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Recognizing the North American Heartland: A More Suitable Fit for Mackinder’s Thesis

Phil Kelly

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Four parts complete this essay: first, a brief outline of methodology that will enlist two international-relations models, geopolitics and realism, both separate approaches but each useful to facilitating a discussion; second, a critique and updating of Halford Mackinder’s original Eurasian heartland thesis meant to make the thesis itself more applicable; third, an assertion by the author that North America represents a more suitable fit for Mackinder’s heartland premise, the US version possessing more of the appropriate features than does the Eurasian version; and fourth, several conclusions will follow relative to this updating of the heartland portrayal.

The author will conclude that:

(1) Mackinder’s Eurasian heartland simply does not pass the test of logic and history. Its central and isolated position has not brought wealth and security; its resources are not sufficient to dominate the World Island; potentially hostile nations encircle it; and most of its rimlands are controlled either by the United States or by American allies and trading partners. Nothing remarkable affixes to the Russian core; its importance roughly equals that of the other Great Powers of the continent’s periphery.

(2) North America provides the only suitable fit for Mackinder’s thesis. It more than fulfills all of theoriginal heartland descriptions: an isolated and distant continental center with an area united internally, blessed with resources for a vibrant economy, and poised for a hegemonic leadership beyond America onto most areas of Eurasia and its periphery.

(3) Thus, two strategic regions, the North American heartland plus the entire Eurasian World Island, are together pertinent to global stability and prosperity.

(4) The whole Eurasian continent will continue being a platform for strategic relationships because it holds roughly two/thirds of global lands, peoples, and wealth and because the leading states, China, Germany, Russia, and Japan, reside within or near the continent, with the United States intervening yet still aloof as an offshore Eurasian balancer.

In sum, an updated but still correct heartland theory; wrong application – better North America and not Eurasia.

Outlining Classical Geopolitics and Realism

Two separate but intertwining international-relations models, geopolitics and realism, compose the interpretive structures for this essay. Models are repositories of theories; they do nothing other than hold those theories that fit the specific definitions of the model, again in our case, the models of geopolitics and of realism. Theories possess their own labels, different from the models they enter, and they serve as neutral and timeless tools for delving more deeply into understanding events and ideas. They come as simple sentences of probability (Kelly 2018); if “A” happens, then “B” holds some likelihood of reacting as a result of “A.”For instance, Mackinder’s Eurasian pivot, reflective of a continental heartland, holds an advantage for eventual expansion to world empire. This and a variety of other theories will be enlisted in the pages that follow to assist the reader in the exploring of strategic heartlands and also of rimlands, the marginal lands that encircle the Eurasian lever.

Classical geopolitics emphasizes placement of a state, region, or resource impacting upon a country’s foreign affairs. It draws upon geography or territorial/maritime space for its inspiration, specifically upon relative locations and positions of countries. Theories abound, perhaps more than for any other international-relations model. Central and peripheral placement may affect a nation’s diplomatic and security policies. Or, the more borders a country possesses, the more warfare that country will suffer. Or, increasing distance to an event might diminish a state’s influence.  Much of this essay’s portrayal will derive from such spatial premises that will accord to classical geopolitics (Kelly 2016: 83-135, 173-186), among these, balance-of-power, checkerboards, center/periphery, Charcas heartland, contagion, containment, demography, dependency, distance, divide-and-conquer, encircling, frontiers and hinterlands, geostrategic, Great Game, heartlands, imperial thesis, influence spheres, land-power/sea-power, Monroe Doctrine, more-borders-more-wars, offshore balancing, pan-regions, pivot/leverage, rimlands and World Island, shape of country and region, shatter belts, space mastery, and westward march of empire.

Realism studies the relative power a state may possess and the management of that power for bringing it security. Within a dangerous and anarchic world, states alone are destined to defend themselves since a strong world government does not serve sufficient to protect. Stronger countries can be guaranteed against weaker nations, but when one state among other states of equal power attempts to expand its defenses, a reactive arms race may ensue, this action/reaction called a “security dilemma.” Building my castle walls higher may force my neighbor to build his walls higher, too, causing a contagion of construction but with all suffering less security, nonetheless. Hence, realists recommend that moderate countries should seek a consensus of trust among them with a collective security design in order to secure their common protection, made longer-lasting by isolating or destroying revolutionary and reckless states that may jeopardize such collectivity. Statesmen can guide their nations into this moderation and adjustment by maintaining the necessary confidence between associated countries. When consensus reigns, careful diplomacy suits the environment best, but when conflict and revolution strike, force should direct against the radical and crusade disturber. These concepts and theories characterize the realist: anarchy, balance-of-power, collective security, consensus, Great Powers, multipolar, revolutionary/crusader, security dilemma, statesman, and unipolar moment.

Refining Mackinder’s Thesis

Halford Mackinder, a British geographer and statesman, in 1904 posited that whichever country or alliance came to dominate the interior of Eurasia would hold substantial leverage for attaining global empire. Later in 1919 exhibiting a heartland label, his premise outlined in four parts:(1) The area’s distance from seacoasts, isolation within a vast continent, and harsh climate brought security against invaders. (2) Likewise, that central space offered ready access to resources within and beyond the region, with an(3) internal unity bolstered by intrusive topography and connecting railroads and with an (4) ability to thrust power outwardly onto peripheral areas of the World island, or the whole of the continent plus the Mediterranean, that could be exploited and annexed.  Once this expansion proceeded and the heartland possessors could extend onto seacoasts, global empire would “be insight.” This heartland claim, with its subsequent wider reach, has proven to be the most important geostrategic theory within the model of classical geopolitics and the bed rock of strategic doctrines of leader-countries including the United States.

Unfortunately, solid evidence for such a feat of enhanced security within or of pivotal leverage beyond those central spaces becomes problematic because the theory cannot be substantiated with certainty via historical evidence, statistical proof, or other measures of probability. This alleged Eurasian fulcrum simply has not provided a good defense or exerted a significant impact outwardly sufficient to substantiate Mackinder’s contention. Indeed, both Napoleon and Hitler invaded this center, occupying or threatening Moscow, although neither consolidated his invasion. Coastal rimlands, or margins surrounding the continent’s center, have proven the more strategically active, having been resident to two world wars and a later Cold War where allies sought to contain any territorial threat from the center, an expansion probably never strongly attempted nor realized in contemporary events. And the United States for the past century has now elevated to global leadership, eventually basing its authority on the continental rimlands for its own security and asserting far more economic, political, and military strength than any of the world’s other Great Powers including Russia, the heartland’s present occupant, all of whom cannot rival the present North American hegemony.

In sum, the Eurasian heartland theory appears at first brush to be simplistic, vague, and clearly not true, being instead a central Eurasian location not likely to succeed to continental or global domination. But if little evidence shows for its validity, why does its notoriety remain? Perhaps the following might point to its continued interest: (1) the premise of it being located in the Earth’s more consequent northern half, its temperate lands favored over those of the southern oceans and the North  spawning the civilizations of history noted as well by Mackinder in his earlier essay; (2) the compact shape of Eurasia itself, the Russian hinterlands encircled by the Great Nations of Germany, Turkey, Japan, and China, states that have prevented the core its penetration seaward; (3) the added fact that Eurasia holds two-thirds of  the world’s lands, populations, and wealth; (4)the assumption of inevitable central advantage for eventual leverage outwardly, a query examined more fully below; (5) an exaggeration of the interior’s wealth and power, making that region greater than it deserves, this tied to a historic remembrance and fear of alleged “Asian hordes” invading western Europe. Mackinder’s 1904 talk alluded to this latter fear; and (6) a long-held focus on Eurasia by policy elites that has undergirded foreign-affairs and military thinking among the larger countries including that of the United States since its independence. If Mackinder and Eurasia remain relevant to policy-makers, his theory continues important.

