The old post-cold war geoeconomic model of globalization has ended its cycle and a new phase is opening up. The analysis made by Giancarlo Elia Valori
With a view to assessing the scenario we are building, we need to work on a set of assumptions: a) the old post-cold war geoeconomic model has ended its cycle; b) the emergence of new global actors has not only economic relevance, but also strong and unforeseen strategic and military relevance; c) the long globalization phase has led to increasing regional conflicts, without solving the old Middle East and Asian divisions. Indeed, new divisions are likely to emerge, in the warm seas of South-East Asia, in the Indian Ocean, along the Yemen’s coasts and in the Eastern Baltic region. It seems to read again Toynbee or the old – and never forgotten – classic authors of geopolitics such as Mahan and Mackinder: the “buffer zones” and the “regional seas” surrounding (and isolating) the terrestrial masses from the Central-Asian Heartland to the Latin American continent and the Mediterranean “closed sea”, which unites and at the same time separates the Eurasian peninsula and its old Roman colony, the Maghreb region.
Incidentally, sometimes it would be appropriate to review the maps and the history of the Roman Empire to understand to what extent, for example, the pre-Islamic Northern Africa was essential to Rome’s economic and strategic development and to what extent the expansion to the Eastern Mediterranean was the geostrategic guarantee of the Empire’s Eastern Limes. Without the East we cannot understand Rome and we cannot even understand the way in which the small sect of Christians became the heir of Eternal Rome – a decisive cultural revolution in human history.
It is worth recalling that said passage to the East was repeated by the last glimmer of Italian strategic and economic greatness: the Maritime Republics which moved to the East to repeat the geopolitical (and economic) miracle of Europe’s Mediterranean integration – the key to its economic and military salvation. The small Eurasian peninsula, alone, was the preferred prey of the Heartland – and Stalin, with the Spanish civil war, knew so very well – while today it is now clear that the United States think they can regard the issue of their relationship with Europe only in terms of militarily curbing Putin’s Russia and, in particular, they think only to China.
In-between there is the strategic – and now geoeconomic – void of an exhausted Europe, which only thinks old-style and is unable to preserve either the Welfare State – which will shortly be no longer sustainable, not even with economic recovery – or its Mediterranean and Eastern terrestrial strategic control area. Today’s united Europe counts far less than the Europe which, after the Napoleonic wars, came to the Congress of Vienna with a view to redesigning itself and the whole world.
Hence Europe must stop thinking only to small-scale economic and tariff cabotage (which will shortly be wiped out by the TTIP agreement with the United States) and start to think again on a large scale and in grand style, as the Venetian merchants who left for the Silk Way towards Peking or the Pisan merchants who, between one travel and the other for commercial activities, brought to Europe algebra and the Greek-Alexandrine culture shifted to Arab hands.
After all, currently no European country has a long-term Mediterranean policy: we shifted from former French President Sarkozy’s attempt to build a “Union for the Mediterranean” expanding the francophone area – which largely failed – to the clumsy use of the “Arab springs” which, in their ultimate failure, have brought again to the fore the specificities of the countries which make up the region: with its current President Essesbi, Tunisia has finally restored the line of its former President Bourguiba; Egypt has gone back to Nasser-style nationalist “free officers”; Libya is the greatest mistake – a “geographical expression” and a jihadist gun levelled at Europe.
And thanks God the tribal-jihadist destabilization has not spilled over to Algeria or to Morocco’s Alawite Kingdom, which continue their regional hegemonic growth – the former to the South and the latter towards its oceanic dimension, almost as during the times of Prince Henry the Navigator told by the writer Fernando Pessoa.
Israel is alone, probably also stronger than in the past but, as things stand now, the Jewish State shall rebuild Euro-Western alliances which seemed to be taken for granted and are no longer so. The door is open to China, a former Israeli friend, and to the “Third Rome”, namely Moscow, which will arrive in the Israeli-controlled area by offering as a gift the mediation on the Iranian nuclear power and the silencing of Bashar el Assad’s Syria, confined to the hinterland of the post-Soviet military ports in the Syrian Mediterranean. It would be almost the return of the Soviet “V Eskadra” to the Mediterranean, one of the Cold War theatres.
The “great peace” of universal trade and exchanges, predicted by the advocates of the 1990s globalization-Americanization has not materialized, and we must certainly not be surprised with it. Foreign policy cannot be carried out by turning what Benedetto Croce defined as “the fascinating charm and allures of the sorceress Alcina in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso” into versatile slogans, a sort of “Jack of all trades and master of none”: the notions of Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights can be outlined and explained in very different ways according to the meridians or parallels in which they emerge.
As Voltaire maintained in its entry for “Laws” of the still very useful “Philosophical Dictionary”, all border areas and the old areas left on the fringes of the bipolar world have turned into areas with a high marginal value and contestable.
Hence, on the contrary, the new phase of market globalization is basically the large-scale transfer of mature companies to countries with a low labour cost, with the return to the West – unplanned and linked to the Eastern and Arab decision-makers – of the financial capital so produced. The West will no longer be in a position to compete with the new world industrial areas, otherwise it would be socially destabilized – as we are already experiencing.
