The Warsaw Institute Review: World Review. “Central Eastern Europe as a key on the International Chessboard” article made by geopolitics and economy expert Mr. Paweł Opaczyński.
„Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.”
These words contained in the work of Harold Macinder “Democratic ideals and reality” exactly 100 years ago seemed to be an abstraction for decades. They even seemed absurd when the world eagerly began to believe in the theses contained in the essay, and later in the book by Francis Fukuyama about the end of history. After the collapse of the USSR, geopolitics and everything related to it seemed to no longer apply, until it returned in all its glory more current and more true than ever before.
When in 2012 Barack Obama’s administration announced the famous pivot, many did not understand its meaning. In many respects, geopolitical thinking could not be fully explained. China, considered harmless and easy to strangle, would play such a great role that the hegemon changes its strategy? It was out of their minds and in some circles it was considered a whim.
In Europe, most did not understand this step, and those who understood it played a maximum of themselves. Germany arranged the cards almost immediately, using the eurozone crisis, and France felt like a military head of the region, escalating the situation in Libya and trying to take over the role of the quarterback with Italy, which ended in considerable compromise.
Surely felt immediately Russia, which without looking at everyone annexed the Crimea. This annexation was perhaps the most vivid example that geopolitics came back for good. Crimea is in fact geostrategically and geopolitically an extremely important point on the map of the region.
New Silk Road
Pivot in 2012 forced counter-reaction and acceleration in China’s international policy. The first masks fell in Kazakhstan in 2013, when an ambitious and monumental plan was announced to create a New Silk Road – a concept that is a counter to the geopolitical world based on the primacy of maritime powers.
Connecting all of Eurasia via communication routes and creating such a gigantic zone changes everything and changes nothing at least as far as free trade. Actually, due to this concept, geopolitical assumptions have become even more current and almost dogmatic in their application. Even if the tyranny of geography is bypassed by great engineering and financial effort in some places, it plays a key role in all future scenarios.
The only factor that needs to be added to the old concepts to make them full are climate change and new expansion opportunities in the north of Eurasia – that is, to geopolitical calculations, new points and regions should be added, which due to their inaccessibility have so far been ignored. The brightest example here is the North Sea Trail.
China’s idea is basically simple. An infrastructure network should be created for each mode of transport connecting the east of the world’s largest island with the west and north with the south (including Africa).
The very process of building this network, calculated for decades, should bring general development and prosperity wherever it appears. In addition, the credit system should build the power of the middle state by making countries as much as possible. At the same time, China is trying to impose its companies and conditions when building this infrastructure – which is intended to further strengthen their economy and break it out of the middle income trap and put it as the core of the system.
It is in theory, and in practice it is different – however, this concept is implemented and will probably be carried out at least in part.
As a consequence, the world and rivalry take on it, and in some respects it has already taken the direction of a new division into two competing camps. We are at the stage of clarifying these two poles – two centers of the world. But this puzzle will not be as simple as the world once divided by an iron curtain.
Due to globalization and incredible confusion of interests, we are facing competition in a hybrid world, where two main centers of strength set the tone, but regional powers have their say and it will be through them that through which there will be a balance of power. India, Japan, Russia, EU, Turkey are examples of countries that will have their roles to play over the next decades of the 21st century and which will also take on the heavy burden of competition.
The question immediately comes to mind, what about the hegemony that the US defends? When will they lose?
The problem is that the US is a hegemon only in name, which is basically no longer. In my opinion, this hegemony is not even defended anymore, and under the shell of its defense creatively disassembles the world they have created to take the best place in the new order. On the one hand, then, we see the fight against China like a trade war, but on the other, in many respects it’s just a mirage to buy time to reorganize your influence – a kind of distraction. That is why we are observing stories of blocking Huawei, and then letting go of it, imposing new duties from September 1, and then moving them to December, etc. These are attempts to exert pressure and provoke reactions while shaping the market. After all, many companies will not risk that the US will finally live up to what it says and choose a safe direction, be it supplies or businesses. A good example was the reaction of companies to imposing sanctions against Iran, where probably no significant company was ready to take the risk. China, moreover, is doing similar maneuvers with what and where they invest in, building their influence and occupying niches. Increases and decreases in system voltages are increasingly polarizing everything we know. Customs and political dealings are starting to create new supply chains, which in my opinion will be one of the most vivid examples of divisions in the new order.
