Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at knowing if the Great Game moves to the Arctic by 2050. This is his first post in our EF blog inspecting the key players of the game.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Melting ice is not the only thing to watch for in the Arctic region. Geopolitical stakeholders are positioning to take advantage of the newly accessible natural resources, fisheries and transportation routes in the high north, sending a signal that the “The Great Game” could be shifting to the Arctic.
The “Great Game,” describes the power struggle between great nations as a “game of sorts.” Originally it represented the geopolitical struggle between British and Russian Empires over territories, transit routes and natural resources in Central Asia. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1990’s, a “New Great Game” seemed to emerge, as Western Powers strategically befriended the oil and resources rich nations of the former Soviet Republics. Again, Central Asia became the center of geopolitical strategy and conflict, and this time with new players; Russia, China and North America.
Currently, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is expanding beyond Central Asia through the “Ice Silk Road”, while Russia continues to invest heavily in transportation infrastructure to support the opening trade routes in the Arctic region. There are signals that The Great Game is quickly moving outside the sphere of the Central Asian Heartland, all the way to the High North.
As ice-free zones in the Arctic circle continue to widen year after year, Russia, China, North American and European nations are quickly mapping out and implementing strategies to gain access to undiscovered natural resources, fisheries, trade routes, and strategic geographical and military positions. Unlike the original Great Game, potential conflicts may be mitigated by The Arctic Council, which was created in 1996 as a forum for promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic states. On the surface it seems nations are cultivating a collaborative environment based on the rule of law, however, several nations have already taken strategic steps to secure and expand their piece of the Arctic, increasing the potential for conflict in the region.
Russia claims that the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which connects Northeast Asia with Northwestern Europe, has been historically established as part of the Russian Federation. With the NSR opening, transportation would be diverted from the Suez Canal, reducing travel time from 15 to 10 days. The NSR would also provide Russia with direct access to the Pacific Ocean, increasing the viability of extracting and exporting oil and gas and other natural resources from the Arctic.
China is forming strategic bilateral partnerships to expand its sphere of influence on the region. China claims to be a “near Arctic state" and in 2018 unveiled the “Polar Silk Road,” an extension of the BRI. China continues to legitimizes itself as an important player in the Arctic region through financial investments in Russia and expanding scientific research in Norway and Iceland.
The Western Powers are taking a more cautious and measured approach in the Arctic region. North American nations have established a 5-year moratorium (ending in 2021) on offshore drilling in the Arctic, due to growing environmental concerns and a shift in focus on renewable energy sources. The United States and Canada also favor stakeholder cooperation to ensure that transit routes remain open and safe for international trade.
Canada, Denmark and Russia have made well-researched claims of ownership of the North Pole, with the intention of extending their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to secure the future rights to newly accessible natural resources and fisheries. Norway has also petitioned the U.N. to extend their EEZ. Six Arctic indigenous communities have Permanent Participation Status with the Arctic Council. However, without a stakeholder nation champion, the role that Indigenous people play in shaping Arctic geopolitics may be severely limited.
As the melting ice opens up the Arctic region to increased exploration and exploitation, geopolitics in the Arctic region will continue to heat. Although Russia, China, North America and European nations claim to favor a rule-of-law based approached to Arctic development, there are signals that the Great Game is being played in the Arctic, with increasing conflict over stakes in future transit routes, fisheries and natural resources as they become more accessible.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the drivers of migration in his second post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Migration is an overdetermined phenomenon. Unlike a science experiment, we are unable to identify a series of dependent and independent variables to construct a predictive framework. As with many complex, real-world problems, we can turn towards history for inspiration. History may not repeat itself in perfect imitation, but the present moment often sounds out like a variation of the past. With a patient ear, we may be able to detect a melody, a theme, a musical structure - this will help us better understand and contextualize migration in the contemporary world. The melodies of the pre-historic past are too faint to hear out. With this in mind, we can listen to the migrations of the past century for our purpose.
