January 4, 2016
At the beginning of the year, it has become customary for ‘pundits’ to make predictions about forthcoming developments which might affect the global economy, elections in leading countries or international relations. From my part, I would like to take my readers back in time, in an attempt to make today’s armed conflicts around the world easier to understand.
This approach is all the more necessary as virtually all of today’s armed conflicts – in Ukraine, Libya, Syria, Iraq or Yemen – have geopolitics as a common denominator. Even ISIS has a clearcut geopolitical agenda of sorts, namely that of establishing an “Islamic caliphate” in territories snatched from war-torn Syria and Iraq. Taken together, these tensions and conflicts among ethnic, religious or military blocs have brought to an untimely end the era of globalization and ushered in the Age of Geopolitics. But where did it all start ?
Over the past sixty years, specialists and the European general public were led to believe that geopolitics died together with Nazi Germany and was replaced with the ideological confrontation between the capitalist and communist worlds commonly referred to as the Cold War. Yet by the 1970s, as the confrontation apparently led to a stalemate, geopolitical-type conflicts again started to prove their usefulness for policymakers intent on destabilizing their opponents’ camp.
In Europe, conflicts of a geopolitical nature were rekindled by stealth courtesy of the United States. Thus, during the seventies the Ceausescu regime, fearful of being axed by the Soviets following the Prague Spring, was encouraged to denounce the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and pushed some of the country’s historians into demanding the return of Bessarabia within Romanian borders. That geopolitical conflict is still very much alive today, with Romania, the EU and the Russian Federation involved in a tug-of-war confrontation over the future of the Republic of Moldova.
As it turned out, in the end the Soviets lost their post-WW II domination of Central and Eastern Europe following a decade of cooperation between the CIA and the Vatican – which led to the formation of the Solidarnosc trade union movement and the organization of free elections in Poland – and not as a result of the geopolitical, USA-backed proxy confrontation between the Ceausescu regime and Moscow.
Following the fall of the Berlin wall and the implosion of the Soviet Union, geopolitical conflicts have made a spectacular return to Europe, in Yugoslavia. The separation of Slovenia and Croatia, the two Catholic regions of the Yugoslav federation, is likely to have been requested to the Western alliance by the Vatican as a reward for its successful assistance in undermining the Soviet Union during the eighties. It is also very likely that US strategists did not in fact plan for the total destruction of the Yugoslav federation, but for a diminished one, after which Serbia could be allowed to control the remainder of the territory. As events unfolded, however, the Macedonians and Albanians also decided to secede, spelling the end of the Yugoslav state.
Since 2001, the US has openly embarked on a drive to stoke geopolitical conflicts in places around the world where it wanted to expand or consolidate its hegemony. In Europe this drive led to the 2004 colour revolutions in Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia, as well as the 2008 Georgian war, and culminated in 2014 with the toppling of the elected government of Ukraine by the CIA-backed Maidan movement.
In the Arab world, the US and some of its European allies like France and the UK gave full backing to armed groups involved in the fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, or in the civil war in Syria, sometimes in alliance with Saudi Arabia and/or Turkey. The Russians and the Chinese have either been largely neutral in these conflicts or have sided with the embattled Syrian regime, which for more than four years is fighting some of the most dangerous terrorist groups on the planet.
For the EU, the price to pay for the US’ post-cold war geopolitical forays in Eastern Europe and the Arab world is staggering.
Already affected by years of stagnation after the 2008 financial crisis, EU countries have lost tens of billions of euros in trade with Russia, following the Washington-dictated sanctions against this country which prompted the Russians to reply in kind. At least ten billion euros more is the likely cost for resettling the 1 million Syrian refugees within the EU, an amount that does not include the 3 billion euros promised by the European Commission to Turkey so far, in a futile effort to convince this country to stem the flow of Europe-bound refugees.
Geopolitics as a field of study can not only provide us with a better understanding of what is at stake in today’s conflicts, but also with some insights into what the future could bring.
In the Middle East, the Sunni-Shia confrontation between the region’s main powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, is likely to continue for years to come. We are in all likelihood entitled to expect that the Alawite minority in Syria will establish its own separate state, as are the Kurds from northern Iraq and parts of today’s Syria, much to the chagrin of Turkey. The rest of the Syrian territory and possibly parts of Iraq will probably emerge as a new Sunni state entity, as sectarian conflicts will prevent the continued existence of Syria and Iraq in their current form.
For the European Union, Ukraine is poised to play the same role as Afghanistan in the demise of the Soviet Union. The unwise decision to back American neocon planners will thus backfire and hasten the EU’s own demise in the process. The main catalyst for its undoing are the nationalistic movements gaining in strength, from the UK and France in the West, to Hungary and Poland in Central and Eastern Europe. The continent is already back to barbed-wire fences not only in Ukraine, but also in Hungary, Austria and Germany – a trend that will mean the final collapse of the Schengen area in the following years, if not as early as 2016.
All these developments combined suggest one thing. Namely that, when compared to Russia, China or the United States, the European Union is the worst-equipped entity to survive in the age of geopolitics and deal with its consequences.Florian Pantazi