Cybernetics of migration in the Covidian Age

Last year marked record numbers of illegal immigrant arrivals to the Canary Islands, Spain’s Atlantic exclave off the Moroccan coast. More than twenty thousand irregular entries occurred, completely overwhelming the system. The last time this happened in such a scale was in 2006, when similar numbers reached the Canarian shores, in an episode known as the Cayuco Crisis, cayucos being the kind of ill-equipped canoe used by immigrants.

In many senses, Spain was a more influential country then than it is now. Prime Minister José María Aznar had joined George W. Bush’s global neocon axis, becoming an enthusiastic ally in the latter’s Middle Eastern campaigns. Post-financial crisis disillusionment and perpetual emergency states were not a thing yet. Global pandemics were only a hypothetical risk, usually ranked beneath terrorism and drug trafficking in the annual security concepts published by Western governments. SARS-CoV1 had been overcome a couple years before: the world was optimistic.

Coronavirus has been one of the main reasons for the current surge on immigration, something not entirely unexpected. After all, many industries have been shattered by lock-downs, and men who once earned a living as fishermen, laborers or menial workers have gone out of work. In the regions of upstream in the migratory process -Senegal, Mauritania, Mali-, often lacking the security nets Western welfare States provide, this has an enormous economic impact. The dismal economic data from Europe doesn’t sound as bad in comparison, triggering the migration wave.

Increased security in the EU’s external borders due to the enforcement of quarantines, however, has completely altered the flow dynamics of immigration. For starters, “hot expulsions” –returning irregulars at the moment they attempt to cross the border– have become nigh-impossible: countries of origin do not take them in anymore. The bureaucratic nightmare of processing the newcomers who could theoretically stay has become much worse, too, due to the administration slowing down. Complying with the dilated time schedules imposed by epidemiological knowledge has clogged the already overflowing Immigrant Detention Centers.

The result: thousands of Moroccan and Sub-Saharan young men now crowd the docks of Canarian small-town harbors, with nothing to do until they figure out a way to enter the Iberian Peninsula and from there scatter around Europe. This is especially relevant, as many of the recently-arrived wish to go on in their journey to countries wealthier than Spain, with more permissive policies and, perhaps, some family members already waiting for them. For many, keeping the borders with France or Germany open is just as important as leaving Africa.

As if the migration-related spike in crime wasn’t enough, in a time were gatherings of more than six people are tightly restricted for health reasons, the uncontrolled mass gatherings of young men does not sit well with the locals. Covid has been added to the list of alleged health risks posed by the arrivals: HIV, tuberculosis, and a variety of exotic infections. Police and other public servants, who have to deal physically with immigrants, often lack means to do so safely, and feel abandoned by the government, which does not provide enough protection equipment and resources.

Nothing new under the sun: unwelcome foreigners and invaders have always been accused of bringing various infectious curses; that’s why syphilis was known as the “French disease” (everywhere but in France). It is interesting to notice, however, that most of the dangerous diseases carried by irregulars living in Spain have been acquired during immigration, or even more likely, after it. The dire conditions in which illegal aliens live –squatted, overcrowded apartments, lack of access to health services– and the marginal activities they often engage in, such as junk scavenging, prostitution and drug use, make them risk populations for HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and the like.

As a curious anecdote, it should be stated that Spain’s HIV prevalence is three times as high as Morocco’s or Algeria’s, and roughly equal to that in Senegal or Mauritania. It’s hard to imagine Islamic values and more restrictive sexual mores do not play a role in this fact. Non-STDs, on the other hand, offer a different picture. The comeback of tuberculosis in Spanish cities is mostly attributable to foreigners, for example, and diseases such as African trypanosomiasis and malaria obviously do not come from France.

In any case, establishment voices trying to dissipate fears about illegal immigration usually highlight the fact that, in Spain, the most likely profile of irregular is that of a 40ish year old Colombian woman working as a household aid. This media interpretation of the facts serves to portray those who criticize immigration policy as bigoted paranoids: middle-aged Latinas and their children are unlikely bringers of diseases or, God forbid, Jihad. And after all, it is true that citizens from African countries comprise less than 10% of irregulars. Compared to South Americans, they are a tiny minority.