Migration can be roughly categorized into migrations by push factors and by pull factors. This conceptual framework separates the migrations that happen by necessity (the push factors) and the migrations that happen by choice (the pull factors). Push factors include poverty and military conflict. In these cases, migrants find the prospects of the unknown better than the present circumstances before them. An example of the former are the two million Italian migrants travelled to the United States in between 1900 and 1910. One case of the latter is the Vietnam War and spread Vietnamese diasporic populations all across the world. Pull factors include voluntary, long-term immigration for a better life and short-term movements of skilled labour across national boundaries. The former are immigrants to Canada and the latter are expats. However, whether migration happens by push factors or by pull factors, in none of these situations was migration a predictable and foregone conclusion. The historical circumstances that provide the impetus for migratory desires are elusive and they escape hard predictions. One must maintain constant vigilance to multifarious trends. The future is constantly being shaped and reshaped.
Historical circumstances are only one part of the dialectic. Migration does not happen in a vacuum: there is always a political and institutional structure that facilitates and guides the flow of these migratory desires. The German gastarbeiter (guest worker) program in the mid-20th century was created to address labour gaps, leading to the Turkish migration to Germany. One purpose of the European Union was for the creation of a free market for capital flows and labour. While history provides the drivers of migration, the political and institutional framework of the present moment directs to where migrants are driven.
On a more fundamental level, political and institutional structures define the discourse of migration. Above, migration was separated into those by push factors and by pull factors, but even this is an artificial categorization. Intolerable political and economic circumstances may push migrants away from the home country and pull them to one that will improve their situation, but there is no moment when migrants by necessity transform into migrants by choice. Participants of the German gastarbeiter program may have left because of a lack of economic opportunities and because of their desire to earn higher wages. Politics and clever framing play a significant role as an intermediary force. Additionally, institutions, whether national or international, provide the larger structure for migration. Even when migrants do not use these formal frameworks - by crossing illegally, for instance - these transgressions are negatively defined by the established institutional structure. Migration and migrants are ultimately a political category for analysis.
What are the drivers of migration in the past? Above, two separate dimensions that drive migration are discussed. The first are the historical circumstances that create the impetus for migration. While we can make careful conjectures about latent migratory events, one must be nimble and open to multiple possible futures. The second is the institutional and political structure. The institutional and political structure fundamentally defines the discourse of migrants and migration. Through it, migratory desires are directed to a tangible destination.
Martin Duys, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the drivers of inequality among countries in his second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The factor that plays the most critical role in determining a person’s income is the country in which they live. It has more influence than the persons parents’ economic circumstances (the second most important factor) and far more than any effort they may make to improve their situation through education. Geography is more important than class, or level of education, in determining income.
Between-country inequality has never been as extreme as now. Just before the start of the industrial revolution, the average income in the wealthiest countries (at the time Holland and the United Kingdom) was roughly three times higher than the poorest. Described as analogous to the ‘Big Bang’ rates of economic growth and average incomes exploded in countries that industrialised. Now the difference in average income between the rich industrial nations and those that have failed to industrialise is a multiple of one hundred.
From the second half of the twentieth century other factors have also contributed to driving between-country income inequality. The political and institutional instability experienced in some countries after decolonisation caused economic stagnation and in some cases, decline. In the Soviet Block and other socialist countries, socialism failed to lift income levels significantly.
There are factors driving a decrease in between-country inequality. Sustained economic growth since the 1980s in China and India has had an enormous impact. In China alone, the number of people whose incomes have doubled is ten times that in the United States over the same period.
In gross terms, the gap between rich and poor countries continues to grow. China's economy would need to grow by eighteen per cent to generate the same value created by a one percentage point increase in the GDP of the United States. This is an almost impossible task for any economy no matter how ‘on fire’ it is.
An assumption of neoclassical economics has been that globalisation would improve levels of between-country inequality. Poor countries with cheaper labour forces would attract more foreign direct investment (FDI), because corporations looking to increase returns by lowering production costs would invest. The result would be increased local income levels and decreased inequality. Emerging countries would also ‘slip-stream’ on the technological advances of richer countries by copying their innovations and avoiding the need for expensive research and development. They would also be able to avoid adopting dead-end technologies that proved unsuccessful or were quickly superseded by superior technologies. Unfortunately, these assumptions have not been borne out by reality.
In what is termed the “Lucas paradox” FDI has not flowed as expected from high-income to low-income countries. Instead, it has to tended to flow from high-income countries to other high-income countries, and even from low-income to high-income countries. Technology adoption by developing countries has not been an equaliser as expected. Royalty payments for new technologies tend to flow from the poorer adopting countries to the more affluent countries that own the intellectual property.
