Recognizing the North American Heartland: A More Suitable Fit for Mackinder’s Thesis
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.
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.
Air Balloon and U.S.-China Relations
The story of the Chinese Automatic Drifting Balloon (ADB) violating the U.S. airspace in late January–early February 2023 will be a symbolic marker for a new phase of deterioration in the US-China relations.
The relations were rapidly eroding throughout 2022 and early 2023. In some aspects, U.S.-China relations in 2022 evoked obvious associations with U.S.-Russian relations in 2021. While trying to engage in cooperation with Beijing on certain issues (particularly on Ukraine), Washington simultaneously kept imposing increasingly painful sanctions against the country.
Among important steps recently taken in this direction, there have been restrictions on supplies of advanced microchips and equipment for their production to China, effective since October 2022, as well as the pressure exerted on Japan and the Netherlands (key manufacturers of equipment for the microelectronics industry) to join these restrictions. Licenses to supply virtually any components and equipment to China’s Huawei have been terminated, and a significant number of sanctions were imposed on smaller Chinese companies and individuals.
Most of the Chinese measures have been defensive and involved steps to ensure the security of production chains and the national economy. In the meantime, Beijing is also discussing measures to limit certain items of Chinese exports, with potential thermonuclear consequences. Semi-finished products, raw materials and equipment for the production of solar panels can be affected—given China’s monopoly on a number of products, this could be a shock for the renewable energy industry in the West.
The visit of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in early August 2022 played a disastrous role in the military and political situation in East Asia. That trip, despite repeated warnings from Beijing, triggered a period of rapid increase in Chinese military activity around Taiwan, which still continues.
Chinese activities include numerous live-fire exercises in the waters around the island, large groups of combat aircraft and drones flying along the island’s perimeter, and systematic violations of the median line in the Taiwan Strait by PRC ships and aircraft. For its part, the U.S. is increasing military aid to Taiwan, although it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so against the backdrop of ongoing hostilities in Ukraine.
The November 2022 meeting of Xi Jinping and Joseph Biden in Bali was similar in content to the Geneva summit of Biden and Vladimir Putin in June 2021. We saw similar attempts to achieve at least partial stabilization of relations, establishing rules of the game, unblocking channels for political communication by creating joint working groups, and the same predictable failure. So far, we can only hope that the final outcome of these efforts will not be so disastrous as the one between Moscow and Washington.
The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit was canceled due to the balloon incident, while it was supposed to restore the ruined channels of dialogue. The U.S.-Chinese relation is still lagging far behind the U.S.-Russian relationship in matters of mutual alerting, preventing dangerous incidents, and maintaining emergency channels of communication, where relevant experience has continuously been accumulated since the 1960s. Given the rapid progress of China’s transformation into a new nuclear superpower, conservation of this situation could be dangerous.
Nothing more was expected from Blinken’s visit – no U-turn in relations, no strategic deals, including those concerning Beijing’s positions on the Ukrainian issue. Now, the visit has been postponed indefinitely and the dialogue has been suspended amid the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Pacific.
The circumstances of the very incident with the Chinese ADB over the United States allow us to take a fresh look at the behavior of China’s leadership in the heating confrontation with the United States. According to U.S. military statements, the ADB shot down on February 4, 2023 was the fourth Chinese apparatus to violate U.S. airspace. The previous three ADBs that visited the U.S. during Donald Trump’s tenure were not detected by U.S. airspace controls in time, and the Americans became aware of their existence belatedly via intelligence channels.
If this is true, China is deliberately and systematically doing what the USSR never afforded during the entire Cold War—flying reconnaissance aircraft directly over U.S. territory. For its part, the U.S. used ADBs on a large scale for flights over the USSR and the PRC in the 1950s and 1980s, and the explanation of their purpose was exactly the same as that used by the Chinese now: border violations due to navigation error or malfunction, meteorological research, observations of airstreams, etc.
China’s contemporary political culture attaches great importance to careful observance of the principle of reciprocity, avoiding situations that could be interpreted as Beijing’s recognition of its unequal position vis-à-vis any major power. This is partly due to the severe historical trauma of the “century of humiliation” in 1840–1945, a time of foreign domination over China.
The current use of the ADB over the United States is by no means a retaliation against historical grievances. Rather, it is a response to some U.S. actions within its “freedom of navigation patrols” in the South China Sea, where U.S. ships and aircraft deliberately violate 12-mile territorial water zones around a number of Chinese-controlled islands. The Americans justify their behavior by saying that these Chinese islands are artificial and do not create rights to territorial waters.
Surely, China believes that the Americans are violating the integrity of its national territorial. From China’s perspective, the U.S., as a power external to the region, should not interfere in any of its territorial disputes with the countries of Southeast Asia. Besides, the high activity of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft along China’s borders—and sometimes over disputed water bodies—has long been a matter of Chinese concern.
From China’s perspective, the use of ADB over U.S. territory may well look like an appropriate response to the U.S. actions. Chinese leaders may have seen this action as a necessary step to confirm China’s status as a great power equal to the United States, even if only a limited number of people knew about these operations for the time being.
The political motivation behind the use of the ADB can also be discerned in the Chinese response to the incident. In a normal situation, if the balloon lost control and inadvertently entered (or risked entering) U.S. airspace, the owner would have contacted the Americans, provided the necessary data and information, and tried to avoid a fallout.
China, for its part, responded to the incident only twelve hours after Pentagon’s statement to that effect. There was a dry statement from the PRC about the loss of control of the weather balloon due to force majeure, for which “regret” was expressed.
Shortly thereafter, China declared that it would not tolerate “hype and speculation” about the balloon and accused the United States of indiscriminate and excessive use of force after it was shot down, threatening some “consequences.”
Under the circumstances, it is difficult to assess this as anything other than China’s deliberate humiliation of the United States as well as demonstration of its own strength and confidence. The Chinese consciously chose this course of action in the run-up to Blinken’s visit—now, as the conflict in Ukraine is escalating, the U.S. is more interested in dialogue than the PRC.
The Americans had to choose between continuing the dialogue in a poorer bargaining position after the humiliation they had endured and abandoning the dialogue altogether. The reaction of American public opinion predetermined the choice for the latter. However, this decision was apparently not easy to make.
The visit has not been canceled, but postponed, and the U.S. will probably look for opportunities to carry out negotiations in the not-too-distant future while saving face. Alongside with Blinken’s visit, there were plans for an even more important visit to China, to be paid by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. On February 9, 2023, Yellen announced that she was still planning a trip to China, although it was not yet possible to give a date.
The incident has shown that the Americans are not overly prepared for a tough confrontation with a comparable superpower as soon as it stops playing at giveaway with them. As it turned out, the few previous Chinese ADBs had not been detected at all, and the last one was shot down only after it had crossed the entire U.S. territory, flying over, among other things, an intercontinental ballistic missile base.
There is nothing surprising or particularly embarrassing about it: the ADB is an extremely difficult aerial target because of its low radar visibility, extremely low speed, and a very high flight altitude. The Soviet Union has been practicing its tactics against ADB for decades. The ability to counter such targets was taken into account in the design of some Soviet air defense interceptors. These include, for example, the MiG-31 still in service in Russia, which has the highest maximum flight altitude among modern fighters and is equipped to fight balloons with a GSh-23-6 cannon.
In the United States, reconnaissance ADBs did not show up during the Cold War, simply because the Soviet Union lacked the necessary technical capabilities in the early decades of the confrontation, and the late-Soviet gerontocracy was later afraid to respond in kind to violations of its airspace. Now, the Americans faced a more active opponent and have yet to learn many new skills.
The traditional U.S. propensity to make up for real-world failures with media victories was not very convincing either. Covering the incident, U.S. propaganda followed two lines. They claimed that, first, the Chinese balloon could not have caused any serious damage to the U.S. compared to China’s existing reconnaissance satellites, and second, that the vehicle was not shot down so as not to pose a threat to civilians on the ground.
The second claim is patently absurd: a significant part of the Chinese ADB route passed over deserted or sparsely populated areas, where the risk of harm to civilians was equal to zero. As for the former, the ADB surely remains a valuable reconnaissance tool that can significantly supplement satellite data. For its part, the U.S. has made extensive use of balloons in the operations against Iraq and Afghanistan.
The reconnaissance satellite operates at altitudes of hundreds of kilometers above the ground, while the balloon does so in the altitude range of 20–30 km. This gives it additional capabilities to conduct electronic reconnaissance and detailed ground surveys. The ADB is capable of monitoring atmospheric chemistry and making other measurements useful for the reconnaissance of nuclear-weapons-related targets. Finally, the balloon is capable of remaining over the same territory for long periods of time, tracking the situation there dynamically, and its flight time over an area is not predictable, unlike that of satellites.
Was the incident with the balloon an intentional attempt to disrupt Blinken’s visit from the very beginning? Hardly. If the Chinese had flown around the U.S. three times in the Trump presidency with their ADBs and got away with it, it would make sense to continue this successful practice. When the “balloon case” became public, the Chinese might have chosen an escalatory course of action based on their view of the situation. It is likely that Beijing concluded that it would not lose with any possible U.S. reaction to the incident, and this is probably true.
From our partner RIAC
Can Lula walk the tightrope between Washington and Beijing?
As Brazil’s New President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (popularly known as Lula) prepares to visit China later this month, maintaining neutrality would be difficult as the winds of change enwrap Beijing.
Brazil is Back
President Lula’s coming to power has marked a decisive shift in Brazilian foreign policy. With the Pink Tide resurging in South America, the new President has clearly spelled out his foreign policy aims: restoring Brazil’s neutrality and importance in international affairs at par with both the West and East after nearly 4 years of impasse under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, who had adopted a Sinophobic, pro-Trump foreign policy.
Brasilia’s 39th President, who previously presided over the office between 2003-2010, will have a lot to talk about as he visits his nation’s largest trading partner that imported $89.4 billion in 2022 mostly in soy and iron ore which added a surplus of $28.7 billion to Brazil’s coffers. Boosting the economic partnership with China will be a priority for Lula, who intends to integrate South America into a closely held economic unit. Another important item on the agenda includes the appointment of former President Dilma Rousseff as the new BRICS Bank president.
Lula and the West
Lula had rattled swords with Washington on several occasions during his previous tenure such as alleging the United States for reducing South America to its “backyard” by intervening in its internal politics as well as by opposing the Iraq War. Even though he recognises the importance of maintaining good relations with the superpower up North; several of Lula’s moves including sending a delegation to Maduro-led Venezuela, refusing to sign a UN Human Rights resolution condemning human rights violations in Nicaragua, allowing Iranian warships to dock at Rio de Janeiro, maintaining an ambiguous approach on the Russia-Ukraine War and refusing to send arms to Kyiv, dubbing the ‘Balloongate’ incident a bilateral issue between the US and China and defining the Taiwan issue as Beijing’s internal matter, have deeply irked the West.
While tensions remain, Lula’s focus on combating climate change and call for saving the Amazon have earned a thumbs up from the Biden administration as the former’s election to power comes as a breath of fresh air after his staunch “Trump of the Tropics” predecessor adopted a not-so-friendly approach towards Biden’s entry in the White House. Lula understands Washington’s support is required and hence it was a top spot on his foreign visits list. Lula and Biden held talks amidst a cordial ambience and vowed to reboot bilateral ties by promising to protect democracy and combating climate change.
Winds of Change in Beijing
However, winds of change in the East have dispersed the clouds of ambiguity and China now stands more vocal, more critical and more confident in dealing with the United States.
The recent session of the National People’s Congress, which won Xi Jinping a never-seen-before third term as the President, saw him voicing his criticism against “Washington-led attempts” to “contain, encircle and suppress” China which pose ” serious challenges to its development” (“以美国为首的西方国家对我实施了全方位的遏制、围堵、打压，给我国发展带来前所未有的严峻挑战。”). Sino-US relations have been in the trough since President Trump’s tenure with the recent point of clash being the ‘Balloon incident’ which made Anthony Blinken call off his visit to Beijing.
Xi recently unveiled his new 24 Character Foreign Policy which, Dr. Hemant Adlakha believes, marks “China’s new foreign policy mantra in the ‘New Era’ ” acting as its “ideological map to attain national rejuvenation by 2049”. The characters “沉着冷静；保持定力；稳中求进；积极作为；团结一致；敢于斗争 ” which translate as “Be calm; Keep determined; Seek progress and stability; Be proactive and go for achievements; Unite under the Communist Party; Dare to fight” are set to replace Deng Xiaoping’s 24 Character Strategy focussed on never seeking leadership and assuming a low profile.
China’s confidence is further boosted by its successful attempt to broker peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have been staunch rivals for the past many years. With the handshake that brought the Sunni Arab Kingdom and the Shiite Persian theocracy together, Beijing has garnered accolades from nations across the region and is all set to play a greater international role by not just pulling American allies such as Riyadh to its side but also through actively putting forth its plans to end wars with Xi all set to pay Putin a visit over the Russia-Ukraine War before he meets Lula at Beijing. Lula too eagerly anticipates what Beijing has to say as he told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “it is time for China to get its hands dirty”.
Neutrality no more?
If the state of Sino-US relations does not improve, things would get hard for many leaders like Lula who seek to balance between the two superpowers. Lula knows neutrality is his best bet but money matters– as his former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim noted “Our surplus with China—and I’m talking just about our surplus—is bigger than all of our exports to the United States. It is impossible not to have good relations with China.” Isolating China, with which Brazil has had a long strategic partnership since the 1990s, at the expense of moving closer to the US might come hard on the purse and exacerbate the many economic challenges he faces. Nor can Washington be isolated– not just because of the economic necessities but also in the face of challenges from far-right forces that both Lula and Biden face.
Lula realises the risks of placing all his eggs in one basket but would he be left with the choice to divide them equally into both? The issue is bound to get stickier but if he successfully manages to escape the quagmire of the unfolding great power rivalry, Lula will set a precedent for not just South America but nations across the globe. The only viable solution would be to strengthen regional alliances in Latin America and boost partnerships with developing nations like India while using the collective strength to push Beijing and Washington to come together.
The Malvinas feud as a Global Constant
As an event gets bigger, it’s more likely that interesting things will happen behind the scenes, that is, in unplanned activities.
The seventh meeting of G20 foreign ministers in India in 2023 confirms this. Bilateral meetings between Qing-Jaishankar, the Blinken-Lavrov dispute, and the meeting between Santiago Cafiero and James Cleverly, during which the former notified the latter of the end of the Foradori-Duncan agreement.
On March 2, 2023, by rescinding the Foradori-Duncan agreement, the Argentine government de facto reopened one of the most important territorial disputes in the Western Hemisphere, perhaps the most important, and did so in the most theatrical way possible: at the G20, the main North-South dialogue platform.
What was the purpose of the Foradori-Duncan agreement?
The idea behind the agreement was for the Argentine government to renounce its claims and any serious discussion regarding the territorial dispute over the sovereignty of the Malvinas (Falklands) Islands and the adjacent territories in the South Atlantic. Instead, the Argentine government would adopt a position of claiming “light sovereignty” in order to obtain benefits, mainly economic ones, through joint exploitation of the natural resources of the islands and adjacent territories in the South Atlantic with the United Kingdom (UK), as well as through British investments in the country.
In practice, this agreement implied the Argentine government’s resignation to discuss sovereign rights over the Falkland Islands and their adjacent territories in the South Atlantic. It can be inferred that this was a disguised surrender clause by the government of Mauricio Macri to continue with Argentina’s sovereign claim over the Malvinas Islands.
The purpose of the Foradori-Duncan agreement was in line with the foreign policy stance of the Macri administration (2015-2019), which had a marked pro-Western (and more Atlanticist) position than previous governments (Kirchnerism 2003-2015).
This geopolitical code (if we can speak of the existence of a “Macrista geopolitical code” coming from the geopolitical code of the traditional Argentine ruling class) consisted of a series of agreements (tacit and official) of Argentine resignation and subordination to traditional Western powers (of which the Foradori-Duncan agreement was one of its greatest exponents) which aimed –in theory– to obtain greater economic benefits and a renewal of the country’s public image in the supposed “international community.”
These types of foreign policy positions would be a constant of the Macri government. Even the Argentine scholar Juan Gabriel Tokatlian has conceptualized such a stance as “Concessive Peripheral Unilateralism” to define the foreign policy of the Macri government .
In practice, these ideas and plans, were shown to be totally ineffective and unproductive. Argentina practically did not receive economic benefits from such positions, nor did its public image have a significant and positive international projection. And the Foradori-Duncan agreement is the most scandalous example of this reality.
Why did the Argentine government of Alberto Fernández decide to end such an agreement?
The first explanation is the internal conformation and political identity of the government of Alberto Fernández, which logically demanded a change in the previous government’s (Macri) stance on the Malvinas agreements, his predecessor and opponent. But this inference raises another question: Why were such measures not taken before? The answers to this question are only conjectures.
