In this issue:
- POLEMICS: Is geopolitics dead?
- SITUATION REPORT: Kashmir unrest: Is there a war between two nuclear powers on the horizon?
- REVIEW: The End of Central Europe? The Rise of Radical Right and the Contestation of Identities in Slovakia
Is geopolitics dead?
Geopolitics is a discipline that focuses on the study of the relations and interactions between Earth’s geography, both human and physical, and politics, economy and international relations. In the last years, geopolitical research has been often described as outdated, with geographical features being more or less irrelevant in the terms of the grand strategy in the 21st century.
In this week’s polemics, we discuss if geopolitics is indeed at a dead-end or if it is still a relevant discipline in the modern era.
Geopolitics is dead (but it has always been)
It is indisputable that we are witnessing a time of global regression and crisis of liberal values. In reaction to rising complexity, uncertainty, the intangibility of the global economy, and effects of unchecked neoliberal globalization we are seeing the rise of nativism, cultural nationalism, populist authoritarianism, end ever-increasing securitization of just about anything. In this atmosphere, some are preaching the revival of geopolitics. Not incidentally was this self-proclaimed science, broadly defined as the influence of geography on (power) politics in international relations, conceived in the midst of the nationalist, conservative, and aggressive backlash to the liberal world order in an analogous time the end of the 19th century.
Geopolitics has never been much of science able to withstand closer scrutiny. It has always existed somewhere on the crossroads of a ‘conspirational’ explanation of the big-picture hidden force behind everything for the laymen, and a useful tool for the powerful to justify policy advancing their own interests. Not incidentally was the classical geopolitics hijacked by Nazi Germany to justify their global ambitions in the Second World War.
The theories of the most prominent (Neo)classical geopolitical thinkers could not withstand the closer examination of critical geopolitics, now dominant approach in academic thinking about the discipline. Their God-like perspective, delamination of space into the binary ‘us-against-them’ and extreme simplification into catchy concepts, maps or drawings is still a prominent feature of most popular geopolitical ‘theories’ today. Moreover, the whole ‘geopolitical-industrial complex’ of these thinkers, allowing for their writing to gain considerable readership, supported by those in power, uncovers the character of their ideas as useful tools in the hands of the powerful. Popular geopolitical theories fall apart under closer scrutiny for basic manipulation with facts to suit their theories. Even this does not prevent Huntington’s pseudo-theory about culture wars to gain massive traction in a confused world.
Popular geopolitical authors are guilty of these and many more fallacies in their writing. Prominent authors in their respective nations or geopolitical cultures are not shy of basing their theories on mystical ideas of cultural greatness. Russian and Chinese geopolitics are primal examples, American eschatology-infused geopolitical thinking is no exception.
The territoriality of power in international relations, on which geopolitics is based, cannot withstand the challenge from even a more basic, albeit widespread, theories of deterritorialization and globalization. This brings us back to the current great regression in international politics. The simple fact of the matter is, that the demand for the new generation of xenophobic populist authoritarians today comes from an electorate that feels wronged by the consequences of unregulated neoliberal geoeconomics. This new generation of leaders, the likes of Trump, Putin, Erdogan or Modi, is well aware of their respective countries’ dependence on global economics and that it is out of their control. A symbolic exit from global economy is not an option. These leaders, thus, redirect the feelings of disenfranchisement towards achieving national sovereignty in cultural majoritarianism, nativism, and the familiar delamination of space into the binary ‘us-against-them’.
An attentive reader might spot the intersection of (neo)classical geopolitics, uncovered by its critics and the ‘ideologies’ of these new populist authoritarians. This is precisely the reason some might feel that we are seeing the return of geopolitics. Nationalism is hardening back to the group- or status-oriented structures in social differentiation. It aims to reduce the complexity of the world and it is rationalizing these reductions by naturalizing the differences made within the system. In other words, geography (or more precisely the imaginary symbols of geography) serves as a tool for politics to define and bound itself, as a mean of reduction to justify its authority.
The fundamental flaw of geopolitics is its intangibility. Each of the authors offers its own definition, usually the one which best serves their reduction of reality. The closest common denominator is the relation between (geographical) space and power politics in international relations. The problem is that almost all conceivable universe falls within the category of relation between space and society. In essence, geopolitics is trying to come up with a theory just about everything.
