Tom Elam Distinguished Professor of History
University of Tennessee - Martin
The Middle East: The New Crucible
Alice-Catherine Carls' academic career is devoted to breaking down cultural barriers and promoting international, interdisciplinary studies. She holds a B.A. and a M.A. in German Studies and a B.A. in Polish Studies from the University of Paris IV - Sorbonne, and the Ph.D. in the History of International Relations from the University of Paris I - Sorbonne. She currently teaches World Civilizations, Methods, Senior Seminar, Russia, the Soviet and Post-Soviet Era, and 20th Century Europe. She is a historian and a translator from Polish and English into French and from French into English. Her works have appeared in Hungary, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and the United States. She writes in English and in French and has been published in English, French, German, and Polish.
Her published books include a historical study of the Free City of Danzig in 1938-1939, and French translations of works by Charles Wright, Anna Frajlich, Stephen D. Carls, Józef Wittlin, Józef M. Rostocki, Jan Kochanowski, and Wladyslaw Grzedzieski. She has published over seventy historical and cultural history articles ranging from literary culture in the new Europe and the history and current status of the French press to the genesis of the European Union. She serves on the editorial board of the magazines "Poésie PremiPre," "World History Connected," and "Public Justice Report." Her historical research deals with 20th century issues such as the formation of the European Union and the transformations of Eastern Europe, and with contemporary issues such as the Silk Road of the 21st Century and the "meshing" of cultures in the new Europe. She is developing a travel study course on the Holocaust and preparing to assume new responsibilities within UT Martin's International Studies program.
The Middle East: The New Crucible
The "Middle East" is no more. Hastened by the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, new geopolitical dynamics have recentered the Islamic world eastwards, making Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, not Saudi Arabia or Iraq, its new center. American geopolitical expert Alfred Thayer Mahan predicted this development in his 1900 book, The Problem of Asia and Its Effect upon International Policies, when he discussed the reopening of the millenary Silk Road. Derailed by two world wars, one cold war, and seventy years of Soviet policies, it is affecting the region called by Mahan the "middle zone of so-called debatable ground" between the 30th and 40th parallels. The rise, for the first time in history, of this oil/coal/gas/uranium rich region, is accompanied by the growing economic importance of Russia, India, and China, which are experiencing a meteroric accession to the post-industrial age. Thus the recentering of the Middle East is being driven by the geopolitics of energy and the emerging Asian markets. The new opportunities and rivalries that have arisen relate primarily to regional issues of development, energy, and nation-building, but they are accompanied by a complex set of pre-existing cultural and religious tensions. The race for the new inland Silk Road is rife with potential "containment" conflicts among its many participants, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Such massive geopolitical and geo-economic realignment features several sets of triangulation: one between the United States, Russia, and the Islamic world, with a subset between the European Union, Russia, and the Islamic world, and another between Russia, China, and the Islamic world. The first major power rebalancing between East and West in five hundred years appears a distinct possibility.
Central Asia today stands at the crossroads between two competing land transportation systems: North-South for Russia, India, and Japan, East-West for China, the European Union and the United States. The oil rich countries of the Fertile Crescent have seen their monopoly challenged, and the 500-year old maritime transportation routes have become increasingly vulnerable. America's diplomatic and military presence in Kirgisztan and Uzbekistan and her participation in the Silk Road initiative in the 1990s, continued today by numerous pipeline agreements, appear to have taken second seat to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Opposition to the United States' presence in Central Asian countries, the endangered OPEC oil route, the conflict between the United States in Iran over nuclear power, a realignment of diplomatic alliances in Asia, the continuing Israeli-Lebanese-Palestinian conflict, the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, are putting the United States in a delicate position. United States energy and foreign policy continues to rely primarily on Persian Gulf oil allies. Yet the challenges of tomorrow include an understanding of and participation to a new world communication and transportation "belt" being currently developed with the Silk Road at its center.
