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The rise of Eurasia: Geopolitical advantages and historic pitfalls

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Asian players are proving to be conceptually and bureaucratically better positioned in the 21st century’s Great Game that involves tectonic geopolitical shifts with the emergence of what former Portuguese Europe minister Bruno Macaes terms the fusion of Europe and Asia into a “supercontinent.”

Yet, in contrast to the United States, Asian players despite approaching Europe and Asia as one political, albeit polarized and disorganized entity populated by widely differing and competing visions, may find that their historic legacies work against them.

Writing in The National Interest, US Naval College national security scholar Nikolas K. Gvosdev argued that the United States, for example, was blinded to the shifts by the State Department’s classification of Russia as part of Europe, its lumping of Central Asia together with Pakistan and India and the Pentagon’s association of the region with the Arab world and Iran.

“The (State Department’s) continued inclusion of Russia within the diplomatic confines of a larger European bureau has intellectually limited assessments about Russia’s position in the world by framing Russian action primarily through a European lens. Not only does this undercount Russia’s ability to be a major player in the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia, it has also, in my view, tended to overweight the importance of the Baltic littoral to Russian policy,” Mr. Gvosdev said.

He warned that the US government’s geographical classification of Central Asia, Eurasia’s heartland has “relegated it to second-tier status in terms of U.S. attention and priorities.”

US failure to get ahead of the tectonic shifts in global geopolitics contrasts starkly with the understanding of Central Asian nations that they increasingly exist in an integrated, interconnected region that cannot isolate itself from changes enveloping it.

That understanding is reflected in a report by the Astana Club that brings together prominent political figures, diplomats, and experts from the Great Game’s various players under the auspices of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Entitled, ‘Toward a Greater Eurasia: How to Build a Common Future?,’ the report warns that the Eurasian supercontinent needs to anticipate the Great Game’s risks that include mounting tensions between the United States and China; global trade wars; arms races; escalating conflict in the greater Middle East; deteriorating relations between Russia and the West; a heating up of contained European conflicts such as former Yugoslavia; rising chances of separatism and ethnic/religious conflict; and environmental degradation as well as technological advances.

The report suggested that the risks were enhanced by the fragility of the global system with the weakening of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and NATO.

Messrs. Nazarbayev, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be better positioned to understand the shifts given that they govern territories at the heart of the emerging Eurasian supercontinent and see it as an integral development rooted in their countries’ histories.

Then Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu made as much clear in 2013. “The last century was only a parenthesis for us. We will close that parenthesis. We will do so without going to war, or calling anyone an enemy, without being disrespectful to any border; we will again tie Sarajevo to Damascus, Benghazi to Erzurum to Batumi. This is the core of our power. These may look like different countries to you, but Yemen and Skopje were part of the same country a hundred and ten years ago as were Erzurum and Benghazi,” Mr.Davutoglu said drawing a picture of a modern day revival of the Ottoman empire.

Mr. Erdogan has taken that ambition a step further by increasingly expanding it to the Turkic and Muslim world.

At its core, Erdogan’s vision, according to Eurasia scholar Igor Torbakov, is built on the notion that the world is divided into distinct civilizations. And upon that foundation rise three pillars: 1) a just world order can only be a multipolar one; 2) no civilization has the right to claim a hegemonic position in the international system; and 3) non-Western civilizations (including those in Turkey and Russia) are in the ascendant. In addition, anti-Western sentiment and self-assertiveness are crucial elements of this outlook.

Expressing that sentiment, Turkish bestselling author and Erdogan supporter Alev Alati quipped: “We are the ones who have adopted Islam as an identity but have become so competent in playing chess with Westerners that we can beat them. We made this country that lacked oil, gold and gas what it is now. It was not easy, and we won’t give it up so quickly.”

The Achilles Heel, however, of Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan’s Eurasianism is the fact that its geographies are populated by former empires like the Ottomans and Russia whose post-imperial notions of national identity remain contested and drive its leaders to define national unity as state unity, control the flow of information, and repress alternative views expressions of dissent.

Turkey and Russia still “see themselves as empires, and, as a general rule, an empire’s political philosophy is one of universalism and exceptionalism. In other words, empires don’t have friends – they have either enemies or dependencies,” said Mr. Torbakov, the Eurasia scholar, or exist in what Russian strategists term “imperial or geopolitical solitude.”

Mr. Erdogan’s vision of a modern-day Ottoman empire encompasses the Turkic and Muslim world. Different groups of Russian strategists promote concepts of Russia as a state that has to continuously act as an empire or as a unique “state civilization” devoid of expansionist ambition despite its premise of a Russian World that embraces the primacy of Russian culture as well as tolerance for non-Russian cultures. Both notions highlight the pitfalls of their nations’ history and Eurasianism.

Both Mr. Erdogan and Russia’s vision remain controversial. In Mr. Erdogan’s case it is the Muslim more than the Turkic world that is unwilling to accept Turkish leadership unchallenged with Saudi Arabia leading the charge and Turkish-Iranian relations defined by immediate common interests rather than shared strategic thinking.

Similarly, post-Soviet states take issue with Russia’s notion of the primacy of its culture. Beyond the Russian-Ukrainian conflict over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s support for Russian-speaking rebels in the east of the country, Ukraine emphasized its rejection of Russian cultural primacy with this month’s creation of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of its Russian counterpart.

Earlier, Ukraine’s parliament passed a law in September 2017 establishing Ukrainian rather than Russian as the language of instruction in schools and colleges. The law stipulated that educational institutions could teach courses in a second language, provided it was an official language of the European Union. National minorities were guaranteed the right to study in Ukrainian as well as their minority language.

Similarly, Kazakhstan, the Eurasian nation par excellence, shifted from Cyrillic to Latin script.

“Russia’s influence (in Central Asia) has been largely mythologized, and its role in both national and regional security has not been properly and honestly discussed. Different fears and phobias still influence the decision-making process, including those over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, the concept of the ‘Russian World’ as a pillar of its national identity, and its soft power,” said Kazakh Central Asia scholar Anna Gussarova.

Ukraine may put a dent in the Russian World’s attractivity, but it does not amount to a body blow.

Ms. Gussarova cautioned that while Central Asian elites may recognize the risks involved in embracing Russian primacy, the region’s public remains far more aligned with Russian culture, at least linguistically.

“Whereas the expert community, which is supposed to shape public opinion, uses the English-language platforms Facebook and Twitter, the general public relies on Russian-language social media. This dichotomy underscores the limitations of any effort by the government and affiliated experts to shape public perceptions. At the same time, this gap shows greater public support for Russia and its activities, which makes nation building and language issues difficult and sensitive,” Ms. Gussarova said.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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