The doctrine of the Nareland
The idea that holding the Middle East - the Heartland, "the greatest natural fortress on earth"50- is the key to controlling the civilized world was once the core idea in geopolitical thinking. It was the central plank in the geopolitics of Sir Halford Mackinder, the basis of the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine, and the Carter Doctrine. With Nicholas Spykman geopolitical attention shifted towards the Rimland: dominating the coastal areas of Eurasia.
With the shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics the focus is no longer the Heartland or the Rimland, or any coherent geographical region, but the set of all geographical locations containing economically-important natural resources, what we shall call the Nareland (Natural Resource Lands). This new logic of dispersed geographical locations marks the shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics. We find support for this theory today in US involvement in the Middle East and in China's growing involvement in agricultural production and oil extraction on the African continent. China's mission here, as everywhere else in the developing world, is twofold: to show the poor people of the world that China is the new alternative to the Soviet Union, and to secure China's supply of raw materials. It is a policy of "hearts and wallets", and it has been a great success. Only two decades ago Africa was largely a matter of struggle between French and Anglo-American interests. That was a geopolitical logic. The outcome of that has been poverty, corruption, and political elitism. China has now captured most of Africa economically, though not yet culturally. For Africans the most important feature of a product is price. Today there are few markets where Western companies are able to compete against their Chinese counterparts.
For the Chinese it makes sense to focus on Africa: (i) they have the contacts, from the Communist era, (ii) competition elsewhere is tough, and (iii) the Chinese do not jib at working with the natives under rough conditions. Although oil represents China's largest interest in Africa (Angola - a quarter of Angolan oil production goes to China, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, and Gabon), they are investing in other sectors also, and they are there to sell. In most these countries they take on projects that we in the West consider ourselves too good for, projects that are deemed too messy or not profitable enough. When we have gone to Africa it has too often been to play the political game, to line the pockets of corrupt leaders or to administer relief funds; not to build, not to create long-term wealth. It is an old irresponsible habit from the colonial period which continued through the Cold War.
No other resource is so highly prized today as oil, and nowhere can it be had more plentifully than in the Middle East. The more we extract and use, the greater the demand becomes for what is left. Based on our current consumption of oil and on estimates of remaining reserves, it is possible that every drop will have been consumed by 2040 (Klare 2001: 42). This has set the first new geoeconomic agenda for the world's resources since the Cold War. Until we have a substitute form of energy, countries like the USA have demonstrated that they are willing to risk lives for access to other countries' oil reserves. This strategy did not begin with President Bush junior: it goes back to Jimmy Carter's administration and its dealings in the Persian Gulf. US involvement in the Middle East goes back to the last days of colonialism, when Arab leaders made it explicit that they were fed up with the British and were looking for a new partner. The Americans seemed ideal: they did not want to own territory or meddle in local politics, but cared only for the profits. This mutual relationship worked fine until the 9-11 attack. Then it became clear that the Saudis, the USA's closest partner, were giving house room to their greatest enemies, people influenced by Islamic extremism. Instead of declaring war on the extremists' homeland, the US attacked an old enemy from the Gulf War. Political pressure demanded they attack someone, but economic interest demanded it should not be Saudi Arabia. The dilemma was too great to resolve in any other way.
The "scramble for oil" is just one in a series of races taking place in the Nareland. The next competition may be for clean water. There is also a race on for the most precious remaining minerals, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa.
It was President Clinton who built up the US capacity to intervene militarily in the Middle East, not Bush senior or Bush junior. The 9-11 episode simply gave the Bush administration an excuse to speed up the process by using more aggressive military tactics. For the first time in decades the USA, Russia, and China are now openly supporting military operations for control of the world's oil resources.
In trying to control the world's oil the US is attempting what Alexander the Great succeeded in doing, and Napoleon and Hitler failed to achieve: to control the Middle East. For Alexander the motive was immortality, for Hitler it was ideology, for Napoleon and Bush it was greed. Obama's perspective is more pragmatic. He seems convinced that it is the only option left for the survival of the American superpower. Napoleon justified himself by saying that he was bringing the French Revolution to other countries, Bush by saying that he was freeing the Iraqis from a tyrant. Obama wants us to believe he is building world democracy. All are, of course, excuses. Each story is adapted to its own time, to what people are prepared to believe. The interests have not changed.
Obama's job is to save the American economy, which means protecting the interests of the rich. He has not set out to remodel the country, because that is not a realistic project (but then nor, it now seems, is saving the economy). The USA has become a corporate state, run directly in the interest of its multinationals, only indirectly for its citizens. Evidence for this is seen in everything from the American approach to health care to its system of lobbying, overriding any possibility of a democratic process. (I try hard to explain to my students the difference between corruption and lobbying, but what is the difference really? One activity is illegal and the other legal, but what difference is there in substance?) Obama may want to change the system, but the interests supporting it are too overwhelming and the president is tied hand and foot. He is expected to create jobs and to make the economy flourish. Any deviation from that agenda will be treated as a failure, by the voters not least. The lesson learned by the Republican Party may be that, next time, they need to find a candidate everyone can like. They are having great difficulty with this in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. They can hardly afford to use any of their political insiders, if they want to win. So it will have to be an outsider who is a communicator, a figure such as Ronald Reagan once was.