Here, it should be stated that this essay’s author stays committed to the heartland theory; he recognizes it to be among the more prominent and insightful of theories contained within the classical geopolitical model. But, Mackinder’s original proposal, the author concludes, needs improvement and a North American and not a Eurasian placement, the new location also providing more substantial evidence for the heartland thesis’s validity

Accordingly, in this second section several areas of Mackinder’s thesis are marked for improvement: (1) Where might a central position lend advantage to states so located, and does core placement always award its possessor strength?(2) What might conclude the heartland’s extension beyond the continental center, a world “empire” or a global “hegemony?” The terms depart in meaning, the former resting on domination, the latter on leadership.(3) Does a potential but not actual territorial expansion still validate the thesis? (4) Mackinder neglected the peripheral areas that encircled the heartland, particularly the coastal rimlands on either flank of Eurasia, Western Europe and eastern Asia. Nicholas Spykman (1942), William Kirk (1965), Michael Gerace (1991), and others have argued such marginal lands should be appended to heartland calculations. In addition, (5) should one favor continental land-power states as Mackinder did over sea-faring countries as America prefers? (6) North America better qualifies as a heartland, superior in description to the Eurasian and as a more practical fit. If so,(7) how strongly does the United States extend over the power balances of Eurasia? How do the Eurasian rimlands figure within this nexus? What about relations between the North American heartland and the whole of the Eurasian World Island, be they agreeable or hostile or some mixture of both? In sum, the original theory must welcome an updating and its American application a different stint into global affairs.

Pivotal advantage from a central location?As per a country’s core position lending advantage, one control for broadening the heartland thesis lies in an examination of states’ actual central placements, a favoring of one location over another. For instance, an inner-core residence could present: regional leadership in integration, security, and identity; pivotal location for thrusting authority outwardly; and ability to balance neighbors to profit(Kelly 2016). But disadvantages appear as well: encirclement by hostile and powerful neighbors; more borders, more conflict and invasion; and costs of leadership and balancing.

Amplifying further this examination of central leverage, one must give special consideration to the regional environments a heartland may occupy. For example, (1) if a centrally-located country is surrounded by other Great Nations of roughly equal power; if that state’s resources are limited and access to needed wealth becomes difficult; if oceans and seas are distant and their access is blocked by coastal nations; and if natural barriers against invasion from seafarers are missing, then central placement can be debilitating. But to the contrary, a pivotal heartland can be an advantage (2) if a centrally-positioned state is surrounded by weaker, non-threatening countries; if such a pivotal nation resides distantly from challenging Great Powers; if that state possesses ample unity and resources; and if it is a maritime nation, gifted with natural ports and internal waterways. Russia, China, Turkey, and Germany, all Eurasian states, represent countries disadvantaged by their centrality. The United States alone among the major countries displays a core location advantage, a heartland characterization described in Part Three.

Empire or hegemony? Mackinder’s domination label lacks preciseness because one does not know whether the heartland’s thrust translates to “empire” or instead to “hegemony,” the latter, a more accommodative rule, for these two concepts depart significantly. Mackinder surely meant empire, a feared German invasion of the Eurasian interior coming later to dominate coastal margins and to extend beyond the adjacent oceans threatening to his England. His repeated depiction of empire and dominance exude throughout his heartland illustration – a “westward march of empire;” (1904, 31) also with the achievement of “fleet-building” by the heartland’s possessors, “the empire of the world would then be in sight;” (1904, 43) and “Who rules the World Island commands the World” (1919, 150) — among the outstanding examples. Yet, such a continental or worldwide authority, an empire based upon occupation and armed control, seems exaggerated if not outright improbable. Would any sort of imperial expansion truly be inevitable or successful when attempted by any contemporary Eurasian or American state? The author thinks not.

“Hegemony” and “balance” better describe the grand strategies currently within the foreign-affairs ambitions of the ruling elites. Hegemony translates to “leader-state,” a county advanced in military and industrial technology, also in global finance holding a leading currency, in trade and investment as well as in a mature citizenry and efficient government, in secure frontiers without threats from immediate neighbors, and in a projection of power outwardly that will bring a reasonable level of national security. A hegemon is not a dictator or bully or threat to other nations; rather it prefers trade over war, diplomacy over hostility, and domestic welfare over control of others.

A certain expansion?An inevitable expansion from the Eurasian core seems evident in Mackinder’s premise, for the core’s placement and its resources foretold this expansion. Yet, the author believes the assertion lacks sufficient credence to quality Eurasia for this part of the heartland theory, for these reasons: (1) As described above, central placement does not necessarily advantage expansion from that core. One instead must consider the regional placement of potential challengers to such a territorial extension. Russia suffers that resistance encirclement. 2) Russia’s reach for an ocean outlet has in all cases never succeeded and rarely been attempted. A theory that explains such expansion must show some probability of outcome, and the Eurasian example, in the author’s opinion, has yet to prove this theory’s required extension. (3) Russia is an ordinary country, no stronger than its immediate neighbors and weaker than their combined strength for resisting any heartland reach. An empire must exhaust its rivals and occupy their lands, and Russia has not. (4) Were the heartland’s possessor sometime able to extend to ocean fronts, this would reflect a substantial military victory against weakened Eurasian neighbors but still not strong proof for the theory’s validity. (5) Any single country, or even a combination of states, would lack the necessary power to conquer the entire World Island and go on to rule Earth beyond. (6) The heartland theory itself might bring some interest to its Eurasian placement, the thesis being quite rational in its construction. Yet Eurasia lacks the necessary features to render it a good fit for the location many scholars have assumed for it. (7) North America possesses amply more ingredients to fit Mackinder’s design. It has shown a protected location, the substantial resources and unity, and an ability to impact Eurasian balances from afar, a century-long global hegemony that has not been approximated by Russia or its great-power neighbors. In sum, only one heartland pertains, that in middle North America. Mackinder’s Eurasian submission should fade instead to a mere label of continental interior.

Rimlands, too, deserve consideration equal to heartlands. It is within these marginal and often maritime lands that are located the strategic dramas of rivalry and alliance, intrusions of balancing, dependency, and strife brought on by the flanking Eurasians and North Americans. Kirk (1965, 6)portrayed a pull factor for the interior toward the wealthier peoples of the ocean coasts, “zones of initiation” attractive to the less-developed continental forces. Spykman and Gerace (as Spykman’s interpreter) expanded Mackinder’s original thesis with inclusion of the rimlands but with retaining the interior as well, both regions vital to strategic continental balances. These outer margins should be appropriate theoretical additions to clarifying the World Island motif because rimlands represent strategic impacts upon the global stage that extend beyond the Eurasian core. To enhance this suggestion further, the two Eurasian regions, Mackinder’s heartland and the rimlands, should be combined into one structure, the whole of the Eurasian World Island with its heartland description left off, this revision clarifying to both theory and application.

Similar but closed rimlands appear in America but only in its middle sector because of (1) the exclusive monopoly of US power over its Caribbean/Central American sphere-of-influence, blocking Eurasian involvement as violation to Monroe’s Doctrine; (2) the isolation of South America, an independent area  set aside from the northern power balances due to the region’s isolation from distant Eurasia, the republics showing little involvement or interest in the machinations of the northern struggles (Kelly 1997); (3) also the absence of competitors in America, Brazil, Mexico, and others not of the northerner’s strength; and (4) likewise in the inability of any Eurasian state to invite a Latin American alliance against the United States because of the American maritime monopoly. In these respects, no “shatterbelts” reign in America, configurations threatening of alliances between Eurasia and Latin America against the US.

Shatter belts represent another concept not imagined by Mackinder but worth our attention pertinent to rimlands, these structures locate in marginal regions divided in strife that are exposed to great-power involvement. The defining essential for shatter belts is not in the strife itself but in the policy decisions by regional and strategic actors to align with or in opposition to other states within the region (Kelly 1986). The danger within these configurations comes in their potential for serious escalation into widespread violence, the two world wars providing good examples. In the contemporary era, just one has risen, that of the Ukraine civil war, the Russians supporting the rebels of the eastern sector, the US/Europeans supporting the Kiev government of the western sector (Jalilov and Kelly, 2014).

