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Geopolitical Theory of Water

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Geopolitics, as an autonomous discipline, has a very particular cultural genesis, and it is not possible to ignore the deepening of the era in which it developed. His great forefathers can be considered the first geographers who in the nineteenth century began to think of the world as a relationship between human groups and territorial spaces. This relationship, of course, produced organizational differences and particularities, and in turn was produced by contextual differences and particularities, in a two-way relationship. This is the concept that will later be called localization [1]. This is how geography, according to its first systematizers, could be nothing more than “anthropic geography”.

Two great initiators of this type of discourse can be considered Karl Ritter and Friedrich Ratzel:

«Karl Ritter (1789–1859), German geographer, explores the relationship between the social and historical phenomena of man and the physical factors of the geographical environment. It is considered among the founders of modern geography. Over the years [he came] to an organicistic vision of the earth, where all its physical elements (rivers, mountains, glaciers, etc.) are seen as integral parts of a living organism, in relation with the other beings that inhabit it. Within this conception, man is in close correspondence with the elements of his habitat: his history, the forms of his social organization are therefore conditioned by it.

[…] Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904), German geographer and ethnologist, [was] the founder of anthropic geography, also called human geography and anthropogeography, based on the study of the distribution and manifestation of human phenomena on earth. It aims in particular to study how human societies adapt to the environment in which they live and how they interact.» [2]

These two authors have vastly influenced the development of geopolitics in different aspects, starting from the German school of Karl Haushofer. A certain type of approach focused on the almost inextricable link between man and the environment will find greater expansion in the ideas on the noosphere of Vladimir Vernadskij or on the passionarity of Lev Gumilëv, sometimes giving rise to deterministic extremes in the strict sense.

Although some interpreters of these authors still have a certain deterministic accent, it must be said, however, that the critique of determinism is precisely the heart of geopolitical doctrine, which introjects on this type of studies a whole other series of elements of analysis:

«Geopolitics is the synthesis of the world geographic landscape […] and it is […] the synthesis of the geographical, historical-political-social causes of the spatial dynamics of society. As such it goes beyond the sphere of political geography, that is more than political geography […] in short, it is the supreme ratio of geographical events. It is not a branch of geography […] but a synthesis of the dynamic branches of geographical science.» [3]

Thus was specified in the Italian magazine Geopolitica, the one that dealt with the matter first in Italy, in the first half of the twentieth century [4], and on the basis of this added:

«[It] cannot adhere to a determinism that considers man and society incapable of overcoming environmental phenomena.» [5]

Long before this, a criticism had already begun by those who, studying Ratzel, had learned its fundamental lesson on the relationship between man and territory, but had understood that there was something further to understand the world with respect to its geodeterminism [6]. Think, for example, of the famous criticism of this type of one-dimensional approach by Franz Boas.

«[The deterministic approach was] applied by Boas to his first research work on the Eskimos (Inuit) of the island of Baffin in 1883. Initially driven by this expedition from his geographical interests, Boas intends to deepen the connections that are established between the physical and geographical scenario in which the Inuit live and their knowledge and practices in that same context. In other words, inspired by Ritter’s theories of environmental determinism and the so-called anthropogeographic school of Ratzel, Boas is convinced of the decisive influence of the environment on culture. Instead, it is precisely the ethnographic study of these populations that, far from confirming this perspective, convinces him of the contrary, that is, men tend to develop survival strategies and practices that go far beyond the possibilities directly suggested by the surrounding environment.

[…] Like Durkheim in France, in those same years Boas began to argue that these facts should be understood in their own terms, without calling into question monocausal determinations, such as those relating to the environment. The latter, in fact, certainly exerts conditioning, but not to the point of no longer being able to conceive or explain social and cultural facts autonomous from nature.» [7]

Haushofer himself, together with Mackinder, one of the founding fathers of the geopolitical discipline, with his political theory of pan-ideas overcame the fundamentally ethnic conception of Ratzel’s lebensraum (among other things, this and his idea of collaboration with the Soviet Union earned him internment in Dachau). Indeed, Haushofer wrote:

«Geopolitics is and should be the geographical conscience of the state. [Its subject matter is] to study the major vital correlations of modern man within modern space and its aim is to coordinate phenomena that link to state with space.» [8]

The elements of statehood, including the possible awareness or otherwise that the state may have of the potential of its geographical position, the “modernity” of man and the spaces of which Haushofer spoke, the means of locomotion and the technique, are all elements that they helped to create not only a dimension of multiplication of factor analysis levels, but to revolutionize the deterministic attitude of the previous century.

