For a decade Pepe Escobar, a feature writer for The Asian Times, has run an informative series on Pipelineistan and the geopolitical struggle between the US/Europe, Russia and China for control over the Caspian Sea oil and gas resources. Indeed, this is just a continuation of the Great Game that began with Russia and England back in the early 19th Century for access to the riches of India and Central Asia. Now the struggle is over oil, gas and continent-wide pipelines from Central Asia.
These pipelines, and who will control the routes they take, have been at the heart of many of the trouble spots in the Middle East and Central Asia over the past two decades — such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and the Kurdish territories. In each of these countries and their surrounding neighbours we find the US/Europe, Russia and China extending their tentacles as they vie to control the precious geography for their favoured pipeline.
You can read parts of the series here:
Pipelineistan: Part 1, The Rules of the Game (January 25, 2002)
Pipelineistan, Part 2: The Games Nations Play (January 26, 2002)
Pipelinestan Goes Iran-Pak (May 29, 2009)
China Plays Pipelineistan (December 24, 2009)
Playing Chess in Asia (December 22, 2011)
Russia Rules Pipelinestan (March 23, 2012)
Syria’s Pipelineistan War (August 6, 2012)
Other posts reporting on this are:
Turkey’s Kurdish Issue and Pipelineistan (April 1, 2013)
Pipelineistan Geopolitics at Work: Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Qatar. (April 19, 2013)
Phil Ebersole’s Blog educates us on the geography of Pipelineistan with maps of proposed pipelines
you can also check out the blog Pipelineistan
For more background just do a search on “pipelineistan”.
In the latest post, Pipelineistan and the New Silk Road(s), Escobar writes about how Eurasian integration is causing fear in Washington and Western European capitals. As China and its insatiable demand for global resources spreads its way west across Asia, countries are beginning to ask themselves if they want to be part of the West or part of a Chinese dominated Eurasia. Turkey, for example, appears to have opted for the later recently when it joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (a Eurasian security organisation which was founded in 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.)
We see a China using its vast buying power, rather than a promise of American-style missionary democracy, to inch its way across the Asian/Middle East landscape.
Non-stop movement in Pipelineistan, a railway frenzy, a network of underground fiber-optic cables…We may already glimpse the contours of a new Eurasian land bridge – including, for instance, the integration of Central Asia with Xinjiang (the westernmost Chinese province) as well as a southern Silk Road branching through Indochina, linking China to Thailand. Thus the emergence of Kunming as a crack Chinese hub for an immense sub-region of Eurasia.
China will be involved in the building of a high-speed railway line in Iran. And then there’s China’s Af-Pak vision: a maze of roads and pipelines connected to Indian Ocean ports linked with Central Asian roads connecting Xinjiang with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, India and Iran also plan to build a new Southern Silk Road, centered on Chabahar port in southeast Iran.
Eventually, Pakistan is bound to become a node of Greater China. The crucial game will be played in the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar. Beijing bets on Gwadar as a key transshipment hub linking it to Central Asia and the Gulf. Both ports – Chabahar and Gwadar – are key pawns in the New Great Game in Eurasia and also happen to be at the heart of Pipelineistan.
The Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline will go through Gwadar – with the distinct possibility of a Chinese-built extension all the way to Xinjiang.
But more than anything China will privilege a steady network of energy supply from Myanmar, Russia, Central Asia and Iran.
All of these developments are part of the US’s “3 AM nightmare” as it tries to find ways to stop the Chinese expansion into Central Asia. For as former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in his 1988 book The Grand Chessboard, whoever dominates Eurasia dominates the globe.
A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. About 75 per cent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.” (The Grand Chessboard, p.31)
Hence Washington’s obsession with isolating Iran, India, Turkey, China and Russia. And this defensive strategy has been the goal of both the Democrats and Republicans as Escobar notes: “…since the first Clinton administration the policy has been to interfere in Pipelineistan not as much in terms of diversifying sources of energy for the West, but in preventing strategic victories for Russia, China and Iran.”
Yet it appears that the US strategy is failing:
So the Big Picture, long term, indicates relentless Chinese expansion westwards – based on trade – versus a US strategy that is essentially military. What is certain is that a great escape from the Atlanticist-dominated routes of trade, commerce and finance has been on for quite some time. And the New Silk Road(s) will be built by emerging Asia – and not by a fearful, declining West.