Land-power vs. sea-power offers a common theme in traditional geopolitics, states as either sea-faring or land-based in their foreign-affairs orientations. Theorists contend over which trait holds advantage, the continental proponents arguing that navies require landward ports, and thus these can be intercepted by their opponents holding a territorial base. In addition, the middle areas of continents enjoy security via distance, resistant topography, and the ability to leverage onto coastal enclaves. In contrast, maritime countries, it is alleged, gain some advantage in their mobility astride rimlands, tending toward greater access to mineral, energy, trade, and food wealth in marginal and distant territories. Nonetheless, it could be concluded that any merits of sea-power over land-power would depend upon the time and place at hand, similarly to core locations, and not upon a general rule of superiority of one over the other. Alas, this essay’s author neither favors nor disfavors these places within the Mackinder thesis and its extension.

Heartlands in their geographic settings could themselves be labeled as either continental or maritime, such labels not listed but still not violating Mackinder’s original thesis.His 1943 article outlined a “Midland Ocean” of the north Atlantic basin that could be indicative of an acceptance by Mackinder of a seaward realm as well as the continental. Note his reference (1943, 602) describing “two related features of almost equal significance: the Heartland, and the basin of the Midland Ocean (North Atlantic) . . . “That admission leads to the next updating, a strong case for a North American pivot.

North American heartland And finally for the last improvement of the original thesis, North America not only holds the essential points to Mackinder’s thesis, it likewise offers a wealthier and more powerful portrayal than does the Eurasian of a continental heartland, if Mackinder’s description still stands. In the North American case: (1) No immediate great-power threats accost the northern continent, it being distant and isolated from likely Eurasian challengers, with Mexico, Canada, and Brazil standing passively by, mostly as friendly allies to the United States. (2) Resources in America contribute abundantly and are well-positioned for a powerful industrial/technological infrastructure. (3) Providing a substantial geographic unity, the Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds tie peoples and resources together amid a rich and healthy agricultural base with internal waterways linked by barge transport, interstate highways, and a web of common communications not hindered by a harsh topography. (4) And drawing out from this compact but extensive territory, the United States as a commanding naval power can project a favorable balance over states of Eurasia’s eastern and western rimlands, preventing any chance of the possessors of the Eurasian pivot to construct a grand opposition and to expand their impact outwardly in fulfilling Mackinder’s assertion of global dominance and of threats to American independence.

Why the importance of moving the heartland to North America? First, the Eurasian example confuses because it is not a good fit either for Mackinder’s original thesis or for the updated version submitted in this article. Russia, the interior’s present resident, portrays an ordinary Great Power but not one more powerful than its immediate Eurasian neighbors. Second, it clarifies the various Eurasian balances one might imagine among four great-power Eurasian players, the distortion of an exceptional Russia now removed. And third, it reveals a more realistic role of the United States, a clear global hegemon at the present moment as an outside yet dominant off-shore balancer within the continent.

The Eurasian example now discarded by the author, do other regions rate as justifiable heartland candidates besides North America? Once more, a continental format poses as an essential requirement, and such would include two rather distant additional candidates, South America, Lewis Tambs’ suggestion of the Charcas heartland of Bolivia (1965), and Africa, alluded to by Mackinder himself. Yet, both merely dwarf the major parts of the North American heartland. They do not perform strategically on the global stage, neither dominates its immediate region, and both lack the necessary resources and internal unity fully meant for a heartland. But, a return to another pivotal area within Eurasia might also be considered for this review, a suggestion raised by Nick Megoran (2004)and others for Uzbekistan as an updated heartland. Other interior sites beyond these examples might be raised as well. Nonetheless, whether a contemporary Russia or Uzbekistan, or an Africa or South America, this essay’s author still holds his contention – North America represents the only suitable casting for Mackinder’s original mold.

Eurasian World Island and North American heartland. Accordingly, as raised in the revisions offered in this essay, the primary regions of strategic global interest lie two-fold, (1) the North American heartland and (2) the entirety of Eurasia, the interior part in addition to the western and eastern margins of Europe and Asia plus the Mediterranean basin of southern Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East. These two sectors, the Eurasian and the North America, “count” as the two most important centers of global strategic importance far outweighing the remaining lands of South America, sub-Sahara Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the south Pacific, these other territories offering little or no leverage for performing upon the northern zones of balancing.

Where might be located the most important theater or platform for world stability and competition to play out among the Great Powers within this two-sector global configuration? Said differently, where is the primary place of global strategic alliance and rivalry? Not in North America, for reasons of distance, a United States goal of isolating America from Eurasia, and the U.S. navy preventing extension of a Eurasian compact. Not either in the marginal world, such sectors being too distant and weak to align among the Eurasian powers. But instead, this strategic theater should remain within the whole of Eurasia itself, Mackinder’s World Island, for reasons of territorial expanse, extensive populations and wealth, and the machinations of the Great Powers that live within the continent. Global peace and prosperity will originate and play out by what happens within Eurasia.

Over the years since Mackinder exacted his heartland premise, both criticisms and praise have risen, some of which have been covered above. Brian Blouet (2005, 9-11) and Colin Gray (2005, 24-26) cogently summarized a majority of the more negative:

1)Was Mackinder Eurocentric in his approaches? Was he too much a product of his era, his views too antiquated and out-of-sync for today? Response: Such claims, while partly valid, should be cast aside, the traditional version of geopolitics not concerned with the contextual. Better a focus on the theory itself and not upon the personality or times of Mackinder.

2)Could his thesis suffer from being simplistic, a “rediscovery of the familiar?”Response: Not so, since all theories inherently draw upon simplicity and also upon probability; that is their nature.

3)Has the contemporary globalization of expanded trade associations and rapid communication now replaced territorially-based systems of Mackinder’s time? Response:  The spatial format of classical geopolitics should hold; geography still counts.

4)Have not the elements of air- and cyber-space reduced the isolation of middle continents? Response: To some degree the prior isolation has diminished. But air and space should be factored into distance, topography, and other land and maritime aspects of travel, the impact of a continental pivot remaining.

5)Has industrial/technological development been sustained in the Eurasian center? Response: Post-Soviet Russia still lacks as per the wealth and development of the continental interior imagined by Mackinder.

6)Should sea-power and the position of North America be included in heartland considerations? Response:  Certainly.

Introducing a North American Heartland

George Friedman has noted a special abundance in the resources and position of North America, a unique location that has led the United States to global hegemony. Although not writing in heartland terminology, he has described the United States as “the inevitable empire,” (2011, 1) further noting: “the United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin. . . . the Americans are not important because of who they are, but because of where they live [i.e., North America].” In this depiction of the riches of this exceptional territory, Freedman in his article’s descriptions that are featured below substantiates a main thesis of the present essay, that North America fulfills all of the qualities of Mackinder’s heartland designation. This essay’s author agrees with his assessment.

Below are presented eight geopolitical perspectives about the middle part of North America that should provide evidence toward revealing the United States as residing within this essay’s newly-recognized American heartland:

(1)The American location enjoys distance far from threatening Eurasian Great Powers, the immediate neighbors, Mexico and Canada, posing no danger and Brazil encircled by potential adversaries. Shatter belts and checkerboards do not happen in the sector.

(2)In land size, the United States ranks third worldwide, its middle plains holding the largest contiguous area on Earth of rich and well-watered farm land. Food surpluses result. A great majority of the inner continent’s arable territories reside within 200 kilometers of navigable rivers, making them available to low-cost barge transport.

(3)Facing little opposition in its historic expansion from Atlantic to Pacific, and firmly settling the middle portion because it emitted wealth, the United States rates as the sole two-ocean continental nation, safe from Eurasian attack and its navy able favorably to balance states on either flank of Eurasia.

(4)A rectangular configuration encouraged unity among the country’s regions and left no continental sector exposed. Natural frontiers erased land disputes with neighbors; no mountains, deserts, and jungles impeded continental settlement.

(5)The Mississippi basin and the intra-coastal waterways hold more navigable internal passages than the rest of the world combined. The river affords water traffic in less-costly barge commerce over the middle third of the continent, extending to a distance of 3,000 kilometers inland. Note these cost comparisons (2016, 1-4): “On average, a gallon of fuel allows one ton of cargo to be shipped 180-240 miles by         truck, 450 miles by railway, and 514 miles by barge. . . . A single 15-barge tow is equivalent to about 225 railroad cars or 870 tractor-trailer trucks. If the cargo transported on the inland waterways each year had to be moved by another mode, it would take an additional 6.3 million rail cars or 25.2 million trucks to carry the load.”

