Tag Archives: History

Coup de Terre?

This year, we will see the 100 year anniversary of what I consider to be the single most important event in the history of planet Earth: World War I.

In this TED talk, Paddy Ashdown discusses history in relation to the changing nature of our world. Ashdown first discusses about a treaty-based system of governance by the world’s most powerful nations as opposed to a power shift to the UN. Though there are fewer nations today that would be considered “powerful” than there would have been (exactly) 100 years ago, this sort of treaty system described by Ashdown was one major cause of World War I. He sees the next major conflict between East and West as primarily focused around China and nations bordering the Pacific as opposed to Russia and its allies. But Ashdown also muses on how globalization has changed and will continue to change the face of global security. Overall, this is a fantastic talk from TEDx Brussels, and definitely an interesting look on the changing nature of our world – not a coup d’état, a coup de Terre.

-Alex

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Regarding the Infequency of Posts

Hello everyone.

I just wanted to make a quick note explaining why I post somewhat infrequently on this blog. I assure you it is not on purpose. While I take a decent bit of inspiration from George Friedman, my ideas and analyses are my own. As such, each individual post requires a solid bit of research. My latest discourse on the Arab world was posted to History On Loop after 3 rewrites and some serious fact checking. So, my next post will also take a pretty significant amount of research. I don’t want to give away anything, but it will be a multi-part series discussing the future of the United States of America in a very specific historical context.

So, what do we do about the activity on this blog in between major articles? Well, I have been watching some TED Talks recently. You may remember the recent post including a presentation from Jonas Ghar Støre, and felt that it was very relevant to the blog. I will be posting more TED Talks, and discussing them with my own opinion. This should keep me more active and the content of History On Loop fresh and interesting. I am very optimistic about the future of the blog.

Thank you so much for your readership and support.

-Alex

The Cradle of Destabilization

A_map_of_the_Arab_World_with_flagsThe 21st century’s Middle East is planet Earth’s 50-yard-line for political intrigue, military intervention, and resource exploitation, but has it always been this way? Since antiquity, two types of states have typically occupied the area we know as the Middle East: major empires occupying the land for wealth and resources and small, weaker nations that were often hostile to each other. Today, we’ll take a deeper look at the history of internal and external Middle Eastern affairs, and see if we can figure out which direction the region is headed in the coming future. The nations of the Arab world have a long and detailed history, so forgive me if my version is seriously abridged.

With the Middle East, there is much to discuss, so let’s start at the beginning. The Middle East of antiquity was, as I mentioned before, a series of hostile states that often came to be dominated by larger empires like Macedonia, Ptolemaic Egypt, the Roman Republic/Empire, and most notably the Ottoman Empire whose seat of power in the Middle East spanned over 600 years. That is to say that before Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, any unity that occurred within the Middle East was the result of external forces. Prior to the rise of Islam, the peoples of the Middle East worshiped many gods. Muhammad preached that one of these many gods, Allah, was the one true god (Allah is also the same god worshiped in Christianity and Judaism). Islam began to spread quickly throughout Anatolia and the Middle East. Finally, the people of the Middle East had their first opportunity to unite through internal forces. And they did, under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, whose seat of government was based in modern day Turkey. The Ottoman Empire was a massive political and military superpower that threatened the nations of Europe for centuries until the nation collapsed in 1922. After that, the Middle East was divided up among European powers that destabilized the region, which caused a significant rise in terrorist activities.

Featuring wars between Israel and other states, Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan and Russia, among other conflicts, the Muslim world has had its share of internal problems in the 20th and 21st centuries. But, despite their problems, the nations of the Arab world have a few major beliefs to unify them. The first is Islam. It’s a no brainer. The population of Middle Eastern states is predominately Muslim. The people share a strong faith in Islam, a religion that has been under some scrutiny in recent years, and it only serves to bring the people of Dar-al-Islam closer together. The second is a strong disdain for the interventionism of western powers. Following the US backed coup in Syria and the US/UK-backed coup Iran in the mid-20th century, the Suez Crisis, and the War on Terror, among other incidents, the governments and people of the Middle East share a strong disdain for NATO powers, especially the United States. The third and final affinity shared by Middle Eastern nations is the support for Palestine over Israel. The governments of the Middle East view Israel’s statehood as illegal, and have provided aid to the PLO on numerous occasions. With a common religion and political mindset, the Middle East was in a strong position to unify into a new united country not unlike the Ottoman Empire, banding together to prevent Western interventionism.

