Archive for the ‘strategic energy ellipse’ Category


The Rise of Greater Persia?

February 14, 2013

At one time, Persia was the greatest empire in the world, stretching from the Indus River in the east to Libya in the west.  From its height of power around 500 BC, Greater Persia gradually receded through the centuries as it was alternately conquered by outside powers or reasserted sovereignty through a succession of “empires.”  But, as late as the 19th century, Persia was a much larger nation than it is today.  Beginning with an ill fated war with Russia, Persia steadily lost bits and pieces of its territory to Western nations or their local surrogates.


The current leadership – or more precisely, a possible future iteration of the current regime – seems to want to reverse this trend.  Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Bokiri Kherrozi  is currently the head of the Hezbollah organization in Iran and is running for the national Presidency this spring, has declared his intention of reclaiming for Iran the lands of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and parts of Tajikstan which were lost in the 19th century.  The Iranian government has officially disavowed Kherozzi’s statements, but clearly there is a market for such expansionary nationalism in Iran.  If Iran gets nuclear weapons (or if perhaps it already has them) then its neighbors – especially those to which Iran has territorial claims or pretensions – should be very worried – the shield that the US military provides would be a lot less formidable when facing a nuclear opponent.


Clinton: US seeks to prevent the Eurasian Union

December 18, 2012

Vladimir Putin’s plan for a common Eurasian economic space dominated by Russia will face the resistance of the United States.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared the objective to be a “re-Sovietization of the region” and that the US intends to prevent it, or at a minimum to slow it down.

Clinton is the author of the much discussed “reset” in US/Russian relations – although that “reset” has been more rhetoric than reality, as the two nations have continued to jostle on most of the same issues that separated them during the Bush presidency.

The Eurasian space contains the Strategic Energy Ellipse, the most intensive concentration of fossil fuels on the entire globe.  The US, Russia and China are engaged in a tripartite struggle to maximize their own access to those resources and to prevent their domination by either of the other two.  This is the primary conflict between these nations, and everything else – missile defense, Syria, Iran, etc – is secondary.  Of course the US will resist Russian imperial impulses in Central Asia.  The reset was never anything more than a feint, a trick, a dodge.


This map shows the Strategic Energy Ellipse in Central Asia, relative to the four primary energy consuming centers of the world.



Update: Long Cycle coalitioning phase

October 15, 2012

For those new to this blog, it is written on the theoretical foundation of long cycle theory, which holds that the modern world system has displayed a clear pattern of repeated periodicity over the last 500 years.  Each historical cycle lasts roughly a century, give or take a few decades, and within each cycle there are four distinct phases.

Each cycle begins with a macrodecision – usually a major war.  The victor in each war becomes the hegemon, or leader, of the global economy and begins the implementation of their leadership , which is the next phase.  This is followed by the “agenda setting” phase, in which the dominant issues of the cycle are defined and the seeds of the next challenge are planted.  Finally, there is a “coalitioning” phase, in which various nations line up beside the existing hegemon or the large power that is rising to challenge it.  I believe that the agenda around which the next macrodecision will be contested is energy, and that we are currently in the coalitioning phase as old alliances are variously shattered/strengthened/expanded and new alliances are formed.   This should be especially pronounced in major energy producing areas, the largest (by far) in the world today is the Strategic Energy Ellipse (SEE), which encompasses the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf regions.

Strategic Energy Ellipse from Kemp and Harkavy, “Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East”

I have two new posts on the ongoing coalitioning phase today.  The first is Joshua Kucera’s explication of the Great Caspian Arms Race, as the five nations with claims on the energy-rich Caspian Sea build up their forces in the area in anticipation of confrontation.  Russia has been by far the dominant power in the region, but Iran is a growing nation intent on pursuing its own claims.   However, most of the energy supplies are in regions internationally recognized as the sovereign territories of either Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan.  Each of these three smaller nations is building up forces to protect their claims, and the allegiance of all three is seen as a prize in the coalitioning game.  Azerbaijan is the only one that has a firmly declared side – the Azeri’s are America’s steadiest ally in the region.  Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are not committed to any side, and indeed are seeking to involve China in order to claim the most benefits from the greatest number of interested parties.

A post from the Central Asia-Caucusus Institute further discusses China’s involvement in the region.  Steven Blank examines China’s drive into the region and the possibility that they could supplant Russia in influence.  China’s interest is driven primarily by her huge thirst for energy, and the large supplies in the Caspian are alluring.  In his essay, Blank discusses how China has become the prime partner of former Soviet state Krygyzstan, putting them one step closer to the actual Caspian states (their goal is for a large pipeline to ship energy from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and then Kyrgyzstan and on into China).

Clearly, China and Russia have the advantage of geographic proximity, but the US is not without cards to play.  We have close allies in Georgia and Azerbaijan, we will retain a presence in Afghanistan even after the 2014 “withdrawal,” we have a developing relationship with India, and we have a tremendous military power concentrated in and around the Persian Gulf.  Indeed, even after 2014, the US will remain the most potent military force in the entire SEE.


The Obama Dominoes

August 1, 2011

I wrote over the weekend how the situation in Iraq is suddenly crumbling while the (what should have been) certain victory in Libya is also slipping away.   The Obama Administration is preparing the ground for a withdrawal from Afghanistan.  The Arab Spring has swept away our longtime ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.  Turkey is turning its back on secularism, and casting eyes toward our rivals Russia and China in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  With American power and prestige in the region in obvious decline, even the linchpin of American strategy in the region – stalwart ally Saudi Arabia – is seeking an entente with our regional nemesis, Iran.  From Stratfor lst month:  Something extraordinary, albeit not unexpected, is happening in the Persian Gulf region. The United States, lacking a coherent strategy to deal with Iran and too distracted to develop one, is struggling to navigate Iraq’s fractious political landscape in search of a deal that would allow Washington to keep a meaningful military presence in the country beyond the end-of-2011 deadline stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, dubious of U.S. capabilities and intentions toward Iran, appears to be inching reluctantly toward an accommodation with its Persian adversary.

Is this the end of the American Era in the Greater Middle East, or can the decline be reversed – or at least halted – by a renewed focus by the current Administration?   Perhaps, after being frustrated and dominated by the Republicans in Congress (and with domestic policy making hamstrung by the stagnant economy), the White House will seek to make a mark in foreign policy.    This is a pivotal moment for a United States that has been operating without a coherent grand strategy for half a decade.  Let’s hope the Administration siezes the opportunity before any more dominoes fall.

Russia flexing muscles in Caspian energy basin

May 14, 2010

Despite the lack of a treaty with the other Caspian states (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan), Russia is pressing forward with energy development in the Caspian Sea, launching its first offshore rig last month.

In the not so distant past, the US was in a position to influence – if not dominate – Central Asia, the Caspian basin and the Strategic Energy Ellipse.  Today, that position is nearly lost and the Russia-organized Collective Security Treaty Organization and the China-organized Shanghai Cooperation Organization are the dominant players.   US influence is in steep decline.