Geopolitics is like a game of chess in which half the pieces are invisible and nothing is what it seems. A key to making sense of what’s happening, of what different parties are doing, is to consider each player's underlying moves and motives in terms of: location and territory, access and resources. It revolves around strategies and tactics, often hidden, sometimes using distraction or misdirection to draw attention to one arena whilst making a play in another. It’s a sophisticated game; one that’s designed to increase one’s own security, wealth and advantage via influence and control.
It begs some critical questions as we look across the world, e.g. Why are things as they are? What is really going on here? What is holding our attention? What are we not-noticing? Who is shaping the narrative? Who stands to benefit most? In some contexts, asking such searching questions will lead to disapproval at best or a bullet from a passing motorcyclist at worst. Hidden forces may conspire to preoccupy us with pleasure, entertainment, drama, busyness, materialism – anything that will prevent us from pausing long enough to take a cold, deep, hard look: to think, listen, wonder, ask and pray.
I wrote a reflective piece some time before the UK Brexit Referendum, focusing on the European Union’s strategy of expansion and policy of centralisation. I questioned whether it could fuel far-right nationalism and lead to serious conflict in countries like Ukraine. Some friends who described themselves as liberal were furious: the EU ensures unity and peace. I wrote a short subsequent piece, questioning whether NATO’s expansion eastwards could equally feel threatening to Russia and create conditions for war. Some people agreed this time – but were too afraid to say it openly.
This is how power, vested interest and group-think play out. We see Russian police silencing people who dare to speak out against a brutal and self-defeating war in the Ukraine, and UK politicians silencing people who dare to question NATO, accusing them (wrongly) of supporting Putin. We don’t see any spotlight shining on the background transnational arms industry’s profits – and the influence that kind of money can exert over political decisions. Global weapons expenditure was $1981bn in 2020 and countries everywhere now are racing at breakneck speed to increase ‘defence’ budgets.
We do see heart-breaking scenes portrayed on TV and social media of frightened children, frail elderly people and families torn apart, hiding in basements or fleeing bombardment in Ukraine. We don’t see the ripple effects across the rest of the world on countries and people that were already the poorest and most vulnerable. Fuel, energy and food prices are spiralling, corruption is rife and the costs of even the most basic commodities are soaring terrifyingly. Insecurity and instability drive people to prioritise ‘strong leaders’ over democratic values. Half the pieces are invisible – and nothing is what it seems.
(For introductory reading on Geopolitics, see: Klaus Dodds: Geopolitics - A Very Short Introduction (2019); Amedeo Bettauer: Geopolitics Explained (2019)).
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