The five Great Lakes also allow ocean-shipping well into the US interior. Both systems help to integrate the continental economic and political systems.

(6)Abundance and adjacent location of energy and mineral resources, all relevant to a strong industrial and technological infrastructure, makes the United States the best placed, most abundant, and strongest country in these aspects.The above factors have attracted an ample immigration to North America of productive peoples, still a fast-growing but relatively youthful population, with an average age less than other Great Powers and with the least-density as per usable land.

(7)Finally, a space mastery awareness by the governing elites to these advantages and to the necessities stemming from them, for instance, of acquiring the Mississippi watershed and the Pacific coastal lands and of stimulating colonization in these additions, of connecting national sectors with communication systems, of promoting a naval strength for projecting this onto favorable Eurasian balances, and of striving for global hegemony rather than empire.

These eight traits could well be described more fully and other features added. But the case for a North American heartland should be convincing – an isolated and secure interior, one unified and prosperous, and a leadership that extends beyond America onto Eurasia, its interior as well as its margins. Analysis of this reality will extend into Part Four ahead.

To exhibit this theme more convincingly, further evidence will be offered by way of the above eight features, now utilized to describing Mackinder’s alleged heartland of middle Eurasia, the comparisons for the most part demonstrating the better fit for the United States and the lack of suitability for the original Eurasian placement.

(1)The Eurasian interior shows a potentially-dangerous encirclement by the margin’s Great Powers reflective of the perils of central location. China, Japan, Germany, and Turkey in particular threaten the security of the interior’s position, these rival states checkmating any Russian thrust to the open seas. A powerful Soviet Union, once a serious American rival, never succeeded in adding territory to its empire once the power vacuums of the Second World War had closed. Its demise decades later in part could have reflected a bankruptcy for attempted imperial ambitions by straining its resources to keeping pace in global rivalry with a stronger North American heartland. Checker boards, shatter belts, and the historic Great Game would add to these dilemmas, also helping to contain a core widening its power.

(2)In land size, the acreage is significant, yet not intensely productive. The region is exposed to harsh and prolonged cold climate for growing, with diminished rainfall and infertile soils as well retarding agriculture, also with a limited access to key industrial minerals despite abundant oil and natural gas resources, and with rivers running northward, erasing the advantages of barge traffic and making road, canal, and rail maintenance difficult. Failure to effectively settle its Siberian Pacific coastlands has hindered Russia from becoming a strong continental nation and a two-ocean naval power, exposing it further to maritime blockage and to Chinese invasion into the interior.

(3)Its rectangular configuration has not provided advantage as well because of the encircling margins of opponents and to the obstacles of checkerboards and shatter belts. It would be difficult to imagine a fully-unified continent with such limitations in its interior. Likewise, absence of natural frontiers contributes to fluctuating borders, reminiscent of hinterland conquests and of shifting national sovereignties.

(4)Rivers run northward into the Arctic; none flow longitudinally to offer unity and to less costly transport and communications as exhibited in the Mississippi river basin. The waters arriving to the polar Arctic lack commercial importance, despite the summer passage openings to the region due to climate warming.

(5)Abundant energy resources have not brought industrial success, the area still lacking necessary ingredients for productivity: a strong agricultural food base, cheaper barge and rail networks, and industrial minerals linked to advanced technology.

(6)A sparse immigration into the region has resulted, the lands not attractive to settlement for the reasons presented above.

(7)Russian space mastery has faltered, perhaps expressed in paucity of resources, focus drawn to the western expanses, and lack of consistent leadership to integrate the Asian end with the European.

In sum, such figures should exhibit sufficient evidence to show that the continental Eurasian core is distinctly not equal in power to rival the American equivalent. The World Island instead should be defined as a primary stage for strategic balancing, with the unity of an interior region plus surrounding rimlands, together being improvements to the traditional ideal.

Conclusions Relative to the North American Continental Heartland

Several consequences spring from this essay’s updated heartland thesis as outlined in Parts Two and Three. First, the whole of Eurasia, a World Island of both interior and marginal lands with neither superior over the other, appears the more realistic description of this great continent. It holds in strategic terms the continental platform for balancing among the area’s Great Powers – China and Japan on the eastward extension, Germany and Russia on the westward, with a potential for checkerboards and shatter belts added to the regional and strategic mix. Second, the United States, too, plays a preponderant, albeit outside, role of Eurasian offshore balancing; indeed, a successful American leverage could well-stabilize the entire continent in the US role as a hegemonic leader-state. The United States holds the greater pivot within the Eurasian balances reflective of its location of distance, wealth, security, and strong naval supremacy. And third,several scenarios will conclude this final part that rest upon these altered premises. How do these transformations color the portrayals of future global foreign affairs?

The whole of Eurasia as the stage for global strategic balancing

Mackinder’s Eurasian interior by itself has never seen steady interest within the security strategies of US policy elites,the prominence of that central region normally being drawn into the continental whole. This Eurasia as a whole, and frequently its rimlands, have figured as a prime focus of such planning and billeting of American strength. A good example of this is seen in the writings of Zbigniew Brzezinski, a leading author, statesperson, and theorist of contemporary geopolitics, who emphasized the importance of the “grand chessboard” of Eurasia as a whole by writing: (1997, xiii) “Ever since the continents started interacting politically, some five hundred years ago, Eurasia has been the center of world power.” Yet, this great land mass, the “world’s central security concern,” (2004, 36) has become more diverse and thus more difficult to control its disruptions, these requiring “maneuver, diplomacy, coalition building, co-optation, and the very deliberate deployment of one’s political assets [as] key ingredients of the successful exercise of geostrategic power on the Eurasia chessboard.” (1997, 35-36) An “ultimate guarantor of global stability,” (2004, vii; 2007, 192) the United States must “accommodate” or settle likely challenges of the coming years or suffer “global anarchy,” (1997, 195-197) becoming an isolated “garrison state imbued with a siege mentality.” (2004, viii)

Further, Brzezinski asserts: (1997, xiv) “American foreign policy must remain concerned with the geopolitical dimension [that] must apply its influence in Eurasia in a manner that creates a stable continental equilibrium, with the United States as the political arbiter. . . It is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also of challenging America.”

Such a concentration on Eurasia, yet not specifically upon a heartland, appears commonly within similar grand designs of American statecraft. Further examples are expressed by George Kennan (1951, 10) and Nicholas Spykman (1944, 34, 457).

Brzezinski’s Eurasian “grand chessboard” correctly portrays the place of global strategic involvement, for, stated once more, here reside two/thirds of the Earth’s territories, peoples, and riches as well as the four leader-states with the United States, India, and Brazil, all outliers. Eurasia for better or worse occupies the global center; it poises as the strategic reality of international relations, Mackinder and the three writers cited being agreed in this assessment.

The major states of the continent performing on this Eurasian stage, to their misfortune cannot unify sufficient for checkmating the American intrusions despite this potential concentration of resources. The primary country actors, for one, are hampered among them by vast distances, these preventing nations acting in unison or in agreement. In classical geopolitical terms, the great surface identifies also with a potential for checkerboards and shatter belts, something not felt so decisively among other regions on the global margins

To repeat this first point of conclusion, a Eurasia, although divided, with interior and periphery both strategically active will perform as a continental stage for great-state actors, a territory more important than the remaining world regions and a place of global balancing despite a stronger heartland in North America, immune from Eurasian pressures but possessing an ability itself to intervene to its favor within the various power balances that might locate upon the Eurasian mainland. Earth’s strategic politics must in these cases focus upon Eurasia.

North America as offshore balancer within Eurasia

From its safe haven within the North American heartland, the United States enjoys far greater ability to intervene into parts of Eurasia than do the Eurasians into America. Under normal circumstances, the American hegemon can balance Eurasian Great Powers from afar and for its advantage. In this realm, the United States holds leverage, its naval superiority able to manipulate the advanced nations upon either of the Eurasian flanks, Germany and Russia on the western and China and Japan on the eastern. Its distance enhances this advantage, exhibiting little threat of aggrandizement to distract Eurasian allies from associating with the Americans. Here, America clearly differs from the other four leader countries in its ability to master the forces upon Eurasia without itself requiring a direct Eurasia residence (Levy and Thompson 2010).