So what is blocking the formation of this new Ottoman Empire? The United States, among other things. Make no mistake; America’s goal in the Middle East isn’t oil, WMDs, or democracy. It’s destabilization. If the nations of the Middle East were to unite under a single flag, that nation, that new Ottoman Empire, would have the world’s largest population, economy, and military. America, for its own sake, can’t let that happen. So, the US continues to support Israel, knowing the country’s presence in the Middle East is a destabilizing factor, especially among the nations bordering it. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have severely destabilized the eastern Muslim world, as have the NATO sanctions placed on Iran. Furthermore, the US continues constant, illegal (by international standards) drone strikes which undermine the sovereignty of nations like Pakistan and Yemen.

The Muslim world has also been doing a decent job of destabilizing itself recently. The Arab Spring has incited mass rioting, protest, and political turmoil among people of the Dar-al-Islam. Libyan rebels recently ended the rule of Gaddafi in a civil war, and rebels in Syria are attempting to do the same to al-Assad. The government of Egypt had been deposed twice by the people at the end of 2013. Al Qaeda has gained serious power in Iraq, even taking the former battleground of Fallujah from the government. The Yemeni people have catalyzed a change of state. The people of Tunisia ousted their president. Bahraini government has endured protests and riots for political freedom and human rights since 2011. Similar incidents have occurred in Algeria, Jordan, Oman, Sudan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran, and others. Many of these conflicts are still ongoing or unresolved.

So, what’s next for the Middle East and the Muslim world? The US has basically achieved its mission of destabilization for the time being, but once the turmoil settles down, which could be years and years from now, the Arab peoples may very well be in a place to unify. Currently, the only nation stable enough to unify the Muslim world and spark change is Turkey, the seat of the former Ottoman Empire. However, Turkey has been placing most of its focus on European relations, even going so far as applying for membership to the EU. This could either or serve to provide the Muslim world with the sort of diplomatic relations with the West it desperately needs, or it could lead to Turkey allying with Western powers and possibly joining NATO, abandoning its brothers in the Arab world. Only time will tell where Turkey is going to place its allegiance. Once the political turmoil settles down, the Arab world may very well be poised for an even bigger change than it is experiencing now. Will the Muslim world unite, forming a superpower the likes of which planet Earth has never seen, or will it crumble back into the same cycle of political violence and internal turmoil that has plagued it for over a century? Feel free to leave your opinions in the comments section and let me know where you think our world is headed!

-Alex

Talking to Terrorists?

This next week, I will be discussing the Middle East, and America’s role in shaping the region’s political landscape. In this TED talk, Støre, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, discusses the value of establishing discourse with violent groups like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. I found it to be a very thought provoking look at the way Western governments deal with hostile groups as opposed to states, and think it is an excellent precursor to our next discussion. Check it out!

-Alex

A Pagoda Divided Against Itself

With China’s massively booming economy, the nation now rivals Russia for the title of largest regional power in Asia (with Russia’s sphere of influence primarily in the north and China’s primarily in the southeast). International trade with China is at an all-time high, and many American businesses are conducting even more of their operations in China. But will this new found power last? The answer is pretty simple. Let’s take a look at Chinese history; the patterns of governmental succession are frequent and consistent. From there, it should be easy to make a prediction about China’s future.

You’ve almost certainly heard the famous quote, “those who do not remember the past are damned to repeat it.” It might be hard to believe given how the world has evolved so much, especially over the course of the 20th century, but no people’s history confirms the validity of the quote quite China’s. In early Chinese history, rulers seized and maintained power through the “Mandate of Heaven.” The people believed that the gods placed their ruler on the throne, and when things like natural disasters or famines happened, it was a sign that the gods disapproved of the ruler, who would then be overthrown. After the people stopped believing in the Mandate of Heaven, the cycle continued, as inefficient rulers were deposed when the peasants were unsatisfied with their leadership. The longest Dynasty lasted 571 years, and the shortest lasted a mere 15. Though China no longer submits to dynastic leadership, this 4,000+ year old cycle continues today.

