“Who rules East Europe controls the Heartland; who rules the Heartland controls the World Island; who rules the World Island controls the World”– Sir Halford Mackinder
PARTIII: SCO in full Control of the Eurasian Heartland
The New Normal (an emerging Organization in the Heartland). But times have changed. The series of strategic errors committed by the U.S. and its NATO allies (i.e., misadventures in Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, South China Sea, Iran, East China Sea, bombing of Chinese embassy in Belgrade, color revolutions, regime changes, funding and support for ISIS, etc.) have pushed China and Russia together in order to consolidate and control the Heartland. They have now effectively formed an entente within the Eurasian Heartland.
In 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was formed in Shanghai, China. The founding members were China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. India and Pakistan memberships were approved in July 2015, while Iran’s membership is waiting for the lifting of sanctions imposed by the West, expected in 2016. Remaining in observer status as of December 2015 are Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia; while Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka attend as dialogue partners. Invited to the SCO meetings as guests are countries belonging to ASEAN, the CIS, and Turkmenistan.
The SCO full members, observer members and dialogue partners, when plotted on the Eurasian Map, cover practically the entire length and breadth of Mackinder’s Heartland. From Wikipedia: In July 2005, at its fifth and watershed summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, with representatives of India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan attending an SCO summit for the first time, the president of the host country, Nursultan Nazarbayev, greeted the guests in words that had never before been used in any context: “The leaders of the states sitting at this negotiation table are representatives of half of humanity”.
By 2007 the SCO had initiated over twenty large-scale projects related to transportation, energy and telecommunications and held regular meetings of security, military, defense, foreign affairs, economic, cultural, banking and other officials from its member states.
The cooperation and organization that Russia and China lacked during the Cold War period has been replaced with unity, cooperation, coordination, and a strong and credible organization in the form of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
A Triple Entente in the Heartland. What may be giving Western strategic planners sleepless nights is that the entente between Russia and China is slowly evolving into a triple entente with the continued wooing of Iran by Russia and China. Russia is supplying Iran with nuclear power plants and in the process of delivering S-300 PMU2 air defense system to Iran, aside from Russian and Iranian soldiers fighting side-by-side in Syria. China, on the other hand, is contemplating the supply of advanced J-10B aircraft to Iran in exchange for China’s operation and control of Iran’s Azadegan Oil Field (Iran’s biggest oil field) for 20 years. Iran is one of the main oil suppliers to China and has allowed huge Chinese investments entry into Iran’s economy. Iran is also set to supply oil and gas through pipelines going through the Gwadar Port in Pakistan and on to China through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of the One Belt, One Road Initiative of China.
Iran is of extreme strategic importance to both Russia and China for control and protection of the Heartland. Here are the reasons why:
- Iran is the Gateway to the Heartland of Eurasia. Control of Iran opens the gate to the Heartland – particularly into Turkmenistan where China gets most of its gas supply at the moment by means of a gas pipeline through most of Central Asia. Control of Iran also gainsaccess to the vast plains of Central Asia – the Pivot Area in the Heartland of Eurasia.
- Iran straddles the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, two of the richest regions in the world in terms of oil and gas. This makes Iran the second biggest gas producer (second to Russia) and one of the largest oil producers in the world. Control of Iran gains control of these large oil and gas resources.
- Iran control of the Strait of Hormuz. Iran sits right at the entrance and only exit in the Strait of Hormuz where some 60% of countries in NATO and 90% of Japan’s energy supply pass through. Iran blocking the exit of the strait with its anti-ship missiles based onshore or by using sea mines can stop the flow of oil to U.S. major allies. Without enough oil, war machines grind to a halt.
- One of the most populous in Middle East. Iran is the second most populous country in the Middle East with some 80 million that can man its military in defending the country in a protracted war. It has a literacy rate of 82%, which is higher than the average of 62% in the region. Among young Iranian adults between the age of 15 and 24, the literacy rate goes up to 97%; and this is the ideal age for military service.
- One of the most mountainous in the world. The terrain in Iran makes it a natural fortress, being one of the most mountainous in the world. Invading tank columns will be canalized along the main roads vulnerable to ambush via guerrilla warfare or asymmetric warfare. This kind of terrain is ideal for protracted guerrilla war that can bleed any potential superpower invader to death. Afghanistan is called the “graveyard of empires”. More so with Iran.
- Cross-road of three continents. Mackinder described the World Island as the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa all seen as one vast landmass. Well, Iran sits right smack in the middle of these three continents – serving as the cross-road of continents. It is also in the cross-road of Central Asia, West Asia, and South Asia, thus exerting strong influence in these important regions of Asia from its central position.
- Access to the sea. Iran has access not only to the Caspian Sea but to the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and on to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. This gives Iran the potential of being both a powerful land power and a sea power; like its Entente partners Russia and China.
- Last but not least, Iran traces its cultural roots from the ancient Persian Empire. This is in stark contrast to the mostly tribal culture of some of its leading adversarial neighbors. It has a working democratic form of governance compared to the family-ruled dictatorships of its neighboring adversaries.
For these reasons, strategists planning the control of the Eurasian Heartland would see that a Triple Entente of China, Russia, and Iran would have greater chance of success as compared to a mere Russia-China dual alliance. The Western pressure on Iran such as the various sanctions imposed on it by the U.S. and its allies has helped in pushing Iran into the waiting arms of the Russian Bear and the Chinese Dragon. This is another example of the series of strategic and diplomatic blunders of America and its Western followers.
The U.S. Pivot to Asia vs. China’s March West. The U.S. “Pivot to Asia”, on the other hand, not only pushed China into a strong strategic alliance with Russia but also drove China to “March West”; that is, to initiate a New Silk Road initiative right into the midst of the Eurasian Heartland and on to the ends of West Europe. China calls this strategy “One Belt One Road” initiative. With its massive foreign exchange reserves ($3.23 Trillion), an over capacity of steel and cement, and an extreme urge to get rid of its remaining dollar assets (that are in danger of losing value due to the U.S. FED’s wanton printing of dollars without any gold backing), China decided to meet U.S. Pivot to Asia with its own March to the West; meaning developing a new silk road crisscrossing Central Asia all the way to Atlantic shores of Europe. This happens to cover the whole of the Eurasian Heartland or Pivot Area as described by Mackinder, and far beyond. Mackinder’s theory moves west to east; China’s Silk Road Initiative moves in the reverse of Mackinder’s – from east to west.
While the US pivot East primarily with its military and naval forces with its plan to shift 60 % of its total military strength to the Asia-Pacific region to confront and contain the rise of China; China’s response was to pivot West using its technological, economic, and financial might to build high-speed rail, highways, ports, airports, techno-parks, industrial zones, fiber optic networks, food production bases, power grids, power plants, schools, hospitals, and entire economic corridors crisscrossing the whole of the Eurasian Heartland all the way to Europe and Africa. China meets US military power with its own economic and financial might.
For keen observers, it is quite obvious who will eventually win in this duel between the US and China. US military might will be met with hatred and hostility by the local populace anywhere it goes; China’s economic and financial initiatives will be met with open arms, with the local populace begging to be “invaded” by China.
* The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.