Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions a collapse scenario within Eurasia’s Heartland alternative futures through her seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
A collapse scenario with respect to Eurasia’s Heartland in the year 2050 could play out as a future in which opposing forces break down the geopolitical positioning by which the U.S. and Russia have historically situated themselves. Reflective of disruptive changes that derail expectations of the future, it is a scenario largely driven by geo-economic commerce. Characterized by China’s commercialized approach to Heartland power and a unipolar world order, it is one alternative future that could unfold.
By 2050 in this scenario, China has successfully rolled out the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and dominates the commercial space in Eurasia’s Heartland and much of Afro-Eurasia. The owner of most BRI infrastructure and the regional leader along the BRI corridors, China fulfilled her dream of becoming the world’s economic superpower. Her path to victory stems from a geopolitical strategy of geo-economic commerce. As China rose in power, a domino effect of disruptive changes brought about the decline of the U.S. and Russia. They are no longer positioned to influence the Heartland, now under China’s control.
A weakened U.S., confronted by dysfunction and strong oppositional forces, has lost her superpower status and influence relative to the world order and the Heartland. Whether it involved failed policies against multiple pandemics, domestic social change, and an economic Cold War with China, or unvaried foreign policy towards the Middle East and terrorism, she remained resolute in her course. However, crippling retaliatory policies and sanctions imposed on the U.S. by Britain, the European Union, Japan, and India in response to an “America First” stance that adversely impacted them has left the U.S. floundering and lacking their support.
Drawn into costly military conflicts in the Persian Gulf over Iran’s nuclear activities, and in the Mediterranean over Russia and China’s endless pursuit of Israel’s energy resources, the U.S. and her strength are divided. Widespread American public opinion is that she prioritize recovery from a brutal economic depression. Accordingly, the U.S. has abandoned efforts to contain China’s commercialized dominance in the Heartland and throughout Afro-Eurasia.
Russia struggles against devastating instability and an oppositional force in the form of Chinese Eurasianism that has undermined her power and influence in the Heartland. Whether due to a longstanding closed economic system or the over-extension of aid to former Soviet States, Russia sought a Chinese bailout. She accepted lender/borrower terms more like those China imposed on Central Asian countries for BRI infrastructure development than Euro zone bailouts.
Russia’s inability to repay the debt resulted in China’s ownership of state-owned Russian enterprises in the telecommunications, media, energy, aerospace and defense, and engineering sectors. These industries employ significant numbers of Chinese workers. Substantial revenue outflows support China’s unbounded growth and have contributed to Russia’s economic destabilization. Russia remains a Chinese ally. Yet, she begrudges China for usurping her geopolitical influence in former Soviet states. Russia has surrendered regional control of the Heartland and Afro-Eurasia to China.
BRI success for China, leader of a new unipolar world order, has evolved as commercial colonialism in the Heartland. While Central Asia initially welcomed the growth spurred by connected trade, later the region protested against this New Silk Road. Having defaulted on BRI loans, Central Asian countries lost all hope of self-governance. China’s ownership of BRI infrastructure in Central Asia ensured her economic dominance and rule over the region. A larger percentage of trade revenues flow out to China.
The overwhelming point of contention for Central Asia has involved sharing their lands with countless numbers of Chinese workers. Not only do these workers hold the best-paying jobs in the region, but they also brought with them a diversity of religious practices. Their values threaten the religio-cultural identity of Central Asian Muslims, many of whom are part of a resistance movement against China’s BRI.
This 2050 future in terms of Eurasia’s Heartland could play out as a collapse scenario in which the U.S. and Russia, suppressed by disruptive oppositional forces, concede their geopolitical power in the region to China. Although geo-economic commerce is the driving force by which China has become the world’s superpower, her commercialized approach to Heartland power, while successful, is not without some regional opposition to the BRI. Distinct from this scenario alternative is a future that reflects a new equilibrium in U.S., Russian, and Chinese geopolitics.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050 through her sixth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The expected future of Eurasia’s Heartland in the year 2050 could play out as a scenario that reflects a continuation of current trends in geopolitics among the U.S., Russia, and China. As it was in 2020 and earlier decades, it is driven by geopolitical positioning through foreign policy. Characterized by a territorial approach to Heartland power and a unipolar international order, it is the future least likely to unfold.
By 2050 in this scenario, there is a grand chessboard of geopolitical positioning and a territorial power play between the U.S., Russia, and China. After all, the player that triumphs in achieving universal domination, according to Mackinder, will wield control over the earth’s largest continental landmass by way of Heartland-centered power. From the Heartland, throughout the Afro-Eurasian continent, and across the globe by land, sea, air, and digital communications, it is a region unrivaled potential for economic growth and global impact.
In the Afro-Eurasian region, Eastern Europe is an emerging contributor to science and technological advancements in the production of vaccines and engineered therapeutics. Central Asia, now the green energy capital of the world, leads the way in providing access to affordable, reliable, and renewable energy for all its populations and selling the surplus to meet demand. The Middle East and African regions south of North Africa are exclusive suppliers of precious gemstones, mineral resources, popular metals, and stone.
Across the African continent are state-of-the art manufacturing facilities, distribution warehouses, and production studios. They support talented producers of high-quality textiles and fashions, contemporary art, Afrobeat, Afro-jazz, and other rhythmic music, as well as award-winning documentaries and films. West, East, and South Africa stimulate growth through sustainable agriculture and tech-driven agribusinesses, and dominate the market of plant-based pharmaceuticals. And the Congo has become the major supplier of fresh water for Africa and Europe. Despite escalating social and religious tensions in the region, the Afro-Eurasian continent, beginning with the Heartland, is the jackpot at stake in a winner-takes-all power struggle.
Russia and China’s foreign policies involve a territorial approach to Heartland power. Russian foreign policy allows for land grabs in the Caucasus and in Eastern Europe. She considers it her right to protect former Soviet States from further encroachment by China and Western influence. China’s foreign policy is still multifaceted. She has partnered with Russia and Iran for green-energy developments in Central Asia. Likewise, through trade, foreign direct investment, and increased militarization to protect BRI infrastructure and all of her borders, she now has full influential reach into Central Asia and the Middle East. Separately, Russia and China are advancing their interests in Africa. They understand Africa’s strategic importance to their geopolitical positioning.
The U.S. remains the sole superpower, always ready to defend a unipolar international order. Her geopolitical positioning is reflected in foreign policy aimed at containing Russia and China. She resorts to sanctions against Russia and Iran, a trade war with China, and threats of a stronger military presence in Central and Western Europe. Her containment strategies merely shadow her approach in 2020 to their expanding Heartland power and influence.
The expected future of Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050 could resemble a continuation of geopolitical positioning between the U.S., Russia, and Chin. However, this makes it the least likely future to unfold. Disruptions are likely to change how things play out, and shape one of three alternative futures.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program reviews the history of Heartland power in her third blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Events over the past thirty years have shaped the current geopolitical environment of Eurasia’s Heartland. From the collapse of the former Soviet Union to struggles for influence, power assertion, or empowerment following the Cold War, these events signal high stakes for Russia, the U.S., and China. They inform possibilities for a world-power pivot.
The collapse of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991 ended the Cold War and left Russia trying to expand her influence throughout a fragmented Heartland. As some post-Soviet Eastern European countries pursued new visions of independence, Russia looked back to the former Soviet Empire’s past glory. From the early 1990’s, she organized or joined bilateral regional organizations to promote the security, economic, and or political interests of Eurasian member states. In 2008 and in later years, she supported separatist regions in other Heartland countries to ensure their dependence on her for their economic and political development. In 2014, she annexed Crimea from Ukraine, strengthening Russia’s military influence through uninterrupted access to the Black Sea. Over time, Russia expanded her influence throughout the Heartland, though at the cost of leaving it fragmented.
Winning the Cold War propelled the U.S. forward with momentum to chase an elusive goal of fully asserting her power to leverage the Heartland’s fragmentation. She waged a war on terror in Afghanistan in 2001 after the devastating 9/11 attacks on the U.S. She invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew Saddam Hussein when he continued to defy U.S. containment strategies intended to stop his ruthless dictatorship. She provided security and economic assistance to Central Asian countries in exchange for access to their military bases and air space. Yet, despite the interventions, containment strategies, and attempts to establish a long-term U.S. military presence in the region, the U.S. fell short of her goal. Unable to leverage the Heartland’s fragmentation for a full power assertion, the U.S. lost much of her influence in the Middle East and in Central Asia.
China’s Cold War pivot away from the former USSR and towards the U.S. empowered China to extend her reach into the Heartland. Aligning her economic interests with the U.S. gave rise to China’s growth from foreign investment and trade. Undeterred by the global financial crisis of 2008, she looked to new possibilities for trading Chinese goods across Afro-Eurasia along a New Silk Road. Through increased investments in foreign infrastructure development, China began improving trade routes. Later, she announced plans for a One Belt One Road international market system or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, revealing a competing interest in the Heartland. The 2015 announcement of her “Made in China 2025” strategic plan further revealed her ambitions for economic growth through technological capabilities. A high-speed rail system, for example, would support the BRI and an empowered China’s extended reach into the Heartland.
