Three ‘geos’ push the world but leave Russia in a cloud

Trying to contemplate modern political, social and economic realities — on a global scale and country by country — analysts inevitably have to deal with issues and touch upon practical instruments of geopolitics, geostrategy and geoeconomics. Unfortunately, these three very meaningful concepts are often not very well comprehended. For example, if we ponder the United States or, for that matter, the Russian Federation, what will these “three geos” stand for in concrete and practical terms?

In modern historical circumstances, U.S. geostrategy seems to focus on such intricate and vital aims as preserving global stability. To put it briefly, there is no other single power around willing and capable of taking such comprehensive responsibility upon itself. In many ways, this is an unusual situation that predestines the ranking of concrete challenges on the U.S. political agenda, not all of which necessarily are of a truly strategic character.

It looks as though that, at the moment, such real global challenges for the U.S. and its not-so-many true allies can be reduced to two main tasks:

First, it is necessary to decisively rebuff the energetic aggression by the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations based on radical Islam (a threat comparable with Nazism and Fascism during World War II or with the pitfalls in the East-West global confrontation immediately after it). Second, the international community must curb the Ebola epidemic.

Other challenges, however dramatic and risky, do not overstep traditional geopolitical tensions and military/natural threats. I have in mind such issues as Iran’s insistent striving for nuclear weapons; Russia’s frustration and anger over the pro-European Community mood in Ukraine — among its new leadership as well as the majority of people — a situation that has provoked a series of unfriendly moves on Russia’s part and ignited warfare in Ukraine’s eastern regions; North Korea’s aggressive stance toward its southern neighbor, Japan and the U.S. itself.

More complex for analysis are the phenomena of the geoeconomic nature. Among these figures another geostrategic issue — that of securing global economic growth. Here the U.S. works via, and together with, such multilateral institutions as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank group and the World Trade Organization.

Geoeconomic interests lie at the base of the main economic trend of our time — international economic integration. Until lately, this trend could be observed on a regional (continental) level only. The European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mercosur in South America and the Closer Economic Relations in Oceania (between Australia and New Zealand) spring to mind.

However, nowadays economic integration, at least in its functional and sectorial aspects, can be also observed in the form of tight production cooperation between countries that may be separated by seas and oceans, and vary dramatically from historical, social and political points of view.

It is enough to mention the genuine “twinning of economies” happening between the U.S. on one side of the Pacific Ocean and China on the other side. Meanwhile, geoeconomic considerations powerfully compel the arch rivals (aka “friends”) Europe and America to negotiate the complicated issues of an eventual Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) agreement.

This project has the aim of revitalizing the traditional direction of economic ties and simultaneously creating a counterbalance to the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership, behind which lingers the even more grandiose project of a Trans-Pacific Community.

Both magnificent free trade schemes represent geoeconomics par excellence, though with undeniable undertones of U.S. geopolitical interests and geostrategic goals as well.

Looking at Russia, one gets the uneasy feeling that the borders between geopolitics, geostrategy and geoeconomics are blurred and that their very concepts are generally misunderstood.

During the 20th century, all of the colonial empires crashed and disintegrated, giving way to young nation-states and to a new kind of relations between a capital and its former colonies.

Concerning this overall background, official Russia goes on shedding tears about its disintegrated empire, with President Vladimir Putin calling this dramatic but historically predestined occurrence “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

It seems that, for him and his inner circle, dreams of restoring the Goliath entity of the Soviet Union in some newfangled form, at least its major parts, now overshadow other geostrategic and geopolitical considerations.

From such a stance springs the Kremlin’s special attention to various versions of the Eurasian project and its sharp denial of the very idea of a pro-European orientation as a political choice for the former “brethren republics.”

Yet, in this author’s view, a more practical and constructive goal for Russia nowadays would be a comprehensive re-colonization and economic modernization effort within its own vast territories behind the Urals. In such a truly history-making endeavor, the geostrategic and geoeconomic approaches would merge into a paramount development concept.

In this case, the narrow and pragmatic Eurasian project based on the participation of a few former Soviet republics — albeit without Ukraine, which will stay watchful and remain alienated from the Russian Federation for decades to come — would not be of much help.

Even less promising for Moscow would be any attempts to revitalize Siberia and the Russian Far East on its own by relying only on obviously inadequate domestic financial, technological and human resources. But that’s what it obviously has in mind, judging by many official statements.

What could really do the trick is a multinational megaproject of industrial and social development of these vast remote and under-populated areas with their severe environmental conditions yet unique natural riches.

Partnership with China as the main and sole ally in such a magnificent prolonged endeavor would be a too dangerous undertaking because it could greatly enhance the threat to Moscow of losing control over the whole design and, sooner or later, its sovereignty over big chunks of territory and resources.

In this light, the already signed long-term contracts covering decades of oil and gas supplies to China on a massive scale — the pride of Russian president’s personal diplomacy — look risky indeed. In an epoch-making effort of economic re-opening and complex development of Russia’s Siberian and Far Eastern areas, China must figure solely as an option among many partners — along with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia, with the U.S. and the EU countries, and with India, South Africa, Brazil and many others.

It is also worthwhile to note that geoeconomics implies the use of modern technology-based forms of production cooperation with its stable and well-coordinated outsourcing and subcontracting ties — not the traditional export-import transactions of a commercial nature that Russia is practicing in the majority of cases.

It looks as if another geostrategic goal of Moscow nowadays (aside from pasting together a Eurasian Union) is to impress on the global community a new economic and political order in accordance with the concept of a multipolar world — one particularly based on denying leadership roles to the U.S.

In this thus far vague but, in the case of success, far reaching political development, Russia pins its hopes on special relations with influential countries — members of the BRICS group and/or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — such as China, Brazil and, perhaps, India plus some Central Asian states.

So far, all of this represents no more than a case of anti-Western propaganda and wishful thinking, rather than a workable program.

Andrey Borodaevskiy, an expert on world economy and international economic relations, was a professor at Seinan Gakuin University, Fukuoka, from 1994 to 2007.

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