As we know, territory and its morphology assume a main importance in geopolitics. The geographical element that conditions political relations is one of the factors of this discipline. As Mackinder will understand, at the dawn of geopolitical reasoning, if the earth is the space on which we live and on which we mainly do politics, the sea as an element of delimitation and as a real technical tool, is a very important factor [9]. Carlo Jean writes:

«Water can be used as a defense or attack tool; in fact, not only the seas and oceans, but also rivers and lakes can constitute both ways of communication and strategic penetration, and protective obstacles.

[…] Water is a determining element in geopolitics, since most of the borders between states develop along rivers, lakes and ridge lines, which separate different water basins. Often, a river or a ridge line is considered the natural frontier of a community, and as such they take on symbolic value and determine geopolitical perceptions and rivalries.» [10]

Water, be it a sea, a lake or a river, first cuts out the habitable spaces and resizes the environments of conflict and politics. It has, if we want, a perimeter value. One of its uses is to facilitate division, which is a genetic moment in the organization of social groups. Furthermore, the fact that it constitutes a means of communication guarantees its usability as an instrument of conjunction or friction between the groups themselves. In short, it has a great instrumental potential. It is a constituent element of our aggregate life.

Water, like earth, has also been interpreted as a completely determining factor, or not. The first great anthropic geographer to be interested in the role of water in the constitution of different civilizations was Ernst Kapp. In the nineteenth century he developed a theory, the echo of which still finds its place in contemporary historiography, concerning the relationship of peoples with water [11]. In Kapp’s thought a whole series of deterministic conceptions flowed into a single historical process, a great drama, as will be defined later [12]. For Kapp, who was also a philosopher of history and science, the evolution of civilization and technology, the development of social ethics and man’s relationship with the environment were all parts of a single great process.

This process was divided into three stages of civilization: the first was that of potamic civilization, the ancient civilizations which, like Egypt or Mesopotamia, created their social and productive organization around large rivers (this type of definition is still widely used for these societies); the second was that of the talactic society, and referred to those civilizations that proliferated around the inland seas, with particular attention to the classical and medieval civilization of the Mediterranean; finally there would have been the oceanic civilization, whose birth was already outlined in the maritime power of Great Britain, and which would have constituted the last level of social evolution [13].

Dialectically, these principles were also picked up by another thinker, and at the same time criticized in their deterministic aspect: this is the reception that this idea of the different relationship that man has with the sea in Carl Schmitt, the famous German thinker, jurist and political philosopher.

It is famous how Carl Schmitt elaborated in a famous text, Land and Sea [14], a profile of contrast between the telluric and the maritime way of life. According to its definition, continental civilizations, telluric ones, had a different way of understanding life, economy and administration than maritime ones, which instead focused on colonial predation, mercantilism and war modes other than interstate ones. However, a third factor is added to these two models, which is precisely that of the talactic societies. They behave like telluric ones but have a different relationship with bodies of water and a better predisposition to trade [15].

The difference that we cannot fail to notice between Ernst Kapp’s and Carl Schmitt’s thoughts is this: as these civilizations constitute a series of three evolutionary stages for the former, so for the latter there is no historical determinant that necessarily transforms the relationship of man with water. Moreover, these models often end up living together synchronously, although clearly there are stages of technical development that allow, at a certain point in human history, to take better possession of ocean waters.

The imperial domination of Rome, for Schmitt, was the manifestation of the way of life of the talactic society which was opposed to Carthage, which had many aspects already of the oceanic society [16], as well as later the Crown of Spain, fighting for the colonies with the England will represent the last bulwark of the telluric conception before the end of common European law and Eurocentrism, although it often fought in the open sea and not in the inland seas [17].

