Dr. Martin Luther King: One Day Children Will Ask ‘What is War?’

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I spend a lot of time analyzing foreign policy and strategy and sometimes find myself consumed with the motivations of state actors and policies rather than the direction that these policies trend towards. It is important for me (and you) to be reminded of a bigger picture and the possibillities of a more humane world. Dr. King is a reoccuring source of inspiration for me and I share with you a passage that I read a few times a year to help remind me what I value.

One day,

Youngsters will learn words they will not understand,

Children from India will ask: “What is hunger?”

Children from Alabama will ask: “What is racial segregation?”

Children from Hiroshima will ask: “What is the atomic bomb?”

Children at school will ask: “What is war?”

You will answer them, you will tell them: “Those are words not used any more,

Like ‘stage-coaches’, ‘galleys’ or ‘slavery’,

Words no longer meaningful,

That is why they have been removed from dictionaries.”

 Martin Luther King


Video: The Intermediate Region – Dimitri Kitsikis

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Here is a video from a Russian website with Dr. Kitsikis giving a lecture to a group of Russian Scholars on his development of the Intermediate Region.


Afghanistan and Opium: Russia’s Growing Problem

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This paper was a project in Economic Geography that I thought I would post since it is somewhat relevant and also since I am in the midst of writing the bulk of the Central Asian research project. All posts that have previously been mentioned as planned will still appear but will likely have to wait until the paper is finished which means after the new year with the exception of Regions & Resources, which is nearly complete.

*The structure and format of this paper was specific to the project*

In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan to fight Al-Qaeda and the terrorist networks responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Opium production in Afghanistan has since increased from the pre-invasion production levels to a point today that more than doubles that amount.[i] A growing concern for the future of Afghan security is in the opium fields, which are estimated to supply about 90% of the world’s opium.[ii]

The decision for farmers to produce opium is not merely for profit. It is not always more profitable than legal or licit crops but is widely grown since it travels very easily, stores for long periods of time, and creates wage labor in rural areas.[iii] Wealthy farmers will diversify their crops and, “In this context, opium is a rural livelihood strategy that is highly dependent on resources such as favorable geography, access to irrigated land and thriving markets, and diverse crops. Afghans who are unable to take advantage of these are likely to experience increased opium dependency.”[iv]

Finally, the motivation to combat the opium problem from the government seems disingenuous since there have been multiple occasions where Afghan officials have been caught or implicated in the drug trade. [v] Further, the counter-narcotics policies of Western governments seem to allow for the expansion, or at least the sustainability, of the opium trade. These policies target those who cultivate opium as a last resort and are at the core of the supply problem, but neglect the wealthy land owners whose profits will actually increase due to diverse crop substitution that allows them to reap the premiums associated with a decreased supply of opium. [vi]

Who is Most Affected by The Afghan Opium Trade?

Russia is one country that is notoriously affected by the opium trade of Afghanistan. There are over 30,000 youth deaths in Russia every year from opium use.[vii] It leads the world in heroin use and their user’s amount to 2.5 million for a population of 140 million people, which contrasts with China who has the same number of users but with a population level of 1.34 billion people.[viii]  This is an obvious threat to national security as well as a contributing factor in Russia’s ongoing demographic crisis.[ix]

The demographic crisis in Russia stems from the low birth rates and high mortality rates of the late and post-Soviet era and has been identified as an ongoing crisis. Russian birth rates remain low despite improvements due to government programs but the gender gap of lifetime expectancy is the highest in the world.[x] The drug problem has also exacerbated the HIV problem due to the widespread use of needles, contributing further to this crisis.

Russia has urged for international cooperation on the matter, particularly from the US due to their occupation of Afghanistan where most opium is grown.[xi] The problem is not uniquely Russian; the drug trade has to make its way through Central Asia where Russia is not always allowed a military presence. They have increased border troops in Tajikistan but lack the necessary permission to station troops in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.[xii] Who is transporting the drugs maybe an even larger problem. Islamic groups within Afghanistan, members of organized crime, and even Russian government organizations have been suspected of being complicit.[xiii]


            The sources used in this article are all from respected sources of journalism with the one exception being the academic paper from DePaul University. Although more current articles were available, I chose to use those that most accurately described the situation at hand and dealt with multiple issues. As you can see, most sources are cited more than once as they contained the most useful information.