The failure of the focus is shifting to include institutional and cultural considerations. The goal is to create an environment fertile for innovation, technology, and economic growth. Whether this new approach improves levels of between-country inequality remains to be seen.
Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects the causes of climate change in her second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Climate change comes in two forms. There is the kind caused by natural processes, and there is the kind created by humans. The former has been happening for millennia, produced by a range of factors from the sun’s energy output to shifts in the earth’s orbit. Since the late 18th century, however, that type of climate change has been supplanted. The industrial revolution and its innovations in manufacturing, production, transportation, power use, and more has led to rapid increases of pollutants, carbon dioxide and other emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere, known as greenhouse gases. For millennia, atmospheric carbon dioxide had never been above 325 parts per million. By 1950, levels had blown far past. Since then, massive changes in land use, such as the proliferation of parking lots and other paved surfaces, have made land absorb more sunlight, which our increasingly greenhouse gas filled atmosphere cannot adequately release. As a result, global temperatures continue to rise.
Most of this warming has occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record all taking place since 2010. Much of this increased heat and greenhouse gas has been absorbed by our oceans. Since 1969, the top 700 meters of ocean water have warmed more than 0.22 degrees Centigrade and taken in 25% of emitted carbon dioxide. While these numbers may not seem drastic, the impacts are significant. The great ice sheets of the Artic, Antarctic and Greenland are melting at unprecedented rates, with some scientists predicting that the Arctic will be completely free of summer ice within fifteen years. This melting is not restricted to the poles. All across the globe, from the Alps to the Himalayas to the Andes and the Rockies, glaciers are retreating. Satellites show that spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has declined over the last half century, with snow melts starting earlier, putting fresh water access for hundreds of millions at risk.
As glaciers have melted and ocean waters have warmed, seas have continued to rise. Today, seas are roughly 8 inches higher than they were in 1900, making many low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives increasingly uninhabitable. A deadly side effect of this rising and warming is ocean acidification. As the ocean absorbs atmospheric CO2, it becomes more acidic in its chemistry. Over the last 150 years, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent, creating harsher environments for wide swaths of animal life. Cetaceans, fish species, crustaceans and more are all adversely affected by acidic conditions, threatening the lives and livelihoods of all those who rely on our oceans for sustenance and support.
The climatic changes spurring these shifts mean more than melting glaciers and rising seas. They mean that the current fires devastating the entire continent of Australia will become the norm in regions around the world. They mean that heat waves and severe storms will grow in intensity. They mean that floods will grow more frequent and more powerful, leaving more people inundated for longer periods of time. They mean that more drought will threaten more of our food supplies. They mean that the world that we knew is changing into some more unpredictable and more unwelcome to human habitation that we have ever seen before.
Carl Michael inspects the underpinnings ofBelt and Road Initiative in his second post for our Emerging Fellows program blog.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The desire for ‘silk’ provided the impetus for the Silk Road in the millennia past. Without ‘silk’ to be traded there would be no merchants and no customers and therefore there would be no silk road. In our generation ‘silk’ could be considered as the manifestation of highly desired trade goods as well as trade secrets. The underpinning ‘silk’ is also about the people who create it and provide it to others along roads, routes and journeys to distant places.
The BRI is further underpinned by China’s enviable position on the far-eastern edge of the Eurasian landmass, where the bulk of its people and economic might is situated. This position provides the starting point of the BRI, which ends in Europe, on the far-western edge of Eurasia. China’s advantageous location enables it to be both a land power and a sea power. Its geographical location provides it with the potential to dominate the pivot point in Eurasia while having access to warm water ports, a position not available to Russia until the advent of viable Arctic shipping routes. This geographical advantage that enables the BRI is often overshadowed by the focus on China’s economic power. China’s immense geographical size also means that one has to take into account the impact of geography within itself. There is a balance that the Chinese government needs to maintain between its coastal eastern heartland, with its huge markets and wealth, and the orbitals of its far-western inland ‘buffer’ regions which insulate it from the rest of the Eurasian landmass. The coastal areas and central plain have been governed for millennia by strong unified central authority. Ensuring this continuity is a core Chinese geo-political imperative, coupled with ensuring the unity of the entire geographical entity.
