Category Archives: Asia

Western Asia in 2020s: risk of major war or opportunity of Regional Integration?


The biggest opportunity in this decade for Western Asia (WA), the crucial area for the stability of the world, is a great bargain between Shia crescent and the Sunni world, for a WA integration based on a Collective Security Community and a Free Trade Integration. The region has homogeneity in religion even if heterogeneity in ethnicity, but also Europe has the same characteristics. The area has also a history of wars, mostly proxy wars recently, and great power influence and invasions (again similarly to Europe). Finally, this part of the world is economically similar with natural resources, first of all oil, and economic stable growth. Therefore is not unthinkable that Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the rest of Arab States in the region (with the presence of Israel as a pivot state) might decide for a gradual regional integration, like Europe, but also Africa, Americas and Southeast Asia decided to do in the past.

There are two issues and two possible inputs for this path. The two issues are:

-In the last two decades the regional powers (first of all Iran, but also Turkey and Saudi Arabia) supported by global ones, competed for influence over the region, creating constant violence and instability, and there seems no to be a new strategic vision for a great bargain at the horizon.

-This great bargain can be possible only with an Iranian regime change (as no Ayatollah regime will accept Israel and a regional system without Israel, even if with a special status, will not be sustainable) and this could take more than one decade to happen.

The possible inputs toward this path are:

-An Israeli-Palestinian settlement (but the recent one proposed by US and Israel has not been accepted and the solution could be postponed for long time, until “facts on the ground” are reached)

-A EU/NATO[1] support after the Iraqi/Syrian proxy wars (but the recent Middle East Strategic Alliance, an “Arab NATO”, didn’t work out and EU and NATO will be busy crafting their new relationship this decade)

The biggest risk, on the opposite, is a great war during this decade between Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon on one side and Israel and the Arab world on the other (Turkey will try to stay out,  because of NATO alliance and Iranian border, but if will enter could probably stay with the Sunni side). This risk is high in this decade, given the increased elements that point towards an escalation, and the acceleration because of three more urgent threats at global level that should be treated soon (nuclear, climate and technological). These are the 4 crucial factors that support this risk:

-End of Iranian Nuclear Deal with the real concrete possibility that Iran gets nuclear power in the next couple of years. The Iran nuclear crisis of the early 2000s will be back, pushing military urgency.

-US Peace Plan for Israel-Palestine (rejected by Palestine, Iran but also Arab league) with consequent Israeli annexation of occupied territories inside West Bank after March elections.

-Recent escalation in violence between Iran and US, with the killing of Suleimani and the prospect of more hybrid[2] warfare against Al-Quds and other Iranian militias.

-West Asia never ending proxy wars (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, may be later also Lebanon) with interventions from Iran and Russia on one side and US and allies on the other, and Turkey moving between the two, with no sign to end soon this decade.

The two possibilities don’t exclude each other, actually a major war could precede the regional integration (as it has been in the past for Europe) and the current trends seem to show a path that points towards this risk. The role of US and Russia will be also determinant to push towards one of these paths, without excluding the Chinese alignments. As a recent Stratfor report argues, the 2020s will be a Multipolar decade, with shifting and fluid alliances. So, we’ll see what happens, as Trump always says.

[1] NATO should close its Mediterranean Dialogue after 26 years and create two new partnerships: North African Dialogue (with Maghreb region) and West Asia dialogue (with Levant region). NATO Istanbul Cooperation Initiative should be expanded to all countries of GCC.

[2] Hybrid warfare blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare (among state and non-state actors with proxies, militias etc.) and cyberwarfare with other methods, at economic level (with embargos) political level (with diplomatic tools, like proposing peace plans take it or leave it) and social level (with informational warfare, lawfare etc.)



East-West competition: is it good for human species survival?


The battle between East and West has always been a battle of ideas, meaning a battle between civilization’s values and cultures, of which socio-political-economic models are an expression. Sometimes this battle becomes a military one, like in the past, sometimes an economic-political one, like in the present. In the future could be a battle for just a competition. To end in a great bargain.

