On January 2, 2024, Foreign Minister Israel Katz proclaimed “We’re in the middle of World War III against Iran [led] radical Islam, whose tentacles are already in Europe.” He claimed that Israel, in engaging in a war against Hamas and other Iranian proxies, was defending “everyone.” Although his rhetoric may seem overblown to many in the United States and Europe, it should not be dismissed out of hand. Sometimes, regional conflicts, such as the Japanese conquest of Manchuria of 1931-32 or the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, foreshadow dangers that are more geographically extensive and militarily intense. Do the barbaric events of October 7, 2023, and the Israeli military campaign in Gaza prefigure a broader, global armed conflict? Or is this merely a local conflict, one that is likely unresolvable short of one side or the other engaging in genocide or ethnic cleansing?
We have written this paper in a specific context. Over thirty months ago we made a geopolitical prediction regarding the emergence of a global conflict with four fronts. However, social scientists rarely test their theories by predicting future political events. Who wants to be characterized as a Jonah or a Cassandra? As one eminent strategist argued, the future of war (in detail) is unknowable. And, with perhaps one notable exception, social scientists rarely engage, on a routine basis, in disprovable prediction. Without predictive tools, social scientists and strategists must rely on intuition, a knowledge of history, and good theories—all of which are often in short supply.
A Four-Front Global War?
On the anniversary of D-day, June 6, 2021, The Hill posted our paper, “Could the United States Fight a Four Front War? Not Today.” We predicted that several autocratic powers would launch “simultaneous challenges” designed to diminish the power and influence of the United States. These seemingly distinct conflicts, when viewed from the perspective of Halford Mackinder’s Heartland thesis, should be perceived as separate fronts of a single war by autocratic, territorial powers – either in close cooperation or piggybacking on one or another’s challenge to the established order – on the dominance of the United States and its maritime partners and allies situated along the Eurasian littoral. We argued that the United States should rebuild its naval capacity, and by implication its military industrial capacity more generally. Specifically, we wrote: “If we are to avoid a multi-front war, the United States must be ready to fight and win conventional conflicts in several places simultaneously and must invest in strengthening our allies’ ability to defend themselves.”
Written on the eve of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, August 31, 2021, our paper suggested that Vladimir Putin’s Russia might once again attack Ukraine to complete the conquest it had initiated in 2014 and thereby dominate the northern littoral of the Black Sea from Crimea to Moldova. To wit:
Russia continues to threaten Ukraine, aiming to consolidate its conquest of Crimea. When Ukraine surrendered its nuclear arms, the U.S. guaranteed Ukrainian territorial integrity in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Russia has eloquently demonstrated the low value of such guarantees.
Regarding Iran, we argued that:
Rogue autocratic regimes are a growing threat. Iran sponsors Houthi rebels in Yemen, stokes Shi’ite discontent in the Gulf States and Iraq, dominates Lebanon and Syria through Hezbollah, and threatens shipping through the Gulf of Hormuz. Iran, through its many proxies throughout the Middle East, would seek to dominate the region and instigate further attacks by Hamas on Israel.
Communist China, a new peer adversary for the United States, would be tempted to pile on, seeking to reunify Taiwan with the Mainland as a preliminary to securing control over the South China and East China Seas:
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has declared that Taiwan will be incorporated into China, by force if necessary. China is building a capacity to invade or blockade Taiwan, threatening U.S. reliance on Taiwan for advanced electronics, semiconductors, and as a port to contain Chinese ambitions in the Pacific.
Our intuition suggested that the current administration was squandering a key strategic asset, specifically the deterrence required to cause leaders of autocracies across Eurasia to refrain from testing the resolve of the United States. More recently, we introduced the concept of ‘distributed deterrence’ as a strategy that the United States could leverage to generate more effective deterrence both quickly and inexpensively.
We offered these predictions in the hope that Western policy makers would strengthen the defenses of our allies in Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, and that as a result, deterrence would win the day. In effect, we were hoping to be proven wrong, as policy makers considered the dangers of a multi-front war in their planning. Unfortunately, events have begun to unfold as we predicted, because the United States did not act in a timely way to adequately reinforce, train, and support our allies.