Policymakers and geopolitical authors do not have an unmediated understanding of the global political-economic order, of the inconceivably complex relations between society and space. They create their theories based on imagined geopolitical symbols. These are imaginary concepts (games, stories, etc.), maps (let’s not forget, that no map can possibly contain all the information and every map serves a particular purpose, including the justification of particular power interests), or pictograms and cartoons. What serves geopolitical theorists particularly well, especially in the age of online news, are symbolic geopolitical locations, often at borders or somehow symbolizing their theory about the global order.
Critical theories serve a crucial function in uncovering the fallacies of geopolitics. In defense against their insights, opposers of critical theories will often point out that they do not offer an alternative and jump to stories about a post-truth world were ‘nothing is true and everything is possible’, gravely misunderstanding their purpose and value in understanding the hidden power relations.
Some object that critical and postmodern theories, including critical geopolitics, do not offer an alternative. It is somewhat true that critical geopolitics is guilty of ‘spatial exorcism’, seeing geographical space in geopolitics as purely a discourse, in opposition to the ‘spatial fetishism’ of (neo)classical geopolitics which sees space as a container of politics, often acquiring human qualities such as revenge. Nonetheless, the goal of critical geopolitics is not to offer an alternative (this is a function of critical theories in general) but to uncover the serious fallacies and power interests that hide behind the pseudoscience of geopolitics.
Nonetheless, there are valid ways to move forward. Regarding the role of space, Bruno Latour points out the arbitrary ontological division between space, technology, and society, in which geopolitics is the greatest transgressor. He refuses the ontological division between subjects and objects; between society and nature; between minds and their environment. Latour thinks of space not as a container for society but as an ‘environment’ where “both the materiality of space (non-human element) and the sociality (the human element) bears upon what is eventually considered space.”
This understanding of space would not only discard most popular geopolitical oversimplifications but also allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the position of people and societies in space. This would enable us to act more appropriately to truly global challenges like climate change or migration. Not simply reacting to the symptoms of global challenges (like the new generation of populist authoritarian leaders) but actually preventing their causes.
Geopolitics is not dead
Due to a state of international affairs after the Cold War, it might have seemed that the importance of geopolitics was slowly going away. Conventional international contentions over territory were expected to be a rather rare occurrence compared to the history of the international community and borders seemed mostly to be set in stone. At least so the West hoped. The United States and the EU turned away from the geopolitical questions of territory and instead focused on trade liberalization, human rights, and environmental questions. These expectations soon proved to be naive, to say the least, and with the current state of affairs, we can be confident that geopolitics is not going anywhere anytime soon.
We can see a return of geopolitical rivalries in the Russian foreign policy, in the struggle over the leadership in the Middle East, in the Indo-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir, and in China’s growing influence in the regions of the world so far dominated mainly by the USA and its allies.
However, except for these patterns of behavior previously seen on the international stage, new realities have been setting in for some time. The formation of the new world order will bring many challenges and new geopolitical realities making geopolitics as important as ever.
One of the main topics will be a continuous struggle between the West and its primary challengers China and Russia. David Law sees two possible scenarios should the West lose its position of the world leader. The first one, which Law calls „21st-century concert” after the 19th-century Concert of Nations will take place if this transition will take place more or less peacefully. The second option is a violent rise of multi-polar order, accompanied by patterns of spiralling conflict throughout the world’s regions.
So far the most probable scenario seems to be a slow but steady rise of China. Should China succeed in its notorious Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI) and the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) which would build Eurasian Land Bridge connecting the Pacific with the Baltic through series of transportation routes, we would be looking at completely new landscape of geopolitical reality connecting China with Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean on sea and Eastern Europe, Baltics and Middle East on land. The SREB initiative would effectively dodge the US maritime dominance and gave China the connection with the outside world should the maritime routes for whatever reason stop. This effort can be interpreted as China’s belief in the validity of geopolitics in the classical sense of MacKinder and Mahan.
Another challenge for the dominant position of the West is China’s activity in Africa. China’s growth brought economic internationalization and with it changed geopolitics bringing China closer to the African countries so far dependant on foreign aid primarily from the West. To understand the long-term consequences of China’s increasing reach, it is vital to critically reflect on the wider geopolitics of China-Africa relations as the wast deposits of raw materials are crucial for China’s further economic growth and it’s activities yield greater soft power potential at the expense of the West. The reaction of the West so far seemed to be lackluster with Trump’s administration being the first one to pick up the gauntlet and respond to China’s silent geopolitical offensive.