African immigration presents nonetheless such distinct challenges that its management deserves special policies. This is due to two connected security issues: the already mentioned risk of infiltration by jihadists, and geopolitical competition in North Africa, which not only involves Spain and Morocco, but also Algeria, France, and of course the American Empire and its runner-ups: Russia and China. Covid and the other diseases, nonetheless, have their own particular role in this game, as atavic bywords of the perils of foreign invasion.

Jihadism is a disruptive force in the Sahel, the strip of semi-arid steppe South of the Sahara that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. There, Holy War is intertwined with local turf disputes and ethnic conflict. Illegal trafficking of goods and people is significant, mostly directed towards the North, and even across the Mediterranean. The Arab Spring didn’t help in stabilizing the region. Libya, formerly a story of relative success, is in shreds and has become the biggest slave market in the continent. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda franchises have been successful in exploiting State weaknesses all over: Mali, for example, has only about 10,000 poorly-armed men to defend an area roughly twice the size of Texas.

The presence of rich resources has made all major players in global politics interested in the Sahel. Oil, gas, gold and even uranium can be extracted from the ground with relative ease. The US officially considers the region as outside its main strategic focus, which is more and more directed towards the Pacific and the South China Sea. The military base it holds in Niger, however, is not going anywhere. It is not minor either, being described by some officials as the largest Air Force construction project in history.

The American stance actually makes a lot of sense in the context of global competition with China: the Middle Kingdom is a strategic trade partner to every country in the neighborhood. It’s also been investing heavily in infrastructure through its famous One Belt One Road initiative. Being far less recalcitrant than its Western counterparts with regards to imposing its own cultural values, China is often preferred as a partner. This involvement requires larger security commitments Beijing is now willing to make.

Russia has also found its way to intervene. Its motives are similar to those of China or the US: accessing the region’s natural resources, selling arms, enlisting UN allies to support its foreign policy, and keeping a finger on the pulse of global Jihad. After all, millions of Russian Federation citizens are Muslims, and Putin is the only major world leader to have fought (and won) a war on his own territory against Islamic Separatism.

Interestingly, Islamic Separatism is the term en vogue to describe homegrown radical Islamism in another country, one with fascinating historical ties to Russia: France. Paris is heavily involved in the region since a war broke out in Mali in 2013, sparking Operations Serval, Éparvier, Barkhane and now Takuba. French activities have been supported by the European Union Training Mission deployed there. Perhaps Macron, with his vision of strategic autonomy, hoped that such collaboration would generate enough inertia to catalyze further integration of EU militaries. This has not been the case so far.

To this day, the idea of a “European Army” seems still quite far-fetched. The interests of the different nations involved are way too different, and their capabilities are too. The French are known as “the Americans of Europe”, being now the only nuclear power in the neighborhood and one of the few to engage in real combat operations, such as the aforementioned. Their adventures South of the Sahara, however, are of meager interest to voters in countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, more concerned about what’s happening in the Ukraine. Their eyes are in a Biden administration promising higher-voltage tensions in NATO’s (and the EU’s) Eastern flank.

As can be seen, the Empire’s gaze still has time for the Southern Flank, Central European voters be damned. In fact, both fronts are more closely related than it seems. Turkey, the main Black Sea counter to Russia, favors the opposite side in the Libyan theater while defying the US in other fronts. As gatekeeper of the Middle-East, it holds the key to security in the Balkans and even Central Europe, and its relevance to Intermarium politics cannot be overstated.

Meanwhile, American LNG exports have transformed the USA into a direct competitor of Algeria, which supplies hydrocarbons to Spain, Portugal, Italy and Turkey among others. The Algerian oil and gas industry has been heavily hit by the pandemic, spelling political trouble for one of the most socially-burdened countries in the Arab world. a

America has also demonstrated its willingness to apply pressure on the former French colony in other ways. Its recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara has been interpreted as a direct attack by Algiers, which saw in it evidence of Zionist collusionunderstandably, since the deal included Morocco’s normalization of relations with Israel. Coincidence? Algeria and Morocco were at war in 1963 and are in the middle of an impressive arms race. Spain has its reasons to be worried by all of this, especially after rumors surfaced that Rota Naval Base in Cádiz was being considered for relocation to Morocco.

What does all of this have to do with illegal immigration to the Canaries and Covid? Well, for starters, the Canarian route, from Morocco to Tenerife, is a (cheaper) alternative to three others: one across the Strait of Gibraltar, a land-based other through Ceuta and Melilla, and a third one across the Mediterranean from Algeria to the Balearic Islands. The surge in arrivals to the Canaries is partly explained by tighter control at these three traditional routes. Broke immigrants and adventurers chose the path of least resistance. The harder a path becomes, the more the migratory flux is diverted to its alternatives.

From this perspective, a different model of immigration starts to emerge. One in the shape of a complex network, a dynamic collection of nodes (harbors) and links (routes) that can be played with. In other words, a cybernetic system which can be regulated and controlled just like any other. In this reality lies an opportunity: by lifting pressure on one route or the other, border authorities can manage the flows of immigrants who have to choose between setting sail from Algeria, from Morocco, or from anywhere else.

Whether anybody is taking advantage of this or not is difficult to say. One thing is certain: throwing money wildly at the problem seems to do nothing to solve it. Machiavellian as it sounds, now that we don’t even blink at lone wolf terrorism, threats of disease can and will be used to amplify the political and media impact of migration waves. As an excuse, they provide the added bonus of facilitating the opening and closing of borders with little backlash. Thus, countries can be quickly flooded with newcomers from upstream in the migration routes, then drained at will by allowing entry through specific ports. Tensions are built and relieved in a localized and precise manner.

κυβερνητική (kybernētikḗ) means “governance” in Greek. While the world’s hoi polloi accumulate at the gates of sinking empires, the great powers (the US, China, Russia) scramble for influence over the vast territories left behind. Meanwhile, second-tier petty kings in Europe and Africa navigate the stormy waters to gain an edge or advance their agendas. Perhaps governments should go back to the roots of the art of governance, and pay more attention to nodes, links, hubs and switches . After all, as the Dutch proverb says: “It is in the roots, not the branches, where a tree’s greatest strength lies.

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The Peloponnesian Paradigm, and why Central Asia matters

The Spartan-Athenian rivalry is a useful memetic framework for the discussion of biopolitics, as we have seen in the past few weeks. The archetypal attitudes towards women and feminity found in both Greek cities are a fantastic tool for exploring deeper questions in regards to contemporary politics. The polarization generated by issues related to sex and race, biological traits as they, demonstrates that the 21st century will be a biopolitical one. This Peloponnesian Paradigm, as we will call it here, can be however applied as a recurrent theme in geopolitics.

Harvard political scientist Graham Allison used it most recently to describe America’s relation to China’s rise, coining the term Thucydides Trap. A reference to Greek historian Thucydides, it describes a tendency to conflict between a standing hegemon and an emerging power. Supposedly, this dynamic of rising and declining powers explains the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), which pitted a well-established Sparta against Athenian burgeoning influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. As an agrarian society, Sparta had an outstanding army; Athens relied instead on building a very advanced navy, which protected its thriving diplomatic and trade relations. People like dichotomies, and the difference between tellurocracies such as Sparta (landed, agrarian, militaristic) and thalassocracies such as Athens (naval, commercial, diplomatic) soon became codified in culture.

The Peloponnesian Paradigm offers enormous memetic potential to understand the world we live in. It is a fine way of reintroducing the Classics into the much degraded current political discourse, too. The comparison, though, is somewhat overused, as it can be applied to almost any situation. For example, if one leaves out the ideological details, Anglo-American intervention in World War Two can be understood as an attempt to tackle competition from both Germany and the USSR: the well known balance-of-power strategy described by Kissinger. As we like to remember here in The Outpost, NATO was designed to keep the Soviets out, the Americans in, and the Germans down. From the Reformation onwards, this policy had been a constant to British approaches to the continent; an outlook inherited by its spiritual successor, the American Empire of the Waves.

By the second half of 1940, Britain was clearly on the defensive. Miraculously successful as it may have been, the evacuation of Dunkirk was still a military disaster for the Allies. The economic blockade imposed on Germany by the Royal Navy was failing, and supply lines across the Atlantic were threatened by the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine. In dire need of ships, Churchill made a deal with the US through which destroyers could be acquired in exchange for British possessions in the Atlantic. Bases in places such as Newfoundland, Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad and the Bahamas were passed on to America in one single sweep, while ships leftover from the Great War were given to the Royal Navy. In other words: Winston “best PM ever” Churchill was the man to deliver the final blow to the British Empire, a fact frequently overlooked when judging his historical role. Fortunately for his legacy, History is written by the victors. In any case, the destroyers-for-bases deal signaled a new era in the Anglo-American “special relationship” and ensured the Americans’ future naval supremacy, turning the US into the military and economic powerhouse we all know and love. This was precisely the road map traced by Alfred Thayer Mahan, so it should not be considered in any way a lucky coincidence.

America had been, up to 1945, a fairly provincial country; a nation of “farmers and shopkeepers”, built around the myths of the minutemen, the pioneer, the homesteader and the railroad. Not very different from the Germans, after all: a country for built by and for a free middle class. Perhaps not coincidentally, German is still the most commonly claimed ethnic ancestry in the US, according to Wikipedia: over 50 million people. For all their imperialistic (and land-based) adventures in 20th century Europe, Germans never built a lasting overseas Empire; their colonial possessions in Africa were held only from the 1880s to 1920. Is the geopolitical role of a civilization determined by “national character”, or is said national character what leads it inexorably to a certain role? Did the Germans lack the qualities to succeed in their imperial endeavor? And were Americans always fated to become the British’ successors?

These questions need to be answered before applying the Peloponnesian Paradigm to any modern day system; especially if one intends to predict the future. Historically, the Chinese were not particularly known as a seafaring civilization. Their greatest mariner, Zheng He, was almost forgotten in his homeland until the 1900s; this, despite the fact he almost single-handedly gave form to 15th century South East Asian maritime trade. Building a powerful blue-water navy nowadays still requires a lot of money, time, and zealously guarded knowledge and expertise, much as it did in the Age of Exploration. Currently, the ability to project maritime power abroad is strongly dependent on having aircraft carriers, of which China has only 2 (the US Navy, by contrast has 11). This is a fact the Chinese are compensating by building artificial islands all over the South China Sea, and is also the reason the US Marine Corps is trying to re-adapt to an archipelagic operational environment.

Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army has a Ground Force half a billion men strong, and Xi Jinping has made a centerpiece of his Foreign Policy the One Belt One Road Initiative. Set to be completed in 2049, it is probably the most expensive infrastructure project in History (an estimated 4-8 trillion USD), and intends to finance the construction of railways and roads all across the Eurasian landmass, with a complimentary sea route along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean. All of this naturally concerns the US, who as a naval power has to make an extra effort to remain in the New Great Game developing in Central Asia. It also concerns Russia, a quintessential land power, and a referent for all ex-USSR republics. Finally, it concerns Turkey, a former and actual naval power in the Mediterranean, an ambiguous US ally, and one of the cradles of the 19th century pan-Turkist movement known as Turanism.

Is geography destiny? Do countries change in shape in consonance with their character, or is it the other way around? Sparta only won the war against Athens after the Battle of Aegospotami (405 BC), where Lysander sunk the Athenian fleet and left the enemy defenseless and without grain imports. Sparta had to change to overthrow Athens, developing its naval capabilities thanks to new diplomatic ties with Persia. In a way, it embraced the thalassocratic nature of its enemy, learning to defeat him with his own weapons.

The Peloponnesian Paradigm shows powers can change, turning the strategies of their rivals into their own. At the same time it builds its westward railroads, China can attempt to become a naval power and push for world domination. Meanwhile, the US can try to stay entangled deep inland, as it has for the last 20 years in the Middle East, so as to remain relevant in the region. With regards to a country like Turkey, expanding its influence towards Central Asia means gaining strategic depth in a competitive neighborhood. And for Russia, it means recovering access to lost key assets, including vast mineral resources and a strategic cosmodrome at Baikonur (Kazakhstan). Being a strong player in Central Asia is thus crucial to all of the above’s foreing policies. Now you can go and wonder why the Afghanistan affair is still not over, and why trouble keeps coming up constantly in places like Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang.

Mediatic facts and controlled demolitions from across the Rubicon

Conflict is deeply ingrained in the human mind. Like a cloud of electrically charged particles, it remains potential and shapeless, in an ideal resting state. When it is given ideological meaning, however, it’s as if the particles were suddenly exposed to an electromagnetic field. The latent conflict acquires a memetic nature, and animosity becomes orderly, vectorial. Ideological meaning works as a framework which allows hostility to be interpreted rationally by those who partake in it. It provides a cultural scaffold, a channel for violent impulse to develop and become political. It is through this process that the primal, schmittian distinction between Friend and Enemy is born.

In other words, political conflict cannot be deducted from ideological contradictions and divergences. On the contrary: ideology is induced from conflict, which is ontologically previous to it and which arises from real events, which are physical phenomena. We can observe how the parts in a conflict perform their confrontation, and after identifying the ideological differences found among the parts, we place said differences at the root of the conflict.

This notwithstanding, once a conflict is memetically well defined, the inverted phenomenon can also happen. An occurrence, which by its physical nature is non-disputable, can acquire a memetic load and become a mediatic fact, which is something entirely different. A mediatic fact can be completely counterfactual: in the age of deep fakes and counterfeit news, any story is suspect of having been distorted, misrepresented or plainly invented from scratch. Whatever the case, the mediatic fact becomes such by virtue of its ability to fit into an existing narrative, the previously established memetic framework of the conflict.

The recent blast in Beirut can serve to illustrate the difference between this closely related concepts. On August 4th, a huge explosion devastated the port of the city and the surrounding areas. The death count is by now past 200. Initial reports immediately pointed to a container where ammonium nitrate had been unsafely stored, after it was seized by port authorities six years ago. So far so good. But then, when it’s time to lay blame on someone, interpretations start to diverge according to one’s political stances.  Was it a terrorist attack by Shia group Hezbollah? An intelligence/military operation by Israel, or by somebody else? Perhaps just a horrible accident?

It is important for those involved in a conflict to establish a mediatic fact immediately after an event, so that it’s successfully propagated among potential friends. Violence is a creative force. Integrating every violent occurrence into a wider narrative strengthens intra-group links, fosters cohesion, and breeds identity. The mediatic fact is born from highlighting certain aspects of what happened, downplaying others and, if necessary, bending the factual truth. This is all a fancy way of describing propaganda, as should be obvious: nothing new about fake news, despite the pedantry of network theorists.

So what is going to happen now in Lebanon? Nobody knows for sure. As always in matters of geopolitics, we are dealing with incomplete information. We can’t even be sure the tragedy was intentional, let alone try to guess the motives of any potential culprit. The mediatic fact each actor is constructing, though, can be analyzed to shed some light on what the future could bring.

The explosion comes at a delicate moment in Lebanon. The country is being heavily affected by COVID-19 and deep in a financial crisis which will require a bailout of more than $93 billion. This is a gigantic sum, and the problem is aggravated by the fact that nobody wants to pay it. An important sector of the Lebanese economy is controlled by Hezbollah, which has a formal political representation in the country but is considered a terrorist organization by most of the American Empire. It is estimated that Hezbollah extracts at least $0.5-1 billion every year from Lebanon, while enjoying important clout in the legislative and executive branches; its military wing owns an impressive arsenal of 150,000 precision-guided missiles and is arguably more powerful and experienced than the government’s Lebanese Armed Forces. A lot of Hezbollah’s military effort is spent in supporting Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria, backed by Iran and Russia. Any help delivered to the Lebanese regime would be fueling this system, something the West is reluctant to do.

Interestingly, Hezbollah has not rushed to accuse Israel directly in its formal statements, and has taken a more defensive stance, calling for an investigation of the blast to find out the truth, even going as far as initially ruling out Israeli involvement in the catastrophe. The Lebanese Cabinet, which was under the stranglehold of Hezbollah, resigned en masse in the aftermath of the blast. But instead of seizing the opportunity to exacerbate tensions with Israel and take over, the militants have called for a “national unity government” (preferably under their control, of course). In other words, the mediatic fact for Hezbollah is that the status quo has been altered by a fateful accident, and going back to it is the solution.