After 30 months, we believe it is now necessary to take stock of our prediction. To do so is not merely to provide a checklist of what we got right or wrong, but more significantly to offer an assessment of how our understanding of the strategic history of Eurasian autocracies led to these predictions.
The Ukraine Front
The 2014 Russian attack on Ukraine resulted in the conquest of Donbas – a territory along the eastern Ukrainian border with Russia – and the Crimea. These areas were inhabited largely by ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, though some of them certainly had no desire to be ruled from Moscow. Putin justified this attack as a response to Ukraine’s assault on a population that wished to remain Russian, in a cultural, linguistic, and ethnic sense. The Russian failure to capture a land bridge to Crimea from its conquests in Donbas strongly suggested that another campaign would have to be launched to consolidate territory, provide another supply route to Crimea, and forestall a Ukrainian bid to enter the EU and NATO (here, here, here, and here).
After Russia renewed its war in Ukraine on February 22, 2022, many Western pundits began to speculate on how this second phase would end. The Russian drive on Kiev, designed to conquer the Ukraine capital, stalled, and then was turned back. Ukraine forces launched successful counter attacks in the east and south, reconquering some lost territory and fueling a sense that a Ukrainian victory might soon be possible. Meanwhile, as the United States became more committed to the Ukraine cause, few commentators offered an assessment of what the United States should seek as an outcome in line with its own interests, and what means should be deployed in order to generate such an outcome. We indicated that there were essentially three geostrategic outcomes (here, here, and here) that should be considered: Sell out Ukraine to turn Russia from an ally of China into a client of the United States, secure a rapid Ukraine victory that would reinforce the international rules based order, or allow a stalemate to emerge that would grind down the Russian military machine. After explaining the pros and cons for each, we argued that the most desirable outcome, from an American strategic perspective, was a rapid Ukrainian victory that would result in Ukraine retaking both the Russian naval base in Sevastopol and the Crimean bridgehead. Regardless of the feasibility of reconquering Crimea, the destruction of the Russian Black Sea fleet is highly desirable.
To achieve this goal, the United States had to quickly supply Ukraine with advanced conventional military equipment, including long range missiles that would enable Ukraine’s forces to attack not only the logistics centers deep in Russian territory but also the Russian Navy. Instead, the Biden administration has released ever more advanced equipment, haltingly and in dribs and drabs, which did not permit the Ukrainian troops to expel Russian forces from Donbas. What weapons were provided were in many cases deliberately crippled so that they could not be used against Russian territory. Extensive public discussions have preceded the delivery of advanced weapons systems, which has made it impossible for the Ukrainians to achieve surprise. Instead of a rapid Ukrainian advance, the current position is one of stalemate, with trial balloons being released for diplomacy (here, here, and here) to restore (a faux) peace to Ukraine. Initiating talks with Putin at this moment, when he has mobilized more manpower and is negotiating the purchase of weapons from Iran and China, signals Western weakness while emboldening enemies of the United States and disheartening Western allies across Eurasia. With a significantly larger economy and population base than Ukraine, and with the ability to operate from a geographic shelter where they cannot be attacked, Russia has marked advantages in a long-war scenario. If Russian propaganda and Western impatience can undermine Western popular support for Ukraine, even maintaining the current stalemate may become impracticable for the Ukrainians. A steady and assured flow of Western support, including the provision of advanced systems is a necessity for the continued viability of the Ukrainian war effort.
Israel, the United States’ foremost ally in the Middle East, has once again come under attack by Hamas. In a recent post, we argue that Hamas attacked Israel on the behalf of Iran to derail the Abraham Accords between Israel and the Arabic Muslim countries including, most notably, an upcoming negotiation with Saudi Arabia. Such was the short-term occasion for the attack; over the medium run, Iran had engaged in a geostrategy of proxy encirclement, at two different scales: the local encirclement of Israel and a wider regional encirclement of Saudi Arabia.
