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Diplomacy

The Return to the Era of Spheres of Influence in Eurasia

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The end of the Cold War brought hope to the West that the world had evolved past the concept of spheres of influence. No longer, it was thought, would large Eurasian states strive to carve out territories for the expansion of their own geopolitical influence. But spheres of influence are a tenacious concept. They have been pursued throughout history and are likely to return in the coming decades.

One geopolitical constant is that the emergence of spheres of influence coincides with the pursuit by a rising or re-emerging power of higher status in international affairs. This usually takes the form of a power trying to attain a certain level of influence over neighboring states or far-flung territories.

Several large Eurasian states are aspiring toward a bigger geopolitical influence over the super-continent. China, for example, strives to attain undisputed control over the islands in the Asia-Pacific and its neighbors in Southeast Asia. And through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it plans to extend its influence well beyond its immediate neighborhood into what Beijing calls “West Asia,” otherwise known as the Middle East.

India, which fears China’s rising power in Asia, is also pursuing an exclusive sphere of influence in south and Southeast Asia. India’s geographic location and economic and military might give it a pivotal role in the region and position New Delhi as key to the Indo-Pacific strategy—the rival concept to the BRI.

Further east, Iran, though smaller in size and in economic and military power, is energetically pursuing its agenda of expanding its geopolitical influence even as it is buffeted by sanctions and other trials. Though hard-pressed by the West (particularly the US), the Tehran regime has neither desisted from its hegemonic regional drive, whether directly or via its vast network of proxy Shiite militias, nor abandoned the hope of spreading its Islamist message as far and wide as possible.

To the west of Iran is Turkey, which has been heavily involved in both Syria and northern Iraq. These activities have raised fears in the West that Ankara aims to create its own sphere of influence along its southern and southeastern borders. However, it can be argued that of all the Eurasian contenders, Turkey is perhaps the least likely to achieve this goal, and doing so might not even be Ankara’s intention. There have been instances when the West ascribed unrealistic geopolitical ambitions to the Turkish leadership.

Then comes Russia, which in the past two decades has been working to extend its influence in Eurasia, primarily across the former Soviet space. These areas are considered by Moscow to be its rightful and exclusive sphere of influence. The creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Collective Security Treaty organization (CSTO) reflects Russia’s geopolitical aim to encompass its territory with closely linked military and economic allies.

These pivotal Eurasian states all have one thing in common. Their increasing geopolitical activity over the past two decades was the result of either an alternating magnitude of crises along their respective frontiers or a longing for their never-to-be-forgotten imperial grandeur.

Let us again take the example of Turkey. That country borders on five geographic regions with varying geopolitical importance: the Black Sea, the Balkans, the Mediterranean, the South Caucasus, and Syria-Iraq. What these regions have in common is crises of different levels that directly affect Turkey’s borders. It is this matter of simple geography, not an overblown imperial agenda (as many think), that has conditioned Ankara’s active foreign policy in the Middle East from at least the early 2010s.

Then comes Iran. That country’s aggressive foreign policy reflects the changing geopolitical situation along its borders, which allows it to undermine the US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq by carrying out clandestine operations against American forces and assets.

Similar arguments apply to India, Russia, and China. All three respond to varying uncertainties along their borders while simultaneously building their foreign policy ambitions around a yearning for past grandeur.

As noted, the pursuit of spheres of influence has been a factor throughout recorded history. Another interesting factor is geography. As the above-mentioned Eurasian states are mostly continental powers (either deep inland or partially bordering on seas), there is a constant fear among their political elites of land invasion, a cutting of trade routes, and spillover from border territories.

Geography largely explains why the notion of pursuit of spheres of influence can never be excised from geopolitics. Geography is also at the heart of the perpetual conflict between land and maritime powers and largely explains why the sea powers (Great Britain in its heyday; the US today) have always worked to limit the creation of spheres of influence.

Over the past 100 years, Washington has fought consistently against the creation of spheres of influence in Eurasia. This does not mean it has always been successful. During the Cold War era, for example, the US stood back from rebellions in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). A similar aloofness was visible in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia and in 2014 during the Ukraine crisis and Moscow’s military moves in Crimea.

The US has always been burdened to navigate between hard geopolitical reality on the ground and exceptionalism in its foreign policy. “Realpolitik,” though much despised by the American political establishment, tends to prevail. In the coming decade, as it faces Eurasian states that are actively trying to carve out of spheres of influence, the US will have to adjust to changing circumstances on the ground.

Though tensions in Eurasia are likely to rise further, Washington still possesses several foreign policy tools with which to limit the Eurasian actors’ expansion of their spheres of influence. A primary ally could be India, which fears China’s efforts to increase its influence in Pakistan as well as extend its military power into the Indian Ocean. For New Delhi, which is bordered from the north and northwest by an unstable Middle East and an economically poor Central Asia, the rich Southeast Asian region and consequent competition with Beijing represents the most probable foreign policy priority in the next few decades. US foreign policy decision-makers should be able to use India’s resistance to China to keep Beijing’s ambitious BRI in check.

Another possibility is for the US to build closer relations with Turkey by using Ankara’s uncomfortable relations with Moscow over its military activities in Syria and support for Bashar Assad. Considering the divergence of Turkey’s and Russia’s interests on a number of issues (apart from Syria), such as Moscow’s militarization of the Black Sea, territorial conflicts in the South Caucasus, and politics in the Balkans, Ankara needs American support.

In contrast to Turkey, the US has few foreign policy tools with which to limit the ambitions of China, Russia, and Iran. All three are motivated to limit US influence in Eurasia, which occasionally drives them closer. But the three pivotal Eurasian states also share wide-ranging differences that are bound to reappear once the US ceases to be a priority in their foreign policy.

The Eurasian continent of the 2020s will be a space of re-emerging or newly emerging powers either pursuing grand historical ideas or simply responding to crises along their borders. Washington will have to adjust to a certain level of emerging spheres of influence, exacerbating the troublesome debate so characteristic of US foreign policy decision making: American exceptionalism and denial of spheres of influence as a remnant of 19th-early 20th century imperial politics poised against unescapable “realpolitik.”

Author’s note: first published in BESA Center

Emil Avdaliani specializes on former Soviet space and wider Eurasia with particular focus on Russia's internal and foreign policy, relations with Iran, China, the EU and the US. He teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University (Georgia).

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Diplomacy

Mega Regions

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The planet is shrinking

Geopolitics on this diminishing ball in space is not going away. On the contrary, geopolitics is growing to hitherto un-imaginable heights much faster than most people think.

Imagine a possible future world something like this:

· The African Union – the world’s biggest continental free-trade-area AfCFTA – of soon-to-be (2035) 1.8 billion people with Parliament in South Africa.

· The European Union (de-facto incl. EFTA) – small on global scale, but more independent, rich and educated than today

· North America (centered on an at least relatively weakened USA)

· South America (centered on a once-again growing Mercosur)

· China – a strong center in all-growing North and South East Asia

· India – growing

Add to this:

· A hypothetic Mega-Eurasian Region including the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with Russia. Enlarged with Turkey, Iran and even Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, this would fit nicely into the above possible future picture of the world.

Such Mega Regions as above will come to integrate economy (incl. currency), culture, infrastructure, traffic, energy, environment and above all political administration with security within themselves as well as between themselves. Shrinking the planet ever more. Who will need the intruding USA of today in a future world of self-administering and self-securing Mega-Regions? These Mega Regions will not need the “balancing” or “stabilization” which the USA peddles. In this world, the USA will need to define a new role and self-perception for herself over the next 25 years.

In this future there may also be less room for the English – they may end up as losers even within their own broken and disunited “United” Kingdom. The problem for the English is their mid-size: The UK is not big enough to be a relatively self-sustaining market unto herself like the USA and increasingly China. Even these Mega Regions will depend on trade with each other – else they will suffer the fate of the USSR and Mao’s China. The UK depends crucially on open trade access to very big markets. A small (soon to be independent) country like Greenland with 56,000 inhabitants might probably much more easily find satisfying economic niches than Brexit-UK will with 67 million people which have self-detached from the EU-market.

In such a possible world of Mega Regions – do Russians want to be losers like the English today increasingly look like? Or does Russia want to continue to be a great world leader – one of the leading leaders – in a mega-club, for instance with Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan? As Russia holds on to influence in as much geographic room as possible of what the Soviet Union influenced, the answer to that question is already given. Russia wants to be a winner in today’s real-politics of nascent Mega Regions – not a loser like the English in their dreamed-up replay of the pre-previous century. Russia’s conundrum now like since 300 years is to match her external club-making with her own internal growth. The French and the Germans have learned the joy of sharing power. With possible resourceful partners like Turkey (educated, one of G20), Iran (well-educated), Pakistan (well-educated), subject to re-established partnership with the EU, Russia may not again need to exhaust herself as she did once or twice before in history – Russia herself can grow in this process.