The 21st century, and may be next one if we have enough time, will probably be the crucial century for the survival of humankind: while the Sixth Extinction is ongoing (called also the Anthropocene one, as made by the Humans eating the Earth slowly like a cancer) the Homo Sapiens Sapiens could be part of this extinction too, either for self-implosion, with a nuclear holocaust, speciation, with cyborg-humans creation, or for an external agent, with a meteorite or another alien invasion.

But this century will probably also see the final global hegemony and predominance of either the
“West” or the “East” of the planet, given the exponential technological grow, fast expansion of human activities and reduction of space and time on the terrestrial lives. The winner will almost surely be the social system that will master two main abilities: adaptability to change and collaboration in great numbers. These are the two factors that made our species evolve as Harari showed us, before winning against Neanderthal, and later empowering our brain development, teaching us to to cultivate, speak, write, and finally develop science and technology.

The problem we have today is that the East is more able to do the “collaboration in great numbers” side – the collective action problem solution is more an “Asian specialty”, with sustainable progress without internal interruptions – while the “adaptation/resilience/innovation” side is more a “West specialty”, with creativity and progress towards new futures and spaces (including a possible space conquer for the backup of humankind, making ours a “multiplanetary species”, coming mostly from the West mentality of scientific progress).

But as we need both to survive and make it to the future multiplanetary human civilization, why not to transform the competition in collaboration learning from each other? A great bargain for a great convergence, the “convergence of civilizations” (very different from the famous Clash one). It is not impossible. What we need is to imagine it, not because John Lennon said that, but because, as Harari again explains, imagination is what made our species to evolve with the two skills.

Currently this conflict, the so called “great powers competition”, see a slightly winning from the Asian cultures (Russian/Chinese) versus the West ones (European/American) because of economic pendulum going to the East (Esternization as someone says) and also because of the famous Sharp Power (of intrusion to destabilize, the divide et impera concept) taking advantage of the Western transparency and openness but also US/Western crisis, in particular of Soft Power (democracy appealing is reduced when there is no economic sustained growth). Nevertheless, this crisis too, as everyone, is a temporary one, waiting for the curve to go up again for a new Reinassance, that will come probably in less than a generation (as the crisis also arrived in last 20 years). The West has only to re-study the lessons learned of the past as recently Diamond argued.

First, the West will fight the “decline of its empire of ideas”, as Zakaria says, if it goes back to Classics (as we did in Florence to launch the Renaissance after Middle Age). What are the founding elements of our Western civilizations? Critical thinking, evidence-based science and individual empowerment based on liberation from tribal blocks and free experimentation. Putin involvement in Western populist movements competition (from Trump to Le Pen and Salvini) and the Jinping involvement in Western technological and infrastructural competition (from Wawei/Alibaba to BRI) is something that will not be eliminated until the West will recuperate its own “Transparent/Truthful Power”, that is Soft Power + science/facts based knowledge. This is the comparative advantage of the Western adaptation/resilience/innovation strength.

Second, the West will get another comparative advantage when will give individuals again the possibility to experiment what they want and are capable of. Meritocracy, based on the fight against corrupted bureaucrats and elites, and the moving of capitals among individuals will be the crucial elements. Following the American system, Europe should start cleaning its dirty public institutions, in particular political and academic ones, giving the new generations the possibility to grow based on their individual talents and not group belonging. Also, Europe should start a new credit system, again following the American one, with banks giving loans based on personal credit history and not family assets. Finally, Europe should bring back people to institutions, with inclusive participation coming from new movements and new technologies. The party system was good in the last centuries but now is blocking any change and make institutions slow as dinosaurs, in an age when things change very fast, with new communication and transportation possibilities (see Trump jumping from Japan to North Korea with a tweet).

This is what the West should do. And once the Renaissance arrived the West should have a long vision, not shortsighted, and launch the Great Bargain for the Planetary solution of our species survival. At that time also the South, meaning mostly the African continent, that by the end of the century will have almost 5 billions people – practically half of humankind – will be more developed and able to speak up about the future world solutions. It will probably represent the balance between East and West, being communitarian like the East but also creative like the West. It will be the glue between the East and West, helping them to master both the adaptation/innovation and the collaboration in big groups, for permanent solutions to climate change, peace and technological advancement. We must use this competition with also the “art of the deal”, that sometimes can be useful, for a final bargain to make the human experiment survive. We owe it to our ancestors, that brought us here, and our descendants, that could not exist without that bargain.