Across the Middle East, Saudi Arabia faces adversaries: Iran and its clients and proxies across the Fertile Crescent – that is the lands from Iraq, through Syria, and on to the eastern Mediterranean coast in Lebanon – and in Yemen, to the south of Saudi Arabia, where the Houthis have launched rockets attacking Saudi pipelines. Furthermore, Iran has become deeply involved in the civil war in Sudan and has cooperated extensively with Qatar. Both are major supporters of Hamas, and Iran backed Qatar during the crisis in Qatari relations with Saudi Arabia in 2017. In addition to this geographically extensive encirclement of Saudi Arabia, there is ongoing effort to encircle Israel: To the North, Iranian proxies in Lebanon (i.e., Hezbollah) and, across the Golan Heights, the client state of Alawite Syria; to the east, the Palestinians in the territories of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority; in Israel, the Arab Israelis as a potential fifth column; and, to the west, in Gaza, the terror group, Hamas. An Israeli tie to Saudi Arabia would have provided Israel with legitimacy in the Arab Muslim world and, should the Iranians launch an attack on Saudi Arabia or Israel, shared intelligence, technology, and expertise could have contributed to mutual defense. For the foreseeable future, while the war in Gaza continues, negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to yield any public results.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet recognized in the aftermath of the slaughter of October 7, 2023 that Hamas and Gazan civilians were inspired by a culture of hatred to commit acts of barbarism (here, here, and here) – rape, beheadings, mutilation, kidnappings, etc. – previously deployed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. To respond to this attack along the Gaza frontier, and to cope with the threats emerging on the northern border, on the Golan, and in the West Bank, Israel called up 300,000 reservists. As of October 8, 2023, Israel’s standing army numbered 169,500, with the reserves numbering 465,000. This call-up has deleterious economic consequences: According to the Times of India, “JPMorgan Chase & Co. predicts that Israel's economy may shrink 11% on an annualized basis in the last three months of the year due to the ongoing conflict with Hamas.” The longer this war goes on, the greater the economic disruption. The longer the desired political and military outcome, eliminating Hamas in Gaza, remains in doubt, the greater the likelihood that Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies will enter the fray in a significant fashion. For Israel, deterrence, once lost in Gaza, must be forcefully and unambiguously restored, or its many regional enemies, including the Palestinians on the West Bank and potentially Muslims in Israel itself, may be inspired to launch intifadas, insurrections, and attacks. For Israel, the attack on 10/7 and its aftermath presented an existential threat, because it altered regional perceptions of the competence of the IDF (contra here).
The Attack on International Shipping
In our prediction, we suggested that the Iranian regime would once again disrupt maritime commerce by attacking international shipping that passed through the Strait of Hormuz. On January 11, 2024, Iran announced the seizure of a Greek-owned oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, the waterway leading to the Strait of Hormuz. It is too soon to tell if this event is a one-off or the opening of a campaign.
However, we did not perceive that the Iranians would prompt the Houthis to disrupt maritime commerce in the Bab al-Mandab, the strait connecting the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. The Iranians have allegedly supplied the Houthis with advanced weaponry – missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles – for attacking Saudi pipelines and international shipping. Although the Houthis’ claim to be attacking Israeli shipping in response to the Gaza war, the fact that most of the ships that have been attacked are owned by non-Israeli nationals and are not traveling to or from Israel suggests that these attacks are part of an ongoing Iranian effort to disrupt flows of commerce passing through the Middle East. Such attacks are particularly harmful to the Egyptian regime, which derives an outsized portion of their revenues from canal fees and associated activity. Identifying the geographic particular, the disruption at the Bab al-Mandab instead of at the Strait of Hormuz, proved elusive; however, we anticipated the Iranian intention.
Why did the Iranians turn to the Houthi proxy? The Iranians may have become more risk averse, acting indirectly through the Houthis; attacks through proxies are less likely to generate repercussions or counterattacks at home, as they are deniable. Meanwhile Iranian proxies are also engaged in repeatedly attacking U.S. outposts and military bases in Iraq and Syria, and most egregiously the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Iran has also issued a threat to attack shipping passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, presumably by mobilizing another proxy in Morocco. Such geostrategic darts, for want of a better word, thrown at the United States and maritime commerce have demonstrated Iranian opposition to the Israeli war in Gaza and an intent to compromise the passage of shipping over the high seas. It is unclear whether Iran’s leaders seek to drive the United States out of the Middle East, or whether they intend to draw the United States into a series of local counterinsurgencies against Iranian proxies, which would give Iran immense negotiating leverage.
As of the writing of this essay, these attacks at the Bab al-Mandab have led the United States and the United Kingdom to attack the Houthis, but the maritime coalition has not, as yet, used military force against Iranian interests or facilities to reestablish deterrence with regard to the sponsors of these proxy attacks. Certainly, these attacks serve to increase open-market prices for oil and gas; this helps Russian economic prospects. Also, China is likely paying fixed prices for sanctioned Iranian oil coming through the Straits of Hormuz; this likely helps explain why the Red Sea is being closed (to all but Chinese and Russian aligned shipping) but Hormuz has thus far remained open.
What is of utmost importance here is this: the earlier a prediction, the more difficult it is to specify the date and location of any adversarial event, particularly a military attack. The fact that the Iranians have instigated attacks by Houthis at the Bab al Mandab instead of launching a campaign at Hormuz is less important than having correctly predicted Iran’s intentions amid a multi-front war. We advanced the claim that the Iranians would once again disrupt international shipping, which they have done through a proxy. Attacks at any major maritime choke point have consequences for supply chains across the world economy.
China and the Taiwan Front
The jury is still out regarding a final geopolitical prediction: Will Communist China resort to armed force to integrate Taiwan? Recently, the Chinese regime has sent war ships into the seas near Taiwan to demonstrate a capacity to blockade that island. In addition, Chinese fighter jets have tested Taiwanese aerial defenses, prompting Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng to state, in October of 2022, that “[We] will view any crossing of aerial entities (into Taiwan’s territorial airspace) as a first strike.” Kuo-cheng subsequently threatened to respond with force.
CNN recently reported that President Xi Jinping told President Joe Biden, during their summit held near San Francisco on November 15, 2023, that “China’s preference was for peaceful reunification and laid out conditions under which use of force would be utilized.” CNN failed to report on those conditions or may not have been privy to the specifics; nevertheless, CNN also reported that an unnamed U.S. official indicated that, when Biden suggested that “peace and stability” were U.S. goals for the region, “President Xi responded: Look, peace is all well and good, but at some point we need to move towards resolution more generally[.]” In the run up to the recent election in Taiwan, Beijing urged voters to choose “peace over war.” The candidate who Beijing perceived as advocating for Taiwanese independence won, and now Xi may believe that China has to make good on the many threats (here, here, here, here, and here) issued regarding the Taiwan issue.
Such threats should not be ignored; rather, they must be understood as occurring during an ongoing confrontation with the United States, one that could erupt into another front in a global war should the United States continue dealing ineffectively with the seemingly separate conflicts in Ukraine, the Levant, and at the Bab al-Mandab. As our prediction indicated, the greater the number of fronts in this emerging global conflict, the more difficult it will be for the United States to prioritize where to send depleted treasure – due in part to the rising national debt – and scarce weaponry – due in part to the failure to maintain an adequate industrial base to produce military hardware.
Four Fronts, One War
At this point, the Russo-Ukraine war, Hamas’ attack on Israel and the Israeli response, the Houthis’ war against international shipping, and the 100 or more Iranian proxy attacks on American outposts in the Middle East would all suggest that a multifront war has been launched. Was this multi-front war coordinated, sequenced, or merely the result of opportunism?
Historians may one day be able to make a definitive determination. For purposes of figuring out what to do next, this is a distinction without a difference: The perception among the enemies of the West is that the present moment is one in which they have an opportunity to exploit Western distraction and weakness. What is known now is this: Russia, Iran and China have signed a series of bilateral economic agreements rendering their economies, including weapons acquisitions, more interdependent (here, here, here, here and here). Such economic understandings often undergird emerging alliances.