The goal to reinstate China's place in the world as a ‘Great State’ after centuries of relative displacement also underpins the BRI. This desire has been accompanied by exercising hard and soft power. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been ploughed into the initiative of becoming the world's premier military power by 2050. This hard power initiative is accompanied by the establishment of foreign military bases as part of the BRl as well as by soft power initiatives in culture, the arts, science and scholarship. At the same time, China's economic power in general and its growing domestic market have acted as a major engine for growth in East Asia making it the most important trade partner for most of Central, East and Southeast Asia. A Sino-centric regional economic integration model is now the reality in most of these areas. All this can be considered to have prompted a converged approach to refabricating and recreating the geopolitical world system covering the entire gamut from physical security, to the global economy and to the global monetary system. To this end it can be observed that China has sown the seeds for a multilateral framework over the last twenty years, challenging the accepted wisdom of the historical Westphalian model, with a thirty-year plan to bring the seeds of a ‘Tianxia’ Chinese model to fruition.
In a broader context, the BRl itself provides an underpinning narrative with which China can hold a mirror up to itself as well as explain its image of itself to others. This narrative could be viewed as being as significant as the BRI itself as it provides inherent meaning to China’s approach to its international relations. To this end the Chinese leadership has invoked the ‘Silk Road’ spirit and emphasised historical, cultural, educational and scientific cooperation and so the narrative of the BRl is clearly understood to be about more than mere economics. This underpinning narrative is crucial to the success of the BRl. In its absence, all the BRI would appear to be is a vast conglomeration of state and market geo-strategic profit-driven enterprises.
Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts to inspect the widespread assumption that Asia is the rising star of this century. This is his first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Many eyes lately seem to be on Asia, and with good reason. Over the last 30 years, few regions of the world have transformed as dramatically as the Asian continent. Its rise in global economic, political, and cultural influence a difficult reality to ignore. However, Asia is anything but a monolith and there is no guarantee that the next 30 years will unfold as a continuation of recent tendencies. The future of the continent will depend on how its constituent powers navigate their differences in light of forces largely beyond their individual control.
Where Asia was once, in eyes of the West, nothing more than the Eastern shore of the Aegean Sea, Europe and the world have come to better understand the significance of this third of the planet's total land area. The first millennium and a half of the common era saw Asian civilizations push the geographical limits of their ambition and develop the most important trade routes of Afro-Eurasia. Then came the centuries of Western colonialism and exploitation. Not until the tumultuous wars of the 20th century did much of the continent gradually emancipate from foreign hegemony and regain control of its destiny, though in a vastly different international playing field. The legacy of unbridled resource extraction, imposed ideologies, and poorly drawn borderlines left by alien governments challenges Asia to the present day.
From this starting position, the nations of Asia have stepped into the 21st century on different paths. Today, East Asia continues to emerge with China as an overwhelming center of gravity and North Korea as a potential radical force. The Southeast is taking the spotlight for low-end manufacturing and export growth. India still struggles with its neighbor Pakistan, the key to future of the South. West Asia, which makes up a large part of the Middle East, is redefining its identity for a post-oil future. Central Asia, meanwhile, sits at the literal crossroads of Russia and China with the potential to benefit tremendously from the latter’s Belt and Road Initiative. The majority of the Asian population resides in nations that have managed to integrate into the functioning core of the globalized world, namely in India, China, and few of their neighbors. Whether Southeast, West, and Central Asia follow suit, however, remains to be seen and is far from guaranteed.
Headlines of a flourishing Asia, on some metrics, mask the fact that this development has not been geographically homogenous nor is it entirely stable. Already the sustainability of broad economic growth is under question, especially considering the global environmental dynamics at play. China’s long reach West across land and South across sea has raised alarms locally and internationally, triggering realignment in trade and security relationships. The future holds additional challenges for the continent in the form of demographic changes driven by aging populations, and migration and more border disputes as resources become scarce and the effects of climate change intensify. All this in a part of the world where regionalism has historically had a distinctly different flavor from a European or an African Union, which begs the question of whether thinking of Asia as a unit is even a fruitful exercise.