Accordingly, in an ideal world the United States as global hegemon naturally would prefer a balancing, harmonizing, and stabilizing role in global affairs, its interests pointing to trade and to political maturity observed among the other nations that would enhance its overseas investments. Additional territories and political control over others and their distant resources would not fit these designs, although this scenario admits also to a practical image of greed as well as to altruism. By some distance, North America represents the primary Eurasian stabilizer, this role made more effective when the continent itself rests at some level of equilibrium.

Within this concept, realist theorists debate the duration of a “unipolar moment,” one in which America hails unilaterally as the global leader-state but only for a brief stint. Some partisans of the balance-of-power thesis argue that rival challengers naturally will arise to tip the commanding hegemon from its higher pentacle, a multipolar pattern inevitably replacing the single pole. Rivals will copy the leader’s technologies, that country also declining via bankruptcy, the excessive costs of global hegemony. Nonetheless, as such a decline has not yet happened over a span of several decades, might that “moment” be extended to a more elongated American leadership? And might this wider expanse of time reflect the powerful strategic reach of the American heartland? For unlike the Eurasian, the United States does not suffer rimland encirclement of hostile leader-states. Its wealth in resources far exceeds those of the Russian steppes.

Concluding scenarios

Despite this American advantage of balancing among the Great States of Eurasia, in strategic terms the global patterns still could show a variety of outcomes as a consequence of this two-regional structure – a North American heartland and a single but extended Eurasian World Island. How might a selection of possible scenarios then be drawn in terms of the available sorts of fluctuating balances within these Eurasian configurations?

But first, a brief review of several assumptions appears necessary. Discussion limits to the five Great Powers, China, Germany, Japan, and Russia with the United States “dabbling from afar,” all configured within a Eurasian continental balance-of-power that might show some mixtures of unity and rivalry and of stability and disarray. The balancing figures to be symmetrical and not asymmetrical, that meaning, the involvement only among the Great Powers and not of less potent countries or of such topics as terrorism, environment, wealth amidst poverty, and like subjects of note.

(1)A unipolar structure of continued American hegemony and of its ability to offshore balance to its favor among Eurasian states of both interior and margins. America is able to contain any countries that threaten a global peace. Here, Eurasia remains stable for the most part, extending the American unipolar moment well into the present decade and probably beyond. Such a premise seems the most realistic of our final scenarios, assuming American power remains strong and the Eurasian countries stay divided and not overtly hostile. To “divide-and-conquer” for its protection well-serves United States security, and its distant isolation, ample resources, and powerful navy attest to this power. These qualities likewise offer greater possibilities for constructing alliances with Eurasian states in need of protection from aggressive neighbors, the remote Americans more trusted than nearby states that could threaten against their independence.

(2)A still powerful US but with less leverage upon the Eurasian continent.  Several dramas might play out in this instance. One reflects a shift to multi-polarity that foretells the rise in power and possible aggressiveness of some or all of the Eurasian Great States. Such a picture might also indicate a relative decline in strength of the United States or of its distaste for Eurasian involvement. Christopher Layne (2007) has suggested this potential, a shift from post-World War Two US preponderance to an emerging offshore balancing, albeit among more serious great -power rivals, with a partial American retrenchment from the continental rimlands. This outcome could hold a chance for conflict and war across the continent, strife that may arouse American intervention in Eurasian places of vital interest.

(3)Another possibility might introduce a failed Russian state, Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic rule collapsing and his extensive lands reverting to a power vacuum attractive for others to absorb. How might this interior void impact upon the rest of Eurasia and its global periphery? One could see China, Germany, and Turkey moving into the adjacent frontiers, firming up their own securities and economic and political needs by intrusions upon the imperial hinterlands. A Russian collapse spells a serious disruption, but a similar Chinese, German, Turkish, or other state failures could create political voids as well and stir regional tensions and shatter belts. US attention to these other failing states may show similar interventions.

(4)A divided and destabilized Eurasia, so chaotic as to prevent effective American rimland alliances and the ability to balance for stability, provides a further outcome. One much dreaded by North American leaders, this entails collapse of the predominant checkerboard of historic rivalries among the leading states, an unbuckling hard to imagine at the present moment. In such case, the United States might well be forced to isolate from the turmoil, its intervention not able to impose stability.

(5)A pan-region alternative – a walled-off Earth represents another worst-case scenario in which             the five Great Powers align to protect themselves against the global margins suffering destitution and emitting possible Third World threat. A radical form of dependency, the world divided into rich and poor nations and gated from one another, this reality portrays the United States and the other Great Powers in league for suppressing within their own regional compartments any threat to their prosperities from countries in poverty and for exploiting their sectors for labor, trade, and resources. Heartlands, rimlands, and World Islands lose their appeal within these patterns.

(6)  A weakened or disinterested United States that withdraws and isolates from its tradition of Eurasian offshore balancing, a nation restrained in its involvement for reasons of a change in defense policy or of disrupted conditions within the World Island or America itself.

(7) A United States intent on progressive global leadership. Or, could America see advantage in retrenchment without this collapse happening, perhaps a political decision to see justice and security in a multipolar configuration, of a sharing among the world leader-states to construct a stronger world government and law and to join in a joint searching for solutions to global poverty, environmental threats, and other such dilemmas? America could itself decide    assertively to lead the world into such directions, taking responsibility for its heritage of richness within the North American heartland.

Whatever the case, this essay now must conclude after repeating the primary argument – –  that Mackinder’s original thesis can be extended and updated to include a more expansive two-part strategic design, one containing a complete Eurasian World Island. And within that structure one would recognize a wholly-reasonable American heartland located so visibly within the Mississippi River basin.

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An anatomy of U.S. human rights diplomacy

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Authors: Zhou Dong-chen & Paul Wang

Over the past two weeks, the United States Congress has successively passed two acts concerning with Hong Kong human rights and democracy, and Uygur human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Accordingly, Beijing has urged the U.S. to stop slandering China’s anti-terrorism and cease interfering in its internal affairs. No doubt, the two acts passed by the U.S. legislation are not only an outrageous violation of the basic norms governing international relations but also seriously insult the Chinese people and the spirit of human rights.

Some experts testified the motivation behind the U.S. Congress, for example, as William Jones, Washington bureau chief of Executive Intelligence Review, put it that the United States has a history of interfering into other countries’ internal affairs. This time, their target is Hong Kong, one of the most important global financial hubs, and also aims at U.S. interference into China’s internal affairs. On September 11, the U.S. senate in effect passed a bill which condemns gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. They are pretentious to think the U.S. can weaken the Belt and Road Initiative in this way, and subsequently demote China’s influence through the so-called human rights violations. Yet, Washington’s acts on Hong Kong and the Uygur ethnics in Xinjiang are typically hypocritical in nature.

Historically, international concern for what we nowadays call human rights, in the sense of fundamental and inalienable rights essential to human being, is nothing new. As early as the 15th century when the Europeans started their overseas expansion, some law scholars were heavily engaged in discussion on the natural rights that were to be accorded to every human being under any circumstances, and lashed out the mistreatment of the native inhabitants of America by the European colonizers. Yet, after more than 400 years, the United States tried in 1919 to provide an overall mechanism to insure fair treatment for the peoples of the world. Yet, the efforts were fruitless until 1945 when the United Nations Charter was signed to enact more specific and comprehensive protection for all individuals.

It is true that the United States has been so keen in promoting its values of democracy and human rights in foreign policy, even if that meant instability and the end of necessary diplomatic talks. As Joseph Nye put it, “Over and over in international politics, the question is not absolute order versus justice, but how to trade off choices in particular situations.” Taking a look into the Cold War era, the United States actively supported numerous the violations of human rights in the so-called “friendly” states, such as South Korea, the Philippines, Chile and Iran—here to mention a few only. The reason is that a grand strategy for protecting U.S. traditional vital interests and its global public goods needs Washington to address and act along with the third elements of human rights and democracy. Yet other countries and cultures have often interpreted these values differently and resented the U.S. intervention in their internal affairs as self-righteous unilateralism.