The opportunities with the end of the World Liberal Order and Pax Americana


Richard Haas in a recent article argued that the US retreat and the consequent end of the, Western built, Liberal World Order will make a world “that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, for Americans and others alike”. This short article wants to challenge this conclusion, to say that it could, but it could also represent the opposite: it is a question of perspectives. To argue so we need to challenge its definition of “World Liberal Order”.

First of all, it was a “world” order as it was dominated by the Bipolarism and then by the Unipolar moment of the US, but both of this orders ended (the first for the collapse of one of the two empires and the second for the retreat of the one left, given the unsustainability of “imperial overstretching” for both). But in reality, the order had been created by the winner of WWII, UK and US, and it was led by the West (in primis US that is why many refers to it as “Pax Americana”) while today could become really more “worldly” because of multipolarism. Many countries around the world want to have their say today and it is their right, now that the “Rest” is catching up with the “West”. The “Easternization of power”, to say it with a recent book of Gideon Rachman, shows that the balance of military, political and economic power has shifted far away from the West to Asia and this has to be taken into account by the West. Not only China and India but emerging powers with primacy in their regions desire to become the stakeholders of future regional structures, from Turkey and Iran in the Middle East, to Indonesia and the Philippines in South East Asia, to Brazil and Andean countries in South America. Regional orders are becoming more and more important with economic integration and the so called “collective security communities”, the first and oldest one being NATO, that after ending its expansion is concentrating now on defense of its borders. But there are other collective security communities in formation, first of all the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with China and Russia leading it, the Association of South East Asian Nations, with Indonesia and Thailand at the center of the ring, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, with India and Pakistan, the Organization of America States, with Mexico and Brazil as top player. The other two regions, Africa and Middle East, must resolve their internal domestic problems, before to think about a grand bargain among the regional powers. This shift from world orders to regional ones will save the preponderant power, still the US, from the risk of “imperial overstretching” of the hegemon, even if there is always the risk of the lack of order with the lack of hegemony (see the Hegemonic Stability Theory).

Second it was “liberal” as it was based on liberal values of free market and democracy, but the beneficiary of this system were especially the political and economic elites, not so much the billions of people that still struggle to achieve their human security needs around the world. This liberal order based more and more, with the time, on extreme forms of neoliberalism, liberism, and crony-capitalism, was the reason that created the enormous inequality of today, that has not end in its raising. And to end such type of liberal order could mean to limit the top-down liberalism imposed on people for the interest of the banks and great corporations, to create a more “inclusive liberalism” at grassroots level, with more inclusion for people, especially of lower classes, ethnic minorities, or discriminated people because of gender, age or different abilities. Nevertheless first, this can be done only if we pass in the West from “representative democracy” systems, often corrupted and representing the interests of the few, to a more “participatory democracy”, similarly to the ancient direct democracy, now that we have the technological tools that can help us to do that. We can look at the new “Five Stars Movement” (5SM) in Italy, that always represented a country that anticipates the trends for the Western world, being the creator of that Western civilization, from the Republic in Rome two millennia and half ago, to the Renaissance in Florence five centuries ago, to Berlusconi that arrived to power almost 25 years before Trump. This movement, born online, is the first party in Italy, and is foreseen that will govern soon the country. Its first policies will try to reduce inequality, cutting high incomes of politicians and introducing a citizen’s basic income, and to reduce the corruption of representative democracy, cutting public funding, forbidding convicted representatives to be in Parliament and limiting the mandates of lawmakers to a maximum of ten years. This is how populism could be used in a good way in other democracies too, at least provided that people can vote with the head on their shoulders, and not with the guts and the fake news of today. The problem though is that the end of political ideologies gave people insecurity on how to choose the vote and so before to give the power of “direct/participatory democracy” to the people, if we want to avoid manipulation and possibility of going back to tyrannies we need to do a formation of the people, teaching in the schools political literacy and civic education for example, and before to vote the citizens should be informed on programs more than on Facebook likes (Trump docet). The US will learn from past errors and the lobby system as well as the informational wars are things that America will be able to deal with in the short future.