Eastern Europe – the gate to rule the largest island
One of the most interesting arenas is the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region. A region not to be missed if you want to implement the concept of land communication of east and west Eurasia. A place where land routes must pass, which in addition topographically has only one convenient passage. The passage, where for hundreds of years the interests of East and West clashed, i.e. the connection of the Central European and Eastern European lowlands with the key country lying at this point, i.e. Poland. The only alternative is the Hungarian lowland, which, however, does not have such convenient exits to the east and west.
This is where Macinder’s famous words materialize today like never before. Both in the Chinese concept of cooperation with the region called 17 + 1 and the Polish concept under the auspices of the USA, called the Three Seas.
The region seems to consolidate and strengthen seeing its
enormous opportunity and advantage in the upcoming puzzle of order. This is due
to a simple relationship – the Chinese are unable to effectively exist on the
west coast of Eurasia without a strong presence and cooperation in CEE, and the
US is unable to maintain its influence in Europe and the Middle East without
this strategic region.
Since 2016, the region is increasingly expressing competition for influence and position among the powers. China is increasingly trying to invest in rail transport and focus on the Western Balkans. The reason is simple. These are countries outside the EU structures and Chinese investments and loans seem to be more attractive to these countries because they do not have access to cheap capital from European banks. In addition, these countries do not belong to the EU legal system, which greatly limits the freedom and ease of entering the markets.
The US strongly supports the Three Seas initiative, which consists of EU countries. The main driving force of this initiative is Poland, which is building an increasingly stronger position in the EU and the region. The USA, which has recalibrated European policy, provides strong support for Poland. As part of NATO, it strengthens its military position on the eastern flank, mainly in Romania and Poland, and as part of the Three Seas it builds its economic presence. In addition to huge infrastructure investments in the north-south direction, the core of cooperation is also energy. It seems that in order to better understand the emerging situation should look at a smaller picture or Poland.
When the winds of change blow, some build walls, others windmills
This proverb probably best reflects what Poland has done in the face of great geopolitical changes. Instead of how many Western elites are offended by reality and changes, such as the choice of Donald Trump in the USA – the authorities decided to strengthen alliances and promote their point of view. Although this varies, depending on the field in which it tries to do so, there has been a great change in many areas.
By signing contracts for LPG supplies from the US and building a gas pipeline from Norwegian deposits using the Baltic Pipe – Poland pipeline, it diversifies energy supplies by becoming independent of Russia – the current monopolist in Poland in this respect. Greater exploitation of domestic deposits, as well as plans to build another gas port put Poland as a gas reseller for the region.
In addition, work is underway throughout the region to develop gas pipelines and interconnectors north-south. This brings the energy independence of the CEE – it is worth observing this context of regional development.
Strengthening the military presence of US soldiers in PL greatly increases security. In recent years, Poland has done a lot to attract the greatest NATO forces, mainly from the USA. During the June visit of President Duda to the White House, a number of agreements were signed, and one of the most important is that of increasing the US forces in PL by at least 1000 soldiers + civilian staff. Poland has committed itself to renovating and building infrastructure for these troops, which also probably sets a new model for placing US troops in the world. Changes in this model were already evident when the US increased the fee for stationing troops to Korea and when many entries in the US military assistance agreement for Israel were sharpened. Poland is one of the seven countries in NATO that fulfills the dedication of 2% of GDP to defense, and it seems that thanks to this it can count on measurable benefits. The additional forces negotiated in June will be transferred from Germany, which will be a significant symbol in many respects. Greater transfers of troops from DE to PL will not be ruled out, which is quite a difference, because with these troops there is always a large amount of dollars for places where they are stationed.
