The Afghanistan failure is history repeating itself but there may be profound consequences.
Who rules eastern Europe commands the Heartland
Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;
Who rules the World-Island commands the world.
— Halford Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, 1904
Mackinder’s thinking, still not completely outdated, has had more influence than is often realised. It inspired Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union. And it was embraced by the US neo-cons, Zbigniew Brzezinski especially, with their destructive Heartland obsessions over Central Asia – first Iran, then Iraq, and most recently Afghanistan, long seen and fought over as the crucial heartland state.
Will they control the world? China’s Belt and Road concept of linking China to Eastern Europe, mainly via Xinkiang and Kazakhstan to the north and Pakistan and the Indian Ocean to the south comes close to Mackinder thinking.
And Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban will do much to change the balance of power in Heartland central Asia.
At the very least our Australian neocons should start to take some notice of these developments. Their current obsessions about Beijing’s alleged island ambitions toward Australia are small beer compared with the gigantic steps China is and will be making to expand across the Asian mainland to the south and west of China.
Our hawks like to talk about the sea-trade choke points in the Malacca or Lombok Straits, where no-doubt they hope to be able to throttle the China dragon into submission, or even extinction maybe. Dream on.
Once Malaysia gets its act together we will see the start of a high-speed railway running from south-west China across Laos, Thailand down to Malacca and Singapore, with branches into Myanmar and Cambodia.
With the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban it could become even easier for China to source Iranian oil and other supplies across northern Afghanistan or directly by sea into Pakistan, and then up into Xinkiang and southern China.
Already Turkmenistan gas is flowing into China through pipes across Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Xinkiang, and eventually to Shanghai – 7,000 kilometers distant.
Northwest Shelf and Timor Gap hopes to supply much of East Asia’s gas until well into the next century could be well on Beijing’s chopping-block list of Australian undesirables once these, and new supplies being developed in Siberia, come more fully on stream.The cost of the Punch and Judy show Canberra has chosen to fight with Beijing will become even more apparent.
Fortunately for Australia, the heartland is unlikely to become a source of iron ore. Siberian deposits are too distant. For alternative sources China is already boosting its supplies from the accident prone Vale project in Brazil, long able to supply ore in multi-tonne vessels around the Cape, and from the recent Beobab Resources ore discoveries in Mozambique. But it will take time.
Central Asia, Afghanistan especially, was once the focus of the imperial ‘Great Game’. Colonialist UK schemed and plotted to prevent a much-feared Tsarist Russian southward expansion into what is now India and Pakistan.
One result was three futile attempts to subdue Afghanistan by force. Another was the very dubious Himalayan border between China and India with much of southern Tibet gifted to India by the arbitrary MacMahon Line border.
China may one day try to attack into our Quad partner, India, once again to end the incessant quibbling over territory to the north of the Line.
Another geographic anomaly was the Wakhan corridor, a thin strip of land providing an unlikely connection between China and Afghanistan. It was invented by the Brits to keep the Russians at bay to the north of the corridor.
No doubt out fear-mongers will now say it also provides a little known access for the Chinese into Afghanistan on their march south. But Francis James knew about it. It was the fancifully alleged entry point for his claimed 1969 visit to China ending up with Gough Whitlam involvement and three years in a China jail. More later.