The urgent global attention given to Asia is warranted. Each part of the continent has transformed uniquely in recent decades with ambitions of economic growth, political control, or technological superiority. Whether any given ethnic or ideological group in the region is able to manifest these dreams or not, the interaction of those pursuits with the environment and the world order—even if less connected or cooperative in some scenarios—will be a significant determining factor in the futures of all other nation-states. Though its future is uncertain, what plays out in Asia over the coming three decades will have decisive and lasting impact on planetary systems and the fate of humanity.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at checking the possibility of unlocking Africa’s potential by 2050. This is her first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Consider the modern history of Africa. Over the past 50 years alone, the continent has faced geopolitical clashes, wars, famines, genocides, disease pandemics in the midst of systematic tensions. Think of the missed opportunities, the squandered potential, the harm and devastation. In the midst of this trying and troubled timeline, hope is in not lost completely. Think of the entrepreneurial ventures, the growing human rights efforts, and the humanitarian and healthcare advances of recent years. Now, think to the future. A future with a thriving Africa affords continental opportunities but also open doors for unprecedented global collaborations.
With the abundant African population growing to nearly 2.5 billion individuals by 2050 and diverse mineral wealth throughout the continent, the possibility to unlock untapped potential in the next 30 years exists. Two themes that are significant for leaders working to unlock the continent’s potential include leveraging the abundant human talent and also preparing for disruptive climate change. In the midst of dystopian narratives and doomsday stories of the future, leaders must remind themselves that futures of thriving and potential are possible, even if they are not yet achieved.
Africa finds itself currently as, geographically speaking, the shining star of what is known as the non-integrated gap. In simplistic terms, this means that, excluding the country of South Africa, Africa’s presence in the 21st century world clamors for a miraculous peace, overall security, and an end to combat. Contemporary influences actively harnessing the minds and reshaping the decisions of leaders throughout Africa are the African Union and African Rising movement. Important themes that arise from these influences in Africa include intra-continental cooperation and local entrepreneurship. Consider the unleashed security and economic benefits that these themes offer the African people. Imagine a thriving Africa that provides the world with leaders who are peacebuilders, leaders who embody cooperation and collaboration, and leaders who embrace thriving.
Africa is currently floundering in challenges associated with lackluster infrastructure, food instability, and water insecurity. Systemically, the continent lacks the physical infrastructure, with 620 million individuals living without electricity. Basic infrastructure challenges critically influence the dire food and water scarcities that define much of life intra-continentally. In a continent where 70% of individuals believe religion is very important, values influence the conflicts associated with tribalism, non-state actors, and religious contentions. Leaders must prepare for the burdens of unprecedented droughts and floods radiating throughout the continent due to disruptive climate change. The list only continues. Overcoming these challenges is a duty for leaders who envision a future where Africa is thriving and contributing at the global level.
Africa could hold an influential role on the world stage in 2050. Today’s leaders must recognize how present decisions are actively - whether directly or indirectly - impacting the future. Current events and decisions are already shaping 2050. Within Africa, consider the lasting impact of civil conflicts between people groups and shifting forms of government within African countries. From an international perspective, consider the impact of the unprecedented foreign funding, specifically from Chinese investors. The African people represent more than a number. They represent a diverse cultural tapestry, an unrivaled human development opportunity, the largest global workforce, and new thought contributors. In addition to human capital, Africa offers the world rich natural resources including oil and gas. These resources already catch the attention of international players through the recent manufacturing revolution and pharmaceutical production influx. As the earth faces disruptive climate change in the coming decades, the natural resources found in Africa will strongly influence both state and non-state decisions. From an altruistic perspective, a thriving Africa is essential to the global citizenry in 2050.
Africa has moved beyond simply surviving and toward rising. In the coming decades, Africa once again has an opportunity – an opportunity to move beyond rising toward thriving. Thriving not only allows for Africa to flourish but allows for Africa to help the world flourish. This is a heavy call on the shoulders of leaders guiding this continent that is home to a complex tapestry of nations, tribes, religions, and languages.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at identifying the impact of migrations on the world order by 2050. This is his first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The figure of the migrant, diffused in media broadcasts across the world, is a political image that provokes polarizing reactions. The migrant—is it a completely novel emergence in history? Even a cursory reading on the topic reveals that migration is not a new phenomenon. A people—however nationalist myths construct them—have never been resting stagnant within nation-state borders. We are all migrants and mongrels of some sort. All desires for a pure nationalist phenotype are a nostalgic longing for idylls that have never existed.
Why is migration important to understand? While we may look upon past histories of migration with the detached interest of an academic, our contemporary migrations are all-too-close and all-too-urgent: they present an ethical imperative, a duty to decide and to act. This challenge is not one that the global community can neglect and stay a safe distance from.
The most recent mass migration has come from the Syrian Civil war, where an estimated population of 22 million Syrians were scattered about by the vagaries of historical circumstance — 13 million were displaced and 5 million of those displaced found themselves outside of Syrian national borders. The rippling geo-political effects of Syrian mass-migrations (among others) have impacted the world. Liberal democracies around the world agreed to do their fair share and house migrants; however, recent response by recipient states have changed. They have adopted a hostile position to migrants and from the fringes, alt-right parties and their leaders have begun to take center stage in contemporary politics. One commonality in these parties’ platforms has been the rejection of and the anxiety toward the foreign migrant. Migration has changed national politics. National politics, in turn, have changed international politics as nationalist discourse has led to an inward-looking and parochial political vision. The British and American exits from free trade deals and international organizations suggest the first cracks in the liberal world order, with its goals for political and economic international co-operation. A comparatively small displacement led to profound effects around the world.
The future is filled with the possibility of migration. Mass migrations will be a potent combination of push and pull factors: it will be a combination of aspirational desires in rich, urban metropolises and retreats from poverty and political instability. Of course, not all migrant populations will be undesirable. The growing, young demographics in the Global South will be welcomed in the Global North to fill labour shortages. These are likely to be in the minority compared to the potential migrations spurred on by existential threats like climate change, which has the potential to make large swaths of land mass uninhabitable. How might the introduction of a large migrant population, one that grossly outnumbers the current migrants, spark intra-national and international conflicts, both diplomatic and military?
The future of mass migration that we head towards today provokes all of these questions. To neglect this question would be to drive without headlights in the darkness. Through analysis and by writing about this topic, I hope to turn on the metaphorical headlights and illuminate the faint contours ahead. Only in the crudest beliefs in human nature is the fate of humanity doomed to economic rationality and resource-related conflicts from migration. As human beings—and this, fellow futurists should be well aware—we have the power to construct the future. We are not mere passengers driven by fate.
Why is migration important to understand? To shape the future.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at envisioning the world power pivot towards the Heartland by 2050. This is her first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Will world power pivot from the West towards Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050? Given recent events, it is the question many are presently pondering. The question of a world power pivot to the Heartland dates back to a theory by British geographer, academic, and politician, Halford John Mackinder in 1904. Mackinder theorized a shift in world power to, and world domination by, the international power that controls the continental “pivot area” — Eurasia, and to some extent, Africa.
Mackinder’s theory of a world power shift is known widely as the “Heartland Theory”. It reflects the intricate dynamics of and relationships between geography, political power, and military strategy, interwoven with demography and economics. It is these dynamics and relationships, which Mackinder viewed as strengths, that characterize the Heartland and speak to its importance.
Geographically, the connected landmass of Europe, Asia, and Africa, what Mackinder called the “World Island”, is centrally positioned in the world. To Mackinder, this geographic positioning means that as a united force, the World Island could both project power in a way that demonstrates her global supremacy and protect herself against external powers. He viewed the external powers in relation to the World Island as the offshore islands (mainly China, India, Turkey, Germany, and Austria) and the outlying islands (the rest of Europe, Australia, North America, South America, and South Africa). Thus, Mackinder saw three world power systems as competing international forces, with the World Island at the forefront in geopolitical importance.
Mackinder maintained that the balance of global power favored the World Island, owing to her vast resources, including social capital, her distribution channels for exploiting or leveraging those resources to her advantage, and her land mobility. He surmised that her land mobility, 21 million square miles of continuous land stretching across Eurasia, technological changes, such as the continental dispersion of railway and communication networks, and also her social capital, a population size equal to two-thirds of the world’s total population, gave her a strategic military advantage. Countries of the two other world power systems can only advance their global military strategy, and thus, global political power, by sea. The World Island’s resources, demography, and military advantages were important then and now in that it could give her an unmatched competitive advantage in these areas. Mackinder also deemed that her land mobility better supports commerce than does sea power, conceivably giving her a competitive advantage economically.
Mackinder believed that the World Island's combined strengths fortified the Heartland as the pivot region of world politics. He also viewed Russia as the pivot state, because of her central position to assert power throughout the World Island, despite her weaknesses. He felt that historical events leading to Russia’s demographic evolution and widespread expansion engendered her as the logical Heartland pivot power.