In 1949, during a period of civil war, the Chinese Communist Party finally overthrew the previous government and established The People’s Republic of China. However, today’s Chinese government is communist in name only. China operates on a market economy, and economically speaking is the most capitalist country in the world. The government only retains the title of Communist to appease the people who fought so hard to install a communist government and so they can exercise authoritarian methods of management and control when necessary. This information will be more relevant after we examine history in relation to the Chinese economy.

What caused this economic boom in China? The answer is simple: the largest population boom in history. While China has always been an extremely populous nation, and the first to have what would be considered “modern” cities, China has sparked an unprecedented increase in population. This massive increase in the workforce has given the Chinese economy access to incredibly cheap labor to be exploited. It is this labor which fuels production and powers the Chinese economy. The fact that the economy is doing so well is what is keeping the majority of people happy and tolerant of their government. There is a serious problem with this reliance on the population trend though. The Chinese economy is absolutely dependent on this population boom to continue indefinitely, and the government has no contingency plan. Here’s the thing: no nation in history has been able to keep up such a massive population boom for as long as China has, especially not one that large. Eventually, birth rates will have to drop, as keeping up a population boom this large is virtually impossible. And when the birth rates drop, even a little bit, the Chinese economy will hit a severe depression.

While the people in China’s major cities share a strong capitalistic mentality, the majority of China’s population lives in the countryside. These rural peoples were the communists who served in the revolution, and are only too aware that their government is not adhering to the communist ideals they fought for. For now, China has a strong central government which is able to keep the population in check, but that government’s strength is directly tied to the economy; once the economy weakens, the government will be vulnerable to usurpation.

So now that we’ve discussed the past and present, let’s predict the future of China based on the nation’s history, and the history and statistics of international population growth trends. I conjecture that China will continue to be an economic and political powerhouse, at least for a little while longer. But once the birth rates drop, which they inevitably must, the economy will face a cataclysmic recession. This economic disparity will cripple the government’s ability to maintain control, and will only further aggravate the nation’s peasants whose communist mentality is still strong. That communist mentality that drove the common people to fight in 1927 will once again spark rebellion throughout the backwater provinces of China. The Chinese will again engage in a long period of civil war, which (to an extent) will disrupt the international economy. During the war, China will fragment into two separate states: one which supports the government, and one that supports the rebellion. When the smoke clears, the government will be toppled, and a new government will be installed by the rebels that resembles their communist ideals. I predict that this aforementioned “Second Chinese Civil War” will have started before the year 2050. Given the American geopolitical strategy of destabilization, the United States may very well fashion an excuse to get involved, in order to end China’s rival political influence (read: threat) and ensure that American economic interests are protected. It would not at all surprise me if America were to “temporarily” take control of the Chinese centers of production, and maintain a strong military (and even stronger economic) presence in China’s largest cities after the civil war had ended.

Perhaps if the Chinese focused more of their educational programs on history and geopolitics instead of business and traditional Confucian ideals (which includes loyalty to the government and matters of honor), they would not have such a fragile state, and would be able to disrupt their pattern of constant political instability. My ideas are, of course, speculation, but I’d love to know what you think. Leave a comment and let’s discuss!

-Alex

Crimea: A History of Violence

The recent crisis in Ukraine presents us with a unique opportunity to examine the political history and motivations of the Russian Federation and make a conjecture about the future political climate of Eastern Europe. But, in order to fully understand why this situation is so critical for Russia, we must first examine the nation’s history (as well as the history of Ukraine), starting in antiquity. Let’s start by addressing the concept of “ethnic Russians” living in Crimea. Russia has always been home to a vast number of diverse ethnic groups. Slavs, Indo-Europeans, Scythians, Muslims, Aryans, Scandinavians, Caucasians, Mongolians, nomadic tribes, and many others have called (and still call) Russia their home. As such, it should come as no surprise that the landmasses we now know as Russia and Crimea have been a hotbed of violent political activity for over two thousand years, as even the most precursory glance of Russian history would reveal that peoples continue to clash over identity and independence. It’s not hard to see why so many media outlets have been exacerbating the fact that many parts of Ukraine are “ethnically Russian.”