In addition, Poland is carrying out a number of large purchases of military equipment in the USA: from Patriot launchers, which in this configuration every PL will have only the USA, through HIMARS launchers, to the plan to purchase 36 F35 fighters in 2024. Poland is expanding and modernizing its armed forces in a thoughtful and complementary manner. In the coming years, it plans to increase expenditure to 2.5% of GDP, which will further accelerate modernization, and the needs of its army are huge in almost every field.
Building a modern army with the support of the USA, Poland imposes the rhythm and standard of the entire region and, as part of NATO, enforces one direction. Other smaller countries of the region, so that their forces could be an easy complement to Polish and American troops will be largely sentenced to equipment from only one direction, which, however, does not seem to bother them too much.
Economic benefits are beginning to follow the military guarantees and presence. Trade exchange between PL and the US is constantly growing and already amounts to 13.4 MLD $ in 2018, and the dynamics is starting to accelerate significantly.
Economically, Poland appears to be one of European, but also world top students. Today, when we are observing a slowdown in the world, and other countries like Germany are dancing on the verge of recession, this European tiger is beginning to experience, as German media recently described a “small economic miracle” with economic growth oscillating around 4.5% of GDP. The whole region is developing well, although it shows rapid changes such as economic slowdown in Slovakia, which in the last quarter recorded an increase of 1.9% instead of the forecasted 3.5%, when the budget entered an increase of 4.5%. The country is also one of the five best investment locations according to a number of combinations and it seems that this is becoming increasingly recognized in the world. Potentially, the rate of return on investment in PL appears attractive and many industries have double-digit values, which may be of great importance in the near future, when global investment risk increases due to a number of factors, such as trade war or the rest of geopolitical games.
Quite ambitious government investment plans such as the construction of the Central Communication Port, i.e. a mega airport with a capacity of 90 million passengers a year, and the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the whole country under this account set the economy and development on the tracks of positive development. The CPK itself is also to be an airport for the entire CEE region, and the infrastructure is also planned for connections with neighboring countries.
The expansion of seaports aims to increase the transhipment and export volumes, which are also growing in two digits. The railway at this reloading center in Małaszewicze is dynamically expanding, and Poland is recording higher and higher volumes of goods transit through the existing threads of the New Silk Road.
Poland is beginning to impose rhythm in many areas, trying to transfer ambitious plans and proven scenarios to the region.
31.08 – 02.09
On this day Poland will be visited for the second time by US President Donald Trump. The visit is related to the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, but in reality it is a consequence of the policy pursued by both countries. Meetings of Presidents Trump and Duda are very often held on the occasion of various events, be it UN or NATO summits. In addition to the anniversary celebrations, Poland is building the opportunity to meet the US President with guests of this event. The issues of the region will probably be raised as part of the Three Seas and NATO initiatives.
Poland is consistently becoming an extension of Washington’s arm on the continent and is also changing its position within the EU in the context of the Brexit spectrum. On the one hand, it loses its assertive ally towards Berlin, but on the other hand it automatically occupies this vacuum. He does it with the whole Visegrad group, which since 2016 has gained enormously significance through its compact attitude.
Over the past 3 years, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have not only created an almost monolith by setting a standard in the emerging Three Seas initiative, but also by showing courage in pursuing their policies within the Franco-German tandem dominated by the European community.
Of course, not everything goes smoothly and as intended, but Poland and the CEE region still appear to be one of the most interesting places during the ongoing geopolitical hand. The growing rivalry between China and the US interlaced by the intersecting interests of Germany, Russia and the growing Turkey herald an extremely interesting game whose fascinating history seems to be just beginning.
Paweł Opaczyński – expert in geopolitics and economy, Security Engineering student at the Silesian University of Technology, utomated production processes and production efficiency specialist. Administator and co-founder of “Geopolityka PRO” Facebook Group.