June 26, 2014

Eurasia's Ongoing Crackup

By Robert D. Kaplan

Eurasia -- from Iberia to the Korean Peninsula -- faces the prospect of epochal change. These disruptions are not always in the headlines, and they obscure vast areas of stability where change is gradual rather than sudden. But at a time of rapid shifts in technology and urban demography, it is to be expected that political identities of the kind that lead to territorial adjustments will undergo transformation. And while in some cases a yearning for liberal democracy will be a driving force of upheaval, in too many cases the driving force will be exclusivist ethnic and sectarian passions anchored in specific geographies. The world's leading opinion pages are consumed by the battle of ideas, but in the early 21st century blood and territory could be more accurate indicators of postmodern geopolitics.

The combination of a transnational European Union and that union's economic decline has helped further ignite calls for Catalan and Scottish separatism from within Spain and the United Kingdom, respectively. Merely the upsurge in talk of such self-determination is serving to enfeeble the reputations of Spain and Great Britain on the world stage. While these divorces -- if they ever occur -- will likely be velvet ones, not so the territorial rearrangements taking place in the Middle East.

Whatever current maps may suggest, Libya no longer exists as a state, and neither do Syria and Iraq. Yemen is barely a state at all, and Kurdistan is long into the process of becoming one. Such dramatic cartographic changes that -- barring a world war -- usually play out over decades and centuries have occurred within the space of just a few years. Though American-led military interventions provided the catalyst for state failures in Libya and Iraq, something more essential was the cause of this epic disruption. That something was suffocating absolutisms, at once fiercely modernizing and fiercely secular, in both Syria and Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Libya. Beneath the carapaces of such centralizing tyrannies lay an utter void of civil society. Thus, as soon as these tyrannies began to buckle the most atavistic ethnic, sectarian and tribal energies came to the fore.

Read the full op-ed at Real Clear World

  • Commentary
    • March 27, 2020
    Sharper: Global Coronavirus Response

    As regions across the United States enforce states of emergency and a growing list of countries restrict travel, close schools, and quarantine citizens, the economic and human...

    By Chris Estep & Cole Stevens

  • Podcast
    • March 27, 2020
    China, Europe, and COVID-19 with CNAS’s Ashley Feng and Kristine Lee

    Ashley Feng and Kristine Lee join Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Jim Townsend to explain China’s response to COVID-19 on the latest episode of Brussels Sprouts. Feng is a Research ...

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend, Kristine Lee & Ashley Feng

  • Commentary
    • The National Interest
    • March 21, 2020
    Can the G7 Stop the Coronavirus?

    The world’s leading governments are throwing all they have into the coronavirus fight. Recent days have seen dramatic social distancing requirements, novel border controls, ma...

    By Gary Edson & Richard Fontaine

  • Commentary
    • Foreign Policy
    • March 20, 2020
    Virus Competition Is Wrecking China-U.S. Cooperation Hopes

    As Washington shifted its worldview over the last several years to a sharp focus on China competition, even the most claw-bearing hawks generally left open the possibility of ...

    By Richard Fontaine

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia