XS: Hi and welcome to Geopolitical Futures podcast. I am Xander Snyder and we have a treat for you today. Joining me is our co-founder George George Friedman and we’re going to answer some of your questions with the hashtag #askGPF that was sent to us on Twitter.
So, the very first one is going to be on North Korea, George. It’s coming from Aaron and the question is: the DPRK has not tested a missile in a few weeks. Should we thank China or is there something else going on?
GF: Well hi everybody and I am delighted to be here. I feel so special. But I don’t think China has very much to do with this. I think the negotiations that are going on between the United States and the Koreans and more to the point, the gathering of U.S. forces, aircraft carriers, F-35s today to Japan.
These things are calling attention to the Koreans that the United States is actually likely to take military action. Now whether the United States is or not is known only to the president and hopefully a very few advisors. But what we’re signaling to him is that as we come up to President Trump’s visit to Asia and as we come up to the point at which we feel that the North Koreans may be close to having a deliverable system, war really is an option.
And I think somewhere in the past few weeks, it occurred to the North Koreans that the idea that they were getting was that the South Koreans were blocking the Americans from attacking. The South Koreans were so frightened of North Korean artillery that they may not hold back the United States.
And I think you know there was first the assumption that the U.S. could attack at will. The second was there was going to be tremendous casualties if it was taken. And now for it’s been transmitted to the Chinese, we may go anyway. Either because we have a solution to that problem or because the South Koreans have finally prepared to absorb it.
So I don’t think the Chinese had a lot to do with this. I think it has to do with the fact with the North Koreans really are facing the abyss or think they are. And the U.S. is doing everything to make them feel that way.
XS: Great, so now we’re going to be hop to the complete opposite side of the world. This is a question from Rick and has to do with the Middle East. Why George, does everyone in the Middle East seem to hate the Kurds with such undying passion, he writes?
GF: Well first we’re not on the other side of the world, we’re kind of far-away but not the other side. And second, I don’t think most people hate them, most people hate them. The real fact is that they were excluded from nationhood after World War I.
They are integral parts of three countries, four actually if you count Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. And each of these countries are afraid that if a United Kurdistan reformed, it would threaten their interests. It would threaten their security. So they may hate them or not hate them but this is a pretty cold-blooded calculation on their part.
And as for the rest of the world which you can say that there is a great deal of indifference about the Kurds. No one cares about them. But I don’t think there’s a question of hatred in some sort of sense that this is a nation that everybody despises. It is just an inconvenient reality that some people want to suppress, and some people don’t want to deal with. That’s pretty cold-blooded but that’s the way it is.
XS: It is and this is how we analyze nation’s interests at Geopolitical Futures and I’ll ask a follow-up question to that George. How do the regional players of Turkey, Iran and maybe to a lesser degree Russia, how do their interests intersect with the SDF and the KRG right now?
GF: Well I think it is this way. None of them will benefit from a Kurdish state including the Russians. Because if there is a Kurdish state, what we have now is established a principle that we can carve out nations, not just nations, Muslim nations out of others. And the Russians have a problem with Chechnya and Dagestan and their desire for independence and other Islamic regions.
So the last thing the Russians want to see is any sort of precedent established for doing this. As for the Iraqis and the Syrians, look this is part of their nation, to the extent that Iraq has a nation any longer, it’s part of it. If they start giving part of it they have, what else are they going to give up? So if the Syrians are fighting preserve Damascus as the capital of a united Syria, giving up any part of it encourages the rest. So again it’s just a question of nobody really having an interest in Kurdish independence.
XS: So this next question comes from Selim, it’s about the Balkans. He asks going into the third decade so the 2020s, what’s the future of the Balkans in this third decade given the historical role that Russia and Turkey have played in it?
GF: Well you also have to include that the European Union and in particular Germany. This is the historic path for invasion out of the Islamic world into Europe. And out of Europe into the Islamic world. It remains that. It remains a buffer zone for the Russians. It remains an area where the Europeans are deeply involved in terms of Slovenia and Croatia.
So this is the place where huge civilizations meet and as a result, this is the place where conflict normally occurs. It occurred in the 1990s internally. We’ve been in a fairly peaceful situation for the past twenty years. But as Turkey rises in influence, as Russia becomes aggressive of fear of dismemberment, as the European Union has more problems, all of those will somehow be reflected in the Balkans.
XS: Now George in your book, this is a follow up from me. In your book Flashpoints, you identified the Balkans as a potential flashpoint. At Geopolitical Futures, we write sometimes about how in border lands, conflict can erupt that spreads to different areas and the Balkans is one of those. How do you look at borderlands, how do you look at flashpoints and how conflict there can spread outside of the immediate region?