Either we find a new productive cycle to be managed as continent – and there are none in the offing – or we become a great world hub for trade and exchanges – but, in the latter case, we need to think of a new geostrategic role for the European Union and Italy, in particular.
I do not see any European or Italian decision maker capable of designing this geopolitical mechanism.
At most, as is the case with Italy, major state-owned companies are sold off to cash money and lightly postpone the default.
Hence, as I was saying, the classic geopolitical thinking must be revived both for Europe and the rest of the world. We must work on this assumption: globalization has produced new and dangerous strategic “fault lines” which must be analyzed and stabilized, otherwise anything may start a fire, which will not be nuclear, but economic and financial.
The Russian Federation, with its eleven time zones, now reduced to nine, cannot be treated as a mere regional power. Moreover, Vladimir Vladimorovic Putin is playing his strategic cards in a wise and far-sighted way, and is focusing on the importance of Russian gas and oil – the fortune and curse of the former Soviet Union and current Russia. Russia has exported 166.3 billion cubic meters of hydrocarbons to Western Europe and the threat that in the past was along the nuclear threshold of the Fulda Gap in Germany – with the Soviet plans of expansion to Europe (updated until 1992) – has turned into an equally severe geoeconomic threat.
Hence, we must define a new post-Soviet containment policy, with Moscow which has an interest (which materializes as a threat) in stopping before Poland, with the guarantee of having an expansion area to Central Asia and to the borders with China, in addition to a presence (indeed, already real) of post-Soviet Russia in some minor strategic centres in Africa.
The axis could be precisely the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), created to protect China from the “Four Modernizations” – and, in the year of the attack against the Twin Towers, from the Islamist or anyway localist terrorism – which will be turned from “Asian European Union” into “Asian NATO”, where Russia could have its new “centre of gravity” shifting part of post-Soviet pressure from Western Europe – where now this type of pressure is – so to say – “out of fashion”.
China should have the international guarantee of a new security order in the Three Rivers region, north of India, where the British ill-advised and reckless hurry of withdrawing from its Indian colony badly divided all the States in the region and made them weaker and more asymmetrical: Pakistan, the Indian Federation, Bhutan, the Himalaya system and the small ethnic and religious enclaves still present there, not to mention the geostrategic consequences of the malfunctioning of this area in the Tibet region, the real Chinese outpost to control the “Northern enemy”, namely Russia, the country from which the invasions of the “barbarians” originated – badly protected by the Great Wall.
China’s strategic plans are today too ambitious, but it is possible to negotiate some strategic and geoeconomic security for China not excessively penalizing Japan and, indeed, restore its geoeconomic hegemony over its old “co-prosperity area” between the maritime South-East Asia, the many Pacific islands and South Korea.
India will certainly have green light in its regional seas, while tension along its Northern borders will be such as not to enable it to have a terrestrial rayonnement in the Heartland, except for a “right-of-way” in Afghanistan which, after the failed Western stabilization, will be the Middle Earth between it and Pakistan, which wants its shift and slide area to the West against the Indian nuclear threat and the Shia – and hence Iranian – recolonization towards the Great Middle East, with a heavy level of control over the terrestrial routes of the new Silk Way.
Strategic mistakes are never economic, but stem from the lack of historic and esoteric culture: it would suffice to know the Alexandrine-Greek-Indian art of ancient Afghan jewellery and sculpture, with its symbols, to find again the right interpretation and strategic key in the region.
Nothing is impossible for those who can negotiate rationally and keep always in mind their countries’ medium- and long-term interest, while respecting their opponents.
After all it is a primary rule in karate: “technique before strength, spirit before technique” and, in particular, “never forget the use or release of strength”.
Latin America will be subjected to tensions arising from the fight for hegemony between two major countries, namely Brazil and – after the next cyclical financial crisis – Argentina.
A new MERCOSUR is impossible, considering the different complexion of the two poles of attraction on world markets – which cannot be consider overlapping from the cultural and ethnic viewpoints – between the Brazilian Lusitania rich in African memories and Argentina, the point of arrival of Italians, Galicians, Syrian-Lebanese (and Jews).
The United States will rediscover to have a natural bent for the “Monroe Doctrine” of exclusive control over their South, namely Latin America, which will be the complementary area of their mature productive systems (also in the “grey” and “black” economy, now fully integrated into the “white” financial systems) and – apart from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – they will slowly leave the European Union to its fate of Eurasian peninsula, except for some operations à la carte in a U.N. and NATO framework.
The bones of contention will be the South Pole and the North Pole, a wealth of valuable raw materials. We wonder who will win in the Big Chill, towards the two attractive Poles. It springs to our mind the great “utopian Socialist” Charles Fourier who, in his “Theory of the Four Movements” spoke of a new era of mankind when the Aurora Borealis would materialize in the Poles.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Professor of International Economy and Politics at the Peking University and President of “La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa”