Globalised Geopolitics and its consequences for the 21st century

Posted in Other | 16-Aug-05 | Author: Dr. Babak Khalatbari and Babak

Dr. Babak Khalatbari, head of mission of a German NGO in Kabul: "Think local,act global"
Dr. Babak Khalatbari, head of mission of a German NGO in Kabul: "Think local,act global"
The aim of this essay is not to reinvent the wheel or to create a new unnecessary term. Instead, it tries to find suitable explanations for the changing political paradigms and to classify existing potentials of conflict. The main term in use to explain the changing patterns will be geopolitics, as there are interesting parallels between the situation today and the age of colonialism. At the beginning of the 21st century a few emails on a personal computer in Pakistan could cause a similar crisis in security policy to the German Panthersprung to Agadir at the beginning of the 20th century. Although the German Marines never landed on Moroccan soil, the mission of the German battleship Panther caused a severe crisis, because neither, the French and the British would accept a further expansion of the German colonial empire. A war seemed more likely afterwards and the United Kingdom prepared for an attack by the German fleet. Although the scene for the political strategic manoeuvres on the eve of World War I was consciously set overseas, it had a dramatic impact on the European continent. A situation that is in many respects similar to the conflicts during the Cold War.

To a certain extent the situation at the beginning of the 21st century is not that different. From this point of view it becomes obvious that the centre can be dominated at least in the short run by the periphery. We have seen that in New York, Madrid and London. Given that background, it becomes apparent how the popular motto “think global, act local” can be turned upside down to “think local, act global”. Already during the Cold War the centres were sometimes dominated by conflicts on the periphery. The terrible terrorist attacks of 9-11 did not only broaden our understanding of – first – security and security policy, and – second – the importance of instruments of a security agenda based on Prevention, but they are also the beginning of a new era of geopolitics: of globalised geopolitics.

This new paradigm makes it understandable that a Saudi Arabian citizen could use his US-Dollars in Afghanistan, to train fundamentalists from all parts of the globe in order to export his ideological doctrine into the Western civilised world. Respectively the Western States still have the chance to intervene by military means. But nevertheless, both sides of the civil society would lose most certainly their immunity, because on the one hand the terrorists attacked Western civilisation and culture and in order to prevent such attacks, the Western world gives up some of its civil freedoms, while on the other hand the Islamic world, that serves as a safe haven for these terrorists, suffers under the consequences of the global effort to fight terrorism. Not to mention the loss in democratic culture and the antagonism between the two civil societies caused by this conflict.

Similar to the developments in the 20th century, political actions overseas can, have severe consequences for the centres of political decision making in the long run. The liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban, the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the blackmailing of Western governments by hostage taking, in order to force these governments to withdraw their troops from a specific region can serve as good documentary examples. The idea of a Greater Middle East initiative to settle the main problems does not only show that this region had been neglected for too long. It is also the attempt to define a region that will most certainly be the centre of conflicts and western geopolitical efforts of stabilisation for the following years and decades. However, it should not be forgotten that the region, described by the term Greater Middle East, is a big portion of the globe and not a simple, autonomous spot.

Babak Ordibeheschti, young academic at the University of Hamburg, Germany: "Soft power versus hard power is not the crucial question"
Babak Ordibeheschti, young academic at the University of Hamburg, Germany: "Soft power versus hard power is not the crucial question"
For all negotiations concerning this matter the concept of cultural partnership was a vital political aspect. After the attacks of 9-11 order-making partnerships were vital to any nation involved, especially if partners in the Islamic region were concerned. From the Arabic point of view this development was due to the fact that the limits of geographical and security policy had been obliterated. Furthermore the Near and Middle East and the Gulf Region are no longer seen as an autonomous region. The main thesis of this theory is based on a change in paradigms that directly result in four different areas and its implications:

  1. abolished limits in geo-strategies and security policy

  2. development towards active intervention (Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran?)

  3. new alliances (NATO’s ICI, Mediterranean partner countries, GCC)

  4. extensive redeployment of American troops in the Gulf region

The first shapes of this globalised geopolitics gained a higher profile by focusing on issues like terrorism, illegal migration and drug enforcement.

Lost Chances for a New Start

Although there were serious efforts made towards a partnership of intercultural co-operation the chance for a constructive dialogue between the Western and the Islamic world had much too easily been ruled out. The bombing campaign in Afghanistan and the war on terrorism combined with an exaggerated and incomprehensible rhetoric were the main motives for the misperception of the fight against terrorism as a fight against the Islamic World as a whole by many Muslim people and even among their leaders. The Degrading of the United Nations, the unwise selection of coalition-partners, the hard course of confrontation towards Syria and Iran, and finally the attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, were the main reasons, that a chance for a new start for a partnership between the Occident and the Orient had been given away, a partnership that could have been the beginning for a more stable and secure environment, mainly based on confidence.

The dramatic climax of this development was the war in Iraq, initiated by the American neoconservatives. Although the toppling of Saddam’s Regime did not have the promised domino-effect towards a democratisation of the whole Middle East that was implicated by the supporters of the war, the war does indeed mark – although involuntarily – a geopolitical revolution in the Middle East.

The war in Iraq was the first time since the era of decolonisation that an Arabic country was conquered and occupied by a foreign country, while the neighbouring countries played either only a marginal or no role at all. With respect to the debate of political and strategic implications the focus turns immediately to power balances, the future of regional institutions and chances for projects that are trying to set a new order. In contrary to the 1970s and 1980s it is important to notice that no Arabic state in the region has the potential to become a regional hegemonial power, and that does indeed have serious implications for an European agenda. Moreover the situation in Iraq is developing its own dynamics, perhaps Afghanistan will follow. Therefore the European Union should consider what it can do to stabilise the region, not only because it is geographically tied to the region, but also because of the potential negative repercussions for the Euro-Mediterranean partnership and the supply of energy. After the chance for a new beginning is lost, there seems to be a “window of opportunity”, that allows new alliances in a post-war environment.

The geopolitics of Asia 2010
The geopolitics of Asia 2010
New Alliances in a post-war Environment

From that point of view the region is in a phase of institutional Re-engineering. The Arabic League, its death sentence had been heard often before, has discredited itself as a political actor in the context of the war in Iraq. Proof for this development can be seen in the lively diplomatic action of the neighbouring countries beyond existing organisations and structures. The goal of these consultations was the development of a common position towards the war in Iraq and its aftermath. Both in the context of Iraq post-war policy and in the further development of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) and its North-American counterpart the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI), it would be useful to pay attention to these tendencies and possibly make use of them. To adopt an unified position and common transatlantic strategies would be much more efficient than the status quo, which is characterised by competition between the U.S. and the EU. Because of its agenda, the American effort is perceived as a kind of rivalry or a direct challenge for the EMP; the two initiatives can be compared figuratively with the two brothers Romulus and Remus.

Moreover a sustainable transformation towards more democracy in the Arabic world can only be achieved by a fundamental change in attitude towards the undemocratic leading elites in Saudi-Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other states. Otherwise the diplomatic hypocrisy will become an endless state in which some politicians engage in realpolitik and cultivating friendly relationships to some rogue states, while on the other hand demand a stronger stance towards undemocratic regimes and calling for more democracy in the Middle East. Especially George W. Bush’s handling of the term democracy seems to be very flexible: In a speech in front of members of the “National Endowment for Democracy” on November the 6th 2003 he praised the autocrats of many Arabic states (including Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi-Arabia) while at the same time he criticized the Palestinian authorities – a democratic institution. The differentiation between good guys and bad guys seems to be entirely driven by the consideration of their use. Consequences are twofold, on the one hand „Peter is getting robbed to pay Paul“, while on the other these kinds of chauvinisms are the main reason that people in the Islamic world consider the promises of more democracy as not very substantial and greet them with mockery.

The international Middle-East quartet, formed by the UNO, the USA, Russia and the EU, could initiate together with the six neighbouring states of Iraq (Iran, Kuwait, Saudi-Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey) a contact group after the model 6+4+1. Such a unified action by the Middle-East quartet, the neighbouring states and Iraq could beyond any doubt make progress in security issues possible and deepen confidence into the involved actors and by doing so lead to a new regional consultation-mechanism in security policy. It is an advantage that three of the six neighbouring states – Jordan, Turkey and Syria – are already integrated in the EMP and could function as mediators in the attempt to establish such a mechanism. The idea to launch a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Gulf (CSCG) as a new security-framework is in contrast less promising. According to some scholars a fundamental reorientation of the EMP is necessary in order to integrate more distant states into this new kind of a partnership.i

From Marrakech to Bangladesh – an Overloaded Agenda?

America's world perspective
America's world perspective
The perception of security in these ideas refers in part to a region from Marrakech to Bangladesh partially, or simply tries to cover the whole Middle East. Building an arc like this, will on the one hand overload any future agenda and on the other, holistic approaches like this one, will definitely handicap any analytical overview of the different regions, whose entity is as everybody knows diversity. According to all these ideas it should not be forgotten that such an expansion of the radius of action, respectively such an expansion of the EMP, however it is may called – “Barcelona +” or “Euro-Middle East Partnership” – could, as mentioned, overload the agenda. Furthermore it could collide with US-American interests. The commuter train bombings in Madrid in March showed that there is a need for immediate action. When terrorism conducted by al Qaeda first hit Europe, it caused a high number of casualties and even determined the outcome of a democratic election. The trail of the terrorists of Madrid led to Morocco and indicates a connection to the deadly attacks in Casablanca on May the 16th 2003. Like in the United States after 9-11 the new dimension of terrorism caused many European governments to reassess the danger caused by international network terrorism. With the attacks of Madrid it became obvious that besides the United States Europe became one of the major targets of terrorism. Osama bin Laden’s ten year old battle cry that ‘one should use no axe, if one can use a bulldozerii attracts more suicide bombers to increasingly brutal attacks.

The danger caused by Islamic extremists within the civil societies in the states of the European Union seems beyond any control. The Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz estimated for example the number of Islamic extremists within the Federal Republic of Germany to be nearly 31.800 for 2004, and it considered 3.000 of them willing to use force.iii Bearing this in mind, together with the European attitude towards the rogue states the question is how to react to these threats. The crucial question is that of war and peace. How can wars be prevented and how can peace be created and secured?

Soft Power versus Hard Power is not the crucial question

Political actors have a great variety of instruments in practising foreign policy, fighting illegal migration and especially in combating terrorism at their disposal. Generally two areas of possible action can be distinguished, Hard Power and Soft Power, while the Americans prefer the first, and the Europeans prefer the latter. In the sophisticated processes of Soft Power the EU supports those forces in foreign countries that are willing to promote reforms. The EU exerts its pressure on the undemocratic through a mixture of political dialogue and economic incentives. The United States on other hand forces regimes that are colliding with U.S.-American interests to change their policy by exerting pressures; it threatens those regimes with sanctions or with an enforced regime change while denouncing their deficits in democracy.

Hard Power and Soft Power ought to be the two sides of one coin, of the prevention of war and conflict-management. “Carrot and stick” and “speak softly and carry a big stick” are sayings that according to international relations are only credible if the threat of Hard Power is convincing. In the long run there can be no partition of the task, as suggested by Egon Bahr: The Americans are winning the wars – and afterwards the Europeans are building the peace.

Europe's world perspective
Europe's world perspective
The present strategy by the Bush administration to prevent terrorist attacks with a new edition of the Phony War may be successful in the short run, but in the long run it may very well fail. A legendary example of this one-sided strategy was given by the American secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld who, asked for the role of Soft Power in the fight against terrorism, answered: “I do not know what soft power means”. iv

Although the Common European Foreign and Security Policy is not always coherent it nevertheless seems more promising. The strategy adopted by the Europeans does not only fight the symptoms of terrorism it also tries to treat the roots of terrorism. In doing so, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is an outstanding opportunity; that has been shown already in November 2001 at a special ad-hoc-meeting of its members in Brussels.v In the aftermath of 9-11 the member states agreed on an intensified dialogue of cultures in the framework of the EMP. And furthermore they were willing to deepen the cooperation in security policy. In contrary to the past this new cooperation is more than just a common definition of terrorism and a declaration of principles, the member states agreed on practical steps in the fight against terrorism, as summarized in the Valencia Action Plan. Especially after the deadly assaults of Madrid this cooperation should be promoted.

The measures and innovations published by the United States government in the pretext of the G-8 summit are not necessarily leading to an economic transformation and more democracy to the anticipated extent. A working paper published on February the 13th 2003 in the liberal London-based newspaper al-Hayat under the headline G-8 Greater Middle East Partnership, announced an extraordinary economic transformation under the slogan of Expanding Economic Opportunities. But a transformation in the size of the revolution in economies of East Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union must be well structured. The U.S. American initiative is everything but well equipped and it discredited itself at the very first stage. It will publicly be regarded as forced upon from the outside and is in economic terms amazingly naive. A planned micro financing of $ 500 million with a payout distributed over five years, implicates that 1.2 million people currently living beyond the poverty line should be turned into entrepreneurs in only five years including an average credit sum of $ 400 per person.

Instead of an ongoing transatlantic rivalry for more influence in the region it would make sense to intensify the cooperation and turn asymmetries into synergies. The United States for example could turn their military strength into an instrument of political pressure or into a guarantee of security. That could be flanked by perspectives of economic association and integration to the European Union. Once realised it would become harder for regional leaders to play the US off against the EU or vice versa. Specific fields of interest could be fixed this way, for instance the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, enforcement of democracy, fight against terrorism, and containment of regional arms races. On the one hand regional civil societies would be strengthened, on the other budget surpluses resulting from cuts in defence could be used for a reform of the education and social systems.


Australia's world perspective
Australia's world perspective
There are at least four fields in which the impact of globalised geopolitics can be observed: the “unfinished business” in Iraq, a necessary reconstruction of existing organisations, unexpected technological interactions, and finally strong centre-periphery-reactions. All previously made considerations do not implicate that a joint transatlantic approach could be dominated by the United States. But this cooperative transatlantic strategy should be based on coordination in the vital fields of political action. It would be disastrous if the Pentagon alone continued to decide which country stands on the top of the political agenda.


A common interest in a stable Iraq and Afghanistan with federal structures and a representative political system and a realistic perspective for an integration of Turkey into the European Union should stay at the top of the agenda of such a unified project.


For the great majority its 55 years, NATO had one threat and its military and diplomatic strategy was singularly focused on containing and meeting that threat. The Prague summit was perhaps the fundamental turning point, because it released power for a new mission: Integration of seven new members and a strong appreciation that as threats had changed, NATO had to change with those threats. Then a year later, the NATO’s approach to the Middle East switched over from dialogue to cooperation as a result of the Istanbul summit. NATO’s ability to face the new regional and global challenges in security policy will be tested; the results will have sophisticated implications for both the United States and the European Union. The end to the “Out-of-area-syndrome” would revalue the role of NATO. As global challenges need to be challenged on a global level a new positioned NATO could extend its reach and tasks. At the beginning of the 21st century peace-keeping missions and nation building processes cannot be fixed unilaterally, as recent developments in Iraq show.


When the rotation press was invented in 1886 it developed an interaction with the newly invented dynamite: “Truce costs two cents each copy, dynamite forty each pound. Buy both, read the one, use the other!”vi The situation is similar 120 years later, when terrorists can use the internet, plains, trains etc. The periphery is now capable of threatening to attack and eliminate the centre with its deadly narcissism. The war against Islamic terrorism has to be won on the political and military battlefield. That is why the European Union should not underestimate the importance of cooperation with the Mediterranean states in the frame of the EMP, while focusing on the integration of Eastern Europe in the containment of terrorism especially the EU still faces the biggest portion of the challenge, not only because of her liberal refugee laws, but also it is most likely that it still shelters some Islamic networks.

World's view from the Pacific region
World's view from the Pacific region

The thesis of globalised geopolitics that could become a problem because of its severe implications may find hold in the words of a popular Prussian military strategist, who said once, that: “… in dangerous issues, as war is one, errors resulting from good nature, are usually the worst.” Even though Carl von Clausewitz has been dead for over a century-and-a-half this quotation seems to be of current interest. vii Concerning this, the Western world should strengthen its efforts to find workable solutions for the “Greater Middle East” or, from the European Point of view, Mahgreb, Mashrek and the Gulf region. At the end of the day the content counts and not its coverage.

i Tobias Schumacher and Felix Neugart introduced the term Euro-Middle East Partnership (EMEP): The EU’s Future Neighbourhood Policy in the Middle East. From the Barcelona Process to a Euro Middle East Partnership, in: Hanelt, Christian-Peter a.o. (Ed.): Regime Change in Iraq: The Transatlantic and Regional Dimensions, Gütersloh 2003, pp. 185.
ii Osama bin Laden: “[…] man keine Axt gebrauchen soll, wenn man einen Bulldozer einsetzen kann“ quotation from: Der Spiegel, No. 12/15.3.2004, p. 140. Translation into English by the author of this essay.
iii Bundesminister des Inneren (Ed.): Verfassungsschutzbericht (2004), S. 190.
iv Rumsfeld, Donald, quotation from Walter Laqueur, in: WSN-Newsletter, World Security Network Foundation, New York, June 04th, 2004.
v How far this cooperation already reaches shows the initiative by Sweden and Egypt to establish a Euro-Mediterranean Foundation that will take seat in the library of Alexandria, as was announced during the conference “Mediterranean Security” by the Egyptian ambassador and deputy foreign secretary for European matters Muhammad Shaaban. In memoriam to the assassinated Swedish foreign secretary Ana Lindth the foundation will carry her name. The foundation will focus on social and cultural dialogue.
viWahrheit kostet zwei Cent die Kopie, Dynamit vierzig Cent das Pfund. Kaufe beide, lies die eine nutze das andere!“ In: Schmid, Alex P. and Janny de Graf: Violence as Communication. Insurgent Terrorism and the Western News media, London 1982.
vii “… in gefährlichen Dingen, wie der Krieg eines ist, die Irrtümer, welche aus Gutmütigkeit entstehen, gerade die Schlimmsten sind.“ In: Khalatbari, Babak: Monopoly am Persischen Golf. Wer kommt als nächstes dran?, in: Spektrum Iran, 2002, Nr. 4, p.107.