GF: Well there are different sets of borderlands. This is a mountainous borderland and mountainous means that old civilizations have been preserved in valleys. Most people come to the Balkans to pass through it. They don’t really want to pacify it. They can’t really pacify it. The last ones who tried to pacify the Balkans were the Germans and they got a very bloody nose in World War II, simply because all those mountains, all those steep hills, all those valleys are difficult to conquer and there are places where resistance could be formed.
So what you have is a broad geopolitical area, an area in which large tectonic plates can meet. But you also have a lesser geopolitics of the region itself that really can’t be subdued. And so you can never quite clear it out, you can never quite pacify it and it’s a culture that never quite gives up. So everybody enters the Balkans at their own risk.
If you all remember the first World War sort of began with Serbia demanding its right to national existence. One could make the case that Germany lost the war in the Balkans because by having to go there, they had to delay their attack on Russia, on the Soviet Union and dispersed forces, constantly maintained forces there. So I don’t know if that last is true but I will say that this is normally is a dangerous place for anyone to get involved in casually.
XS: Our next question comes from Andrew and he is asking about the Intermarium and we talk about the Intermarium a lot at Geopolitical Futures which is essentially a new containment line that we see forming right now in relation to Russia. And Andrew writes, General Pilsudski included Finland as part of the original Intermarium plan. George, do you see Finland joining the Three Seas Initiative?
GF: Well ultimately sure, they may. But from my point of view, there is commonality in countries like Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. They all experienced the Nazis. They all experienced the Soviet occupation. This spreads through to the Baltics. Finland is different. It has more in common historically with other regions.
And therefore, whenever you form an alliance, as the E.U. has not yet learned but it’s the case, you need to have a commonality. A commonality of interests and a commonality of culture and history and so on. Finland did not have that history. So I would argue that they have an interest in being part of it but a formal alliance if that ever does come, really needs to be among nations that belong together. It can’t be Norway and Greece in one entity.
XS: So this next question I like because it steps back and asks a broader question, it’s from someone with the handle Decessor, I am sure that’s not their real name. But he writes in, George, what theories of history best inform your views?
GF: Well maybe it his name and just his mother was cruel. But what theories in history, let me see. I draw my most, greatest inspiration from Hegel. Hegel was a German philosopher and he really wrote something, he didn’t write it, the lecture is called The Philosophy of History. And The Philosophy of History describes the matter in which history unfolds itself in retrospect can be understood and even prospect could be understood.
He doesn’t really get down in that work into the details of how it unfolds except to be talking about reason. But he gives you a framework for understanding eras and how they happened and understanding the necessity of history and the limits of human intervention.
I also read Thucydides, who didn’t have a theory of history. But did have a very profound granular understanding of the way in which politics and war unfolds. So if I were to pick the two that I would pay the most attention to, it would be Hegel and it would be Thucydides. But both of them have to be read very slowly, it takes time.
XS: Thucydides was the ancient historian who wrote on the Peloponnesian War and he was also a general in that war so he was really intimately familiar with the goings on back in ancient Greece.
George, I want to ask you a follow up on this. Having laid out how you think about history and philosophies of history that inform your view, how does the process, the methodology of geopolitics, this framework that you’ve put together that we employ here at Geopolitical Futures fit into this broader philosophical view and how does it attempt to explain where we are now and where we’re going?
GF: Well it fits in this sense. We understand the idea of necessity and things that human beings do. And we understand that the whole point of the enlightenment was to overcome necessity, to free human beings to do as they will. So there is this fundamental struggle in individual life and human history in that and what I see geopolitics doing, geopolitics not as it was originally conceived of by people like Mackinder or Spykman or those, it gives you a framework from which to understand not just the geographical impact, but the impact of a whole bunch of different variables on history. It allows you to kind of make sense of it.
So on one hand you have realists, theorists of international relations who basically say everybody should be realistic and make it something, an argument. Geopolitics says everybody is realistic, they may appear to be fools but they didn’t get to be leaders by being idiots. You simply don’t understand what they are doing. And so, that’s a very simplistic way to put it. But it’s the way I put it. Where realistic foreign policy thinkers argue for that as a policy and idealists argue for that as a policy.
What we’re interested in is, how do nations behave with each other? Hans Morgenthau who was a thinker, a great theorization on this back in the mid-century called it “Politics Among Nations”, simply how do nations relate? And I’d like to bring to the philosophical discussion is a very simplified philosophy which is that we need to spend less time arguing over what we should do and try and understand what we do, do.
XS: It’s interesting. It definitely makes for interesting work at Geopolitical Futures as well. For all of our listeners out there, I hope you enjoyed this conversation with George today. In a formal way, he tried or we tried to spell out a little bit of the informal framework that we use at GPF. If you want to read more go to geopoliticalfutures.com and the analysis that the entire team does there is based on the framework that George just laid out.
GF: By the way, thank you everybody for listening and I want to point out that Xander has to say this stuff because he works here.
XS: (Laughs) It still makes for fascinating both conversation and analysis. So George thanks for taking the time to chat today.