According to Henry Kissinger, in 1974, a sea change in the conduct of American foreign policy occurred. Prior to that, it had attempted to affect the domestic policies of other states by way of covert operations or quiet diplomacy. It means official intervention in the domestic affairs of other states had not yet become an accepted component of the U.S. foreign policy; Westphalian scruples still prevail. Yet, for the first time in 1975, the U.S. Congress applied legislative sanctions to promote its values such as human rights and democracy, making it a formal and public part of the U.S. foreign policy. From then on, intervention in what had been considered domestic policy became increasingly fashionable. Then President Ford even talked of “the deep devotion of the American people and their government to human rights and fundamental freedoms.”Ironically, the U.S. bipartisan consensus was reached on the human rights, even though they were split by the Vietnamese War. Now Presidents Carter and Reagan both appealed to the Wilsonian rhetoric of America’s crusading spirit against a hostile ideology. For instance, Carter affirmed that “we ought to be a beacon for nations who search for social peace, individual liberty and basic human rights.” Reagan reiterated it in a more assertive language: “America’s leadership in the world came to us because of our own strength and the values that guide us as a society.”

Final victory in the Cold War further encouraged this self-gratification even in other groups, turning it into a global triumphalism. For absent a Cold War and an alternative power center to the United States, the theory of an “end of history” achieved considerable plausibility. Ideological struggles might well have ended once and for all; the entire world including a Communist-led China was adopting variations of the American economic and political systems. As a result, U.S. foreign policy became increasingly driven by domestic politics, but behind it is the arrogance backed by its superior power. As scholars put it, when pressure on foreign countries appears free of risk, there is increasing scope for legislating American domestic preferences as objectives of foreign policy, a revealing case of the new congressional involvement was to connect the granting of Most Favored Nation status to China dependent on its annual demonstrations of progress on human rights in the 1980s.

No doubt, support for an active diplomacy on behalf of human rights is by no means unanimous within the United States. As David Newsom, a U.S. senior diplomat, put it, “foreign affairs and diplomacy are domestic political-often partisan-questions in the United States.” There is no recognition of diplomacy as a part of “the state” above politics, as in many European countries. Thus, primary opposition to diplomatic efforts on behalf of human rights in the U.S. has come from those in believing that such policy threatens their interests, particularly security and trade.

In term of China, the United States has combined aspects of both strategies: containment and engagement. The first one has two main prongs: an effort to slow down China’s amazing economic growth by denying it access to the large U.S. market; and to strengthen building up an alliances with China’s neighbors in order to provide an effective counter-weight to its growing power. Yet, the second one argues for taking China in a web of institutions dealing with security, trade, and finance, such as WTO, ASEAN, IMF and the World Bank. As a result, China’s leaders will find an assertive foreign policy—challenging the status quo—to be too costly.

Today, as the largest rising power of the 21st century, China has been described as “a revisionist power”, by analogy to the Soviet Union in the Cold War. To that end, the American promotion of human rights aims to undermine China’s domestic political structure and international prestige, or in a geopolitical sense, the United States tries to keep China permanently in a secondary position. Accordingly, China has made all efforts to reject the proposition that international order is fostered by the spread of liberal democracy and the international community has an obligation to bring this about, and especially to achieve its perception of human rights by real action. In light of that American can never abandon their values of democracy and human rights, no formal compromise is possible between the ruling power and the rising power; yet, as Kissinger advised, “To keep the disagreement from spiraling into conflict is one of the principal obligations of the leaders of both sides. After all, we are living in the same global village.

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It’s Back to “Rocket Man”: Trump Steadily expanding risks of a Nuclear war With North Korea

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”-Sigmund Freud

“We fell in love” crowed Donald Trump about Kim Jung Un, after their Singapore summit back in June 2018. But this grotesquely curious romance was destined not to last. In fact, since early December 2019, it’s been consistently retrograde, back to Trump’s nonsensical recriminations; that is, to the American president’s conspicuously demeaning reliance upon childish epithets.

But to what conceivable strategic purpose? Once again, at least for the still-dissembling White House, it’s not about substantive geopolitical threats. Instead of purposefully enhancing American diplomatic leverage – which might actually make some bargaining sense – it’s just about “rocket man.”[1]

Even at this late point, objective strategic analyses are altogether necessary. Leaving aside the obvious futility of launching ad hominem insults as allegedly productive diplomacy, any upcoming crisis decision-making processes between Washington and Pyongyang will be shaped by Kim Jung Un’s unswerving commitment to personal military power. Inevitably, the flagrantly simplistic notion that this North Korean dictator would ever consider trading off the most visibly tangible implements of such power for presumptive national economic benefits is erroneous on its face.

In strategic matters, truth is always exculpatory. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is irreversible. Prima facie, “denuclearization” remains an unrealizable goal –  a bitterly naive and conveniently distracting fiction.[2]

What next? The best case scenario available to the United States must now be a mutually acceptable relationship of stable nuclear deterrence. Still, there will be various “potholes” and recurrently unpredictable nuances. Going forward, a generally understated but particularly serious sub-risk for both the United States and North Korea will concern inadvertent nuclear war.

Oddly enough, the actual level of public concern about such prospectively grievous conflict – at least from the standpoint of palpable population fears – remains incommensurately small.

Now what? To begin, President Trump must carefully approach these complex issues at a suitably conceptual level. Then inter alia, it would become easier for Trump and his advisors to understand that the specific nuclear war risks posed by inadvertence must be carefully differentiated from the expected hazards of any deliberate nuclear war. The particular hazards of an intentional nuclear war could stem only from those Washington-Pyongyang hostilities that had been purposely initiated with nuclear weapons and/or deliberately responded to with nuclear weapons.

Moreover, this argument holds whether such unprecedented military actions were undertaken to achieve some form of strategic surprise, or as the result (expected or unexpected) of North Korean enemy irrationality.[3]

There is more. In any deliberate nuclear war scenario, and before any presidential ordering of an American preemption,[4]the expressly designated North Korean leadership would need to appear to US intelligence as(a) operationally nuclear and (b) psychologically irrational. Without this second expectation, any US preemption against an already-nuclear North Korean adversary would be irrational.

Trump, therefore, must continuously monitor not only relevant North Korean nuclear assets and capabilities, but also the substantially intangible mental health (decision-making) characteristics of Kim Jung Un. Although some might mock this second intelligence imperative as unnecessary or even impossible, it nonetheless remains conceivable that the authoritative dictator in Pyongyang could sometime choose to pretend irrationality. What then?

In fact, as we already well know, it is only Kim Jung Un’s counterpart in the White House (and not Kim himself) who has mused publicly about the potential rationality of pretended irrationality and who (until recently) took evident pleasure in claiming that the two presidents once “fell in love” back in Singapore.

When the US president and his latest batch of national security advisors consider the co-existing and fearful prospects of an inadvertent nuclear war with North Korea, their primary focus should remain oriented in institutional directions. This means attention to the expected stability and reliability of Pyongyang’s command, control and intelligence procedures. Should it be determined that these “C3I” processes display unacceptably high risks of mechanical/electrical/computer failure; indecipherable pre-delegations of nuclear launch authority; and/or unpredictable/unreliable launch-on-warning procedures (sometimes also called “launch-on-confirmed-attack”), a still-rational American president could then feel a more compelling need to consider an appropriate preemption.

A complex factor in any such decision-making process would be the apparent advent of hypersonic weapons in North Korean arsenals, and the extent to which any such ominous emergence was being suitably paralleled in American arsenals.

At this already advanced stage in North Korean nuclear military progress, the probable costs to the United States and certain of its allies accruing from any such defensive first-strike would be overwhelming and more-or-less “unacceptable.” Somehow, this foresee ably urgent understanding seems to have escaped Donald Trump, who has stated publicly on several worrisome occasions that North Korean tests of short-range missiles “do not worry” him. Among other shortcomings, this blithe and shallow presidential observation suggests that Trump is focused only on direct (long-range) missile threats to the United States, and somehow remains continuously unmindful of escalatory possibilities.

These inherently bewildering prospects include the profoundly destabilizing impact of shorter-range missiles upon US regional allies.

In principle, at least, certain calculable preemption options cannot be dismissed out of hand. More precisely, any residual American resort to “anticipatory self-defense” could be nuclear or non-nuclear and could even be indicated without any express regard for Kim Jung Un’s presumed rationality. Still, the well-reasoned cost-effectiveness of any US preemption would almost certainly be enlarged by any such carefully calculated presumptions.

What would be the most plausible reactions concerning a Trump-ordered preemption against North Korea? When all significant factors are taken into analytic account, Pyongyang, likely having no meaningful option to launching at least some massive forms of armed response, would intentionally target designated American military forces in the region and/or certain high-value South Korean armaments/personnel. President Trump, still assuming enemy rationality, should then expect that whatever its precise configuration of selected targets, North Korea’s retaliatory blow would be designed in part to avoid any massive (including nuclear) American counter-retaliations.

All such high-consequence calculations would involve multiple adversarial policy intersections, some which could be genuinely “synergistic”[5] and would assume perfect rationality on all sides. If, for example, the American president should decide to strike first, the response from Kim Jung Un should then be expectedly proportionate,[6] that is, similarly massive. In this heuristic escalatory “game, “the willful introduction of nuclear weapons into any ensuing conflagration might not be dismissed by either “player.”

What happens next?

As Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt has written, perhaps prophetically in this US-North Korea war scenario, “Sometimes, the worst does happen.”

 Noteworthy, too, at least at such a markedly uncertain and unprecedented point of prospective belligerency, any such game-changing introduction would more likely originate from the American side. This singular but all-embracing inference is based upon the understanding that while North Korea already has nuclear weapons and missile delivery vehicles (consequential weapons and delivery vehicles by definition), it is not yet prepared to seek “escalation dominance” vis-à-vis the United States. More precisely, for the moment, at least, it would seemingly be irrational for Pyongyang to launch its nuclear weapons first.

 Sometime, at least in principle, Trump, extending his usually favored stance of an argumentum ad bacculum (an illegitimate appeal to force) could opt rationally for a “mad dog” strategy.[7]Here, the American president, following his just-ordered preemption, would deliberately choose a strategy of pretended irrationality.

There is more. Any such determined reliance, while intuitively sensible and expectedly compelling, could backfire, thereby opening up a slippery path to various unstoppable escalations. Such a self-propelling competition in risk-taking could also be triggered by the North Korean president, then pretending to be a “mad dog” himself. Significantly, any feigned irrationality stance by Kim Jong Un might be undertaken exclusively by the North Korean side, or in an unplanned “synergy” with the United States.

In all conceivable variants of crisis bargaining situations between Washington and Pyongyang, and even without any calculable synergies, highest-level decision-making processes would be resoundingly and meaningfully interdependent.

All this means, inter alia, greater levels of complexity for decision-makers to unravel and a measurably lesser significance assigned to any once-presumptive “love” relationship between the two adversarial presidents.

Regarding complexity, and in absolutely all possible bargaining postures, each side would have to pay reciprocally close attention to the anticipated wishes and intentions of Russia (Cold War II[8]) and China. Aptly, one must now inquire, does President Trump genuinely believe that China would find it gainful to support him in any pending nuclear crisis with North Korea? To answer such a query, it ought to become plain that Trump’s still-ongoing and largely incoherent trade war with China will prove manifestly “unhelpful.”

Immediately, relevant scenarios must be explicitly posited and dialectically examined.[9]If President Donald Trump’s initial defensive first strike against North Korea were observably less than massive, for example, a still rational adversary in Pyongyang would likely take steps to ensure that its optimal reprisal was correspondingly limited. But if Trump’s consciously rational and calibrated attack upon North Korea were (wittingly or unwittingly)launched against an irrational enemy leadership, the response from Pyongyang could then bean all-out retaliation.

This unanticipated response, whether a non-nuclear or non-nuclear-nuclear “hybrid” response, would be directed at some as yet indeterminable combination of US and allied targets.

Inevitably, by any sensible measure, this response could inflict starkly grievous harms.

It is now also worth considering that a North Korean missile reprisal against US interests and personnel would not automatically exclude the American homeland. However, should the North Korean president maintain a determinedly rational “ladder” of available strategic options, he would almost certainly resist targeting any vulnerable civilian portions of the United States. Should he remain determinably willing to strike targets in South Korea and/or Japan, he would still incur very substantial risks of an American nuclear counter-retaliation.

In principle, at least, any such US response would follow directly from this country’s assorted treaty-based obligations regarding “collective self-defense.”[10]

Such risks would be much greater if Kim’s own aggressions[11]had already extended beyond hard military assets, either intentionally or as “collateral damage” brought unwittingly to soft civilian populations and/or infrastructures.

There is more. Even if the unimaginably complex game of nuclear brinksmanshipin Northeast Asia were being played exclusively by fully rational adversaries, the rapidly accumulating momentum of events between Washington and Pyongyang could still demand each “contestant” to strive relentlessly for escalation dominance. It is in the notably unpracticed dynamics of such an explosive rivalry that the prospect of an actual “Armageddon” scenario could plausibly be actualized.

“Sometimes,” reminds Friedrich Durrenmatt, “the worst does happen.”

This unprecedented outcome could be produced in unexpected increments of escalation by either or both dominant national players, or instead, by some sudden quantum leap in destructiveness undertaken by the United States and/or North Korea.

Looking ahead, the only predictable element of this foreseeable US-North Korea strategic game is this situation’s irremediable and boundless unpredictability. Even under the very best or optimal assumptions of enemy rationality, all relevant decision-makers would have to concern themselves with potentially dense or confused communications, inevitable miscalculations, cascading errors in information, unauthorized uses of strategic weapons, mechanical, electrical or computer malfunctions and poorly-recognized applications of cyber-defense and cyber-war.

Technically, one further analytic distinction is needed between inadvertent nuclear war and accidental nuclear war. By definition, an accidental nuclear war would be inadvertent, but reciprocally, an inadvertent nuclear war need not necessarily be accidental. False warnings, which could be spawned by mechanical, electrical or computer malfunction, or by hacking,[12]would best fit under the clarifying narratives of an accidental nuclear war. Most worrisome, however, for all concerned, would be those forms of inadvertent nuclear war occasioned not by accident, but by confusion and/or miscalculation.

Irony is applicable. Such prospectively irremediable outcomes could be expressed though neither side had actually wanted war.

“Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz inOn War, “but the simplest thing is still difficult.” With this seemingly banal but still profound observation, the classical Prussian strategist makes plain that capable military planning is always problematic. In large measure, this is because of what Clausewitz so famously called “friction.”In essence, friction describes “the difference between war as it actually is, and war on paper.”

Unless US President Donald Trump is able to better understand this core concept and prepare to meticulously manage all unpredictable risks of an unintentional war with North Korea, any future warnings about “rocket man” would prove operationally immaterial or blatantly injurious. While the specific identifiable risks of any deliberate or intentional nuclear conflict between the United States and North Korea should remain front and center in Washington, such formidable risks ought never be assessed apart from these other hazards of crisis decision-making. Significantly, all of these strategic risks could be overlapping, mutually reinforcing and/or synergistic. In at least some suchdaunting circumstances, the palpable “whole” of cumulative risk effects would be greater than the simple additive sum of constituent “parts.”

At that point, recalling US President Trump’s earlier inversion of what is actually true, it will be too late to purposefully understand what is most important: Nuclear crisis bargaining between adversarial states should be based not on “attitude,” but on “preparation.” Further, such inevitable bargaining ought never be founded upon any presumptive “love” relationships between the relevant adversaries or on any demeaning epithets drawn whimsically from contemporary musical compositions (e.g. “Rocket man”).

To meaningfully reduce the steadily-cascading risks of a nuclear war with North Korea, Donald Trump should immediately cease his caricatural personalizations of world politics, and focus instead upon far more serious policy considerations of intellectual substance.


[1]https://news.yahoo.com/trump-revives-threat-force-against-023727996.html

[2]https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/07/us/north-korea-denuclearization-off-table/index.html Also, see earlier, by this writer, at Yale Global Online:  Louis René Beres, https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/too-late-north-korea-denuclearization

[3] Recalling the 20th-century German philosopher, Karl Jaspers: “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.” This insight can be found in Jaspers’ “Historical Reflections” on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

[4] Worth noting here too is that any such ordering of a preemptive attack (defensive first strike) by an American president would be problematic under US law (especially underUS Constitutional constraints). Always, there are critical jurisprudential as well as strategic implications involved.

[5] In any synergistic intersection – whether in chemistry, medicine or war – the “whole” of any result would exceed the simple sum of policy-determining “parts.”

[6]In legal terms, the principle of proportionality is contained in both the rules governing the resort to armed conflict (jus ad bellum) and in the rules governing the actual conduct of hostilities (jus in bello).  Regarding the former, proportionality relates to self-defense.  In the latter, it relates to conduct of belligerency. Proportionality is itself derivative from the more basic principle that belligerent rights are not unlimited (See notably Hague Convention No. IV (1907), Annex to the Convention, Section II (Hostilities), Art. 22: “The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited”).

[7] This term has certain historical roots in former Israeli Minister of Defense (General) Moshe Dayan’s remark about his own country’s strategic vulnerabilities: “Israel must be seen as a `mad dog,’ too dangerous to bother.” (See discussion by this writer, Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed., 20180.

[8]In political science terms, positing the expansion of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of just such an expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[9] The base term, “dialectic,” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s nuclear strategy, the following representative operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1)a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.

[10] For the differences between “collective self-defense” and “collective security,” see this writer’s early book: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver Monograph Series in World Affairs) (1973).

[11] Since World War II, aggression has typically been defined as a military attack, not justified by international law, when directed against the territory of another state. The question of defining aggression first acquired legal significance with the Draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance of 1923. One year later, the Geneva Protocol of 1924 provided that any state that failed to comply with the obligation to employ procedures of peaceful settlement in the Protocol or the Covenant was an aggressor. Much later, an authoritative definition of aggression was adopted without vote by the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1974.

[12] This prospect now includes the plausible advent of so-called “cyber- mercenaries.”

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Some False Statements Made in the Trump- Impeachment Hearings

Eric Zuesse

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In the December 4th statement that was made by Stanford University law professor Pamela Karlan was this:

We have become the shining city on a hill. We have become the nation that leads the world in understanding what democracy is. One of the things we understand most profoundly is it’s not a real democracy, it’s not a mature democracy if the party in power uses the criminal process to go after its enemies. I think you heard testimony, the Intelligence Committee heard testimony about how it isn’t just our national interest in protecting our own elections. It’s not just our national interest in making sure that the Ukraine remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.

It’s also our national interest in promoting democracy worldwide, and if we look hypocritical about this, if we look like we’re asking other countries to interfere in our election, if we look like we’re asking other countries to engage in criminal investigations of our President’s political opponents, then we’re not doing our job of promoting our national interest in being that shining city on a hill.

She said: “We have become the shining city on a hill.” Here is a list of just a few of the democratically elected presidents and prime ministers in foreign countries whom the U.S. regime overthrew, by coups, in order to install brutal dictatorial regimes there that would do sweetheart deals with America’s international corporations. Also, unsuccessful, merely attempted, U.S. coups are discussed there.

Furthermore, the scientific studies of whether the U.S. Government is controlled by the public (a democracy) or is instead controlled only by its very wealthiest (an aristocracy) are clear: this country is an aristocracy, not a democracy at all, except, perhaps, in the purely formal senses of that term — our great Constitution. Far-right judges have recently been interpreting that Constitution in the most pro-aristocratic, anti-democratic, ways imaginable, and this might have something to do with why the scientific studies are finding that the U.S. is now a dictatorship. And this fact, of America’s now being a dictatorship, was blatantly clear in America’s last Presidential election, which was actually a s‘election’ by Americas’ billionaires — not  by the American public.

How, then, can Professor Karlan be respected about anything, if she lives in a dictatorship (by its aristocracy) and is deluded to think that it’s still (which it never was completely) a democracy?

Furthermore: her statements about Ukraine are equally deluded. She is obviously unaware that the Obama Administration started planning its coup against Ukraine in 2011 and started implementing it in the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine on 1 March 2013, and started in June 2013 soliciting bids from U.S. companies to renovate at least one building in Crimea for use by the U.S. Navy to replace Russia’s main naval base — which Russian naval base was and is in Crimea — by a new U.S. naval base to be installed there. 

The craziest thing of all about Karlan’s statement, however, is this part: “It’s not just our national interest in making sure that the Ukraine remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.”

Imagine if someone said, “It’s not just our national interest in making sure that the Mexico remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Americans there and we [Russians] don’t have to fight them here.”

If a Russian were to assert that, would the statement be any more justifiable than what Karlan said regarding Ukraine? Of course not! Even an idiot can recognize this fact. But Karlan can’t.

On December 5th, the anonymous “Moon of Alabama” blogger, whose opinions and predictions turn out to have been correct at perhaps the highest rate of anyone on the internet, headlined “The Delusions Of The Impeachment Witnesses Point To A Larger Problem” and he not only pointed out the “delusional” beliefs of Professor Karlan (“One must be seriously disturbed to believe such nonsense. How can it be that Karlan is teaching at an academic level when she has such delusions?”), but he noted that:

How is it in U.S. interest to give the Ukraine U.S. taxpayer money to buy U.S. weapons? The sole motive behind that idea was greed and corruption, not national interest:

[U.S. special envoy to Ukraine] Volker started his job at the State Department in 2017 in an unusual part-time arrangement that allowed him to continue consulting at BGR, a powerful lobbying firm that represents Ukraine and the U.S.-based defense firm Raytheon. During his tenure, Volker advocated for the United States to send Raytheon-manufactured antitank Javelin missiles to Ukraine — a decision that made Raytheon millions of dollars.

The missiles are useless in the conflict. They are kept near the western border of Ukraine under U.S. control. The U.S. fears that Russia would hit back elsewhere should the Javelin reach the frontline in the east and get used against the east-Ukrainians. That Trump shortly held back on some of the money that would have allowed the Ukrainians to buy more of those missiles thus surely made no difference.

To claim that it hurt U.S. national interests is nonsense.

It is really no wonder that U.S. foreign policy continuously produces chaos when its practitioners get taught by people like Karlan. …

The Democrats are doing themselves no favor by producing delusional and partisan witnesses who repeat Reaganesque claptrap. They only prove that the whole affair is just an unserious show trial.

In the meantime Trump is eliminating food stamps for some 700,000 recipients and the Democrats are doing nothing about it. Their majority in the House could have used the time it spent on the impeachment circus to prevent that and other obscenities.

Do the Democrats really believe that their voters will not notice this?

(Of course, they do, and they might be right. After all, polls show that Democrats still believe that Barack Obama was a terrific President, just as Republicans believe that George W. Bush was a terrific President. The fact that both  — and Trump himself —were/are among the worst in American history eludes the voters in both Parties. But though I disagree with his opinion on that particular matter, he’s just asking a question there, and I hope that his more optimistic take than mine turns out to be right, and that the voters — in both Parties — are coming to recognize that American politics right now is almost 100% a con-game, in both Parties.)

Why do people pay subscription-fees, to Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post, and to the New York Times, and to other media that are controlled by America’s billionaires, when far higher-quality journalism, like that of “Moon of Alabama” (and like the site you’re reading here) is freely available on the internet? Who needs the mainstream ‘news’-media, when it’s filled with such unreliable claptrap, as respects (instead of exposes) what persons such as Karlan say? Jonathan Turley is to be taken seriously, and he is at the very opposite end from Karlan’s opinions in the impeachment hearings (and regarding much else). (And the hearings-transcript in which both law-professors testified is here.) But the exception is Turley, and Karlan is far more the norm in the U.S.-media mainstream. And virtually all Democratic-Party propaganda-organs (‘the liberal press’) are playing up the Karlan claptrap. So: yes, I do think that “the Democrats [referring to the ones in the House of Representatives, of course] really believe that their voters will not notice this.” Most voters are just as “deluded” (misinformed by the ‘news’-media) as Professor Karlan is.

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