In this regard, therefore, it becomes fundamental to understand the transition that England undergoes at any moment, which at a certain point of its existence, according to Schmitt, understands that its insular position can allow it to take off and finally become a fish [18].

«Obviously, England is an island. But with the ascertainment of this geographical fact, not much is said. There are many islands whose political destinies are very different. Sicily is also an island, even Ireland, Cuba, Madagascar and Japan. How many different and contrasting historical-world developments undoubtedly bind to these few names that all mark an island! In a sense, even the largest continents are all just islands and the whole inhabited earth is, as the Greeks already knew, surrounded by the ocean.» [19]

This means that culture, ideology, state of the technique, economic organization, are all aspects that contribute to options that are however allowed or not by existing structural factors: not an iron determination, but a set of possibilities guaranteed or not by geographic morphology. And what determination is basically greater than that of the sea, the limit par excellence of the mainland?

Thinking about geopolitics through water allows us to understand the limit point of the telluric foundation, to imagine the spaces as they are cut out from the geographical data even before the human one, to understand how much the sea flow can condition and have conditioned the mechanics of relations between peoples.

To date, perhaps the domination of water has reduced its importance following the extensive use of air but still remains primary. Moreover, as is known, «the scarcity of water or its reduced quality, due to pollution, produce emigrations, famines, internal disorders, pandemics and wars [20]», and to date these problems are increasing. Together with the growing limitations to access water of some populations, we also see the redefinition of the coasts due to climate change.

All these factors cannot fail to induce us to think about the world through water. To do this we cannot ignore the authors who anticipated the issues of geopolitical discipline, while admitting the need for some methodological corrections. After all, what Ernst Kapp teaches us is that

«The necessary condition of all true historical knowledge is the philosophical knowledge of the Earth which can be considered as a preparatory school for politics: each place is in its becoming an observatory of its history; every act of the human will is potentially limited to a space delimited and inscribed in geography.» [21]

Only such a concrete realization can take us out of the deterministic aphasia that seems to have re-proposed itself in our day.

From our partner RIAC

1. Carl Schmitt, Il nomos della terra nel diritto internazionale dello «Jus publicum europaeum», Adelphi, 1991.

2. Sandro Piermattei, Antropologia ambientale e paesaggio agrario, Morlacchi Editore, 2007, p. 68 (translated).

3. Inquadrature, in Geopolitica, anno II numero 8-9, agosto-settembre 1940 (translated).

4. Giulio Sinibaldi, La geopolitica in Italia (1939-1942), Edizioni Webster Srl, 2010.

5. Inquadrature, in Geopolitica, anno II numero 8-9, agosto-settembre 1940 (translated).

6. Which, however, is partly questioned today: cfr. Alexandros Stogiannos, The Genesis of Geopolitics and Friedrich Ratzel. Dismissing the Myth of the Ratzelian Geodeterminism, Springer, 2019.

7. Sandro Piermattei, Antropologia ambientale e paesaggio agrario, Morlacchi Editore, 2007, pp. 68-69 (translated).

8. Quoted in Alexandros Stogiannos, The Genesis of Geopolitics and Friedrich Ratzel. Dismissing the Myth of the Ratzelian Geodeterminism, Springer, 2019.

9. Halford Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality – The Geografical Pivot of History, Origami Books, 2019.

10. Carlo Jean, Geopolitica del mondo contemporaneo, Editori Laterza, 2012 (translated).

11. Ernst Kapp, Philosophische oder vergleichende allgemeine Erdkunde als wissenschaftliche Darstellung der Erdverhältnisse und des Menschenlebens, Braunschweig, 1845.

12. Carl Schmitt, Terra e mare. Una riflessione sulla storia del mondo, Adelphi, 2002.

13. Ernst Kapp, Philosophische oder vergleichende allgemeine Erdkunde als wissenschaftliche Darstellung der Erdverhältnisse und des Menschenlebens, Braunschweig, 1845.

14. Carl Schmitt, Terra e mare. Una riflessione sulla storia del mondo, Adelphi, 2002.

15. Ibidem.

16. Ibidem.

17. Carl Schmitt, Il nomos della terra nel diritto internazionale dello «Jus publicum europaeum», Adelphi, 1991.

18. Carl Schmitt, Terra e mare. Una riflessione sulla storia del mondo, Adelphi, 2002.

19. Ibidem.

20. Carlo Jean, Geopolitica del mondo contemporaneo, Editori Laterza, 2012.

21. Claude Raffestin, La sfida della geografia tra poteri e mutamenti globali, in Documenti Geografici, n. 1 anno 2012, p. 57.

Graduated in Political Science to the Catholic University of the Sacread Heart (Milan), Expert of international relations and geopolitics

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Diplomacy

International Relations Amid the Pandemic

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We could rest assured that COVID-19 will be defeated, sooner rather than later. The excessive angst and fear we currently feel will gradually subside, while our science will find effective antidotes so that people could look back on the pandemic years as a ghastly dream.

At the same time, it is also clear that a post-pandemic world will be quite different to the world we knew before. The argument that the world needs a massive shake-up to move to the next stage of its development has been quite popular ever since the end of the Cold War. Some prophesied that this would come as a result of a profound economic crisis, while others argued that a large-scale war may well be on the cards. As often happens, though, what turned the world on its head came as if out of nowhere. Within a short span of just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on all the many contradictions and setbacks of our age. It went on to outline the trajectory for economic prosperity, scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements going forward, opening up new opportunities for self-realization and fulfilment. The question pertinent today is: Who will be able to best exploit the new reality and take advantage of the opportunities that are opening up? And how?

COVID-19 has also left its mark on the current architecture of international relations.

At the turn of the century, it was mired in crisis. The end of the Cold War towards the late 20th century effectively signaled the beginning of the transition from the bipolar world order established in the wake of the Second World War to a model that had yet to be created. A bitter struggle would unfold as to what the new world order had to be, with the issue still unsettled today. A number of states, as well as non-state actors, willing to take advantage of this uncertainty in global affairs and redistribute the spheres of influence in the world is what it ultimately boils down to. In a sense, such a scenario should have come as no surprise since the contradictions between the profound changes encompassing the public domain and the rigid model of international relations established in the mid-20th century by the powers victorious in the Second World War had continued to grow in recent decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a stern and unprecedented test of strength that has revealed the limits of the current architecture of international relations. Previous crises—be they financial turmoil, struggle against terrorism, regional conflicts or something else—were, in fact, temporary and rather limited in their implications, however severe they were. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each and every country in the world, regardless of their political regimes and social conventions, economic prosperity and military might. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of the modern world as well as the growing risks and challenges; and if ignored, they could plunge the world into a descending spiral of self-destruction.

The pandemic continues, which means we are yet to draw a final conclusion on its consequences for the system of international relations. That being said, a number of tentative conclusions are already taking shape.

Point 1. Globalization, despite its obvious side effects, has already changed the face of our world, irreversibly making it truly interdependent. This has been said before; however, the opponents of globalization have tried—and continue to try—to downplay its consequences for modern society. As it happens, they would like to think of globalization as little more than an episode in international life. Although it has been going on for quite some time now, it is nevertheless incapable of changing the familiar landscape of the world. The pandemic has lifted the curtain on what the modern world truly looks like. Here, state borders are nothing more than an administrative and bureaucratic construct as they are powerless to prevent active communication among people, whether spiritual, scientific, informational or of any other kind. Likewise, official borders are not an obstacle to the modern security threats proliferating among states. The waves of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on all countries. No nation has been able to escape this fate. The same will also happen time and again with other challenges unless we recognize this obvious reality to start thinking about how states should act amid the new circumstances.

Point 2. The international system withstood the initial onslaught in spite of the incessant fearmongers prophesying its impending collapse. Following a rather brief period of confusion and helplessness, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, G20 and other global and regional organizations got their act together (albeit some better than others), taking urgent action to contain the pandemic. This proves that the system of international relations that was constructed after the Second World War still functions, although it is far from perfect or devoid of shortcomings.

