Shifting Geopolitical Sands

October 22, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Posted in Political Economy | Leave a comment
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Two events this week–Chinese overtures to a Turkey that had angrily reacted to Beijing’s suppression of Uyghur protests in Xinjiang last year and NATO’s invitation to Iran to attend security briefings on Afghanistan–are indicative of major ongoing geopolitical shifts. After the Second World War, as the United States rose to a position of world hegemony and European colonial empires were dissolved, new geopolitical regions were created–Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, etc–while older geopolitical regions–Central Asia, Central Europe, etc–were erased by the fissures of the Cold War. The new post-Second World War regionalizations often violated long historical connections–as between South Asia and the Middle East on the one hand, and between South Asia and Southeast Asia on the other. Again, the Middle East was cordoned off from Central Asia (then under Soviet rule) while China was walled off from US client states in East Asia and from Southeast Asia. In East and Southeast Asia, by the early 21st century, these Cold war divides have been replaced by greater regional integration that more closely resemble the pre-capitalist Sino-centered tributary trade system as Mark Selden has recently argued.

On the Western frontiers of Asia, the increasing prominence of Turkey, India, and Iran suggest a similar realignment of forces that resemble earlier alliances between the Ottomans and the Mughals, though in a vastly changed geopolitical ecology.

Since it came to power in the elections of 2002, the Justice and Development Party (or AKP–its acronym in Turkish) has broken partly with the Kemalist republic’s orientation to the West to leverage its multiple regional identities–as a Balkan, Black Sea, Caspian, Central Asian, European, and Mediterranean state–to become a regional and global power. Rather than brusquely disavow its pro-Western stance, Ahmet Davutoglu, the party’s chief foreign policy expert and now the Foreign Affairs Minister, advocated a “zero problems with neighbors” policy.

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Defly exploiting the street cred it acquired by refusing US troops permission to pass through its territory for the invasion of Iraq, Ankara began to mediate between Syria and Israel till the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead caused Turkey to break off the talks. Turkey’s steadfast support to the Palestinians has won it the support of Arabs, especially since President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is 82 and less active and the veteran Saudi foreign minister Saud al Feusal allegedly has Parkinson’s disease. Relations with its neighboring states has also been strengthened since the financial crisis beginning in 2008 which led to falls in Turkish exports to the EU and to a rise in its exports to its eastern neighbors.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Davutoglu engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Tiblisi and Moscow as Russian troops intervened on behalf of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008 during a brief war. Ankara has also promoted a series of meetings between Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia.

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More crucially, along with President Lula of Brazil, Erdogan has intervened in the dispute between the US and its allies and Iran over the latter’s nuclear energy program. Equally importantly, in November 2008, Davutoglu became in November 2009, the first high-level Turkish official to visit to the Kurdish Regjonal Government in northern Iraq which is akin to an Indian foreign minister visiting Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Meanwhile, India has emerged as the largest regional donor of reconstruction aid to Afghanistan, Relations between India and Afghanistan had been close till the Taliban captured power in 1996. Now, the US occupation forces and India share a common goal in eliminating Islamic extremists and it is telling that Pakistan was not invited to the high-level NATO security briefing that was attended by Iran. In large part, this is the result of the US promoting India as a regional counter-weight to China but also in part due to the relationship between the Pakistani military and intelligence services with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The US is also courting India to provide a counter-weight to Iran.

Despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s vocal opposition to Israel’s brutal oppression of the Palestinians and to US policies more generally, Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and Afghanistan where US forces are bogged down in a war they cannot win implies that the US can only extricate their forces with Iranian cooperation or an entire region with much of the world’s proven oil reserves will endure decades of political instability.

When much attention has been focussed on regional integration in east and southeast Asia, the developments sketched here suggest that there is a parallel re-emergence of regional linkages between west and south Asia. This suggests that the geopolitical regions of the world are being reshaped with much of East and Southeast Asia being reoriented towards China, while Turkey, India, and Iran are emerging as important regional powers in a re-contoured ‘geographical pivot of history,’

 

 

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