The return of geopolitics is also tightly connected with continuous change in the Earth’s climate. Should the trend of extreme weather, rising seas, dying farmlands, and intensive flooding continue, the international community will face social and economic upheaval which will test the system in unimaginable ways. Thought the world’s powers do have its own set of problems connected with climate change, such as coastal cities vulnerable to flooding, they should be able to cope with these challenges thus climate change won’t necessarily influence them internally. Who is much more vulnerable however are the poor countries of the Global South. Should the geopolitical thinking see future climate disruptions in South as a security threat to the North due to effects such as large scale migration, the future of geopolitics according to Dalby might look more like 19th-century realpolitik, where military intervention and forceful solutions reign supreme over appropriate measures and cooperation to deal with the coming crisis.
Changing global climate also sets amotion two important realities that will shape and make future geopolitics vital for states competing in the international arena. First is the race for untapped resources of the Northern regions. Donald Trump’s recent attempt to buy Greenland shows us that the Arctic region is getting more and more attention as its natural resources and new maritime routes are more and more accessible. The attempt might be motivated by the generally accepted notion that as far as the Arctic is concerned, Russia is the dominant player in the region and the USA does not have a solidified position. As the activities in the region are wildly unregulated, contentions over territory are to be expected.
The second trend is a slow shift away from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies. The recent development in the energy sector of the USA and problems with the development of new effective technologies seem to push this shift further away, the change is nonetheless inevitable. Geopolitics will be dependant on many more factors than the current fossil fuel era. Access to technology, power lines, rare earth materials, patents, storage, and unpredictable government policies will all influence the balance of power in geopolitics as once important energy actors might be replaced by new unforeseen players due to renewable energy. As both returns to classical geopolitical rivalries by international actors and new emerging trends shattered Western post-cold war illusions, geopolitics are here to stay.
Authors: Ondřej Zacha & Dominik Novosad
Kashmir unrest: Is there a war between two nuclear powers on the horizon?
On August 5th the Hindu Nationalist Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in compliance with its anti-Muslim campaign, proposed to revoke of Article 370 of Indian Constitution which was adopted by both houses of the lower and upper house the very next day. With this act, India has deprived the former principality of Jammu and Kashmir of its special status which includes the right to own a constitution and a flag and divides the territory into two federal territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh which will be administrated directly by the Central Government of Delhi. Also, the act has guaranteed several special privileges to permanent resident, including state government jobs and the exclusive right to own property which is now denied. It was those special privileges that became the main thorn in the flesh to Modi´s government and were called discriminatory to Hindu people by the ruling party.
Violent protests erupt
Additionally, in the capital city of Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir, unprecedented restrictions were established, which resulted in a lockdown. In particular, restrictions were intensified in the Srinagar after calls for people to take part in a protest march to be held on August 23 after Friday prayers when hundreds of people took part in and which resulted in violent clashes with police and several injuries. In the past, it was customary to protest just after Friday prayers, also, the BBC footage shows Indian security forces shooting into the crowd and using tear gas during the protest which held two weeks earlier after the Friday protest which occurs in the week of the legislation change. Also, more than 3 000 people were arrested, including political leaders, activists or entrepreneurs and transferred into prisons outside the state.
Since the abolition of Article 370, tens of thousands of soldiers have been deployed to reinforce the 500 000 troops which were already operating in the territory. According to authorities, this is a preventive action to maintain law and order in the area. Along with these reports, there is speculation about possible torture and human rights violations by Indian security forces.
In response, the Pakistani government is trying to convince the international community through the UN to condemn the actions of the Indian government. Indian opposition is also opposed to Modi´s steps. However, according to Modim, the current policy on Kashmir is to bring economic growth to the country and outside intervention is not desirable.
Relations between countries are considerably strained when the region was overwhelmed by fears of another open war that rose in February this year, after a suicide attack by the militant group Jaishe-e-Muhammad with ties to Al-Qaeda, in which more than 40 Indian soldiers died. India blamed Pakistan for providing moral and material support, and on 26 February launched an air force campaign against the training camps of Jaishe-e-Muhammad in Pakistan’s side of Kashmir. Pakistan then managed to shoot down one or two Indian jets (country versions differ) and the Indian pilot was taken into captivity.