Tom Peter of the Christian Science Monitor writes about the increasing production of Afghan opium in an article from October 11th, 2012. He notes that crop blight has limited agricultural production this year and that will force farmers to gravitate towards the poppy to compensate for lost revenue due to the increase in price. Most interestingly, he notes that the Taliban has used the disagreement between farmers and the government to recruit those unhappy with the government’s stand.

In the New York Times, Alissa Rubin and Matthew Rosenberg give a brief history on the efforts, in dollar amounts, of the US to combat the opium problem. More importantly, they look forward to the possible reactions of this year’s crop blight on the economy of Afghanistan as well as what the future hold in 2014, when the US is scheduled to draw down forces.

            Opium production and distribution: Poppies, profits and power in Afghanistan is an academic paper from the graduate school at DePaul University. It is not written by a professor but being a thesis, it was peer-reviewed by a panel of professors in an International Studies program. It is a lengthy dissertation on the Afghan opium problem with many interesting points and I would be lying if I said that I read the entire document.

Stratfor, short for strategic forecasting, is a bi-partisan policy research center that publishes free weekly articles for those that sign up for the email list. Normally, this is a site that requires a subscription but when one can get top-notch analysis for free, why go elsewhere? The article referenced covers Russia’s demographic crisis with regards to the heroin problem. It is one of the few articles that actually cites statistics from Russia’s health ministry as well as identifies Russian institutions that may have a role in the drug trade.

An article by Ellen Barry, also from the New York Times, goes into details about the relationship between the US and Russia concerning the Afghan opium trade. The change in US policy away from the destruction of poppy fields is described as “dramatic” as it considers what the outcomes would be for the Afghan people if the fields were destroyed and this is the case that is made as to why the US has stopped the eradication of the poppy.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace featured a collaboration of six authors in an article titled “Russia’s Demographic Crisis” and it seems to be the most informative of the sources. It takes a look at the demographic indicators of Russia in 2011 as a means to identify exactly where the problems are located.

The articles from Stratfor and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace seem to be the most informative and provide raw data to support their arguments while the academic paper is, of course, an excellent resource. The New York Times and Atlantic articles are also fantastic discussions of the problem at hand but being more focused they are not as informative as others.


            While Afghans will notice the most ’cause and effect’ from the drug trade on their everyday life, Russians are affected the most by the trade. With a demographic crisis ongoing, the opium trade threatens the future of the country and a population that is already insufficient to meet its needs in as little as ten years to two decades. Most agree that the crisis will have the most affect around 2030. [xiv]

The bulk of the discussion now refers to birth and mortality rates since the collapse of the USSR, but demographic indicators are the ‘cause’ not the ‘effect’ of the crisis. The economic impact of a nation without the necessary workforce could be devastating. Finding ten million people to fill the employment gaps would be challenging in any country but for Russia it would be even more difficult without the benefit of English as lingua franca.

Russia is beginning to wage its own war on drugs at a time when the US policy, at least internationally, has seemed to shift to avoid a prolonged economic downturn in Afghanistan by way of ceasing the eradication program. There is a conflict of interests at play in Afghanistan between the US and Russia as well as the Afghanis and low-income farmers, of which the Taliban seems to be taking advantage.

[i] Peter, Tom, Christian Science Monitor, Afghanistan still world’s top opium supplier, despite 10 years of US-led war http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2011/1011/Afghanistan-still-world-s-top-opium-supplier-despite-10-years-of-US-led-war  (10/11/2011).

[ii] Alissa Rubin and Matthew Rosenberg, The New York Times, U.S. Efforts Fail to Curtail Trade in Afghan Opium, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/world/asia/drug-traffic-remains-as-us-nears-afghanistan-exit.html?pagewanted=all

[iii] Nicoletti, Michael, “Opium production and distribution: Poppies, profits and power in Afghanistan” (2011). http://via.library.depaul.edu/etd/74

[iv] Nicoletti, Michael, “Opium production and distribution: Poppies, profits and power in Afghanistan” (2011).

