Saturday, May 2, 2009

The shatter zones of Eurasia and the return of the primacy of geography

I have always been an avid reader of FP's articles especially this one reasserting a Hobbesian view of the world and "the revenge of geography" as the sine qua non factor in our equation of "realism" and the gauging of human events.

  • The article argues that globalization is reinforcing the fragmenting of the world and a determining factor is geopolitics (a "specter" term)

  • Conflict and instability the hallmarks of this age are the product in part of the geography of world regions,especially the shatter zones of Eurasia.

  • We must reclaim Braudel's environmental interpretation of events especially in the light of the primacy of global warming,climate change, warming Arctic seas. This occasions the weakening of social orders and other man made creations.

  • There is little room for human agency and the liberal humanists are a bit uneasy about the implication of these theories. Note the shatter zones of Eurasia.

  • We should seek out those thinkers of "uneasiness".Fernand Braudel,Alfred Thayer Mahan(the primacy of ther Indian ocean determining events in the 21st century).

So now, chastened, we have all become realists. Or so we believe. But
realism is about more than merely opposing a war in Iraq that we know from
hindsight turned out badly. Realism means recognizing that international
relations are ruled by a sadder, more limited reality than the one governing
domestic affairs. It means valuing order above freedom, for the latter becomes
important only after the former has been established. It means focusing on what
divides humanity rather than on what unites it, as the high priests of
globalization would have it. In short, realism is about recognizing and
embracing those forces beyond our control that constrain human action—culture,
tradition, history, the bleaker tides of passion that lie just beneath the
veneer of civilization. This poses what, for realists, is the central question
in foreign affairs: Who can do what to whom? And of all the unsavory truths in
which realism is rooted, the bluntest, most uncomfortable, and most
deterministic of all is geography.
And yet, to embrace geography is not to accept it as an implacable force
against which humankind is powerless. Rather, it serves to qualify human freedom
and choice with a modest acceptance of fate. This is all the more important
today, because rather than eliminating the relevance of geography, globalization
is reinforcing it. Mass communications and economic integration are weakening
many states, exposing a Hobbesian world of small, fractious regions.
them, local, ethnic, and religious sources of identity are reasserting
themselves, and because they are anchored to specific terrains, they are best
explained by reference to geography.
Like the faults that determine earthquakes,
the political future will be defined by conflict and instability with a similar
geographic logic. The upheaval spawned by the ongoing economic crisis is
increasing the relevance of geography even further, by weakening social orders
and other creations of humankind, leaving the natural frontiers of the globe as
the only restraint.
So we, too, need to return to the map, and particularly to what I call the
“shatter zones” of Eurasia.
We need to reclaim those thinkers who knew the
landscape best. And we need to update their theories for the revenge of
geography in our time.
If you want to understand the insights of geography,
you need to seek out those thinkers who make liberal humanists profoundly
uneasy—those authors who thought the map determined nearly everything, leaving
little room for human agency.
One such person is the French historian
Fernand Braudel, who in 1949 published The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean
World in the Age of Philip II.
By bringing demography and nature itself into
history, Braudel helped restore geography to its proper place. In his narrative,
permanent environmental forces lead to enduring historical trends that preordain
political events and regional wars.
To Braudel, for example, the poor,
precarious soils along the Mediterranean, combined with an uncertain,
drought-afflicted climate, spurred ancient Greek and Roman conquest. In other
words, we delude ourselves by thinking that we control our own destinies. To
understand the present challenges of climate change, warming Arctic seas, and
the scarcity of resources such as oil and water, we must reclaim Braudel’s
environmental interpretation of events.

So, too, must we reexamine the blue-water strategizing of Alfred Thayer Mahan, a U.S. naval captain and author of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. Viewing the sea as the great “commons” of civilization, Mahan thought that naval power had always been the decisive factor in global political struggles. It was Mahan who, in 1902, coined the term “Middle East” to denote the area between Arabia and India that held particular importance for naval strategy. Indeed, Mahan saw the Indian and Pacific oceans as the hinges of geopolitical destiny, for they would allow a maritime nation to project power all around the Eurasian rim and thereby affect political developments deep into Central Asia. Mahan’s thinking helps to explain why the Indian Ocean will be the heart of geopolitical competition in the 21st century—and why his books are now all the rage among Chinese and Indian strategists.

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