Since the end of the Malvinas War (1982) until today, except for the years of the Menem governments (1989-1999), Argentina’s bilateral relationship with Great Britain has always been marked by a strong “Malvinense”  component on the agenda of their interaction, which has often led to high-pitched disputes between both parties. The “agenda” of the Malvinas cause was a constant trend of the Kirchnerist governments (2003-2015), such claims were made, denouncing British illegal occupation of the Falkland Islands on numerous occasions in various international forums, bilateral meetings, and multilateral forums.
But as mentioned earlier, the Macri government would have a diametrically opposed position to its Kirchnerist predecessors regarding the Malvinas question. However, the reality of the country and its foreign policy changed again when Argentina “presented” a new government in 2019, with Alberto Fernández as the head of the presidency.
The government of A. Fernández has an eclectic political character , as a result of a coalition between several political sectors, so the foreign policy of his government also reflects the heterogeneous internal conformation of the government coalition sectors.
In such conformation, sectors such as Kirchnerism, as well as more orthodox Peronist sectors, are present, both of which have traditionally had a more “Post-Western” stance, aiming to “rewrite the Argentine geopolitical code” and the vectors of Argentine foreign policy, projecting an alternative foreign policy, in first place towards their own region: South America, Ibero-America, the Caribbean, and in more modern times, especially towards the Global South, the BRICS, and Asia. In such guidelines, the action of rescinding the Foradori-Duncan agreement was logical. But logic also makes us wonder, why were such measures not taken before? Such questions enter the realm of speculation.
Another analysis could be given in an electoral key reading, this year 2023, presidential elections will be held in Argentina, and Alberto Fernández has expressed on several occasions through words and gestures , that he is willing and interested in being re-elected as the head of the Argentine executive branch.
Facing a public image tarnished by the covid-19 pandemic, and mainly a negative macroeconomic situation, the electoral nature of this foreign policy measure cannot be ruled out: the Malvinas cause is a cause that mobilizes emotions in Argentine society and remains a deep wound to national pride, and is a valid rhetorical and practical tool to antagonize the Argentine opposition (liberals and conservatives), which has never had (and perhaps never will have) a firm geopolitical stance nor interest in the Malvinas question.
Also, the reading of tensions within the coalition of the current Argentine government can’t be ruled out, in this last aspect, this measure could be read as a gesture of balance from the “Albertismo” towards Kirchnerism, a sector of the government in which many leaders believe that the sector identified with the president has geopolitically leaned too much towards Washington and the West since the 2022 debt agreement with the IMF and the war in Ukraine.
Argentina informed the British of its decision during the G20 foreign ministers’ summit, which was dominated by the BRICS. Is it a coincidence that such a measure was taken at one of the most representative events of the Global South?
it clearly cannot be considered a coincidence.
The symbolic weight of such an action, in such a context, must be clearly considered. The G20 has a dual character as the main forum in which traditional (Western) powers dialogue but also reflects their tensions and antagonisms with emerging powers and peoples, including those of the so-called Global South.
With tensions between former metropolis countries and former colonies that make up the G20, and which are now emerging in material capabilities, a post-colonial and decolonial reading cannot be ruled out, and therefore a strong message from Argentina to the world’s emerging powers and the Global South.
Did China have any influence on the finalization of the pact?
No, there is no such “Chinese hand” that has driven such a measure by the Argentine government. These are paranoid arguments with a stubborn anti-Chinese bias that also ignores Argentina’s own reality. To put it plainly, if we use common sense, the decision was not elaborated nor driven from Beijing.
As mentioned earlier, the issue of the Malvinas is a deeply rooted national cause in Argentine society, and a constant in the foreign policy of Kirchnerism, which today is part of the coalition that compose the current Argentine government, which with such measures such as revoking the Foradori-Duncan agreement seeks to “retake the ownership of the Malvinas and South Atlantic issue in its agenda,” marking a clear differentiated stance from the current political opposition (Juntos por el Cambio) that made such a pact in the previous presidential term.
The decision was not elaborated nor driven by Beijing, and in any case, recent and clear positions of support for Argentina’s sovereign claim in the Malvinas Islands by powers such as China  and Russia  were considered within the decision-making process to take such measures. Therefore, the positions of Beijing and Moscow influenced, but did not condition or generate, Buenos Aires’ decision.
The future of the Malvinas Question
It’s very difficult to envision a future scenario for such a specific and complex issue, especially in the long term. But a prospective scenario can be envisioned in the short term, which is basically and probably that the situation will not change significantly under current conditions. Unless the world is altered by seismic events.
It’s highly unlikely that we will see a dialoguing UK government in the short and medium term that is willing to negotiate the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. And it is similarly unlikely to see a future Argentine government, especially if it has the characteristics of a Peronist, Kirchnerist, or progressive government, openly giving up its claims to the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.
Such a proposition would surely change if there were a liberal-oriented government in Argentina, such as Mauricio Macri’s.
The problem with the current Argentine government, as well as future ones, regarding the Malvinas dispute, is that the country does not have, and will not have in the short and medium term, the set of soft and hard capabilities (economic, diplomatic, military, ideological influence) to press and force the UK hard enough to revise its traditional stance on the occupation of the islands. At least until the current balance of power and the position of emerging powers, such as China, would consolidate even further in the world order.
But in any case, such changes and opportunities will depend on the international context and the agency of third parties, which are independent variables for the positions that future Argentine governments may take.
Most experts in international relations and geopolitics agree that the territorial dispute over the Falkland-Malvinas Islands between Britain and Argentina will not have an easy or predictable resolution in the short term.
Some experts point out that the strategic geographical position of the Malvinas Islands and the presence of significant natural resources in the area, such as fishing and hydrocarbons, make the dispute even more complicated.
Moreover, many experts believe that Britain’s position has been strengthened in recent years thanks to the exploitation of the area’s natural resources and the lack of a clear strategy on the part of Argentina to resolve the dispute.
A hypothetical Chinese presence in the region, through the southern Argentine city of Ushuaia, through the construction of a logistics hub, has added an intervening element that makes it even more complex to envision a prospective scenario .
However, some experts believe that the issue of the territorial dispute over the Falkland Islands, Argentina’s position is legitimate, which has won it great support and sympathy among peoples and emerging powers, most of them with a colonial past .
 Tokatlian, J. G. (2018, 2 de febrero). Relaciones con EEUU: ¿nueva etapa? (Relations with the US: a new phase?) Clarín.
 Porto, J. M. (26/03/2022). Despite diplomatic ups and downs, the Malvinas claim became a state policy. Telam. https://www.telam.com.ar/notas/202203/587606-diplomacia-soberania-argentina-islas-malvinas.html
 In its composition as a coalition, including important elements of what might be called “Centre-Right” sectors that have Western – especially Washington – affinities.
 Its relevant to remember that on 22 February Alberto Fernandez led a public act in situ celebrating 119 years of Argentine presence in Antarctica. “Alberto Fernández visits Antarctica“. Sputnik. (23/02/2023). https://sputniknews.lat/20230223/alberto-fernandez-visita-la-antartida-1136141105.html
 Joint Statement between the Argentine Republic and the People’s Republic of China on Deepening the Argentina-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. (06/02/2023). https://cancilleria.gob.ar/es/actualidad/noticias/declaracion-conjunta-entre-la-republica-argentina-y-la-republica-popular-china
China’s support for the Malvinas deepens a relationship with many agreements. Telam. (03/07/2021). https://www.telam.com.ar/notas/202107/560027-apoyo-china-malvinas-cada-vez-mas-explicito-profundiza-relacion-muchos-acuerdos.html
 United Russia leader Medvedev celebrates Argentina’s termination of Foradori-Duncan agreement. Sputnik. (2023, March 6). https://sputniknews.lat/20230306/el-lider-de-rusia-unida-celebra-que-argentina-haya-terminado-el-acuerdo-foradori-duncan-1136503626.html
Putin defended Argentina’s sovereignty over Malvinas and took aim at Boris Johnson and Margaret Thatcher. Política Argentina. (2022, May 30). https://www.politicargentina.com/notas/202206/44954-putin-defendio-la-soberania-argentina-sobre-malvinas-y-le-tiro-a-boris-johnson-con-margaret-thatcher.html
 The details of the Ushuaia Logistics Hub to supply Antarctica. El Cronista. (24/12/2021).
An Antarctic logistics hub: official plan opens the door to strategic partners. El Cronista. (11/10/2021).
 The Group of 77+China gave strong backing to Argentina’s position on the Malvinas Islands question. Telam. (2022, November 12). https://www.telam.com.ar/notas/202011/534875-el-g77china-dio-un-fuerte-respaldo-a-la-posicion-argentina-en-la-cuestion-malvinas.html
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