Russia’s first formal government was started by Viking settlers in the late 800s AD under the leadership of Rurik, a chieftain who ruled from his seat in Novgorod. However, the creation of a distinctly “Russian” culture did not form until the early 11th century, centered around their “capital” in Kiev, the present-day capital of Ukraine. It was during this period that Kievan Rus saw the adoption of the Cyrillic Alphabet and Orthodox Christianity, which would forever be associated with Russian culture.

Because of the Mongol invasions and other conflicts throughout Eastern Europe, ethnicities became blended and borders changed, resulting in a mix of Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, and nomadic tribes in what would now be Crimea/Western Russia. Eventually, the seat of power that was once nestled loosely in Kiev shifted to Moscow during these struggles. Ivan III would eventually come to be known as the first true leader of what we now know as “Russia” and his son, Ivan the Terrible, would be the first Tsar, a title derived from the Roman “Caesar.” Interestingly enough, the word “slave” comes from the word “Slav,” as the Romans’ first slaves were Slavic peoples. These Slavs first originated from the Pripyat region of modern day Ukraine, so, from a weird sort of dystopian perspective, Russia’s historical dominance over Ukraine politically, socially, and militarily could be metaphorically likened to Caesar ruling over his slaves. While the titles are almost assuredly coincidental, and I’d never imply that Latin/English grammar has somehow been incepted into the Russian political subconscious, the allegory is just something to think about whilst I discuss the military history of these two peoples moving forward.

Now, you may be asking: why can’t Ukraine stand up for itself? Traditionally, Ukraine has depended on Russia for economic and military support, and Russia has been only too happy to provide it. For most of its history, Ukraine has been a nation ravaged by war. Nomadic warriors laid waste to the country and shortly after, in the late 17th century, Poland, Turkey, Russia, and Cossack nomads invaded the land and waged war with each other, seeking to grow their empires. Ukrainian leadership turned to Russia for help, bending the knee in loyalty to the Tsar. Before the conflict had ended, hundreds of thousands lay dead as much of Ukraine’s territory was divided between the warring powers; the territory that remained sovereign was virtually obliterated. Ukraine largely remained divided and dominated by the surrounding powers until after World War I, where several communist and socialist states emerged in Ukraine. Eventually, Ukraine became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a major gain for Russia’s political and military influence. Militarily speaking, Ukraine has always been a buffer against forces hostile to Russia, shielding ethnic Russians from attack and buying the nation time to prepare defenses. While it is true that an invasion of Russia in the winter is basically a suicide mission, it is Ukraine that provides the buffer which prevents invading armies from reaching Moscow before the dawn of winter. Both Napoleon and Hitler’s armies were severely impeded by Ukrainian interference, and Russia counted on that same buffer during the Cold War.

Throughout almost the entirety of Russia’s history, the nation has been consistently ruled by an authoritarian regime. Even now, in a time of Russian “democracy,” ex-KGB officer turned President Vladimir Putin has a disproportionate amount of power, having gone back and forth between the position of President and Prime Minister for 16 years. This authoritarian mentality has been closely tied to Russia’s military and sphere of political influence. Since the fall of communism in Russia and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, Russia remains a powerful, yet severely weakened state. Russia has always depended on the size of its military for defense rather than its training. With Russia’s population on the decline, its military size declines with it. Combined with the loss of its allies and buffer states upon the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Russia is scrambling to reassert its political power and dominance on a global scale. This is why Russia made such a big show to defend the dictator and alleged mass murderer al-Assad. Syria is Russia’s last remaining ally in the Middle East, a state critical for keeping Russian influence alive in a region where the US is making major inroads. Russia is dealing with a very fragile political situation all over the world. Ukraine is a very important piece of the political puzzle for Russia, and one that it cannot afford to lose.

