luxury.… Seguir leyendo »
The debt crisis that caused Greece to ask for an international bailout on Friday has been attributed to many things, all economic: Greece’s budget deficits, its lack of transparency and its over-the-top corruption, symbolized by the words “fakelaki,” for envelopes containing bribes, and “rousfeti,” political favors. But there is a deeper cause for the Greek crisis that no one dares mention because it implies an acceptance of fate: geography.
Greece is where the historically underdeveloped worlds of the Mediterranean and the Balkans overlap, and this has huge implications for its politics and economy. For northern Europe to include a country like Greece in its currency union is a demonstration of how truly ambitious the European project has been all along.… Seguir leyendo »
In Afghanistan’s Logar Province, just south of Kabul, the geopolitical future of Asia is becoming apparent: American troops are providing security for a Chinese state-owned company to exploit the Aynak copper reserves, which are worth tens of billions of dollars. While some of America’s NATO allies want to do as little as possible in the effort to stabilize Afghanistan, China has its eyes on some of world’s last untapped deposits of copper, iron, gold, uranium and precious gems, and is willing to take big risks in one of the most violent countries to secure them.
In Afghanistan, American and Chinese interests converge.… Seguir leyendo »
Piracy is the maritime ripple effect of anarchy on land. Somalia is a failed state and has the longest coastline in mainland Africa, so piracy flourishes nearby. The 20th-century French historian Fernand Braudel called piracy a “secondary form of war,” that, like insurgencies on land, tends to increase in the lulls between conflicts among great states or empires. With the Soviet Union and its client states in Africa no longer in existence, and American influence in the third world at an ebb, irregular warfare both on land and at sea has erupted, and will probably be with us until the rise of new empires or their equivalents.… Seguir leyendo »
Las divisiones conforme a las que fue compartimentado el mundo durante la Guerra Fría se han venido finalmente abajo por culpa de los recientes atentados terroristas de Bombay. Desde ahora, no vamos a considerar nunca más el sur de Asia como una zona distinta de Oriente Próximo. En estos momentos hay un único y extenso continuum, que abarca desde el Mediterráneo a las junglas de Birmania, con todo un sinfín de crisis: desde el conflicto entre israelíes y palestinos hacia el oeste, hasta el conflicto entre hindúes y musulmanes hacia el este, cada uno de ellos enlazado íntimamente con el de al lado.… Seguir leyendo »
The divisions we split the world into during the cold war have at long last crumbled thanks to the Mumbai terrorist attacks. No longer will we view South Asia as a region distinct from the Middle East. Now there is only one long continuum stretching from the Mediterranean to the jungles of Burma, with every crisis from the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in the west to the Hindu-Muslim dispute in the east interlocked with the one next door.
Yet this elongated Greater Near East does not signify something new but something old.
For significant parts of medieval and early modern history, Delhi was under the same sovereignty as Kabul, yet under a different one from Bangalore.… Seguir leyendo »
The rising violence in Afghanistan and fractious political situation in Pakistan have become leading issues in the American presidential campaign and the debates between the candidates. Indeed, after seven years of war in the region, it’s time to ask a very impolite set of questions: If we did, by chance, capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, would Afghanistan still matter? Would there be public support for sending more American troops to stabilize a country that has rarely in its history enjoyed strong central government and that abuts a tribal area in Pakistan that neither the British nor the Pakistanis have ever been able to control?… Seguir leyendo »
More than 60,000 people may have died as a result of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, and at least 1.5 million are homeless or otherwise in desperate need of assistance. The Burmese military junta, one of the most morally repulsive in the world, has allowed in only a trickle of aid supplies. The handful of United States Air Force C-130 flights from Utapao Air Base here in Thailand is little more than symbolic, given the extent of the need.
France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has spoken of the possibility of an armed humanitarian intervention, and there is an increasing degree of chatter about the possibility of an American-led invasion of the Irrawaddy River Delta.… Seguir leyendo »
With NATO set to hold its annual summit next week in Bucharest, there is concern that the failure of Germany and other members to carry a larger share of the burden in Afghanistan is threatening the alliance’s future. Critics complain that it has become an unequal, two-tiered alliance, with the troops of the United States, Britain, Canada and Holland taking the combat role while Germany, Italy, Spain and other members take refuge in the safe areas, refusing to put their soldiers in danger.
It certainly isn’t fair. Yet predictions of NATO’s decline hold it to an impossible cold war standard. Then, a direct mortal threat to Central Europe in the form of Red Army divisions led to an all-for-one and one-for-all mentality.… Seguir leyendo »