28 September 2017

What is Geopolitics?

In Greek, “geo” means “earth” and “politika” means “affairs of the city.” The “earthly affairs of the city” is a more elegant definition of geopolitics than what the dictionary offers: “politics as influenced by geographic factors.” But neither of these definitions does much to explain what geopolitics is and how we use it at Geopolitical Futures. For us, geopolitics is a tool, a way of thinking about the relationship between what states can and cannot control. It is not focused on any one thing but on all things; not on any one moment but on all moments, past and future; above all, it is not judgmental. It is concerned with describing what is and leaves what should be to theologians and think tanks. Geopolitics is not something you can learn from books alone,

Geopolitics is more akin to common sense than to international relations theory. It requires you to understand why men die for their country as well as a country’s grand strategy. It requires that you know how much a loaf of bread costs at the grocery store as well as what kind of guidance system an ICBM needs to be effective. It requires that you see the world not as you would want it to be, but as it really is. Geopolitics is never disconnected from reality; it is reality at its grittiest. 


So geopolitics is the study of human communities living in a defined space. To survive, a community must have access to some basic resources like food, water and shelter. The way these things are acquired varies. Some communities live in places where it is hard to grow food, so they develop other resources to trade with nearby communities in order to provide for their well-being, and so economics springs into being. The larger the community, the more resources it needs. But resources are finite and competition for them is fierce – and that means defense of a community’s resources and members must be ensured.These types of basic needs are what we call imperatives. Geography defines what these imperatives are for each country.


Imperatives are what a country must do to survive. But not all countries survive, not all nations have their own countries (e.g., Scotland), and not all those that do are able to satisfy their imperatives (e.g., Japan in World War II). This is because there are limits to what a country can do. In the same way that a country’s geography defines its imperatives, it also defines its constraints. Russia, for instance, has an imperative to secure an area in Eastern Europe that buffers it from invasion. This is because Russia is located on the North European Plain, the invasion superhighway of Europe. The fall of the Soviet Union meant in practical terms that Russia lost control over its buffer zone. Russia’s imperative is to control this territory, but it’s an impossible task for Moscow. Russia’s military is incapable of conquering and holding Ukraine. Russia’s imperative is to change the status quo in Ukraine, but the imperative outstrips Russian capabilities. Russia is constrained. It cannot achieve its imperative. 


Consider the case of modern China. China has become an immensely powerful country. It is true that Xi is a powerful leader, one who is attempting to consolidate control over the country to prevent it from breaking apart. China’s most pressing issues is poverty and wealth disparity. The coast is wealthy and the interior is poor. Xi is caught between the masses of the interior who will revolt if wealth isn’t redistributed, and the wealthy power centers along the coast that are the source of China’s economic power. Xi is the most powerful man in China, but even he cannot solve China’s domestic issues. Or consider China’s position in the world. China has been modernizing its military at an impressive rate, but its capabilities are still fundamentally limited. China is hemmed in by various islands that allow an outside power with a strong navy to block China’s expansion. China’s navy has made great strides, but China is still not in the same weight class as the United States, and that affects China’s ability to project power in its own backyard, let alone beyond. For all of China’s strength, for instance, it has not been able to consider an amphibious assault on Taiwan. China also depends on its ability to extend its maritime boundaries because its economy has grown to its current size on the back of foreign trade. That means there are limits to how far China can push the United States, because if a real conflict between the two breaks out and the U.S. moves to block Chinese trade, it would exacerbate the domestic issues that make ruling China so difficult.

From the point of view of geopolitics, we have to understand :

Chinese geography, and the way it makes China a de facto island, to the benefit of the coast and the detriment of the interior. 

Chinese people and how Chinese history oscillates between strong, centralized control and regionalized civil war. 

China’s geography defines China’s imperatives, but also that it limits just how powerful China can become. 

we have to be able to view all of this through the eyes of China’s leader, and recognize that in many ways he is an expression of China’s imperatives and constraints. He is as shaped by them as China is itself. When you put these pieces together, you begin to arrive at a geopolitical understanding of China, and therefore a sense of what China’s future must look like


Geopolitics explains and predicts how different groups of people interact. The nation-state is the basis upon which human communities are organized today. Nation-states have imperatives – things that must be done to survive. They have capabilities – resources to help ensure survival. They have constraints – realities that cannot be overcome that set limits on what is possible. Without those limits, prediction would be impossible – without constraints, there is no horizon.

You may click on this for further reading.

*** The Constraints That Define Donald Trump

By George Friedman

One of the core principles of geopolitical forecasting is the idea that political leaders have far less personal power than they are assumed to have. They live in a universe of constraints that not only limit what they can do but also shape their agendas and actions.