For further evidence that the prediction of four fronts is in fact one war, consider the following mutually reinforcing consequences. The shipments of Ukrainian exports through the Suez Canal have fallen off since the Houthis compromised transport that passes through the Bab al Mandab. Ukraine’s financial ability to prosecute its war against Russia is thus being impaired. Russian and Chinese freighters have reportedly been given a free pass through the Red Sea by the Houthis (here), a preferential policy conferring a time and distance advantage over competitors who, to avoid the war zone, transport their cargoes round the Cape of Good Hope to European markets. Meanwhile, Russian Defense Ministry has reportedly announced a soon-to-be-signed, anti-American, and pro-multipolar pact with Iran. Meanwhile, the delivery of U.S. military hardware to Ukraine and Israel reduces available equipment for Taiwan.
Will Xi Jinping take advantage of America’s lack of preparedness for a multifront war across the Eurasian rimland? For our prediction of a four-front war to be fully realized, Communist China would have to blockade or attack Taiwan even as these other conflicts take place, or in their immediate aftermath – once it becomes apparent that the United States lacks the will and/or the capability to respond effectively to yet another threat to the existing order. At some point, these separate fronts may be perceived as a single world-wide war, though not, as the Israeli Foreign Minister claimed, a world war between the West and radical Islam. Instead, this world-wide four-front war should be perceived as Eurasian land-power autocracies attacking maritime democracies and their allies, led by the United States.
Geopolitical Theory of the Heartland
Beyond an intuition born of having read strategic history, what theory informs our understanding of strategic history and the relevant geography? We rely on geopolitical theory, most notably Halford Mackinder’s theory of the Heartland, to assess the trajectory of events across Eurasia. Despite differences across Mackinder’s three geopolitical statements (1904, 1919, and 1943), the essential feature of his geopolitical theory is this: With the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the economic isolation imposed on interior Eurasian settlements by virtue of the cost of overland transportation had come to an end. Until that moment, a vast stretch of territory reaching from the Arctic in the north to the Iranian plateau in the south, from the Lena, Indigirka, and Kolyma River basins in the east and beyond Moscow to the west, was characterized by a shared geographic feature: the rivers in this area flowed north to the frozen Arctic Ocean or south to land-locked seas such as the Caspian Sea. As a result of this landlocked situation, naval power, exercised by Great Britain or other seafaring nations, had little if any military impact on the course of events in the region Mackinder labeled ‘the Heartland.’ But with the completion of the Railway, Tsarist Russia – and later the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – alone or in an alliance with European or Asian powers, might profoundly influence the course of global events due to access to new sources of minerals, the presence of virgin soil, and demographic expansion. Ultimately, interior lines of transport and communication for the movement of armies overland across the expanse of the Heartland would enable whichever power occupied the Heartland to project power westward to the European Coastlands, southwestward to Arabia, and south and eastward into the Monsoon Coastland – three of the six natural regions of Eurasia (here and here).
Even more critical was Mackinder’s recognition that World War I led to a potential reshaping of the Heartland as one of these natural regions. Mackinder posited that the region he labeled the “Strategic Heartland” included contested seas and river basins, as well as land routes suitable for invasion. Hence, the Strategic Heartland encompassed the natural Heartland, and in Europe, it extended to the Danube Basin, the Black Sea littoral, the eastern stretches of the Northern European Plain, and the Baltic Sea littoral. For Mackinder, the maritime outposts of naval power, the Black and Baltic Seas, might be turned into “lakes,” should the power occupying the Heartland capture a sea’s littoral through the successful domination by land power.
Learning From Geopolitical Theory
We learned three lessons from Mackinder’s geopolitical theory. First, Mackinder’s argument pertaining to the Baltic and Black Seas revealed that threatening or capturing the maritime chokepoints near the Bosporus and Dardanelles or the Kattegat and Skagerrak – the straits north of Denmark connecting the Baltic to the North Sea – was essential to controlling these seas. By way of a geographic analogy, Mackinder’s theory enables the observer of geopolitics to appreciate how control over the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab compromises freedom of the seas in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea approach to the Suez Canal and may eventually lead to control over the relevant coastlines. However, modern missile technology requires only proximity to a strategic strait or narrow body of water for sea denial to be effective against commercial shipping (here).
