Friday, February 03, 2017

Where the Problems Are

I love maps, so I can't help but comment on this Stratfor piece based on maps of China, the Middle East, Europe, and Russia for their nature as potential hotspots.

The first is of Russia. Despite the autocratic history, vast Russia really is a federation rather than a unitary state. True, Putin now appoints the regional governors to make sure they follow orders from the center, but Russia does have fracture points.

And one source of problems is the source of revenue for the state:

The map also highlights the great extent of economic diversity in this vast Russian Federation. The map shows this by identifying regional budget surpluses and deficits throughout the country. Two regions have such large surpluses that they break the scale: the City of Moscow and Sakhalin. Fifty-two regions (or 60% of Russia’s regional budgets) are in the red. The Central District, which includes Moscow, makes up more than 20% of Russia’s GDP, while Sakhalin and a few other regions that are blessed with surpluses produce Russia’s oil.

So yes, while Putin tries to give an image of strength by intervening in Ukraine, Syria, and perhaps Libya now, his home front if truly fragile. Russia is making gains but we have the ultimate advantage.

Although sadly exploiting that fully could risk further fragmentation in a nuclear-armed state. Unless that arsenal is a Potemkin village of non-working nukes, that's a problem.

The next map is of China looking east.

And yes, it graphically shows how China is potentially penned in by American allies, neutrals, or countries just hostile to China both offshore and on their flanks.

Which is one reason I'd never trade positions with China. As long as we hold the offshore and flank positions, China really is penned in.

If China looks at their situation this way, America is a natural foe that knits the separate points of opposition together into a whole that can avoid being picked apart in isolation by China.

Which is why I'd rather have China look at a map that looks west, inland.

As long as China looks to the sea as the source of their security and economic growth, war between China and America via one of our allies or directly against us is a possibility.

But a China looking west will face Russia, India, and Indonesia, with America in a supporting role rather than the main focus, thus lessening tensions between America and China.

The third map is the Middle East:

From this point of view, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya no longer exist. In their places are smaller warring statelets based on ethnic, national, and sectarian identities. Other borders (like those of Lebanon and Israel) are also redrawn to reflect actual power dynamics.

I'm only a fan of redividing states if it seems like it is in America's interests. Syria falls into that category because it harms Assad, a foe of America who has a lot of American blood on his hands.

I'm against dividing Iraq because it eliminates the Kurds and Sunni Arabs who oppose Iran from the Iraqi state. Iran is our foe. And while Iraqi Shias mostly oppose Iranian domination, a Shia-only state (well, there would still be minorities, just not as many) is clearly more vulnerable to Iranian domination.

I lean toward Libya division not to harm anyone but because it could be the path of least bloodshed. But if locals want unity, I'm fine with it. Neither unity nor division seems to be inherently for or against American interests.

I'm neutral on Yemen. It has been a problem divided and unified. I lean to unity just to keep the pro-Iran Shias less independent. But again, I don't feel strongly about this. The Shias looked to Iran out of need and so could be weaned away, I suppose.

The map does not show Turkey or Iran divided, but both have significant minorities that could surface if the central states falter. The Saudis, too, have significant Shias in the eastern oil region but this is so important to the Saudi government that they would move heaven and earth to suppress such separatist tendencies.

Anyway, there are sources of conflict all over and opportunities for neighbors near and far to intervene to shape events to their advantage.

The fourth map is of Europe. This map shows nationalist groups within the nation-states of Europe, showing how difficult it is for the European Union to speak with one voice even with just nation-states considered.

This is true, but I think that for a proto-imperial EU multi-national empire, this map shows how the EU could subdue the nation-states.

By encouraging nation-state break-up from nationalist sub-national groups, the EU could weaken the nation-states that resist EU control. Let the little weak states have their postage stamps and tourist attraction historical garb. The real power can flow to Brussels without anybody strong enough to resist the new imperial power.

Indeed, the next step could be to simply eliminate the tiniest entities. Efficiency, don't you know?

Direct rule from Brussels, anyone?

Anyway, I like maps. For good or ill they can reveal much.