Finally it was an “order” as no major conflict among great powers erupted, but it was not an order for external smaller powers, from the hot long battled in South East Asia and East Asia to the violence inside many countries, full of intra-state conflicts, with minorities repressed and securitized and dictatorial regimes supported by the West destroying their people and arriving at genocide attempts while the great powers tried to not look (from Balkans and Rwanda, to Myanmar and Syria today). The end of this “international order” therefore, could facilitate more order inside the countries, if external powers stop to meddle in other’s sovereignty and start to support actions that address the root causes of internal conflicts, fist of all economic causes, followed by political and social ones. Great power rivalry also, doesn’t exclude the support in the long term to the smaller powers, on the contrary can make competition for soft power of attraction, more that for hard power of sphere of influence, positive for the countries assisted. This is how nationalism and retreat to our own borders, today, could be used in good way: not for invasion and meddling but for respecting the dignity of any state. Great powers could deter one another while cooperating to solve global security, environmental and economic problems, that are the most urgent problems we have as humankind, from international terrorism to illicit trafficking, from climate change to epidemics, from stagnation to still presence of strong poverty. And again here the leadership of the US could be crucial, at the end of the day administrations pass but country’s values and missions remain.

Therefore, as we can see if we want to understand the advantage of living in an era of transformation, we can help to build more “Inclusive Regional Orders” with the lesson learned from the past. We don’t need to throw the baby with the bathwater, many elements of the old World Liberal Order can and should be maintained but also improved, first of all the leadership of someone that take into account the needs of all the rest, like the US could and should do in the future as it did in the past. It will be a long gestation, but we owe it to our future generations, that will hopefully live in peace one day on this planet.

Trump and the return of Pax Sinica with the end of Pax Americana


Will the year of 2017 be remembered in history as the year in which the US, willing or not, passed the baton as the world leader to China, exactly one century after it took it entering the First World War? Actually, whether we like it or not, the baton as first world economy was already going to be passed soon. But the US officially withdrawal from the 21st century world order, abdicating from the role of cornerstone of that order, with Trump “America first” exceptionalism and retrenchment, could make space for a new leader in the 21st century: China. From the leadership of a thalassocracy (sea power) like the US it seems we are passing to the leadership (or at least co-leadership) of a tellurocracy (land power) like China (if in the future together with another tellurocracy, the EU). Two events could have marked this passage in the last days: the launch in Pekin on May 14 of One belt one road initiative, in which no Western high leadership accepted to participate (most of the countries sent low level representatives) apart the Italian Prime Minister (being Venice, from Marco Polo Silk Road remembrance, included in the project), and the American withdraw from Paris Agreement on Climate Change on June first, an agreement made after many years of discussions by the UN, and especially suited for the US. But already with the US retreat from TPP and the EU new defense projects the cards started to be reshuffled.

The first event is especially important because represent a development strategy proposed by China based on cooperation between 68 Eurasian countries for the creation of the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the oceans-based “Maritime Silk Road”. It is a major plan for the next decades and is not only referred to infrastructures in order to make countries growth before to trade with them. It is also an attempt to alleviate the poverty and insecurity of these countries all together, because global challenges require global response. As Xi Jinping said: “the world must unite like a flock of geese”.

The second event, is especially important because independently from the fact that in 4 years a new President could change again the decision (this is the blessing and curse of democracy) the US lost the most important element of a leadership: the credibility. Actually, the European allies said already that the agreement will not be renegotiated after the American withdraw. A similar thing will happen also when Trump, in all likelihood, will withdraw from the Iranian agreement, making it clear that international agreements for global challenges are what they are: multinational, and so one part, even if is the strongest one, cannot decide for all the rest. These two events also cast a light on the understanding of the current losing of appeal by democracies all over the world, being two very different expressions of the actions of a democracy and an autocracy: short term and long-term policies. But this is another story.

These two events, even if they will not have a tremendous impact at international level as it happens with total wars (like the world wars) or at domestic level with a revolution (like the Russian revolution in 1917) or the implosion of an empire (like the end of Soviet Union in 1991), represent two major symbolic political moments that future historians will probably remember as the start of 21st century, even more than 9/11. Because 9/11 represented rather the end of the unipolar moment, while the 2017, with the formalization of Brexit, the Trump policies of retreat from TPP and Climate agreements and China’s full step in globalization, marks the start of a multipolar century, with a new realignment: the moving of the pendulum back to Asia.

