Required Reading

Robert Kaplan:

The combination of a transnational European Union and that union’s economic decline has helped further ignite calls for Catalan and Scottish separatism from within Spain and the United Kingdom, respectively. Merely the upsurge in talk of such self-determination is serving to enfeeble the reputations of Spain and Great Britain on the world stage. While these divorces — if they ever occur — will likely be velvet ones, not so the territorial rearrangements taking place in the Middle East.

Whatever current maps may suggest, Libya no longer exists as a state, and neither do Syria and Iraq. Yemen is barely a state at all, and Kurdistan is long into the process of becoming one. Such dramatic cartographic changes that — barring a world war — usually play out over decades and centuries have occurred within the space of just a few years. Though American-led military interventions provided the catalyst for state failures in Libya and Iraq, something more essential was the cause of this epic disruption. That something was suffocating absolutisms, at once fiercely modernizing and fiercely secular, in both Syria and Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Libya. Beneath the carapaces of such centralizing tyrannies lay an utter void of civil society. Thus, as soon as these tyrannies began to buckle the most atavistic ethnic, sectarian and tribal energies came to the fore.

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Read the whole thing, of course — but I’ll add a couple quick thoughts (hopefully!) before you go.

First, Europe.

Belgium is in the process of devolving into Flanders and Wallonia, Scotland might just leave the UK, Ukraine is undergoing something like partition, Italy’s Northern League is always threatening to bolt, Kaplan already mentioned Catalonia — and there’s plenty of other centrifugal forces at work in other European states. I’d argue that the EU umbrella gives those forces more power, because there’s less harm in splintering off from Madrid when your currency is already controlled by Frankfurt and most of your regulations come out of Brussels. But what happens to tomorrow’s fractured European states the day after tomorrow, when and if the EU collapses? We’d have a European map that looked more like the Middle Ages, but without the Church (or EU) to keep even a tiny damper on things.

Second, the Middle East.

I’ll just go back to something I wrote two weeks ago, that modern Arab Islam just doesn’t seem very compatible with nation-statehood. The region looks even worse when you stop and examine the complete breakdown of anything resembling civilization in the hinterlands — and how those backwards, violent country boys are quickly filling up Araby’s cities. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that conditions there will get bad enough that it might take a major population decrease (by war, famine, disease, or all three) before things get better. If then.

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Thirdly, all the rest.

As we travel from the Middle East through South Asia, up along the Chinese coast, and up to Siberia, we see first the toxic stew of ethnic and religious hatreds, then an increasingly wealthy and perhaps warlike regime in Beijing, a depopulating Japan, and the temptations of an nearly-unpopulated (but energy rich) Russian Far East.

Pax Americana was nice, but all too short-lived — the 21st Century looks to be another bloody one.

UPDATE: Or maybe Austin Bay has it right and we’re still living through the First World War.

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