Kasmir between the two regional powers
The beginnings of the dispute between these two nuclear powers can be found in the division of India and with the end of colonial domination of Britain. Mainly Muslim region, which is partly administrated by both countries but claimed as a whole, was fighting for its independence when newly formed India and Pakistan was dealing with inner instability during the ’40s, however, the Pakistan government was pushing for integration of Kashmir territory and pro-Pakistan insurgents have taken over the most of Western Kashmir. The last Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir Hari Singh asked India to avert an invasion, but it was conditional on Kashmir’s accession to India. Singh agreed to connect Kashmir with India in 1947, and later Kashmir was granted a privileged position that guaranteed Kashmir independence in all besides communications, foreign affairs, and defense.
Kashmir represents a major national security issue for both India and Pakistan and the control of which by one could harm the other. Kashmir has huge importance due to its geostrategic location and serves as the main source of water and power generation for both. It is the glaciers and freshwater which creates a zero-sum game in which the control of the territory could pose an existential threat.
The desire for control in Kashmir has led to repeated uprisings, the independence movement and power claims have resulted in 3 open wars, and tension in the area is an everyday reality. Kashmir is a militarized zone, and both sides are often criticized by the international community, whether for violating human rights or promoting terrorism. Even though the Indian government refuses any assistance, all indicators suggest that it is not possible to resolve the conflict bilaterally. The fact that both countries possess nuclear weapons suggests that the situation has a regional overlap and should be in the interest of the international community to mediate the conflict.
Nuclear conflict on the horizon?
The further development of the event is uncertain. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has promised to raise the issue of human rights violations that India should commit to the UN General Assembly in September. At the same time, he warned last week that the situation could quickly escalate if India took any military action across the control line dividing the Kashmir spheres of influence. Khan also ruled out any talks with India regarding Kashmir and intensified criticism by the President of India’s government.
India then rejects the criticism and according to the statement, the situation returns to normal and restrictions are released in response to the security situation in the country. Along with growing tensions, concerns about the nuclear conflict are growing, especially after the Indian Defense Minister stated on 16 August that India could reconsider its “no first use” nuclear policy in light of the possible circumstances.
Concerns over Kashmir have also been expressed by China, which has a significant influence in the Kashmir region, calling for India to stop provocation and take a constructive stance on regional stability and tries to initiate informal consultation in UNSC. This is in contrast to Russia, India´s traditional partner, which is trying to discourage any discussion on the Kashmir issue.
On the contrary, the response of other world leaders was much more insouciant when one can think. USA and EU repeatedly expressed their opinion that Kashmir is a bilateral and strictly internal matter and just emphasized the importance of solving the issue peacefully. The UK government, as a past dominion, just expressed concerns about the current situation, called for calm and said that they are monitoring the situation carefully.
Author: Matyáš Bajer
The End of Central Europe? The Rise of Radical Right and the Contestation of Identities in Slovakia
STRATPOL Brief Review
In recent years, there has been a growing rift between the European Union and the countries of the Visegrad Grop (V4): the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. This division became apparent as a result of the migration crisis and the rise of the right-wing populist and extremist parties in the region. In his paper, Aliaksei Kazharski uses Laclau and Mouffe’s theory of discourse to argue that there has occurred a shift in the identity of the V4 group. Before the migration crisis, the V4 countries fully identified with the West. However, after the crisis, these states began to construct new identities, rejecting the EU’s humanitarian universalism and subverting its principles. One of the consequences of these new identities was a shift toward attitudes of only partial identification with the EU.
The first section of the text traces the historical development of the term “Central Europe”. Initially, it was used to describe the German-dominated center, but later it was appropriated by non-German countries. Kazharski argues that since the 1980’s the discourse on Central Europe was dominated by the idea the countries that later formed the V4 had historically belonged to the West, at least in terms of their culture and politics, but that they were “kidnapped” by the Soviets. After the Cold War ended, these countries wanted to “prove” that they indeed are a part of the West by joining NATO and the EU and by accepting the unconditional transfer of European norms and institutions. This is generally correct, although it should be noted that this process was also a result of the desire to get out of the Russian sphere of influence. During the Cold War, the V4 countries were part of the Eastern Bloc and aside from little to none independence regarding their military, foreign or economic policies, they also had to live under a threat of Soviet intervention, which materialized in 1956 and 1968. After the Berlin Wall fell, the V4 could decide its own fate and the best way to secure this newly gained independence and prevent hypothetical Russian invasion was to integrate into the NATO and the EU.
The second part of the text maps the process during which the “normative conformity” of the V4 countries turned into the attitude of partial identification. Kazharski admits that there were differences between the Western and Central European countries in the past, but ultimately paints the picture of the struggle between liberal humanitarian universalist values of the West and the vision of “conservative Europe of nation-states” constructed by the Central European states, most notably Hungary and Poland, which was catalyzed by the migration crisis and the “rise of the far-right”. Yet this narrative neglects some other plausible explanations for the development. Firstly, the divide between the V4 and the West runs deeper and it is not only about migration. In fact, the issue of the financial aid to Greece during the financial crisis and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) was the first case when mainstream politicians openly questioned the decisions made in Brussels and this question ultimately led to the fall of the Slovak government in October 2011. Other issues such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, dual quality of food, or perceived disregard of the crimes committed by the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe by the leading EU figures are other points of friction between the V4 and the rest of the EU.
Secondly, the disagreements about how to handle migration and refugees stem from the different historical experience of the two blocks. Britain and France had to solve the issues regularly, because they had colonial empires, while Germany had some experience with Gastarbeiters from Turkey. Thus, the citizens of these countries have gradually become accustomed to living alongside different cultures. In Central Europe, the story was quite different. Austro-Hungarian Empire, a multinational monarchy, was a repressive state for most of the nations that comprised it. On the eve of the Second World War, ethnic minorities of Germans and Hungarians in Czechoslovakia were used as levers to dissolve the country while protection of the German minority in Poland was used by After the World War ended, measures were taken to prevent such thing from happening again: there followed mass exchanges of the population to ensure a greater ethnic homogeneity of the Central European countries. Then, under the communist regimes, people were leaving their countries and heading to the West, not to another Central European state. As a result of these developments, the V4’s experience with multiculturalism and migration has negative historic connotations.
The third section of the article focuses on Slovakia and the rise of the far-right parties of Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia (K-PPOS) and the Slovak National Party (SNP). Both parties have exploited ethnonationalism and anti-minority sentiment in the past and benefited from the migration crisis, but their rise in popularity can also be explained by other factors, such as frustration due to economic depravities of Slovak countryside and the widespread corruption. Ethnonationalism and anti-minority rhetoric were also employed by other mainstream parties, most notably center-left SMER-Social Democracy, which led to the legitimization of this kind of discourse. The public discourse regarding migration and the EU was also significantly influenced by the Russian propaganda spread by various “alternative media”, which portrayed the migrants as an existential threat to European countries and the EU as an evil entity attempting to destroy their sovereignty, traditions, and families.
But despite the rift, Kazharski argues, the V4 countries do not reject the European integration altogether, they simply offer a different, rival interpretation of Europe and are willing to cooperate on the issues on which there is a consensus, such as the protection of borders, or free movement of people inside the Schengen. The fourth part of the article repeats the argument that the migration crisis caused the shift from the normative conformity of the V4 countries with the West to partial identification, in which some principles such as multiculturalism are challenged. The securitization of the migrants also led to some regional cooperation on the government level, as well as on the level of some radical right-wing organizations.
Some of the author’s arguments can be contested by the virtue of alternative explanations, but by far the most serious oversight is the absence of the inclusion of the Czech Republic into the analysis. Given its scope, the article is supposed to examine the whole V4 group, yet the author does not deliver on this promise. While he declares that the study focuses primarily on Slovakia, Hungary and Poland are mentioned multiple times, but not a single sentence is devoted to the politics in the Czech Republic. This is a missed opportunity, as well as a serious flaw. There is much to write about in the context of the CR. For example, the radical right party Freedom and Direct Democracy or the Czech government’s attitude towards migration both deserve to be mentioned. Despite this neglect, the article provides some insightful explanations of the relations between the European Union and the V4 (V3?) after the migration crisis of 2015.
Author: Martin Dudáš
Responsible editors: Matej Kandrík & Matúš Jevčák
Eric Constantineau | Flickr
Kashmir Global| Flickr
STRATPOL ViewPoints is a project which seeks to address the most important international politics and security affairs of today. In every issue, you can find a Polemics, a controversial thought that one author supports and the other opposes, a thought-provoking opinion piece and a Brief Review of a recent study from well-known research centers and think-tanks worldwide.