In a similar vein, the fight against the pandemic has demonstrated that many international structures are increasingly out of step with the modern reality, proving incapable of mobilizing quickly enough to make a difference in our ever-changing world. This, once again, pushes to the fore the issue of a reformed United Nations system (and other international institutions), while the issue is progressively getting even more urgent. Moving forward, the international community will likely have to face challenges no less dangerous than the current pandemic. We have to be prepared for this.

Point 3. As the role of international institutions in global affairs weakens, centrifugal tendencies gain momentum, with countries—for the most part, global leaders—starting to put their national interests first. The global information war surrounding various anti-COVID-19 vaccines is a prime example of this. Not only has it seriously upset successes in the fight against the pandemic, but it has also added a new dimension to mutual distrust and rivalry. The world has effectively fallen back to the “rules” of the Cold War era, when countries with different socio-political systems were desperate to prove their superiority, with little regard for common interests such as security and development.

Pursuing such a policy today is fraught with grave consequences for every nation, since new security threats care little for borders. The recent events in Afghanistan should serve as a lesson for us all, showing that any serious regional crisis, even in a most remote corner of the world, will inevitably have global implications. Therefore, we are all facing a stark choice: either unite against these new challenges or become hostage to the various extremists and adventurers.

Point 4. Some political leaders have been quick to use the challenges of the pandemic as a pretext to strengthen the role of the state at the expense of fundamental democratic principles and binding international obligations. This may be justified or even necessitated at a time of the most acute phases of a severe crisis, when all available resources need to be mobilized to repel the threat.

However, one gets the impression that some politicians are increasingly in the groove for these extended powers and would very much like to hold onto them, using the likelihood of new crises as a justification. This line of thinking could prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to a new model of international relations to be established in accordance with the modern reality, where states would be expected to pool their efforts in the interests of global security and development.

Point 5. As always happens in times of profound crises, the international community is looking to major powers and their leadership for guidance. The future course of history in all realms of life, naturally including international relations, will hinge on what these countries choose to do, deciding whether solidarity prevails over national egoism. President Putin’s initiative to hold a meeting of the heads of state of the permanent UN Security Council members could be a good starting point to foster understanding and seek new ways of moving forward. We cannot keep putting off a frank and thorough conversation about the future world order, as the costs of new delays could be too grave for everyone to handle.

From our partner RIAC

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Relevance of the Soft Power in Modern World

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In modern days, the relevance of Soft Power has increased manifolds. At times, the COIVD-19 has hooked the whole human race; this concept has further come into the limelight. The term, Soft Power was coined by the American Scientist Joseph Nye. Soft Power is the ability of a country to get what it wants through attraction rather than coercion. By tapping the tool of Soft Power, a country can earn respect and elevate its global position. Hard Power cannot be exercised exceeding a territory, and if any country follows this suit, its image is tarnished globally. However, it is Soft Power that can boost the perception and create a niche of a nation. Soft Power is regarded as the essential factor of the overall strength of a country. It can increase the adhesion and the determination of the people in a realm to shape the foreign relations of any nation. Nye held that the Soft Power arsenal would include culture, political values, and foreign policy.