[v] Alissa Rubin and Matthew Rosenberg, The New York Times, U.S. Efforts Fail to Curtail Trade in Afghan Opium. (05/26/12).

[vi] Nicoletti, Michael, “Opium production and distribution: Poppies, profits and power in Afghanistan” (2011).

[vii] Stratfor, Russia: Heroin and a Bleak Demographic Picture, http://www.stratfor.com/sample/analysis/russia-heroin-and-bleak-demographic-picture (3/12/2009).

[viii] Ellen Barry, The New York Times, Russia, Plagued by Heroin Use, to Press U.S. on Destroying Afghan Poppy Crops. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/23/world/europe/23russia.html?_r=0 (9/22/09).

[ix] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Russia’s Demographic Crisis, http://www.carnegieendowment.org/2012/01/26/russia-s-demographic-crisis/9aml

[x] Heineman Jr., Ben W., The Atlantic, In Russia, A Demographic Crisis and Worries for a Nation’s Future. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/10/in-russia-a-demographic-crisis-and-worries-for-nations-future/246277/

[xi] Ellen Barry, Russia, The New York Times, Plagued by Heroin Use, to Press U.S. on Destroying Afghan Poppy Crops.

[xii] Stratfor, Russia: Heroin and a Bleak Demographic Picture. (3/12/09)

[xiii] Stratfor, Russia: Heroin and a Bleak Demographic Picture. (3/12/09)

[xiv] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Russia’s Demographic Crisis. (1/26/2011).

A Century of (Western) Geopolitics

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When discussing the history, scope, and effectiveness of geopolitical theories The Geographical Pivot of History by Sir Halford Mackinder is the definitive starting point (for the western world). It is a remarkable departure from the sea-based theories of political power that previous works of geopolitics had revolved around in the 18th and 19th centuries and according to Mackinder, was due to the fact that (in 1902), “we are for the first time in a position to attempt, with some degree of completeness, a correlation between the larger geographical and the larger historical generalizations.”  This seminal work gives several accounts of the geographical effects on the developing balance between land and sea power, empires and raiders, and aspects of continental rivalries.

Mackinder refers to the Eurasian continent as the “world-island” that contains two-thirds of the world’s population. He asks the reader to consider “Europe and European history as subordinate to that of Asia and Asiatic history” since the history of Europe is characterized as “the outcome of the secular struggle against Asian invasion.”  For over a thousand years horsemen from Asia traversed the broad region between the Caspian Sea the Ural Mountains to strike at the European peninsula. Opposing these invaders shaped the history of Europeans (Russians, Germans, French, Italians, and Byzantine Greeks) as the horsemen’s lack of mobility was exposed in the forests and mountains. Their power base was the steppe lands, or Central Asia.

Halford Mackinder was a geographer and this is a work that puts an emphasis on the historical scope of political geography. In the first portion Mackinder admits “My concern is with the general physical control, rather than the causes of universal history.” He then identifies the defining nature of certain geographic relationships, particularly the “Pivot” or “Heartland” area of Eurasia, in the later portion. He asks “Is not the pivot region of the world’s politics that vast area of Euro-Asia which is inaccessible to ships, but in antiquity lay open to the horse-riding nomads, and is to-day about to be covered with a network of railways?” This area is landlocked and possesses no waterways to the ocean. The north is hedged by a sub-arctic forest and it is surrounded by mountains or the inland Caspian Sea to the south, east, and west. This region features a broad steppe-land that is easily traversed and this favored the mobility of the steppes’ horsemen. Throughout history this is where the territory of empires ended and began.

Outside of the Pivot area is the marginal or inner crescent, which is part continental and part oceanic and beyond that is the outer crescent, which is entirely oceanic. To the south, east, and west of the heartland lie what Mackinder called the “marginal regions” of the inner crescent which he divided into four geographic areas. Asia possesses two of these regions that he called monsoon lands (China and India) that are each angled away from each other, one to the north and one to the south. Europe and the “lands of the five seas” or Middle East are the other two regions surrounding the pivot. These geographic regions coincide with the spheres of influence of the four major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity.

