It occurred to me that our earth’s historical and evolving geology bears great resemblance to the changing global geopolitical alignment. Like geological tectonic plates, geopolitical ones are constantly moving, evolving and being altered.
On Earth, there are seven or eight major tectonic plates and many minor plates. Where plates meet, their relative motion determines the type of boundary: convergent, divergent, or transform. Earthquakes, volcanic activity, mountain-building, and oceanic trench formation occur along these plate boundaries. Within and surrounding these plates are numerous fault lines, some very deep ones which can rupture and cause earthquakes.
Geopolitically there are and, have been, similar forces that converge and diverge and when they collide or fault lines rupture, we have frequently had wars. These political tectonic plates, as with geological ones, are comprised of major and minor political forces that change in size and nature. Samuel Huntington, in his book, Clash of Civilisations, illustrated this principle on three maps displaying the dominant geopolitical forces at work in the periods 1920, 1960s and Post-1990. Looking at these changing maps brings to mind the movement and configuration of earth’s lithosphere.
His 1920 era map identified a single major bloc as ruled by The West, and all other areas as nominally or actually independent of the West – one major tectonic plate and many very minor ones. The West geopolitical tectonic plate although dominant globally was rife, however, with fault lines that, as a result of friction, eventually led to a major conflict, World War I.
The 1960s presented a world comprised of three geopolitical tectonic plates, the so-called Free World, a Communist Bloc and Unaligned Nations, two major tectonic forces rubbing against each other and a minor and fragmented minor plate. Although there was friction and minor fault lines none of the movement was sufficiently powerful to cause a major collision.
Then, in the Post-1990s Huntington shows an extensive realignment of geopolitical tectonics, a fragmentation of the 1960s two major ideological blocs into nine conflicting Civilisations – Western, Latin American, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist, Japanese and African.
If one accepts Huntington’s thesis, there has been a significant splintering of the geopolitical lithosphere with the result that one prepotent bloc became two then several.
One can view this positively, as a geopolitical “balance of power” or, as an indication that deep fault lines have developed in the tectonic plates, ones that could potentially lead to a cataclysmic collision of the tectonic plates.
Unlike geology, a force of nature over which we have no control, geopolitical tectonics and fault lines are driven and created by us humans with a poor track record of managing geopolitical geology.
Taking Huntington’s Post- 1990s configuration as a template and applying geopolitical analysis based on geology, the danger of ruptures would appear to be the following:
The Western, and Sinic plates would seem to have coalesced into fairly stable ones and, for the time, are in little danger of crashing into each other. However, there is the distinct possibility of a collision between the Western and Islamic plates already grinding against each other.
The Islamic plate, once temporarily or perhaps nominally attached to the Western one has now separated and become a major tectonic plate on its own bumping forcefully into others, particularly the West. Yet, even as a separate tectonic, it has within it some significant fault lines, namely the internal cultural divisions pitting Sunni against Shia. And, these fault lines could precipitate serious conflicts far beyond the boundary of the tectonic plate. Some fault lines are already manifesting themselves – Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Yemen.
Then, there is the Orthodox plate, partially a remnant of Huntington’s 1960s Communist Bloc, today’s Russia. This plate is not as unified politically as it once was with bits of it, the divided Ukraine, Bulgaria and Greece separating and drifting in the geopolitical lithosphere toward other plates. The major portion, Russia, is truly adrift but it is a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. However, if it wants to attach itself to, and not collide with another major plate it will have to move toward the Sinic plate or the Hindu plate, neither an attractive proposition for Russia, but, better the Sinic option.
The Japanese plate is floating, and could eventually, as in the recent past, collide again with the Sinic plate if it decides to remain aligned with the Western plate.
The Hindu plate is not nearly as firm as it appears and has deep internal fault lines that could result in a substantial part of its plate aligning itself to the neighboring Islamic plate. That is a very unstable fault line and one that could easily trigger a collision between those two tectonic plates.
Latin America, the Hispanic plate, hardly qualifies as a plate as it is comprised of a fissiparous grouping, with one part, Brasil dissimilar to the rest. In any case, I differ with Huntington in that I would not classify Latin America as a separate and distinct civilisation. For me it is merely an offshoot of the West.
Buddhism is another that I would not categorise as a civilisation but rather as a culture, a religion, one that undoubtedly influences segments of populations in major tectonic plates as the Sinic and Japanese.
As for Africa, again because of its lack of political cohesiveness, social backwardness and common culture, I do not regard it as a geopolitical force in itself, or or civilisation but rather as an object exploited for its natural resources by the major powers. For the purposes of this paper I have not included the Maghreb nations, the Islamic North Africa, in my definition of Africa. As this is about geopolitics and not strict geography, the Maghreb belongs in the Islamic category.
The geopolitical tectonic plate configuration moves slowly but the boundaries of the plates,especially the fault lines are what we should be watching. These hold the greatest danger of collision and rupture.