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6.3. Perspectives by geographical location

The aim of NATO is to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down

- Lord Ismay, first Secretary-General of NATO

A geopolitical statement sums up the conclusions from numerous reports. The better ones also stand the test of time. Lord Ismay's words may serve as an example. Others will say that NATO is an upholder of democracy, a political pact that will prevent its members from being attacked. There is some truth in that. However, it did not stop Turkey from having three military coups or from invading Cyprus in 1974, and it did not protect Portugal from the dictators Salazar and Caetano. Since the end of the Cold War the USA has needed NATO more than Europe has. NATO was not designed for the new small-scale mobile wars but for the Communist danger. Many see the primary objective of NATO now as being to stall European military co-operation and progress. In that it has so far been rather successful, despite its military adventures in Afghanistan.

"The original heartlands of settled civilization were China, India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Syria-Palestine, Italy, and later Europe radiating out from the Carolingian nucleus. These civilizations were founded by rivers or at oases, and ended, in the long term, by vanquishing the nomads." (Chaliand 1990: xxi)

There have always been conquerors and conquered among the people of our planet. Sometimes changes are sudden, sometimes history seems to hibernate. Since the end of the Cold War the world map has again seen a period of major change. History has reawakened, and with it the study of geopolitics.

The leading nation among the winners, the United States, has been gaining influence in one country after another, at the expense largely of Russia, but also of Europe:

a) In Africa the USA is gaining influence at the expense of France and Russia

b) In Asia the USA is maintaining a status quo vis-à-vis the growing Chinese army.144(But they will not fight the Chinese if they can avoid it. During the Chinese offensive in the Korean War, American forces suffered the greatest defeat in US military history. The US Eighth Army narrowly escaped complete annihilation, and at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir the 7th Infantry Division and the Marine Corps barely escaped slaughter.)

If the USA is the great winner from the Cold War then Russia has been the great loser. In Europe, Russia has experienced what can only be described as complete geographical disintegration. In not much over a decade the country was forced to give up all its zones of occupation and control: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and the former Yugoslavia. It has also been forced to give up most of its annexed territories, such as the Baltic States. Its territories of influence in Moldavia and the Kaliningrad/Kônigsberg enclave may be next. The Germans would pay handsomely for it, and the Russians know that. It is a jewel to be cashed in on a rainy day.

Rather than collaborating with Europe, the US has decided to go it alone. From a realpolitical perspective this could have been expected. The US had a considerable advantage in resources: natural, economic, but in particular military; it made geopolitical sense to use those resources to exploit their lead. Now the results of this first major military offensive in the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan) are beginning to become apparent. Besides, these adventures were only possible because of borrowed money. The USA now desperately needs to use its military strength to take possession of other people's wealth if it is to survive as a superpower, but this has become increasingly difficult politically. So far the only real winners have been the Americans' own military-industrial complex, not the nation. This point alone speaks for American decline.

Nation states follow their own self-interest, just as individuals and companies do. This is the basis for all real political perspectives on international relations, which are the perspectives we must always assume when dealing with States. To pursue their self-interest, states, like private organizations, develop their own ideas of where they are and where they want to go. Success will depend not only on the resources at their disposal but also on their national character, their values. This is an old lesson well known in intelligence studies, but largely forgotten in the social sciences at large:

"Nations differ in their national character as much as individuals in personal character. For success in international relations [and in business, we might add] it is just as profitable, and indeed just as essential, to understand the character of a nation with which one is dealing as it is to understand the character of an individual in personal dealings" (Platt 1961: vii).

Washington Platt (1961: 66) speaks of a nation's "fundamental philosophy" or "the spirit of the people", which can be classified according to variables like industry, thoroughness, reliability, generosity, patriotism, courage, tenacity, spirit of fair play, will to win, optimism, initiative, aggressiveness, truthfulness, brilliance, visionary qualities, and their opposites (op. cit.: 21).

We are living in an exciting time. World history has just stepped out of the refrigerator. Over the decade and a half since the end of the Cold War history has accelerated, only to rediscover its old balance based on economic interests. Geopolitical agendas have reappeared and become politically fashionable. Lectures on Realpolitik are once again attracting the young and filling our lecture halls and auditoriums. The major difference from the Cold War period is that this time it is less about political ideologies than about economic realities. This marks the shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics.

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