Israel has denied any involvement in the affair and offered humanitarian aid through UN channels, as it is still technically at war with Lebanon. While there have been accusations on social media of the Jewish State being behind the explosion, these are unlikely and in any case hard to prove. There is no interest either for Israel in escalating the situation more than it does already: the Israeli Defense Forces continue to clash with Hezbollah in Lebanon’s southern hills, with the last cross-border shelling happening only last month. In summary, the mediatic fact for Israel is that all of this has been a terrible tragedy, and an indicator that it’s time to move on from old policies; if somebody is to be blamed it’s Hezbollah, for storing explosives in populated areas.

This said, the truly remarkable event concerning Israel in these last few days is not the explosion, but the US-brokered agreement between the country and the United Arab Emirates to restore formal diplomatic relations. Again, this is a mediatic fact: the UAE and Israel have been in contact behind the scenes for years, and Israel’s supposed concession of suspending its West Bank occupation is just it acquiescing to postpone something which it can’t do anyway. Making all of it official after the blast is a way of building a united front just in time for possible regime change in Lebanon.

Mediatic reactions haven’t come far behind the mediatic fact of the agreement. Hezbollah condemns the act, calling it a “betrayal of Islam” and criticizing the other Arab regimes which arestanding already in turn awaiting the order” to make peace with the US before the November elections. Turkey’s Erdogan declared “the move against Palestine… can’t be stomached”. For Syria and Iran, the deal means the chasm with the Sunni world is widened. For Turkey, it is another reason to move away from the USA and towards new friends in Europe, Russia and China.

Israel, the US and its Arab allies have waited for this turbulent moment to tease Lebanon with the prospect of a relatively peaceful Levant, set to balance the Turkey-Syria-Iran axis. They don’t need to push for change in Beirut, as the tide is already going on that direction by itself. Once food shortages and disease start kicking in, the Lebanese system is bound to fall apart. If anything, the US, Israel and the Gulf States are interested in seducing Lebanon to fall on the right side if all hell breaks loose. If this process happens in the form of a controlled demolition instead of an explosion, all the better… But you can’t plan for what lies across the Rubicon. There are steppe wolves out the door, and many of them yearn to see the sunset over the Mediterranean’s wine-colored waters.

The worst thing to come out of 2020

If one thing can be said of George Friedman’s book “The Next 100 Years: a forecast for the 21st century”: it is that it’s provocative. It was published in 2009, and summarized the author’s views on what could be expected in the following century. One of the most interesting theses it asserted was the idea that, contrary to some people’s beliefs, the 21st century is to be the American Century, even more so than the 20th. The current big rivals of the US, that is, Russia and China, are expected to crumble in the following decades if Friedman is to be believed, being swiftly devoured by medium powers such as Turkey, Japan, and Poland.

Last July, Andrzej Duda was reelected as President of the Republic of Poland after a close election, “fraught with irregularities” according to scandalized progressives worldwide. Duda belongs to Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – PiS), the right wing party which has been ruling the country since 2015. They represent the most “deplorable” faction in Polish politics: populist, rural, Catholic, hostile to Russia, and staunchly pro-American. Their bitterest rival is the liberal party Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska – PO), which is more EU-aligned and holds ideas completely in tune with the Current Year™ and Open Society Foundation-like projects.

Duda’s victory, if it is followed by the likely Trump victory in November 2020, will mean that the European country stays firmly on the Americans’ side for another five years. According to Friedman, US interest in the region of Central and Eastern Europe is dependent on the circumstances of Eurasian power politics: if China were to collapse, to avoid an unbalanced Russia the US would have to make their influence felt again in Europe. This assumption so far has not been fulfilled. Even in spite of the pandemic, China is still nowhere near crumbling. The alleged Chinese freedom-loving opposition against Xi Jinping does not seem to be any closer to overthrowing the Capitalist-Communist People’s Republic. And accordingly, Poland’s pushes for more American military presence in its soil have so far been to no avail.