Nevertheless, there are two good news for all the nations of the planet, including America: the first is that the new world order, that will be organized more by China, will be based on economic means, not military ones. Security at international level will not see a policeman like it has been during the short unipolar moment, for the good and for the bad. The hope here is that with shared economic growth there will be less need of conflicts, at least interstate ones (unfortunately, the intrastate ones will probably continue for the time being). The second good news is that all the world, that is Eurasia, Africa and America, including the US, is welcome to participate in a new world order, in a convergent way. The world order coming from Asia, even if with some imperialist elements (at the end of the day the infrastructures will be paid by each countries with loans from China, so all countries will be in debt with China) will not be conflictual with the rest (as the Western world order has often be, from the colonial times to the neocolonial ones). All the major experts on China agree on a peaceful and benevolent rise of China. At one condition: that we trust China as possible ally and not on the contrary suspect her as a sure rival and enemy of the old liberal Western order. Otherwise the self-fulfilling prophecy of creating our own enemy will be realized. The Chinese domestic issues, including democratic practices, will take time to be dealt with, as culture matter. All this doesn’t mean that China will be always going up without problems, as in the humankind issues there are always trends and countertrends, and China will have its own internal social and political crisis and economic decline too…but not for some time yet.

The multipolar world already started and we are at a crossroads: we, the so called “West”, meaning the EU and the US (the UK for its own decision will not count much in the future world arena) must decide, if to accept the challenge of growing together, or trying to cling to an old order that is no more. Nothing is eternal, no empires are exempt from decline and no country or sets of countries can last more than a while as world leaders (we saw it through history). The West doesn’t need to give up the military superiority (even if always balanced by Russia) but it needs to accept that all major nations will want spheres of influence in their regions. We cannot cast our presence all over the world anymore, not only because of the imperial overstretching but because of the facts on the ground: there is a moment for everything and for everyone.

So what will be the future? There are two famous theories in International Relations theory regarding conflict or cooperation that can help us to try to foresee the future: the Thucydides trap and the Prisoner dilemma. If we will follow the path of the Thucydides Trap (with the typical Western mistrust) we could go to war with China[1]. If instead we will follow the path of the Iterated Prisoner Dilemma (with an atypical Western will to cooperate instead of dominating) we will go towards world prosperity with the return of Pax Sinica after two millennia[2] (and possibly with the inclusion of Islamic ethical values on brotherhood and the Indian and aboriginal ones on protection of mother nature). The first one is a path to disaster and despair, based on individual and national interests instead of global ones. The second one is a shared and consensual path, based on covenants and agreements, on diplomacy and trust between the American thalassocracy, that will still probably be in control of the seas, being in the middle of the oceans, and the Chinese tellurocracy, that will be the land based hegemon of the Eurasian mass, together with the other super power on the other end of the big continent, the EU. It is the convergence of civilizations (instead of the ill-fated clash) that we can build for this century and even may be millennia. Posterity (if there will be one before colonizing other planets) will judge.



[1] See on this John Pilger documentary: The coming war on China. See also here:

[2] When China Rules the World: The Rise Of The Middle Kingdom And The End Of The Western World, Martin Jacques, Penguin, 2012.


“Democratic ideals and reality”, Halford J. Mackinder, 1919. Is this text still actual?

Map of the "Heartland Theory", as published by Mackinder in 1904.

Map of the “Geographical Pivot of History”, in the article of Mackinder published by Royal Geographical Society in 1904 (15 years before his book “Democratic ideals and reality”)