Post 20th-Century Cold War, the U.S. faces a high-stakes change in geopolitical power rivalry for the Heartland. Having lost her influence in Central Asia and in the Middle East, the U.S. seemingly has conceded vying for Heartland control. Instead, her focus is on containing Russia and China as these two civilizational states increasingly shape Heartland power. For Russia, it’s a matter of uniting Afro-Eurasia in Eurasian solidarity. For China, it’s a matter of integrating Central Asia and parts of the Middle East into her sphere of influence. Could these and other stakeholders influence a world-power pivot to the Heartland? Any number of possible futures could unfold.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the key features of Heartland phenomenon in her second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Eurasia’s Heartland is a living organism of complex interconnected systems, which shapes the geopolitical environment by which it is itself shaped. It is characterized to some degree by the interaction of demographic, socio-cultural, political, economic, and technological changes that impact the Heartland as a whole. To another degree, it also is characterized by the impact it has on its geopolitical environment.
Demographically, the Heartland includes populations in Russia, twelve other Slavic East European countries, three other Caucasus countries, five Central Asian countries, Mongolia, and parts of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Over 500 million people strong, the Heartland spans the spectrum of contrasting demographic trends. Low fertility rates, aging populations and workforces, and year-to-year improvements in education are matters of reality in some countries. By contrast, the realities of other countries exist as higher fertility rates, high mortality rates, and a decline in educational achievements. These and other demographic trends impact socio-cultural changes in the Heartland.
Socio-culturally, the Heartland is a system of complex diversity. Its spoken languages include Slavic Indo-European dialects, Mongolic, Turkic, Arabic, and native Himalayan dialects. Its religions, those professed and or practiced, are Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Folk Religion, and atheism. Its historical transitions, from social migration patterns to the rise and fall of political empires, have fueled competing cultural preferences for Turkish clannism, Mongolic pastoralism, or Russian nationalism. There are efforts toward increased gender equality in Eastern Europe, and struggles between radicalization and social inclusion among youth in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran. Such complex socio-cultural diversity could be the environmental force that brings together nations to co-create a desirable future, yet impedes the political transformation to a unified Heartland.
Politically, the Heartland is shaped by the opposing tug of differing ideologies. On one side is Russia, geographically situated on the continents of Europe and Asia. Neither identifying as belonging solely to one or the other, it culturally identifies with both. Adamantly against Westernization, Russia has pushed for Eurasianism. It’s an ideology premised on extending Russia’s influence and power, while driving world dominance from the West to the East. On the other side are Eastern European countries that support Westernization and opportunities for knowledge sharing, trade, economic growth, etc. Between these ideologies is Turkey, strategically positioned between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Turkey aligns its political or military agenda with Russia when cooperation works to its advantage, yet it also is a bridge to connecting the West and the Middle East. Some Heartland governments are authoritarian and others democratic. From one side to the other and in-between, political ideologies in the Heartland have shaped the competing economic systems of communism and capitalism, with influences of socialism from China.
Economically, the Heartland has systems that thrive and others that merely survive. Deposits of hydrocarbon, minerals, coal, oil and natural gas reserves have supported the thriving economies of Russia, Poland, Kazakhstan, and others. These countries alone had GDP values worth over five percent of the world’s economy in 2018. The agrarian economies of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan reflect lower GDP values. Not only have they incurred rising amounts of external debt for survival, they also depend on income earned by citizens who work abroad and send money home. In the past, proximity to the old Silk Road trade routes boosted the economies of some Heartland countries. Today, China’s New Silk Road or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and other technological advancements, could help many more nations across the Afro-Eurasian World Island to thrive.
Technological change in the Heartland’s geopolitical environment is spurring multiple pathways of change. In addition to the BRI, developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, advanced-tech agriculture, and green infrastructure could open up new possibilities. Such possibilities could include new job creation, more international cooperatives, improved trade relations, or increased drug-trafficking. Undoubtedly, these changes will influence a geopolitical environment in a future increasingly characterized by competition among world powers for power, control, or dominance.
The Heartland is a living system. It is characterized by the interaction of changes to and the impact it has on its geopolitical environment. These demographic, socio-cultural, political, economic, and technological changes influence increasingly complex system impacts. Likewise, they will impact the Heartland’s future, starting with its past.