When leaders take office, they are faced with complex and competing interests. As a result, the distance between what they say they want to do, what they actually intend to do and what they ultimately do can be dramatic. This is doubly true in the United States, where the founders created a system of government designed to constrain the powers of the president through several institutions: a Congress divided into two houses, running by different rules and populated by representatives who answer to their own constituencies; a Supreme Court answerable to no one and itself divided into factions; and sovereign states that are frequently free to disregard the federal government. Combine that with a dangerous world and an economy out of everyone’s control, and the president can do relatively little. This is the way the world is, and the founders compounded its complexity.

*** How North Korea Could Pull Off a Pacific Nuclear Test

With the steady escalation of both multilateral and U.S. sanctions against it, North Korea is threatening once again to ratchet up its response. The week began with U.S. President Donald Trump telling the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was on a "suicide mission" and the United States would "totally destroy" North Korea if necessary to protect itself and its allies. Trump followed up his remarks by signing an executive order on Sept. 21 that will allow the U.S. Treasury Department to go after entities trading with North Korea. On Sept. 22, Kim responded by promising countermeasures.

Even with the measures North Korea could take to minimize the damage of an atmospheric nuclear explosion, the risk of such a test is always substantial. An accident or miscalculation could result in a nuclear explosion at a location and altitude that differs from the original intent. Depending on the exact yield of the warhead, a very high-altitude nuclear test demonstration could also result in a significant electromagnetic pulse effect that would damage or at least disrupt radar, satellite and radio networks.

India and Germany: A Partnership to Be Reckoned With

By Christoph Senft

Earlier this year, the leaders of Germany and India announced that they had taken their countries' relationship "to a new level." And to be sure, over the past few decades collaboration between the two has deepened on many different fronts. But Germany's interest in India isn't merely a byproduct of the Asian century, as the 21st century is now so frequently called. Rather, it has been building gradually over time, laying a sturdy foundation for the partnership that both countries are beginning to take more and more seriously.



In 1999, India’s then-foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, travelled to Tokyo to smooth ruffled feathers after India’s nuclear tests of that year. “Relations between Japan and India are basically good,” declared Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, damning with faint praise. “But the nuclear issue remains a thorn in the throat. India’s signing of the CTBT would remove that thorn.” India did not sign the CTBT, but the thorn quickly disappeared.

The General in charge of the surgical strikes

As the highest ranking officer in Jammu and Kashmir during the September 28-29, 2016 surgical strikes, the buck literally stopped with Lieutenant General Deependra Singh Hooda.

General Hooda was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Northern Command, in charge of the planning and execution of the top secret operation across the Line of Control.

Most officers and soldiers in the Northern Command -- responsible for the security of J&K and Line of Control -- were not aware of the strikes being planned.

What Were China's Objectives in the Doklam Dispute?

by Jonah Blank
Source Link

 At 14,000 feet above sea level and with a perpetually harsh climate, the Doklam Plateau is an enormously difficult place to defend. Meanwhile, those launching an attack face exponentially greater challenges—and that's before the Himalayan winter sets in. This helps explain why China and India last week ended a military standoff there that had been festering since June. Beyond the sheer misery of preparing to fight on such a forbidding battlefield, however, both nations had every reason to deescalate one of the most serious showdowns since their sole war in 1962. The status quo ante has been essentially restored, but the dispute raised important questions about the balance of power in Asia, China's grand strategy, and what Washington can learn from the episode.

Trump’s ‘new’ Afghanistan Strategy & Indo-U.S. Strategic Partnership

Shanthie Mariet D’Souza

Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia announced on 21 August, was intended to highlight the novelty and surprise elements of a roadmap that purportedly sought little short of the decimation of terrorism. For all that, the ‘new’ strategy, its overheated semantics and studious ambiguity notwithstanding, in reality is but a continuation of the American trial and error method that has kept insurgent aspirations of a victory alive these 16 years since the US intervened in Afghanistan. After spending much blood and treasure, has the US learnt from its mistakes? Is the present strategy a break with the past? Or is it a mere continuation of a policy with no defined objectives and outcomes?

India Does Not Need Boots on Afghan Ground

NEW DELHI — President Trump has pivoted toward India and away from Pakistan. Calling upon India to help in Afghanistan, “especially in the area of economic assistance and development,” Mr. Trump was holding up the prospect of a major Indian presence to goad Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban and deny them sanctuary.

Indian policy makers were pleased with Mr. Trump’s blunt warning to Pakistan to stop “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” but Indian officials know the American president is neither measured nor consistent.