Second, Mackinder’s 1920 Report on the situation in South Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution revealed the strategic importance of Ukraine’s territory. A major invasion into the Russian cultural and demographic core around Moscow was launched north from Ukraine by the White Russian forces. In addition, one glance at a “strategic map” of Europe, viewed from high above the Urals, reveals not only the importance of the Northern European plain as an invasion route into Russia but also the southern invasion route from the Crimea. Before the recent outbreak of war, the United States allegedly began modernizing a Ukrainian naval base located east of Odessa to accommodate larger warships. Russian geostrategic planners must consider threats from both directions, particularly if the Baltics and Ukraine are aligned with what they consider to be an adversary. For restoring the Russian empire and reestablishing Russian status as a great power, the conquest and incorporation of Ukraine is perceived as critical. Russia seeks to dominate Ukraine for its manpower, its on-shore mineral and off-shore hydrocarbon deposits, its industrial base, its agricultural productivity, and its strategic location. In geo-economic terms, the ongoing division of the world-economy into a sphere of maritime and the land-based Eurasian territorial powers puts Ukraine in the cross hairs.
Third, America, as the recent holder of the baton of thalassocracy, failed to forestall the formation of a proto alliance of the Heartland Power, Russia, with two powers that straddle the Heartland and the maritime rim, Iran, and China. In Democratic Ideals and Reality (1919), Mackinder warned of the danger of the Heartland Power gaining control over the Baltic and Black seas and then, at some future date, securing power over Eurasia and Africa:
What if the Great Continent, the whole World-Island [i.e., Eurasia and Africa] or a large part of it, were at some future time to become a single and united base of sea-power? Would not the other insular bases be outbuilt as regards ships and outmanned as regards seamen? Their fleets would no doubt fight with all the heroism begotten of their histories, but the end would be fated.
Mackinder feared that the Heartland Power, alone or in alliance with powers controlling portions of the maritime rim of Eurasia, might go to sea, and become an amphibious power.
Currently, in Ukraine, Russia seeks to reassert control over the northern Black Sea littoral, from Crimea to Moldova, thereby gaining control over the offshore hydrocarbons (here). China and Iran, with their long coastlines, have decided to become amphibious powers while developing and deploying drones and land-based anti-ship missiles for sea control and denial. Iran makes modern weapons systems for their Houthi proxies. China threatens to reintegrate Taiwan, by force, if necessary, perhaps by blockade, even as it asserts exclusive control over the passage of shipping and offshore hydrocarbon deposits in the South China Sea.
What of the near future? Will there be any further challenges to the United States? Venezuela placed a referendum in front of its citizenry questioning whether contested territory currently held by Guyana should be reincorporated into Venezuelan territory. The response was in favor of reincorporation, with Venezuela reportedly mobilizing contingents of its military. Guyana and Brazil have responded. A nuclear armed North Korea continues to issue threats in response to alleged American and South Korean provocations. The Russian regime has imperial ambitions beyond Ukraine. Should Putin or his successor believe that the conquest of the Baltic States is achievable, it will certainly be attempted. And there is a final point grounded in a comparative geopolitical speculation: In addition to compromising passage through Bab al-Mandab and the Strait of Hormuz, and the threat to shipping via the Strait of Gibraltar, Iran or another power may mobilize a proxy near another maritime choke point – the Strait of Malacca. Certainly, the autocracies of the world are engaged in gray-zone warfare aimed at undermining Western support for Israel and Ukraine and aimed at mobilizing political extremists of all stripes. With the very large number of Muslim immigrants in Western Europe, any instability in the Middle East can easily produce crippling riots and insurgent or terrorist activity, especially with financial and logistical support from Iran and other regional powers. Western leaders are beginning to recognize that weakness in dealing with the threats that are already on the table will prompt new challenges in new locations (here and here).
Despite these ominous developments, the United States and its allies have generated one significant success and several potential successes in their attempt to thwart the designs of these autocratic Heartland regimes. In response to the war in Ukraine, Finland has joined NATO and Sweden’s accession has recently been approved by a parliamentary committee in Turkey (though not yet by the Turkish state). The anticipated consequence is to turn the Baltic Sea, but for the Russian naval base at Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, into a NATO dominated lake. In addition, should Ukraine manage to reverse Russian territorial conquests, secure its independence from Russia, and then join NATO and the EU, these events would represent an extension of European power. Meanwhile, Ukraine has had great success in driving the Russian Black Sea Fleet out of Crimea and into home ports further from Ukrainian missile launching sites; we have argued that before the war is over, the Ukrainians should be furnished with the means to sink the remainder of the fleet and destroy the shipyards. Ukrainian successes in attacking the Black Sea fleet have led the Russians to consider building a naval base in Ochamchire, Georgia. In the Middle East and Arabia, the United States almost succeeded in fostering an extension of the Abraham Accords to include Saudi Arabia. Finally, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) is a potential maritime alliance of India, Australia, Japan, and the United States that may, in the coming years, act to secure the free passage of shipping in the South China Sea and defend Taiwan. In short, across the maritime rim of Eurasia, the United States is slowly mobilizing partners and allies that are threatened by the revisionist and revanchist regimes of the Heartland.
Conclusion: Strategy and the Geopolitical Advantage
Our horrifying prediction, which may yet be fully realized, of a four-front war was made by attending to geopolitical theory, strategic history, and an intuition for how events might unfold. Regardless of whether China undertakes kinetic action against Taiwan, the United States and our allies now need to rush preparations for such a war at the highest possible priority. As we pointed out in the earlier article, being ready to fight a global, multi-front war is the only way to avert one.
Geopolitics provides the observer of international relations with several advantages. First, it is an interdisciplinary and integrative field of study that aims to capture aspects of reality that impinge on the evolution of international crises. Second, it juxtaposes persistent geographic structures, such as landed and maritime locations and activities, with trends and events, placing the ephemeral in the context of the enduring (here). Third, geography and geopolitics deploy particularizing and generalizing methods to understand the relationships of places to spaces, locations to regions, and nation-states to the international system. Fourth, geopolitics uses maps, including those generated by geographic information systems, to develop an appreciation of how states transform terrain into more favorable environments for the projection of power amid adversarial relationships, both potential and realized.
Geopolitics is as old an approach to international conflict as Thucydides, Sun Tse, and Kautilya. It may be that geopolitical analysis, if properly deployed, gives insight reminiscent of Galadriel’s Mirror, “For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be.”
However, despite the advantages offered by geopolitical thought for the development of strategy, Mackinder is explicit (here): “Democracy refuses to think strategically unless and until compelled to do so for purposes of defense.” After at least a generation, now is the moment for Americans to once again use geopolitics to formulate strategy.
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Acknowledgements: The authors thank the speakers and participants in the Mackinder Forum seminars and lectures for sharing their insights. Professors Brian Blouet, Athanasios Platias, Geoffrey Sloan, and Paul Rahe commented on an earlier draft of this paper. We are grateful for their thoughtful suggestions. Errors and misinterpretations remain ours.
Michael Hochberg earned his PhD in Applied Physics from Caltech and is currently a visiting scholar at the Centre for Geopolitics at Cambridge University. He is the President of Periplous LLC, which provides advisory services on strategy, technology, and organization design. He co-founded four companies, representing an exit value over a billion dollars in aggregate, spent some time as a tenured professor, and started the world’s first silicon photonics foundry service. He co-authored a widely used textbook on silicon photonics and has published work in Science, Nature, National Review, The Hill, American Spectator, RealClearDefense, Fast Company, Naval War College Review, etc.
Leonard Hochberg taught at Stanford University (among other institutions), was appointed a Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and co-founded Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (i.e., STRATFOR). He has published in Social Science History, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, National Review, The Hill, American Spectator, RealClearDefense, Naval War College Review, Orbis, etc. Len Hochberg earned his PhD in political theory and European history at Cornell University. He is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and serves as the Coordinator of the Mackinder Forum-U.S.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ZeroHedge.