Did you ever read a book and think, "I need to tell people about this?" Then you didn't tell people about it. I mean, you didn't blog about it. You didn't "officially" proclaim the book "required reading."
Then something happened that you knew could happen because of the book, but you don't get credit for calling it because you never got around to pumping the book.
That's how I feel today.
The book is The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman, founder of STRATFOR, came to me as a gift from a great friend (who I don't see enough) around Christmas 2012. Friedman wrote the book in 2009. Here are some of the insights I noted back then:
- Stop sweating China. China will turn inward soon, as it always does, probably splitting its coastal, Westward-looking areas from its interior.
- Russia, on the other hand, wants to reassemble the Warsaw Pact into a buffer.
I made more notes, but those were the biggies. Here were some specifics on point 2:
On the Orange Revolution in Ukraine
The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, from December 2004 to January 2005, was the moment when the post–Cold War world genuinely ended for Russia. The Russians saw the events in Ukraine as an attempt by the United States to draw Ukraine into NATO and thereby set the stage for Russian disintegration. Quite frankly, there was some truth to the Russian perception.
On Russia's Strategic Need to Dominate Ukraine
If the West had succeeded in dominating Ukraine, Russia would have become indefensible. The southern border with Belarus, as well as the southwestern frontier of Russia, would have been wide open. In addition, the distance between Ukraine and western Kazakhstan is only about four hundred miles, and that is the gap through which Russia has been able to project power toward the Caucasus (see map, page 71). We should assume, then, that under these circumstances Russia would have lost its ability to control the Caucasus and would have had to retreat farther north from Chechnya. The Russians would have been abandoning parts of the Russian Federation itself, and Russia's own southern flank would become highly vulnerable. Russia would have continued to fragment until it returned to its medieval frontiers.
Ukraine and Belarus are everything to the Russians. If they were to fall into an enemy's hands—for example, join NATO—Russia would be in mortal danger. Moscow is only a bit over two hundred miles from the Russian border with Belarus, Ukraine less than two hundred miles from Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad. Russia defended against Napoleon and Hitler with depth. Without Belarus and Ukraine, there is no depth, no land to trade for an enemy's blood. It is, of course, absurd to imagine NATO posing a threat to Russia. But the Russians think in terms of twenty-year cycles, and they know how quickly the absurd becomes possible.
On What Russia's Doing About It
After what Russia regarded as an American attempt to further damage it, Moscow reverted to a strategy of reasserting its sphere of influence in the areas of the former Soviet Union. The great retreat of Russian power ended in Ukraine. Russian influence is now increasing in three directions: toward Central Asia, toward the Caucasus, and, inevitably, toward the West, the Baltics, and Eastern Europe. For the next generation, until roughly 2020, Russia's primary concern will be reconstructing the Russian state and reasserting Russian power in the region.
On What Happens Next
But the real flash point, in all likelihood, will be on Russia's western frontier. Belarus will align itself with Russia. Of all the countries in the former Soviet Union, Belarus has had the fewest economic and political reforms and has been the most interested in re-creating some successor to the Soviet Union. Linked in some way to Russia, Belarus will bring Russian power back to the borders of the former Soviet Union.
From the Baltics south to the Romanian border there is a region where borders have historically been uncertain and conflict frequent. In the north, there is a long, narrow plain, stretching from the Pyrenees to St. Petersburg. This is where Europe's greatest wars were fought. This is the path that Napoleon and Hitler took to invade Russia. There are few natural barriers. Therefore, the Russians must push their border west as far as possible to create a buffer. After World War II, they drove into the center of Germany on this plain. Today, they have retreated to the east. They have to return, and move as far west as possible. That means the Baltic states and Poland are, as before, problems Russia has to solve.
Poland Is Next
As Friedman predicted, Poland would become a problem for Russia to solve. So today's Business Insider headline struck me. And it should strike fear into Poles.
Kaliningrad was originally a part of Germany until its annexation by the Soviet Union in 1945. During the Cold War, Kaliningrad was one of the most militarized and closed off sections of the USSR.
Today, Kaliningrad is of extreme strategic value as it hosts the Russian Baltic Fleet in the port of Baltiysk — Russia's sole ice-free European port. Kaliningrad is also home to the Chernyakhovsk and Donskoye air bases. It is uncertain how many soldiers Russia has in the region; however, short-range mobile ballistic missiles have also been deployed in Kaliningrad since at least 2012.
Just as Friedman predicted.
The Poles fear the Russians and the Germans. Trapped between the two, without natural defenses, they fear whichever is stronger at any time. Unlike the rest of Eastern Europe, which at least has the barrier of the Carpathians between them and the Russians—and shares a border with Ukraine, not Russia—the Poles are on the dangerous northern European plain. When the Russians return to their border in force in the process of confronting the Baltic states, the Poles will react. Poland has almost forty million people. It is not a small country, and since it will be backed by the United States, not a trivial one.
Polish support will be thrown behind the Balts. The Russians will pull the Ukrainians into their alliance with Belarus and will have Russian forces all along the Polish border, and as far south as the Black Sea. At this point the Russians will begin the process of trying to neutralize the Balts. This, I believe, will all take place by the mid-2010s.
America and NATO Are Powerless
Guys like John McCain just don't get it. America's ability to intervene in Europe ended when the government and the fed transferred trillions in real and future dollars from the US economy into the hands of Wall Street favorites.
Plus, the US is without a president capable of the most basic geopolitical strategy. I know Obama fans think he's brilliant. He's not. Assad, Putin, and others have run mental circles around our president. Oh, an Iran. Remember the "peace in our time" John Kerry announcement on Iran? Iran didn't skip a beat in its march toward nuclear weapons. He seems to lack even the intellect to recognize when he's been had.
The world falling apart and looking for someone to lead. Obama just ordered our armed forces to shrink back to pre-World War II size just in time for World War III. Vladimir Putin seized the moment to fill the void.
Read The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century to get a feel for where this goes next. And don't forget, America is out of money.