Z-Alternative: Russia and the U.S. as Strategic Allies

Let me begin by saying that, as we all know (or could figure out), it takes a lot more than similar geopolitical situations to create a permissive diplomatic and political environment for the creation of an alliance. Similar political and economic systems, histories, ethnic/tribal/sectarian/linguistic political elites, and perception of global threats and interests (and more) play a part in the calculus for a government to commit to the establishment or continuation of a “special relationship”. To borrow the term pundits and publics use to describe the U.S.-UK alliance.

But in this post I will argue that geopolitically, Russia and the U.S. have more common interests than the U.S. and the rest of Europe. While I’ll limit myself to a discussion of the physical geography of this argument, an exploration of the human side is necessary.  The genesis for this post was a great Foreign Affairs article (Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin). One key point in the article is the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO presenting a core threat to Russian security (a very realist, rather than liberal view). It is this point that brought me to today’s post.

Overall, Russia and the United States share a similar geopolitical position. Both are, essentially, protected by their sheer land area. Russia, of course, is in the more tenuous position because of its land borders. Russian strategists and historians are keenly aware of this fact. No less military geniuses than Chinggis Khan (13th century), Napoleon Bounaparte (19th century), and Adolf Hitler (20th century) have invaded. President Putin, and other Russian nationalists and realists, probably view the expansion of NATO and the EU into Ukraine as a prelude to a 21st century invasion.

While the United States has experienced conflict along its two long land borders, these have been resolved since the 19th century and Canada is an ally besides. The main area of concern are the oceans. The water surrounding the U.S. is the guarantor of U.S. security and commerce. Alfred Thayer Mahan understood this in the 19th century, when the British Empire successfully blockaded Napoleon’s continental empire and prevented a French invasion.

The U.S. ability to control the seas has permitted it to consider the entire Western Hemisphere its strategic backyard, much like Russia’s bordering states (the near-abroad). American readers will no doubt recall the Monroe Doctrine of President Monroe (r. 1817-1825), which locked Europe from interfering (and creating new colonies) in North and South America, and President Roosevelt’s Corollary (r. 1901-1909), which saw the U.S. insert itself into bilateral disputes between European and other American states.

There is, as you probably guessed, a realist update to the Monroe Doctrine. The National Interest, an American-conservative foreign policy magazine argued, prophetically, back in 2009 (during President Obama’s historic “reset” with Russia) that:

It would be wise for [President Obama's] administration to abandon its ill-advised campaign to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, which Moscow justifiably regards as a provocative intrusion into Russia’s security sphere. (The National Interest, A New Monroe Doctrine)

The article acknowledges Russian “violations” of activity in the U.S. strategic backyard.

More worrisome is a hawkish Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal authored by the American conservative think-tank Foreign Policy Institute (A Monroe Doctrine for NATO). FPI argues that “NATO today should apply something like the Monroe Doctrine to European states that geographic misfortune has placed outside the Alliance but whose sovereignty is essential to a Continent “whole, free and at peace.'” A recipe for just the opposite – a lasting conflict with Russia.

An alternative view, offered by Z Geography is to let the Russia have its strategic backyard, perhaps a neutral Ukraine neither fully in, nor fully out of NATO. Would it be enough to leave Ukraine, and Russia, within the Partnership for Peace? After all the point of that organization is trust-building, which is currently in short supply.

Z Geography argues, over the long-term, this strategic trust-building between the U.S. and Russia could lead to a more meaning partnership and guaranteeing of mutual security. The problem, as it so often is, is Russia’s lack of political and press freedoms. But then again, if we tacitly support President al-Sisi (former general, came to power in a coup) in Egypt, Prime Minister Prayuth (former general, came to power in a coup) in Thailand and various Kings in the Middle East (some of whom are particularly brutal to their people), why not the Russians? Aren’t both governments concerned about a stable Afghanistan? Sunni Islamist terrorism? A rising People’s Republic of China?

After all, aren’t we already pursuing the same strategic interests as Syrian President Asad (who is an Alawite) and Iranian Supreme Leader Khomeini (a Shi’a) in fighting the Islamic State (Sunnis)?

‘Death to Jews’ hamlet row in France

‘Death to Jews’ hamlet row in France http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28764207

Z is trying something new today. Today’s post, geographic naming.

A hamlet in France is known in French as “Death to Jews” or Mort aux Juifs. The name has, again, attracted attention with calls from various organizations to rename the place.

Oddly named places stirring up controversy aren’t new. U.S. states Alaska and Ohio are in a tussle over the name of Mt. McKinley named for an Ohio-born president. Alaska is pressing for the name Denali, from a deity among Alaskan tribes.

And there are other less savory names that have been the subject of controversy. Canada, in 1961, renamed Nigger Creek in British Columbia to Negro Creek.

To Z Geography more effort should be expended in community outreach and development not in, potentially,  bringing litigation against communities. Changing the name of a place doesn’t address prejudice.

What it does do is erase human history. That’s the other lesson, these place names are an important record of things that we should never forget, lest we return to the bad old days of Crusades and purges.

Organic State: New Nexus, encroaching state?