If you think that the US economy took a hit in the 90s, the Ukrainian economy may as well have been stabbed. And Russia has been slowly twisting the knife for well over a decade. Russia offered Ukraine $15 billion in bailout money, which included subsidies for oil. Russian oil. And only Russian oil. Russia turns off the oil supply to Ukraine whenever there is a conflict regarding the issue, keeping the Ukrainian government docile and dependent on Russia. The people of Ukraine wanted to work with the European Union to reduce dependence on Russian oil, but due to the bailout and threat of having all access to oil cut off permanently, the Ukrainian government was forced to side with the Russians. This is a major reason why the protests began in Ukraine in the first place. The government responded to these protests by making a series of very harsh, authoritarian anti-protest laws. Rather than curb the rioting, this only angered the protesters, who became more violent and ousted their Prime Minister, forcing him to flee to from Kiev into the loving arms of Mother Russia. Following the Prime Minister’s ousting to Moscow, the Ukrainian parliament repealed the anti-protest laws and began negotiating with the European Union, setting the nation on the right track to ending its financial dependence on Russia. There was also serious talk and government support of Ukraine joining NATO.

And that’s when Russia invaded. The goal of Putin’s Russia is to create a union of states in Eastern Europe and Asia consisting mostly of the former Soviet Republics like Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Georgia. This alliance would be designed to rival the EU economically and NATO militarily (to a much lesser extent because that would simply not be possible), and several states are already on board with the idea. If Russia loses Ukraine to Western influence, the Russian Federation will be severely, impossibly weakened. This is one major reason why Russia invaded Georgia during the Olympics a few years ago. The conflict was short-lived, but the message was clear. Russia is dealing with a fragile situation and it cannot afford for any of its neighbors to escape Moscow’s influence. Poland has already joined NATO, giving Western forces a place to deploy dangerously close to Moscow to launch an attack. Loosing Ukraine would spell defeat for Russia politically and militarily.

So, what’s in store for the future of Eastern Europe? For the first time in a long time, Russia is currently in a position outside the historical imperative. The Obama administration has been lenient with Russia so far, but American political influence is the only force that could have any affect on Russian foreign policy. If Putin keeps pushing, he will eventually be met with resistance, maybe more than he can handle. The future, in my opinion, holds two possible scenarios. The first involves Russia and its allies consolidating back into one larger, more authoritarian state resembling the USSR. This is the more likely scenario in my opinion, as the Russian (read: ethnically Russian) people seek a stronger government and less divided state. The second possibility, supported by analysts like George Friedman, is that Russia will cave to foreign and domestic (Chechnya, etc.) pressures and collapse, possibly even fragmenting into a series of smaller states founded on the basis of racial, ethnic, and cultural identities. Russia’s golden age is long gone and the ball is in Putin’s court. Only time will tell.

 

-Alex

Welcome to Your World

Ave reader,

Surely during your time on planet Earth you’ve encountered the common phrase, “history repeats itself.” Maybe you heard it in a history class, in a book, or maybe on TV. You probably pondered the notion for a brief moment before discarding it back to the annals of history from whence it came. Truth be told, so did I the first time I heard it; I figured it was just an interesting quote with no relevance to the modern world or my own life. After all, look at all the modern advancements in technology and medicine and engineering and science and art. How could history possibly be repeating itself? The sad truth is that most people don’t realize exactly how closely the social and political landscape of antiquity is still motivating societies around the world and driving political intrigue today.

In this blog, I seek to examine a modern geopolitical imperative by examining exactly how history has been repeating itself for millennia, shaping the modern world in which we live, and how it will shape the world of tomorrow, one current event at a time. I will discuss the opinions of famous geopolitical analysts, tie in current events, and make conjectures on the future of our world based on historical precedent.

So why write this blog? I was inspired to action by my love of ancient Roman history and 21st-century geopolitics, and felt that society’s erroneous misconceptions on issues such as China’s booming economy, turmoil in the Middle East, the decline of Cold War superpowers, and others could be remedied through a more thorough historical examination of the events and social movements that spurred change. I hope you’ll join me in this adventure in studying the world.

-Alex