And what about South America? The majority of Latin American countries are all culturally wary enough of US meddling (Monroe doctrine) and have for a century resisted “dependencia”. Seeing how successfully Africa now unites, South America may be ripe for a similar development – and the Mercosur with its own Parliament (in Montevideo) is already there for South American governance expansion in their own Mega Region.

A New World Map

The result of Mega Regions might be something like this (see illustration 1).

Instead of Huntington’s miscarried idea of civilizations “clashing” we might see the opposite – that civilizations, cultures, religions, and ethnicities grow together across borders. The illustration above is a map of such plausible governance integration.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is depicted on the map, because the EAEU (though formally an economic union) is in reality a regional political governance aiming at further integration. In contrast, the NAFTA as a shallow pure free-trade area is not included on this map of political Mega Regions, because the USA (incl. US “liberals”) consistently cut Mexico and even Canada off from continental governance. There is no “NAFTA Parliament” underway. And the US may in future even lose some of sometimes high-handed control which the USA today has over her two neighbors.

Similarly, ASEAN is only lightly drafted as part of the light area around a future Chinese influence, because the ASEAN has decided not to pursue closer political regional governance like the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the MERCOSUR do. When looking at East Asia on the map (illustration 1), please bear in mind that we here look a little into the future at a time, when the US 7th Pacific Fleet has been pushed out by the fast growing Chinese PLAN Fleet in all waters around China (incl. Taiwan). As China grows (and US 7th Fleet influence wanes), the ASEAN might in future choose a closer political integration, inspired by the EU and African model, but there is no sign of that happening yet.

The EAEU (5 members as of today) will for year 2020 achieve a GDP of USD 1,700 billion – only 11% of the EU and China respectively (both of which now have GDPs of USD 15,000 billion). More tellingly, the EAEU is today only two-thirds of India (with a GDP of USD 2,600 billion). The hypothesized enlarged EAEU (15 members, the two blue areas on map) would considerably catapult the EAEU up on the global economic ladder with a combined GDP of near USD 3,600 billion (2020 data, for Syria latest available statistics from before the war). On the top-of-world economic list, an enlarged EAEU would aspire to be 140% of India – nearly half-bigger than India. Politically, the enlarged EAEU’s human and natural resources with geo-strategic control could become much more pivotal than the economic data suggest. (GDP figures from IMF WEO 2020/10)

Mega Region to Mega Region Governance

It is just like in corporate business – apart from a few niche states, states are pressed to merge or form cooperative cartels to achieve critical mass in the world competition. These upcoming country Mega cooperations will as a general tendency increasingly be of multiple partners coming together for common governance (like for example the African Union) and less of the “hub-and-spoke” type. Please bear in mind that the world is fractal, meaning that types of social structures are repeated at different levels – commune, substate, state, Mega Region and even Mega-mega Region. Thus, even Mega Regions may come together in structures of multiple partners of common governance. For instance, you might in this future see the establishment of a joint Mega-mega governance of neighboring Mega Regions EU-AU-EAEU-China-India. Mega Region to Mega Region relations must be managed carefully by all for mutual success. No Mega Region will be enough in itself. Integrating Mega Regions with each other must thus be a careful undertaking.

For instance, Turkey is a member of the EU Customs Union With the political changes in Belarus which are underway, Belarus might soon be offered a Free-Trade or EU Customs Union with the EU, similar to the EU trade-advantages which the Ukraine and Turkey already enjoy. These countries Turkey, the Ukraine and Belarus are clever – they will not be so foolish as the UK to throw away their EU trade privileges. There is here a conundrum to solve, because as East-West bridges, we need Belarus, Turkey and the Ukraine to be able to enjoy the best of East and West: EU privileges in combination with the future Mega Region advantages of EAEU affiliation.

To prosper, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the African Union (AU) need an extended free trade area with the EU. We simply need an EU + AU + EAEU Mega Free-Trade Area. The EU has a self-interest in both cases, the African Union as well as Russia and a future Mega EAEU all the way to Pakistan, in granting such trade privileges.

The African Union covers a staggering 30 million km2 (the Soviet Union was 23 million km2) with already 1.4 billion people, and the enlarged EAEU would be 26 million km2 with 700 million people. The EU is here comparatively small – only 4 million km2 and 445 million people. The EU cannot itself handle the administration of any more geographic space. With the issues of Brexit-chaos, the West Balkans, the Ukraine and Belarus, the EU is already critically overextended.

Next Step

The EU has enormous strategic interests in a politically stronger and economically prosperous united Africa to handle Africa’s own problems before these problems (including refugees and terrorists) spill devastatingly over into the EU.