After the Cold War, many nations pumped billions of dollars into Soft Power initiatives, and the US mastered this concept. The US has sailed on the waters of Soft Power by harnessing the tool of media, politics, and economic aid. The US boasts globally recognized brands and companies, Hollywood, and its quest for democratic evangelization. Through movies, the US has disseminated its culture worldwide. American movies are viewed by a massive audience worldwide. The promotion of the US culture through films is a phenomenon (culture imperialism) where the US subtly wants to dominate the world by spreading its culture. Through Hollywood films, the US has an aspiration to influence the world by using Soft Power tools. Hollywood is considered as the pioneer of fashion, and people across the globe imitate and adopt things from Hollywood to their daily life. Such cultural export lure foreign nations to fantasize about the US as a pillar of Soft Power. Educational exchange programs, earthquake relief in Japan and Haiti, famine relief in Africa stand as the best example of the US initiatives of Soft Power. Now, the American political and cultural appeal is so extensive that the majority of international institutions reflect US interests. The US, however, witnessed a drop from 1st place to 6th on the Global Soft Power Index. This wane can be attributed to the attack on the US Capitol Hill sparked by former US President Donald Trump. In addition, his dubious decisions also hold responsibilities that curtailed the US soft power image, that is, particularly the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Beijing is leaving no stone unturned to ace this area. China, rich in culture and traditional philosophy, boasts abundant sources of Soft Power. China is contemplating and exploring an innovative strategy in its rise in international politics. There have been notable elements in the Chinese diplomatic practice, including softer rhetoric, promotion of its culture abroad, economic diplomacy, and image building. Beijing, amid an ongoing pandemic, has extended vaccine help to 80 countries. Such initiative taken by China has elevated its worth globally during difficult times of the pandemic. According to the Global Soft Power index 2021, China stands in the 8th slot. China is an old civilization with a rich culture. China has stressed culture as a crucial source of Soft Power. In a bid to enhance its cultural dominance, Beijing has built many Confucius Institutes overseas. However, this has not been whole-heartedly embraced by the Chinese neighbors due to territorial disputes on the South China Sea. Moreover, International Order, dominated by the West, is wary of Beijing. China’s authoritarian political system is not welcomed in Western democracies. Therefore, China finds it hard to generate Soft Power in democracies. In recent times, Beijing has witnessed tremendous extension in its economy; thus, it focuses on harnessing economic tools to advance its Soft Power. Consequently, Beijing has driven its focus on geoeconomics to accelerate its Soft Power.

Unfortunately, Pakistan, in this sphere, finds itself in a very infirm position -securing 63rd position in the Global Soft Power Index. In comparison with Pakistan, India boasts a lot of Soft Power by achieving the 36th position in the Global Soft Power Index. Its movies, yoga, and classical and popular dance and music have uplifted the Indian soft image. In the promotion of the Indian Soft Power Image, Bollywood plays a leading role and it stretches beyond India. Bollywood has been projected as a great Soft Power tool for India. Bollywood stars are admired globally. For instance, Shahrukh Khan, known as Baadshah of Bollywood, has a fan following across the world. Through its Cinema, India has attracted the attention of the world. Indian movies have recognition in the world and helped India earn billions of dollars. However, the Modi government has curtailed the freedom of Bollywood. Filmmakers claim that their movies are victim of censorship. Moreover, the anti-Muslim narrative has triggered in India, which has tarnished the Indian image of secular country and eventually splashing the Indian Soft image. Protests of farmers, revocation of article 370 in Kashmir, and the controversial Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) have degraded the Indian Soft Power.

Pakistan is not in the tier of the countries acing the Soft Power notion. In Pakistan, expressions of Soft Power, like spiritualism, tourism, cinema, literature, cricket, and handicrafts, are untapped. Pakistan is on the list of those countries having immense tourism potential and its culture is its strength. Unfortunately, no concrete steps are taken to promote the Pakistani culture and tourism. The Pakistani movies are stuck in advancing Pakistan’s narrative worldwide due to lack of the interest of successive governments in this sphere. In addition, these movies lack suitable content, that’s why people prefer watching Bollywood or Hollywood movies. It is the job of the government to harness the expressions of Soft Power. Through movies and soap operas, we can disseminate our culture, push our narrative, and promote our tourism. Government-sponsored campaigns on electronic media can help greatly in this sphere. Apart from the role of government, this necessitates the involvement of all stakeholders, including artists, entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers, and civil society.

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Diplomacy

Planetary Drought of Leadership

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The Tokyo Olympic Games, just concluded, were a spectacular success and grateful thanks are owed to our Japanese hosts to make this event so, at a time when we were in the middle of a global pandemic. There were many doubts expressed beforehand by many people over the Games going ahead during the pandemic, but the precautionary measures put in place were well handled and not obtrusive. 

