Federico Bordonaro: 2-Europe, the global recession and dividing lines

Introducing Federico Bordonaro

Federico BordonaroDr Federico Bordonaro (1972) has studied in Rome and Paris, where he achieved his Ph.D. in European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

He is professor of geopolitics at COESPU (Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units, Italy) and at various Master courses in Italian universities. Dr Bordonaro is also Europe Editor with PINR and Equilibri.net. He currently works on a study on the Anglo-American geopolitical thought.

This interview with dr Federico Bordonaro addresses his views on the global recession, dividing lines within Europe and the potential for military conflicts in Europe. Other parts are:

Interview

What are the geopolitical consequences of the global recession for Europe?

In order to answer this question, it is necessary to provide an effective definition of geopolitics and geopolitical change. Obviously, there isn’t only one possible definition of geopolitics, and everyone who has dealt with geopolitical thinking knows this fact all too well. However, I will attempt to offer a rigorous and useful definition.

First of all, the word “geopolitics” refers both to geopolitical reality and to the social science that studies such reality. Therefore I define “geopolitical reality” as the interplay among polities, geography, and technology, as well as the spatial distribution of strategically salient resources, routes, and power centres. This equals saying that geopolitical reality is the logistical infrastructure in which polities (nation-states, empires, and regions) compete.

Expanding the insights of Geoffrey Parker (“Western Geopolitical Thought”, 1985), geopolitics (i.e., the field of studies) can be defined as the study of polities as spatial phenomena, with a view toward understanding the geographical and technological base of their power, and of geopolitical traditions.

What, then, is geopolitical change? It is a change in geopolitical reality which occurs either because of technological advances (affecting the strategic relevance of a natural resource, or introducing a revolution in military affairs), or because of alterations in the spatial distribution of power centres (for instance, the rise of new great powers or economic hubs).

Now, while many observers maintain that the current international economical and financial crisis will impact global geopolitics, what evidence do we have that such deep economic crises usually affect geopolitical realities? If we look at history (the only guide we have, albeit sometimes difficult to use), we should reflect upon the geopolitical consequences of the 1929 crisis. Not because that crisis is identical to today’s one – it’s not – but because we have to grasp the causal link between international economic crises and geopolitics. Surprisingly, we find that geopolitical reality is not so much affected by such crises. For instance, the United States was a rising power in 1929. Although very heavily affected by the crisis, it continued its rise and became even stronger in the 1940s, mainly for strategic-military reasons and their impact on the US economy.

Europe went through a period of geopolitical turbulence and then of brutal change, because of Nazi Germany’s bid for hegemony. Was it a direct consequence of the 1929 crisis? Hardly. Historians have demonstrated the complexity of the Nazi rise, and the importance of political, strategic, symbolic, social, as well as economic factors in Hitlers’ success in the early 1930s. Fascist Italy continued to rise in the 1930s and it was thereafter decisively defeated by the Allies through warfare. I maintain that geopolitical and strategic problems that pre-existed the 1929 crisis have been more decisive in bringing about geopolitical change in Europe and Asia during the 1930s and 40s.

However, Europe today may discover that the current recession could accelerate the already occurring fundamental geopolitical change of our time: the rise of the Asia-Pacific region – and especially the relations between USA and China – as the fundamental axis of world power in the next decades. The reason is that, notwithstanding the severity of the recession, the US and China will be the fundamental economic centres to overcome the crisis. Although the US economy is being weakened in absolute terms, and even though the European banking system may prove more solid, Washington will come out of the recession in better shape than Europe because of political, economic, and demographic reasons.

China, albeit weakened as well, will continue to play a pivotal role in world economy. As a consequence, the Asia-Pacific region will further diminish the strategic importance of the North Atlantic-Mediterranean macro-region, which was still the fulcrum of world power during the Cold War. The Europeans haven’t grasped such geopolitical change in all its magnitude. Europe will need to confront such a structural change. Its region remains important, but not as much as it was until 1990. This will affect its relationships with Washington, Moscow, and Beijing and it will call for a new, realistic geostrategy. All of the above has more to do with medium/long run geopolitical and economic dynamics than with the current recession.

Do you expect the emergence of new dividing lines within Europe?

I believe that “new dividing lines” within Europe have already emerged. After the 2004 enlargement, the European Union has suffered from an “enlargement fatigue”. A leading EU power like France has expressed its disappointment toward the European project, because the Union hasn’t become the “Europe puissance” that De Gaulle, Mitterrand, and also Chirac had proposed as Paris’ strategic goal. “Newcomers” such as Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, and Bulgaria have been considered by Western European powers as being “too much pro-American” and the Iraqi crisis in 2002-2003 made such division lines emerge.

With the end of the Bush Administration, however, the diplomatic honeymoon between the “newcomers” and Washington seems to be ending as well. And at the same time, France and Germany want to get closer to America. It is therefore possible that “old” and “new” Europe will get closer, soon.

We should not mistake social conflicts that derive mainly from the economic recession with geopolitical fault lines. We’ve all read about British and Italian workers complaining about foreigners. But from a politico-diplomatic viewpoint, Britain has excellent relations with Italy, and Italy has – all things considered – very good relations with Romania.

The really dangerous division lines in Europe are those that are still “dormant”. They are in the Baltic and in the Black Sea regions, where the EU and NATO may have to confront a resurgent Russia. In Western Europe, geopolitical conflicts are still present in Northern Ireland and the Basque Countries. But they are manageable.

Having said this, Europe’s internal division, which hampers its rise as a truly global power, depends upon Europe’s inability to represent itself as a unitary political-strategic actor with clearly defined interests. But this is understandable, given Europe’s long history and its geographical settings!

Which parts of Europe are most liable to military conflicts?

Again, the Baltic and Black Sea regions are the ones to watch. In the first one, Poland and Lithuania, backed by Sweden, the UK, and Czech Republic, strenuously oppose the resurgence of Russian power and influence. Let’s not forget that historically Russia has tried to expand westward starting from the Baltic region. Ivan IV “the Terrible” failed, but Peter the Great succeeded in dealing a deadly blow to Sweden, and he founded St. Petersburg in 1703.

There are many Russians living in the Baltic countries, and Moscow may favour the rise of Russian nationalist networks that could destabilize the relatively young and tiny republics. Certainly, NATO has integrated the area (except obviously the Kaliningrad exclave) and this is something that restrains the Russians. But only a broad NATO-Russian agreement will guarantee a lasting peace.

In the Black Sea area, the recent Georgian-Russian war explains better than a million words that Russia doesn’t accept to be ousted from what it considers to be its “Near Abroad”. And I bet that Moscow will continue to enmesh in Ukrainian politics, in order to prevent Kiev from joining NATO. Europeans have too much faith in international organizations and supranationalism. Let’s not forget though that Georgia and Russia were both members of OSCE and CIS when they fought a war in 2008! Therefore, watch the region carefully…

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