The EU also has got enormous strategic interests in letting Russia and Turkey carry the helm of a hypothetical new Mega EAEU political Project for peace, prosperity and political improvement of common governance in the conflict-troubled Eurasian space. Furthermore, an enlarged EAEU Mega Region, as I hypothesize here, will connect the EU not only with the strategic pivots of China and India, but also with the global pivot of the Middle East and in this way with Africa. To achieve this, Kashmir must and will find a peaceful solution.

The EU can do a lot – but the EU’s meagre 5,000 tricolore soldiers in Africa for an area 10 times Afghanistan, plus a handful of aid-projects, will not save Africa. Exports, trade, industrialization, advanced services and high-speed economic growth is what Africa needs. A strong African Union is needed to raise Africa above her own problems, and to do this, the African Union needs support by free-trade with the EU (and the EAEU of course).

In the exceedingly troubled Central Asian and Middle Eastern geographic space, Russia has proven to move so well forward. The EU itself would just be hapless or even break porcelain if going alone in Central Asia and the Middle East. France has shown able to achieve just about nothing in Lebanon. And EU countries’ military part-taking in porcelain-breaking US ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan (longest US war in history, and little US “peace with honor”) illustrates my point. The recent Armenian-Azerbaijani situation further underscores the point that an overarching political Mega Region EAEU is a needed solution – a solution which only Russia and Turkey are capable to initiate.

This planet is shrinking fast. The EU cannot afford to not-care about its own Mega neighborhoods, including all of Africa, Russia, Central Asia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the Middle East.

As the EU does not have the needed strategic capabilities to “fix” its own Mega neighborhoods, the EU must support those who can and should be empowered – meaning the EU neighbor partners themselves: The African Union, Russia, Central Asian countries, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and all others involved.

From our partner RIAC

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Diplomacy

Bye Diego … (Geopolitics of Sports)

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The news of Diego Maradona’s death plunged the football world into grief and deprived football fans of the existence of a unique star. If we want to express this issue with the language of a geopolitician, it will be a different perception and analysis by others.

The geopolitical orientation of sport is one of the geopolitical tendencies with an artificial nature. Because sport acts as a source of power in the relationship between actors and shapes their strategies, and because this source of power has no geographical basis, when we want to discuss it in the form of geopolitics, it means a tendency with an artificial nature. The geopolitics of sport is thus conceptualized as the knowledge, acquisition, productivity, and preservation of sport as a (geographical) source of power in local, national, regional, and global relations. In other words, the use of sport and related issues as a new (geographical) source of power to achieve goals in local, national, regional and global relations is called the geopolitics of sport.

By that definition, Maradona was a (geographical) source of power for Argentina. The geographical source of power that since the game between Argentina and England with the goal later known as “Hand of God, the goal of the century” was able to provide a new and different representation of relations between the two countries after the defeat in the Falkland War for Argentina and turn a nation sadness into happiness.

Since then, Maradona has acted as a (geographical) source of power for his country and has been able to influence power relations in designing and representing his country’s strategies. On the relations between Argentina and England; Traditional rival of Argentina-Brazil (Pele); In the internal relations of the country; Introducing his country by showing the Argentine flag and so on.

In general, it can be said that sometimes people with importance and position that they can gain in various fields of science, sports, art, etc. can become (geographical) sources of power and be effective in the relationship between actors and the design of strategies. Losing people like Maradona can deprive an actor from a valuable source of power.

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Policies of East Asian Titans

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Soft Power is a widely discussed and equally disputed concept as various scholars have their personal interpretation upon the power of attraction.

Joseph Nye has associated soft power with i) culture, ii) political values, and iii) foreign policies of a country.

China, Japan, and (Republic of) Korea rank the highest in the list of Intangible Heritages indicating their rich cultural identity.

The cultural identity like Confucian values gets interwoven with political ideas of respect and help build working morality that influences their foreign policies.

Japanese Anime such as Doraemon and Pokémon are extremely famous and Korean K-Pop such as Gangnam Style became the most liked video on YouTube. TikTok has brought China into the race of audio-visual diplomacy.

National identity and political views are promoted through audio-visual instruments such as movies, paintings, songs while some of them are despised as political propaganda.

The countries which have higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Per Capita are accepted to have a good political structure and other countries are likely to endorse a similar system. The three countries have become the symbol of success while many developing countries get inspired to adopt their style to improve their present condition.

Foreign policies depend upon the economic capability of countries and their ability to engage through trade and aid.

Trade is conducted to benefit one’s own country which may include importing unprocessed goods and exporting processed products like Japan import iron worth $7.18 billion and export cars and spare parts worth $139.3 billion.