Mackinder, English geographer and one of the founding fathers of geopolitics and geostrategy, wrote his milestone book almost one century ago, between the two WWs, like Carr’s “Twenty years crisis”. “Democratic ideals and reality” is a product of the concepts of political geography and environmental determinism, and has played an important influence on American strategic and international studies until today. Two decades before Carr’s distinction between realist and utopian ideas, Mackinder’s realism is based on geopolitical analysis and on opposite concepts of ‘organizer’ (realist) and ‘idealist’ foreign policy.
The author argues that idealism is the ‘salt of the earth’, to move societies and civilizations, but in 1919 it had lost its social momentum, its hold on reality. The WWI had just ended and Wilson 14 points, as well as the Versailles treaty, were not convincing Mackinder. The British academic made an excursion since the end of the 18th century with the French principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, to the 19th century with the principle of nationality to the 20th century with the creation of the League of Nations and its democratic ideals (for a world community and a fair division of wealth). He argued that in reality productive power and social organization are more important in the modern civilization and that the great organizer is the great realist, because his imagination turns to ‘ways and means’ instead of ‘elusive ends’. Therefore he tried to define the geographical and economic ‘realities’ of modern world in order to help the organizer to balance the world, speaking about the ‘seaman’ and ‘landman’ points of views and considering the land power superior to the sea power.
The core geopolitical message of his book, passed through generations, is that “who rules East Europe commands the so called Heartland, who rules the Heartland commands the world-island (or great continent, that is the Euroasianafrican continent) and who rule the world-island commands the world”. Mackinder defines the Heartland as the internal part of the Euro-Asian continent, which goes from the Arctic coast to central deserts on the east, and from the Baltic to the Black Seas on the west. Mackinder believed that the power in the world was shifting from the sea-borne empires to countries that included the great land masses and who had both could have dominated the world. So if either Germany or Russia (that could have access to the sea) were able to conquer the heartland they would have conquer the world. Actually the rivalry of empires on this issue started already when Russia, as the Heartland, was the rival of England, the sea power, in the 19th century and also Germany took the lead to dominate East Europe in WWI for the same reason.
But Mackinder speaks also about other elements apart the geographical approach to international relations. In particular he dedicates two chapters to the freedom of the nations and the freedom of men, arguing that both need the same thing: a balanced and complete life. The first has to be based on equality of resources and so on external control of the economic growth with a balanced development of each nation (in order not to get out of hand and clash). The second should be based more on balanced life of provinces than on class organization. This is a very interesting point as the author remembers how the independent cities of Athens or Florence were foundational of our civilizations because they had complete and balanced microcosms, in which human beings could put in practice their ideals, remembering a sentence of Bernard Shaw: “he who can does, he who cannot teaches”. For Mackinder therefore we should go back to human scale provinces, and the national organization should be based on provincial communities. This is very actual also today with the trends of globalization counteracted with the localization, in a ‘glocalization’ process, in particular when he speaks about the demand for ‘home rule’ in Ireland or Scotland, to recuperate the values of local life against the nation-wide class organization. One hundred years after we had a referendum for autonomy in Scotland, exactly to recuperate this connection with locality, destroyed by modernization, international capitalism, and globalization.

The influence of this famous book is still discussed but has been said to have affected Hitler ideas (through the German geo-politician Karl Haushofer, who supported an alliance between Germany and the USSR in order to defeat the maritime powers). We don’t know for sure but the Hitler idea of Eastern expansion is similar to the idea of Mackinder. The book has influenced also the US, given that US grand strategy cannot allow domination of either end of Eurasia by a potentially hostile power (that today could be China ).
I would argue that Middle East, more than Eastern Europe, is the pivot region of the world today. May be the XX century saw the three world wars (the third being the Cold War) fought around Eastern Europe (and even today it is crucial as we can see on the “battle for Ukraine”) but at the time of Mackinder the energy resources of the Middle East were not discovered yet. And resources are more important than land in our modern world: who controlled them, more than who controlled Eastern Europe, won the WWI and II (UK and France, with the support of the US and URSS) and the Cold War becoming the world hegemon (the US). Also the superiority of the land countries respect to the sea-born countries is disputable today, one hundred years after Mackinder book, as again the US is a maritime power in the world. In the future actually, as George Friedman argues(1), US will retain its power thanks to this and Mexico will become an important force on the geopolitical stage. To be surrounded by oceans became the foundation of American security and wealth, economic and military power, and in the globalization era to control the sea seems more important than to control an “impregnable fortress” like the Heartland, as we can see from the naval presence of the US in East Asia and Southwest Asia (or Middle East) that allow the US to avoid the domination of either end of Eurasia by a potentially hostile power.

(1)George Friedman. The Next 100 Years. A Forecast for the 21st Century. Anchor, 2010