Wei Qi or Won’t Xi The Siren Call of Chinese Strategic Culture

By Lauren Dickey

These days, in the study of Chinese strategy, a fixation upon Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the chess-like game of “weiqi” (known colloquially as Go) or the concepts of shi (strategic advantage) and shashoujian (assassin’s mace) appear increasingly en vogue.[1] From the pages of The Strategy Bridge to the corridors of U.S. military academies, many are turning to ancient Chinese edicts seeking insight into the realm of strategy and statecraft.[2] The study and adaptation of Chinese strategic culture offer an antipode to Western thought, defining strategy in contextual terms of historical experience, strategic geography, and cultural traditions in a manner that appears at loggerheads with the operation of strategy in the Western sense of the term.

Pentagon Tests Lasers and Nets to Combat a Vexing Foe: ISIS Drones


WASHINGTON — At the vast, windswept White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico earlier this year, nearly a dozen military contractors armed with laser guns, high-tech nets and other experimental systems met to tackle one of the Pentagon’s most vexing counterterrorism conundrums: how to destroy the Islamic State’s increasingly lethal fleet of drones.

Options for the Ground-Based Leg of the Nuclear Triad

The Air Force is on the cusp of beginning a new major defense acquisition program (MDAP) to replace the ground-based leg of the nuclear triad. This program, known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), will be one of the Air Force’s largest acquisition programs throughout the 2020s and will likely compete for funding with other acquisition priorities, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the B-21 bomber, and the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker. The new missiles acquired under the GBSD program are projected to remain in the inventory through the 2070s and serve as the backbone of the U.S. nuclear arsenal for a generation. Before the Air Force embarks on this effort, policymakers should consider the need for a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the timing of the program, and the broader context in which this acquisition is occurring. The purpose of this report is to provide an independent assessment of the options available; including the impetus for the program, a review of the Air Force’s analysis of alternatives for the GBSD, alternatives to modernization, and key questions for policymakers to consider as the MDAP moves forward.

David versus Goliath – US irrationality and nuclear war in the Korean Peninsula

Authors: S. Chandrashekar, Rajaram Nagappa and N.Ramani

The available evidence from all the nuclear weapon and missile tests conducted by North Korea between May and September this year suggest that Kim Jong Un is no irrational madman who will resort to nuclear war for some idiosyncratic or stupid reason. Rather, each test is part of a carefully calibrated set of signals that together establish that North Korea has in place an assured retaliatory capability directed at the US and its allies in the Asia Pacific region. Accepting this reality may provide a more viable approach for realizing stability in the Korean peninsula than resorting to the shrill and often ludicrous war of words that is currently going on.

To read the complete report click here

Retaining the Army's Cyber Expertise

by Jennie W. Wenger, Caolionn O'Connell, Maria C. Lytell

In 2014, the Army established the Cyber career field as a basic branch, which includes the 17C military occupational specialty for enlisted cyber operations specialists. These soldiers require extensive training, and Army leadership is concerned that they will be lured away by lucrative jobs in the civilian labor market. This report describes findings that will help inform the Army's strategy for retaining these 17C soldiers. Our findings indicate that soldiers who qualify for 17C are more likely than others to remain in the Army through their first term; however, they also appear to be somewhat less likely to reenlist. In the civilian sector, information security analysts perform similar duties to 17Cs in the Army, and many information security analysts are veterans. Given that, 17C soldiers who do not reenlist may pursue civilian careers as information security analysts. 

The bloody battle to wrest Mosul from ISIS was the world’s largest military operation in nearly 15 years.


The bloody battle to wrest Mosul from ISIS was the world’s largest military operation in nearly 15 years. 

The Mosul offensive began on October 17, 2016, when a variegated body of more than 100,000 troops—local volunteers, regular soldiers, elite Iraqi and Western special forces—collapsed on the country's second-largest city. The force, believed to overmatch ISIS 10-to-1, moved under the cover of airpower provided by a half-dozen nations.

Advancing from the south, east and the north, Baghdad and its allies needed just 14 days to make it to Mosul’s doorstep. Iraqi special forces raced about 15 miles in those two weeks, and became the first to knock on that door. But such large-scale, coordinated assaults would prove much more difficult in the months to come. 

The Army reading list: Annoying habits, bad choices and very woolly thinking

The various Army Chiefs of Staff issued six different professional development reading lists between 2009 and 2017 (Casey I, Casey II, Dempsey I, Odierno I, Odierno II and Milley I). All these lists are completely different — Dempsey’s brief list consists of 26 books while Milley’s massive list clocks in at a staggering 115 books. These six reading lists cumulatively contain the names of 240 different books, yet not a single one shows up on every list and only one book (Makers of Modern Strategy 2nd ed.) shows up on five of the six lists. In fact, 80 percent of the books on the most recent list are not mentioned on any of the previous lists.