Countries intend to import security instruments, basic goods like oil and gasoline while limiting luxury items by adding a large amount of taxes that shape foreign relations between countries.

The Asian Titans belong to the top ten product exporter as a result they get involved in nation branding and use corporate brands like Honda, Samsung, and Xiaomi to be perceived as a reliable household name. 

The aid includes humanitarian aid, military aid, economic assistance, technical and vocational training which help in establishing bilateral relations and all three countries have become active in this genre.

There is an additional component for socialization such as gastrodiplomacy which remains very strong in East Asian Titans which is proven with their many Michelin 3-star Restaurants. The culinary diplomacy is also conducted between government to government level as hosting country invites foreign heads of states in banquets or provide scholarship for elite foreign students.

The events conducted around elites such as tours, banquets, scholarships would transform their social paradigm which may cause policy change leading to norms that would transform the foreign policy of a recipient country in favor of a host country.

The public simply looks at the ranks, scores, and formulate opinions about a country without looking at the bigger picture. This could be efficiently be studied by looking at a single chart.

 ChinaJapanSouth Korea
A. Senses as Soft Resources   
i) Physical Diplomacy   
a) Sports/ActivityCuppings, Tai chiKarate, JudoTaekwondo
b) Olympics Medals608 Rank:8498 Rank:15337 Rank:19
ii) Audio-visual diplomacy   
a) Film Production     (2018)1082
Rank:2
613
Rank:3
454
Rank:5
b) Box Office Revenue
(2019)
$ 9.3 billion Rank:2$2.4 billion Rank:3$1.6 billion Rank:5
c) Additional ToolsTiktokAnime, MangaK-pop
iii) Gastrodiplomacy   
a) Popular FoodNoodles, DumplingsSushi, WasabiGimbap, Kimchi
b) Michelin 3-star Restaurants     (2017)5
Rank:5
28
Rank:1
2
Rank:10
B. Resources and Tourism   
a) World Heritage Sites
   (2020)
55
Rank:1
23 Rank:1214 Rank:21
b) Intangible Cultural Heritage
   (2020)
40 Rank:121 Rank:220 Rank:3
c) WEF, Travel & Tourism Competitive (2019)Score:4.9 Rank:13Score:5.4 Rank:4Score:4.8 Rank:16
d) Revenue by Tourism
   (2018)
$32.617 billion
Rank:10
$34.054 billion Rank:9$13.427 billion Rank:24
C. Nation Branding   
a) Corporate BrandsXiaomi, AlibabaToyota, HondaSamsung, Hyundai
b) Products Exports     (2018)$2.59 trillion Rank:1$713 billion Rank:4$617 billion Rank:5
c) GDP Per Capita
   (2018)
$9,771
Rank:78
$39,290
Rank:27
$31,363
Rank:34
D. Noble Prizes Laureates
     (2019)
6
Rank:24
28
Rank:7
1
Rank:51
E.The Soft Power 30     (2019)Score:51.25 Rank:27Score:75.71 Rank:8Score:63.00 Rank:19

The factors such as Noble Prize Laureates play a role in projecting Japan as a superior power but countries such as South Korea and China have risen to global prominence recently, this may have resulted in less money for research and development and caused fewer Noble Prize Laureates.

The rapid development of Asian countries has made it attractive and serves as the master of affective resources (culture richness, technology, competitive economy) while they suffer a bitter relationship with one another creating a space for western countries to enforce their normative resources (a third-party capability to arbitrate international dispute) to mitigate the crisis.

The Asian Titans have been growing their institutions to enhance their human resources to produce better publications that would further strengthen their strategic communication and media.

The soft power has helped generate a sense of national cohesion by protecting their ancient culture while promoting their vibrant economic growth. The countries intend to build a reliable economy and to be perceived as a trustworthy power.

Each Asian country has different objectives while promoting their culture. Japanese list of intangible heritage portrays its polytheistic tradition while China showcases itself as a culturally diverse country while it suffers accusation for human rights violations against minorities. Both China and Japan avoid its militaristic knowledge (the image coincide with hard power)even when they have a very interesting history with Martial Arts but South Korea seems to be enthusiastic to showcase its Ssireum(wrestling) and Taekkyeon (a traditional Korean Martial Arts) as intangible heritage.

Soft Power Policies of East Asian Titans maintain a variety within the unity. The region shares historic relations but still maintains its distinct identities creating an aesthetic composition for an external observer. The East Asian Titans are a unique case with tremendous soft power.

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