For anyone who had the opportunity to watch the Games via TV they must have been struck by the wonderful sportsmanship and friendship shown by the competitors of all nations taking part, whatever race and ethnicity. It prompted me to think and ask why the countries of the world cannot exercise some of the same degree of friendship when dealing with one another rather than push forward with agendas that are antagonistic. The world holds a number of dysfunctional states as well as oppressive dictatorships where the resident population is subjected to mental as well as physical torture. Belarus is a typical example, where the leader of the country stole the election to give himself yet another term, and quashes any dissent, with some paying the ultimate price. He has the arrogance to divert a commercial flight so that he can arrest someone who opposes him and then beats him up, before parading him in front of the cameras to say an apology, which everyone can see was forced out of him. 

The Middle East is a complex problem and has been for centuries, the home of some of the oldest civilisations and the divergent monotheistic religions, which add a complicating factor. It surprisingly has been relatively quiet for the last period. Until the next flare up.

Myanmar has also been quiet, or so it seems. The military patrols across the country, particularly in states that offer some resistance and tough guerrilla opposition. The military behave badly, continuing the practice of killing, rape and pillage if not total destruction of small communities which cannot offer any resistance. Corruption is thriving. The military government have ‘promised’ fresh elections next February, 6 months hence, but it is most unlikely that these will be ‘fair and free’. The troubled conditions will continue. It will be an issue of continuing concern for ASEAN and more widely. A recent visit for a documentary had to be carried out illegally in case the military had discovered that the local people had been welcoming and helpful. The repercussions would have been appalling.

The latest situation that has arisen is the Afghanistan blitz takeover by the Taliban, a medieval group promoting the fundamental sharia doctrine, which is out of date and treats women as ‘non-persons’. They have also harboured terrorists, one group pulling off the infamous 2001, 9/11 strike on the NY Twin Towers, which awakened the US to take strong retaliatory action in Afghanistan, and forcing the Taliban out for 20 years. Their 5-year, 1996-2001, rule of Afghanistan was brought to a close after the NY happening, when the US with Allied forces took charge and ousted them. 

But now the Taliban are back following a direct meeting with the then president Trump in 2017, no Afghan government present, and they saw him coming! Shades of North Korea. He said he would withdraw completely without proper assurances, leaving the country’s development less than half finished. President Joseph Biden completed the task of withdrawal, somewhat hasty, upsetting nearly all Americans in the process. The British were caught flat-footed and there is considerable anger expressed by MPs, not least because they realise that they no longer have the ability to resolve such issues themselves. They feel embarrassed and rightly so.

As one of the Afghan luminaries and most quoted intellectuals, prof. Djawed Sangdel, reminds us: “Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires. Even Alexander the Macedonian realised – 2,300 years ago – ‘it is easy to enter the country, but lethal when exiting it’. This especially if you do not respect domestic realities.” Indeed, the situation on the ground is chaotic.

The leader, Ashraf Ghani, of the weak ‘legal’ government has fled, not without rumours about bags full of cash, and that is one reason that the country has not progressed as well as it should, endemic corruption. Women, quite rightly, are fearful, as to what lies in store, as the Taliban’s record on treatment of them is brutal. They have promised to give emancipation within sharia law – which in their case was the combination of twisted and oversimplified Islamic teachings with the tribal nomadic pre-Islamic culture of the central Asian hights.

Looking at the country as a whole, one worries about its future; the Taliban have no track record of governing a country, particularly not one as complex as Afghanistan. They would have to greatly modify their approach to life, separate religion from state (affairs). However, there are credible doubts; once more the Northern Alliance will get together and the country will lapse into civil war. Will the Chinese see an opportunity and risk what others have failed to do? My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan.

In reviewing the past few decades, it would seem that western led democracies, when they have engaged with a country, which is in trouble, have only entered it without full humanitarian understanding of the problems and not sought a proper sustainable solution. Inevitably it takes longer than one thinks, and there are not strong enough safeguards put in to avoid financial losses to development projects, sometimes major.

The UN has a major part to play, but one must ask if today’s remit is fit for purpose, or should they be reviewed, and the countries that make up the UN should look at and ask themselves if they are fair in what they give and expect, not just monetarily.

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