In his book, Friedman asserts that a US-backed Poland is bound to grow stronger, leading a coalition of former Soviet satellites in an Eastward push as Russia loses its grip on Eastern Europe. After all, in the 17th century Poland’s dominions reached as far as the Black Sea, and Polish nationalism has not forgotten this fact. The old idea of an Intermarium, a geopolitical project of building a federation stretching from the Baltic to the Mediterranean and the Black Seas. Poland’s relative isolation from naval trade routes makes access to ports outside the Baltic a paramount priority, justifying their reaching out to countries such as Croatia, and clashing with Turkish protagonism in the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Friedman points to this divergence as the origin of the next great European conflict: a US backed Poland confronting an assertive Turkey favored by a declining Germany.

While Friedman’s arguments seemed convincing in 2009, recent developments seem to be pointing towards a different state of affairs. Last June, the Visegrád Group countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) held another of their regular consultations with Turkey, listing energy, infrastructure, transport, and tourism as vital areas of cooperation. The project of Via Carpathia, a transnational highway network linking Lithuanian port of Klaipėda to Thessaloniki in Greece, is an example of this effort to build new geopolitical spaces.

Another topic was also discussed in the meeting: Polish support for Turkey’s European aspirations. The European Parliament (EP) is the EU’s first institution, and assigns the number of seats of member states according to their population. It is currently dominated by Germany and France, the two most populous European countries, with 96 and 79 seats respectively. Turkey has a population of 80 million people, just as Germany; it would have an enormous influence in European politics, even more concentrated after the UK’s exit. It is easy to understand, then, why the EP voted to suspend accession talks with its Muslim neighbor in February 2019.

Concerns for insufficient loyalty to the liberal-democratic religion are cited as one of the reasons Turkey does not belong in the EU. Interestingly, the same arguments are used against Eastern European enfants terribles Poland and Hungary, which are nowadays described as “illiberal democracies” by both American and European globalist progressives. The leaders of all three countries have made strong statements and cracked down on organizations linked to the Open Society Foundation, in actions similar to Russia’s suppression of foreign NGOs operating in its territory. They are not alone in this behavior: public figures from Romania, North Macedonia and even Pakistan have also been espousing anti-globalist talking points since Trump’s election in 2016, mimicking the President’s rhetoric against his domestic adversaries. And again, it’s no secret that Trump’s policy has led to friendlier relations with Putin than the ones expected from a Clinton presidency.

In an unrelated(?) chapter on shady occurrences in Eastern Europe, on July 29 thirty-three mercenaries with ties to Russian security firm Wagner were detained in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, accused of trying to destabilize the country for the elections set for August 9th. Belarus has been ruled by Soviet nostalgic Alexander Lukashenko, a.k.a. “Europe’s Last Dictator”, since 1994; the country’s relations to Russia, however, have been progressively deteriorating due to the latter’s push for deeper integration of Belarus in the Russian Federation. Moscow’s official excuse for the affair is that the detained operators were on their way to Istanbul, bound for deployment in Libya; a plausible explanation, as a replay of the 2014 Crimean crisis is risky and unlikely. Ukraine, who sees the mercenaries as criminals because of their role in Crimea, is demanding their extradition. If the event is portrayed as an attempt of disruption by Russia, the narrative could push Lukashenko towards the West’s arms, in spite of all his authoritarian sins. On the other hand, ethnic Poles are a significant minority in Belarus, and their close ties to Poland have been the cause of uneasy relations between both countries, as Warsaw mostly supports the Belarussian opposition.

If the economic crisis caused by the pandemic proves too much for Russia to handle, and conflict sparks up in Belarus, the situation is bound to become complicated quickly. Lukashenko’s antics could very well provoke a cornered Russia into starting a rushed hybrid campaign, in anticipation of Poland doing the same. Still, while it’s unlikely that Warsaw forgets past grievances from Moscow, shared international enemies and common interests might provide an opportunity for unexpected collaboration. Turkey is now arguably on better terms with Russia than with America, although the Nagorno-Karabakh question remains a sore point.

How will the American Empire handle this fragile situation? China isn’t any closer to collapse and internal chaos than it was in 2009, giving little reason for the US to enter new commitments in Eastern Europe. The Middle East and the South China Sea are more deserving of its interest, as long as Russia and China remain strong. The balance is so delicate, a small gust of wind in Belarus, Armenia or Libya could blow up the whole global system. Coronavirus might not be the worse thing to come out of 2020, after all. It’s going to be a Wild American Century. 

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