Mackinder speculated that control over Eastern Europe would ensure control over the Heartland; control over the Heartland would ensure control over the World Island; and control over the World Island would solidify power over the world. Many have criticized Mackinder’s Heartland Theory for various reasons. However, others are reconsidering its plausibility and ongoing importance today.
The Heartland’s perceived importance often has been reflected in the geopolitics of countries such as the United States, Russia, and China, to name several. These countries have either maintained, expanded, or adapted their foreign policies and geopolitics, depending on their resolve for affirming, reclaiming, or capturing global superpower status. As if playing a game of chess, they are advancing their geostrategies and positioning for a struggle to control, influence, or constrain power over the Heartland.
Globalization, as a growing geostrategy, is closing the gap between international economies. Likewise, the World Island economies could leverage their combined strengths to demonstrate a potentially unmatched power assertion. Hence, the Heartland’s importance also seems connected to superpower positioning and possibly, a power pivot towards Eurasia.
Should we care if world power pivots to the Heartland in 2050? What characterizes the Heartland today? What past and current events might shape Heartland power? Who will influence this power shift? How might it play out? What might be some implications of a power shift? What might signal how the future unfolds? Geostrategic moves over the Heartland are in play today.
Martin Duys, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at identifying the impacts of inequality on the world order by 2050. This is his first post in our EF blog inspecting inequality through the lens of security. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In 2013 Barack Obama described inequality as the “defining challenge of our time”. In 2014 Thomas Pikkety’s academic tome, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” was translated into English and became a bestseller. In the same year Oxfam published a report claiming that the net worth of the world’s eighty-five richest people was equivalent to that of the poorest fifty percent of the global population. In 2015, in response, the World Economic Forum declared inequality, alongside climate change, as the challenge for its annual meeting in Davos. Inequality is clearly an issue on the global agenda, but is it one that could potentially lead to instability, conflict, or perhaps even war?
Income inequality is generally expressed by using an index of some kind to describe the manner in which income is distributed across a population. The Gini coefficient is the best-known example but can be difficult to understand. Comparing the share of total income earned by the top segment of a population (the top one percent, or the top ten percent) with that of the bottom fifty percent is more intuitively understandable.
Global income inequality has been steadily increasing for the past two hundred years. Only in the past thirty-five years with the rapid economic growth of countries in the Near and Far East has the trend begun to reverse. Between-country inequality has been decreasing recently, but where people are born is still the single largest factor determining their economic prospects, far more than any individual effort on their part. In-country inequality has been on the rise in most countries since the nineteen-eighties, especially in those countries that have followed a strategy of lower taxes and smaller government in order to encourage economic growth.
The trend reversal in levels of between-country inequality could be a source of increased security concern in the medium to long term. As the economies of countries such as India and China continue to grow their share of the global economy, the balance of power between nations will continue to visibly shift. Will it be possible for China to overtake the United States as the dominant world economy without their falling into what Graham Allison describes as the Thucydides Trap? An almost inevitable war between a previously dominant power and the new one.
One of the obvious consequences of between-country inequality is economic migration from poorer to wealthier countries. The effects of uncontrolled migration on the internal political climates of the destination countries have been only too obvious resulting in increased levels of nationalism and xenophobia. Whether in Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, or South Africa the response to the presence of newcomers by locals is in many ways consistent and comparable.
There is evidence that high levels of in-country inequality may dampen economic growth prospects, but a clear symptom of in-country inequality is the rapid growth of the private security industry. It is estimated that more than fifty percent of the world’s population lives in countries where there are more people employed by the private security industry than by the national police service.
Some argue that that, although the share of the economic pie accruing to the upper echelons has been increasing, this doesn’t reflect the dramatic improvement in the lives of the lowest echelons brought about by the parallel decrease in levels of absolute poverty. The increase in stability and security that results from a general reduction in absolute poverty far outweighs any potential destabilisation caused by rising inequality.
Some level of inequality can also be seen as a motivating factor that encourages individuals to strive towards achieving the economic rewards that could result from further education, or career advancement.
The issue of inequality is very much on the agenda globally. There are some recent examples of security related issues where inequality has been a contributing factor. The Occupy movement after the 2008 global financial crisis had its roots in issues of inequality, as did the protests in Chile in 2019. The role that inequality plays in contributing to future issues of security will depend largely on whether levels of inequality continue to increase, or whether there is genuine movement from discussion to action on the issue.