The historical scope with which Mackinder identifies spatial determinism, a specific interpretation of the term: geopolitics, is ground breaking. His organization of land and sea power with regards to geography was recognized and built upon, most notably, before and after WWII and after the fall of the Soviet Union. While this work does not provide any testable hypotheses for US foreign policy, the stated geographical relationships compelled it to be the progenitor of further geopolitical strategies. The division of the Eurasian continent or world island into pivot or heartland region, inner crescent, and outer crescent was Mackinder’s observation of a “certain persistence of geographical relationship[s].” He identified what was then the Russian Empire as the central strategic position, or heartland, of the world island and the notable states of the inner crescent as Turkey, Germany, Austria, South Africa, India, China, Japan, Britain and the US. He summarized his Heartland Theory in a later work:

“Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island controls the world.” (Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality 1919, 106)

The Geographical Pivot of History

Nicholas J. Spykman’s The Geography of the Peace built upon Mackinder’s work in a much more extensive and focused manner. Spykman’s work is a containment strategy in a military sense as it attempts to define a number of geographic and geopolitical concerns to the disruption of peace from the Soviet threat in the post WWII era (where he correctly assumes an allied victory in 1942, the time of the writing). He considers geographic and geostrategic roles in peace and war, security, factors of foreign policy, location with regards to world power, and power potential. This is all done before he addresses “Mackinder’s World.”

Spykman claims that due to Mackinder, “we can now take up in detail the specific regions into which we have divided [the world] and analyze their meaning in terms of power potential and the politics of global security. We must evaluate the role which each zone has in the past played in international society” Beginning with the heartland, Spykman explains that there is a new mobility in the Eurasian land mass due to improvements in infrastructure of rail, road, and airplanes but the natural obstacles of transportation will keep the central Asian region from realizing its power potential for the immediate future.

Spykman redefines Mackinder’s Inner Crescent as The Rimland, which is the intermediate region between the Pivot and the seas and he also considered this area as the “Eurasian Conflict Zones.” He elaborates on Mackinder’s broad definitions: the monsoon lands according to Spykman are two different geopolitical categories whose power will be expressed as two different units, India and China, and he refers to “Asiatic Mediterranean” as an area of significance in the future of an independent Asian world. While he is critical of the assumptions of the Pivot, he states that “Like all good geopolitical analysis, however, the Mackinder study represented a picture of the constellation of forces which existed at a particular time and within a particular frame of reference.”

Spykman’s Eurasian Conflict Zones

While other scholars have attempted to redefine or reinterpret Mackinder or Spykman or both, Samuel P. Huntington set forth an evolutionary piece of geopolitical theory in 1993’s The Clash of Civilizations? Huntington presents his work as a theory of culture and civilization that utilizes a modernization theory of political violence. As such, it is also very much a geopolitical theory since civilizations are in part defined by a specific, generally fixed territory. His hypothesis is that conflict in the post-Cold War era will be between differing cultures or civilizations instead of those of an ideological nature. He argues that this conflict will take place along “cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from one another.” He pays special attention to Islam, noting that its cultures are to likely be the primary clash in the future of the Western world.

Huntington identifies six main reasons why civilizations will clash: basic differences between civilizations (history, language, culture, tradition, and religion), increasing global integration/knowledge of other civilizations, economic and social modernization/separation of local identities, “growth of civilization-consciousness”, that differences in culture are now much more apparent, and the increase of economic regionalism. He also describes the “fault lines” at which these clashes will take place. Conflict, according to Huntington, will take place at both the micro and macro level. At the micro level, the territorial boundaries of civilizations are replacing ideological and political boundaries and it is along these lines that opposing groups will clash. On the macro level, core states or civilization-states will compete for economic and military power as well as the influence of international institutions and religion.

