By Peter Zeihan
07/10/08 “Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report”
As students of geopolitics, we at Stratfor tend not to get overexcited when this or that plan for regional peace is tabled. Many of the world’s conflicts are geographic in nature, and changes in government or policy only rarely supersede the hard topography that we see as the dominant sculptor of the international system. Island states tend to exist in tension with their continental neighbors. Two countries linked by flat arable land will struggle until one emerges dominant. Land-based empires will clash with maritime cultures, and so on.
Petit vs. Grand Geopolitic
But the grand geopolitic — the framework which rules the interactions of regions with one another – is not the only rule in play. There is also the petit geopolitic that occurs among minor players within a region. Think of the grand geopolitic as the rise and fall of massive powers-the onslaught of the Golden Horde, the imperial clash between England and France, the U.S.-Soviet Cold War. By contrast, think of the petit geopolitic as the smaller powers that swim alongside or within the larger trends – Serbia versus Croatia, Vietnam versus Cambodia, Nicaragua versus Honduras. The same geographic rules apply, just on a smaller scale, with the added complexity of the grand geopolitic as backdrop.
The Middle East is a region rife with petit geopolitics. Since the failure of the Ottoman Empire, the region has not hosted an indigenous grand player. Instead, the region serves as a battleground for extra-regional grand powers, all attempting to grind down the local (petit) players to better achieve their own aims. Normally, Stratfor looks at the region in that light: an endless parade of small players and local noise in an environment where most trends worth watching are those implanted and shaped by outside forces. No peace deals are easy, but in the Middle East they require agreement not just from local powers, but also from those grand players beyond the region. The result is, well, the Middle East we all know.
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