P olitically, if ever there is a super continent, it is Eurasia. The fact was accepted more than a century ago when it was termed the Heartland of the world. In history, it has witnessed the rise of global power like the Mongols, Ottomans, Czars and the communist Soviet Union. While the European powers were busy in imperial conquests of Asia and Africa, it was always the fear of an imperial Russia and Soviet Union that defined strategy. In many respects, the disintegration of USSR is notional because the people of Central Asia are still tied to Russian influence through century’s old trade, mixed ethnicities, a common language and the imperial governance system.
But Eurasia is also split. Post USSR, most Eastern Europe republics chose Western Europe. The major reason was quality of life. Though Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia underwent their own disintegration, the theme never changed. No ex USSR republic wanted to ally with an imperial power that had castigated their human resource development and political economy. Even Russia ultimately adopted the capitalist economy.
When Ukraine walked away, it became a tug between Europe-USA and Russia. Western imposed Thug Revolution in Ukraine was countered by Russia when it occupied Crimea. In the vacuum created by Eastern Europe, disdain of Russia is slowly being filled by Turkey in the name of religion and past legacy. There are sizable populations of ethnically Turk Europeans coalescing with Ottoman/Turk identity.
Zbigniew Brzezinski’s thesis ‘A Geostrategy for Eurasia’ described the region as ‘Axial Eurasia’. Back in 1997, the world was unipolar and he emphasized it was time USA made an integrated and comprehensive strategy for Eurasia. The message was well taken by Capitol Hill, Pentagon and Western Europe. Former Eastern European countries were integrated into European Union and some also became part of NATO. Eastward expansion of West under the soft Russian under belly had begun. Countries held captive under Warsaw pact and authoritarian communist regimes were more than happy to do so. Finally, Russia check mated these expansions by taking control of Crimea. This is the European leg of the messy geostrategic tripod I call the Devil’s Triangle.
But Central Asian Republics did not enjoy the luxury of Eastern Europe. They are sandwiched between a resurgent Russia, a rising China whose major preoccupation is trade power, a resurgent Turkey reviving the Ottoman dreams, a politically divorced Iran and an unstable Afghanistan. They are landlocked geographically, isolated politically, pawns strategically and poor economically. By Brzezinski’s own admission, Eurasia accounts for 75 percent of the world’s population, 60 percent of its GNP, and 75 percent of its energy resources. His assessment was bloated because he was presenting a case against the rising Chinese, Russian and Indian domination. The central hub of Eurasia though resource rich is economically backward and geographically isolated.
In Middle East, the choice matrix is simple. The entire Middle East is either under US influence or mired in turmoil. This is containment through raw power and hybrid conflicts. The rich Arab world rather than spread the fruits of its riches to poorer Arab countries have rather sponsored non-state actors (read proxies) to destabalise countries that challenge them. Perhaps the country that has benefitted most from the Middle Eastern exodus is Germany. It has absorbed the rich social capital of migrants. Following the Turk example, they will return to create a silent Syrian revolution.
Taking advantage of this lawlessness, three past imperial countries have raised their stakes. These are Russia, Turkey and Iran. This strategic front so endearing to Admiral Mahan and Brzezinski is the second leg of Devil’s tripod.
This leg is shaping the new Middle East, Central Asian Republics bordering Iran and Turkey and some old Ottoman colonies in Eastern Europe. In Asia there is a simmering tussle between Turkic, Persian and Russian influenced people. To revive the old Ottoman glory, Turkey has already become a regional economic and political power. In 2013, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu elaborated this vision saying, “The last century was only a parenthesis for us. We will close that parenthesis. We will do so without going to war, or calling anyone an enemy, without being disrespectful to any border; we will again tie Sarajevo to Damascus, Benghazi to Erzurum to Batumi. This is the core of our power. These may look like different countries to you, but Yemen and Skopje were part of the same country a hundred and ten years ago as were Erzurum and Benghazi”. It seems probable that Turkey may get closer to Russia to ultimately counterweight US-European domination of Middle East and Eastern Europe. While Arabs despite a rich history have ceded leadership to USA, Turkey is emerging as a new pivot.
Opinions in USA and Europe are divided. President Trump has been critical of European contributions to NATO. He is whisking away 2000 terrorism experts from Syria. Planners in USA fear he may upset a cart painstakingly and cleverly built over the past century. It is nigh impossible that US planners will permit President to upset the cart. With the same objectives, he will try doing it his way.
The third leg of the tripod is Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan has remained in nearly four decades of a civil war. After 9/11 it became an outpost of US-Europe designs. NATO gradually moved away leaving USA alone to live its dreams. Pakistan redefining a new identity refused to become a launching pad of US interests unless its own interests and concerns about India were met. India with US acquiescence swiftly moved into Afghanistan. Punishment came in the form of decade long terrorism. Pakistan’s armed forces and law enforcement agencies warded off the threat. But this violence having lost its objectives assumed the nature of a hybrid conflict. This conflict is for the entire country to fight. But the major issue is that governance lacks management skills. Pakistan lacks the independent clout to play a role similar to Turkey. The house is in disorder and there is absence of clear cut political vision.
But this instability suits international designs. As long as Afghanistan remains unstable and Pakistan in its self-generated issues, both Russia and China can be kept in check.
So what is the Afghan peace process all about? Hundred years ago, USA was an isolated country. The two wars and Soviet occupation of Afghanistan created opportunities to assert a global role. Major Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation was an American ally. Then USA abandoned them. After 9/11 they were projected as the enemy. But they kept fighting back. USA now wants to re-engage the old buddies. But historical memories are dimmed by decades of bloodshed. Will it happen? Some clues may unfold in eagerly awaited President Trump’s state of the union address.
But a planning board has a strange characteristic. They more you try to change, the more it remains the same.
But certainly, Russia, China and Turkey are serious about making the world multi polar. OBOR is the spearhead through non-military means. President Trump’s Trump card may lie here.
The writer is a political economist and a
television anchor person