Elsewhere, Z Geography has argued that the lack of the state’s presence has facilitated the rise of (often violent) alternatives to the state. If I haven’t then now I have! The corollary, of course, is that once the state expands into an area then, presumably, the environment is less conducive to a violent insurgency (file all of this under: The Organic State).

This is my hypothesis for the latest Indian state of Telangana, which became the 29th official state in that country’s union (see BBC). As we can see from the two maps below (a little bit of map analysis) the state of Telangana is inheriting a bit of a problem with the naxalite/Maoist insurgency. Back in 2010, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called naxalism (named for the West Bengal town that birthed the movement, Naxalbari) the “biggest internal security challenge” facing India. Much of the Telangana (if not all of it) were declared severely Maoist/naxalite-affected by a government study in 2007.

However, the creation of Telangana could be a potential solution for the insurgency, at least in those districts. Like all insurgencies, the naxals thrive in areas inaccessible to state power, in May the Times of India noted a landmine blast in a forest in eastern Maharashtra killed 7 security officers. The other side of the equation, of course, is local support of which Indian tribes provide some support to the movement, not necessarily ideological. Another article from an independent news site suggests two reasons (basically unanticipated policy effects) for tribal support to the Maoists (here).

Telangana could be a solution in that it brings the state, India, closer to the insurgency. It brings a, theoretically, representative government to a smaller number of people in a smaller geographic area. Eventually, the people of Telangana will not have to compete with the local interests of voters in other areas of Andhra Pradesh. This sounds good on paper, the new state government will have to contend with official corruption (always an effective recruitment tool for an insurgency) and a much smaller budget.

On this last point Maharashtra, a state to the west (capital: Mumbai), is reportedly developing infrastructure in naxalite-affected districts to promote tourism (as reported by Times of India). This may be an effective short-term solution, tourism may provide additional employment for locals while also investing them in a wider economy, not to mention that the state security vehicles and tourist buses can use the same roads. Longer-term slaving the local economy to tourism is almost begging for violent disruption (see The Telegraph: Egypt).

Over the next decade, Telangana will slowly come into its own as a state. By then, Z Geography thinks that the naxalite insurgency will disappear from the state or, at least, be driven into obscurity like Spain’s ETA.

India’s New State: Telangana (via BBC)

Maoist Presence within India (2007, via Wikipedia)

Housing Discrimination and Immigration: Singapore

Few things are more amazing to Z Geography than the seeming uptick in xenophobia and racism in much of the world (to include the United States). What is particularly striking is the overt and public outpouring of these sentiments – from signs explaining what language to order in to, apparently, rental listings listing undesirable ethnic groups. To Z Geography, the growth of globalization/glocalization has reinforced nativist and xenophobic attitudes – from Russia, to Singapore, to the United States.

The BBC published a story on owners of rental units in Singapore restricting tenants based on ethnicity, specifically Indians and Chinese (or in the parlance of the internet, Indians/PRCs). One, of course, wonders if the restriction applies to citizens of Taiwan. It probably does, as the article details even persons of Indian or Chinese descent from western countries are viewed with suspicion. To be sure, this is not official discrimination but entirely personal. Of course, this sort of outright racism is not limited to Singapore – last October, an anonymous poster to a social media site in Norfolk, VA posted that black trick-or-treaters (Halloween was upcoming) would not be welcome in a (predominantly, one assumes) neighborhood.

As the BBC reports Singapore’s population is ethnically diverse: 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian, and 3% other. The interesting point though is that in this small southeast Asian state, 90% of people own their homes, which probably makes the population somewhat sensitive to housing prices. And this is the justification for overt racism – no Indians or Chinese because “many don’t clean weekly, and they do heavy cooking… They may use a lot of spices that release smells that people don’t like.” On the other hand, another source related that some owners would be less willingly to lease to Chinese and Indian immigrants because they are viewed as less likely to maintain the property. That sentiment, taken on its own, “less likely to maintain a property” seems reasonable to me – it is the addition of the ethnicity factor that makes the statement preposterous.

Also similar to the United States is Singapore’s separation of the public and private spheres. In both states, racial harmony and multi-identity societies are well-entrenched in public life (at least on the surface). However, the state’s views end at the private door step. There’s an obvious disconnect here between the stated public utopia and the grim reality of the private citizen. In Singapore this was thrown into stark contrast in December when foreign workers from South Asia rioted after a bus accident resulted in the death of an Indian national. Online, the saga sparked condemnation of racism in the country and criticisms of foreign workers.

We should also be rooting these anecdotes into the deepening globalization of society. But not only are foreign workers migrating in larger numbers to new places for employment, they are also sparking a glocalization movement (global-local). This movement, a reaction, is also understood as natvist. The receiving community not only engages the global community, but also reinforces its own sense of local identity. In the context of Singapore, “Singapore” is resisting the influence of immigrant Indian and Chinese communities. Obviously, Singapore isn’t the only country doing this.

Going forward, Z Geography expects to see a combination of growing support for foreign workers in Singapore as well as stiffening resistance to their presence. Whilst this will be primarily discussed within Parliament of Singapore, violent flareups – like last December’s riot – are more than likely.