Only a cool-headed analysis of interests can reveal a State's power structure and policy motives. We must see through the State's rhetoric about a good society and good deeds. Individuals find the opportunity to do good, but this seldom applies to States. Good deeds areal ways encouraged, but their importance and consequences for a nation are systematically exaggerated. Even good deeds are mostly driven by selfish interests, such as when the super-rich engage in philanthropy. These men are still making investments, only not in machinery or new businesses, but in their own future reputations. Most of them have made their fortunes by being unusually ruthless, or creating monopolies and cartels of one form or another. Later, when they have all the material possessions they could possibly want, everything that money can buy, they start to think about what people will say about them after they are gone. They are still investing, but in their own immortality. Of course there are exceptions, but these exceptions do not disprove the way the world works in general. It is the same with nation states. They do good too, but that is at best a secondary phenomenon. More than anything else it is important to appear to be doing good, to occupy the moral high ground. The "international community" stands for that high ground among nations, founded on the values defined by the victors of the Second World War. Given that those are the accepted values, the English-speaking countries and their allies can win any political discussion. That is why countries like Japan, Germany, Russia, India, and now China often prefer to remain outside international political discussions, to position themselves as alternatives. At another level it is the reason for the creation of the Goethe Institute in Germany and the Confucius Institute in China: to show the world that there are other values, other ways of thinking about society.
The organizations themselves, the State and the multinational enterprise, will continue to claim positive consequences for their activities. It makes good publicity, and good publicity means more public support and increased profits. We are at a point where the actions of organizations look moral because morals are good for business (window dressing). An immoral image has the opposite consequence: it creates negative publicity and damages the reputation of the organization, whether that is a nation state, such as Zimbabwe or North Korea, or a private-sector company like the oil companies, which are now busy telling us how much they care about the environment and people in general ("don't mention the oil"). Attempts will always be made to conceal the true interests and to appear to be doing good. What has changed in today's world is that the truth emerges more often than once did - not through the traditional mass media, which have always been controlled by special interests and have therefore largely been self-censored, but through private individuals using new technology (primarily the Internet, easily-portable tape recorders, and miniature web cams). Thus the logic of doing bad things or being a bad organization has become more transparent. This in turn has expanded the public relations, public manipulation, and corporate-identity consulting industries, which are increasingly being operated and administered via the Internet, often nowadays engaging directly with individual voters and consumers. The aim of these PR efforts is to reverse people's perception of reality. Just think about it for a second: a PR company has no obligation towards the truth or the common good, but often finds itself in opposition to it. It is a perception-manipulating mechanism, the true modern equivalent of the ancient Sophists. We have become so duped by these activities that we have come to accept their existence as normal and acceptable.
Manipulation has become an easier task in some respects and a more difficult one in others. It has become easier because large national and international networks reach ever larger parts of the world's population (CNN, ABC, BBC and now CCTV, expanding faster than any network in history), but more difficult because new technology has given rise to new and alternative ways of communicating (Internet, e-mail, mobile phones, etc.). It has become more difficult also because the evolution of modern society, which is giving individuals more time off work, has been leading to increased concern for and interest in moral issues. Thus all organizations today, in both public and private sectors, are forced to take into account the moral consequences of their decisions and actions (child labour, labour laws, environmental pollution). A chief executive or manager never knows when he may be telephoned by a journalist to answer questions about decisions he has made; and if he fails to answer, whatever the excuse, he will be guilty in the public eye. If he takes the call, it will be the journalist choosing the questions, and the interview will be edited to support the journalist's side of the story and leave the interviewee looking like a fool or at best putting him in the wrong. That is easy enough to do if you have shot plenty of film footage or taken numerous photos. The outcome is all about the selection of material to present.
In reality these fights are never fair, to either side. Consequently both private- and public-sector organizations are putting increasing effort into training to handle various events and mishaps, as an aspect of their "external relations". From an instrumental point of view we could see this as a form of moral risk. As such it can be handled (modelled and calculated) like other kinds of risk. Companies nowadays systematically resolve similar problems through humble apologies (giving us the expression "to do a puddle"), denial, or diversification. All communication with the company will be handled by an "information representative" or "communications representative"(since by now "PR" has become a dirty word).
To sum up: for a long time the world was locked into a struggle between political ideologies. The forces of geopolitical interests were checked by interests which overrode them: the winning of minds, the nuclear threat, and the survival of humanity. The "end of history" has, at least in this first phase, come to mean the return of geopolitical thinking, in its new shape as geoeconomics. If we think that we have seen hot competition between nation states in the past, that is nothing compared to what we can expect from the multinationals in the 21st century.