Huntington’s Civilizations

These sources are by no means definitive of the western study of geopolitics but rather the lines of demarcation for the advancement of this school as a whole over of the last century. While all three uniquely address geopolitics they also transcend into other academic disciplines as well: Mackinder’s Pivot is a fantastic read of history and geography, Spykman is concerned with the military strategy and geostrategy of Soviet containment, and Huntington’s Clash is a political violence theory that views the world through the lens of anthropology.

Scholars such as Yves LaCoste, Dimitri Kitsikis (who does not care for publishing in English or allowing English translations apparently), Karl Haushofer, and Gerard Toal have all made significant contributions to the study of geopolitics in the 20th century but ultimately they did not fit the scope of this work. Kitsikis’ Intermediate Region is particularly intriguing but it seems to be a reassessment of the Eurasian continent in terms of its regions and civilizations and their geographic implications.  Mackinder’s regions of the marginal crescent are redefined again with influence of Spykman, it seems. A number of journalistic sources will also be used in my analysis to note the number of realtime develoments that either support or refute my thesis. Most of those sites can be found in the sidebar.

A note on content

The planned Regions & Resources of Central Asia post is still in the works but due to a crisis of sources (no Kitsikis available) I had to readjust the scope of my research accordingly. Those pesky midterms got in the way, too. Future posts will be as follows:

Regions and Resources: A Central Asian Primer, The Northern Distribution Network (NDN), The Definition of Geopolitics: Part I, The Great Game/Tournament of Shadows in the 21st Century and of course the occasional In The News posts will still happen if there are relevant events that take place. Cheers.

Bill Moyers – Secret Government

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Since one of the goals of this blog is to bring insight into the foreign policy process of the US, I present to you this documentary by former White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers that is very informative of the elements of our government rarely discussed by our major media outlets. (While I really enjoyed this documentary, that song in the beginning is terrible.)

It’s too bad that PBS no longer puts out this type of investigative journalism.

Quotes: Spykman on Power

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There is a tendency, especially among certain liberals and many who call themselves idealists, to believe that the subject of power in the international world should not be spoken of except in terms of moral disapproval. They consider that studies concerning the organization of peace and security should deal only with the ideals of our democratic civilization and visions of a better world order in which power will play no part.

As a matter of fact, political ideals and visions unsupported by force appear to have little survival value. Our Western democracies certainly owe their existence and preservation to the effective use of power, either on their own part or on the part of an ally.

– Nicholas J. Spykman

In the News: 10/8/2012

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I have updated the site with a set of links found in the sidebar to the right. These are links to sites or authors that are relevant to the interests of this blog. Cheers. 

  • A retired Pakistani General gives his thoughts on the Great Game and the future of Pakistani relations in the region in this interview from the Voice of Russia. Considering the potential triumvirate forming with regards to the powers eyeing Central Asia, media from Russia and China must be considered in order to form a more well-rounded perspective with as little bias as possible. Other regional interests of the Game are discussed in this article where the divisions created by the partition of India are alive and well, unfortunately.
  • This EurasiaNet.org commentary on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) of NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan provides a current status of the supply chain as well as political implications of the scheduled draw-down of forces in 2014. Full analysis of the NDN by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, although it is from 2010, can be found here or a direct link can be found in the sidebar.
  • Nicholas J. Spykman has been dubbed “The Godfather of Containment” for his geostrategic work outlining Cold War containment principles of Soviet forces in The Geography of the Peace. Since I cannot legally link to a work that is still protected by copyright, I present to you this scholarly article that considers Spykman’s other works and their implications. Spykman, Mackinder, and Huntington’s geopolitical/geostrategic theories will all be discussed in a future post and I’m hoping to add Kitsikis’ Intermediate Region if I can find an English version. Mackinder’s “Pivot” has been added to the sidebar.

Spykman’s Eurasian Conflict Zones

Central Asian Roundup

Next up – Regions & Resources: A Central Asian Primer. A historical context will be provided along with a current status of each Central Asian state’s resources, trade relations, infrastructure and political orientation. The literature review for the project will likely be ready about the same time and I will use that for a post covering the geopolitical theories that I will be using.  They should ready sometime later this month and until then I will post news as it becomes relevant.

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