The reopening of the Silk Road began in 1992 under the auspices of the European Union, and included three components: a Eurasian Continental railroad bridge, a major highway including, in the future, a fiberoptic highway, and a pipeline network. Today these projects enjoy the financial backing of major international banks and institutions. TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia) already links China's east coast to Rotterdam by rail , with a northern corridor operational since December 2004 (through Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Western Europe). The Asian Highway Agreement was signed in 2004. Backed by 32 countries, it will feature routes from Tokyo to Bulgaria through a unified highway system. The most visible component of this transportation system is the network dubbed Pipelineistan. The announcement in July 2006 of a Russian-sponsored Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline or IPIL is its latest development. Thanks to Russia's overtures to Algeria, this network has the potential of linking all major gas-producing countries (including Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, the world's gas-richest countries), covering a territory as large as the medieval Islamic world. Complemented by a strengthening of Russia's ties with Central Asian countries and with China, this "gas-OPEC" could make the original oil-OPEC obsolete, and Russia the champion of the New Silk Road. To support these initiatives, a unified Central Asian economic space is emerging through the creation of regional economic and strategic alliances such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Community, in partnership with the European Union, Russia, China, the United Nations, and many other international organizations and banks. Trans-national solutions are being sought to alleviate poverty, insure development, transport energy, and insure security. With the creation of land transportation corridors, the Silk Road extends from the Atlantic to Australia through the Panama and Suez canals. Tomorrow every major trade route across the globe will once again transit through Central Asia.
To build this new system, world governments and citizens must take notice of each other and develop respectful, ethically-based principles of reciprocal behavior. Government and other official relations must be accompanied by a multi-cultural, oecumenical dialogue by the major religious faiths and philosophical systems involved. At the foundation of such dialogue is the mandate to renounce violence. Only then can economic competition be replaced with cooperation, civilizational clashes with acceptance, and war by lasting peace.
Intellectual honesty mandates disengaging from exceptionalist perspectives, looking at the broad picture, and facing all the facts, including history's lessons. Intellectual honesty further mandates reconciling analysis and policy. In his book With or Against the World? America's Role Among the Nations, Jim Skillen asks, "Is it wise for us to continue to fight terrorism only by reference to our own criteria of judgment?" According to Charles William Maynes, President of the Eurasia Foundation and editor of the Asia Times, current developments in the Muslim world require a broader vision of regionalism and the willingness to reconcile democracy and Islam in a non-colonial way.
Open-mindedness mandates listening. President Putin's recent comments opposing a continuation of the nineteenth century Western colonial, civilizing mission, should not be construed as an excuse for a new containment policy. With the new priorities of global and energy security, and sustainable social and economic development, the new world order must respect diversity. Russia apparently seeks to gain a place as cultural and civilizational bridge between the West and the Middle East. Constructive dialogues across the Eastern Orthodox, Islamic, Confucian, and Judeo-Christian civilizations are an important component of the fight against terror. Present conflicts call for the kind of trans-national cooperation that is sustained by a set of shared values. There are precedents for such cross-cultural and cross-national understanding. The Biblical Golden Rule is universally recognized across world religions. Western Humanism does promote the values of tolerance, intellectual thoroughness, reason, respect, and integrity. Last but certainly not least, twentieth century leaders from Mohandas Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela have shown that real change is effected by a participation of all to the ethics of non-violence, which they taught us is an ideal to be pursued in spite of indomitable obstacles.
© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Center for Christian Studies at Gordon College.
Stephen Blank, "Missing: A modern-day Silk Road." Asia Times #5, October 17, 2002. Accessed on 2/16/2006 at http://www.cdi/org/russia/227-5-pr.cfm
Stephen Blank. "Benign Hegemony? Russia's Grand Delusion." 2003. Accessed on 2/16/2006 at http://www.bu.edu/iscip/vol14/blank.html
Alice-Catherine Carls. "Hostage to a Pipeline? Russia, the Caucasus, and the Silk Road of the 21st Century." (Public Justice Report, Third Quarter 2000, 8-9).
James W. Skillen. With or Against the World? America's Role Among the Nations (Rowman Littlefield and the Center for Public Justice, 2005).
Fiona Hill and Florence Fee. "Fueling the Future: The Prospects for Russian Oil and Gas." Demokratizatsiya, Vol. 10, No. 4, Fall 2002, 462-487.
Samuel Huntingdon. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon and Schuster, 1996
Alfred Thayer Mahan. The Problem of Asia and its effect upon international policies. 1901 (Reprinted by Transaction Publishers, 2003).