International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. Lorenzo Somigli is columnist specialized in the EU and Euro-MED energy and geopolitics. In his text entitled “Triangulation of Eurasia: The North-South Corridor Underreported but pivotal for Our Common Future“, he is analyzing current global development and presenting his vision of future trends.
In the fluid global order, initiatives to articulate cooperation to its best mutual outcome, as for exchange of resources and synergies are relevant more than ever. The mighty Asian triangular format of RIC (Russia – India – China) is relatively well known although underreported in scholarly and popular writings. However, the triangulation between Russia, Iran and India – absolutely underreported – is a fact and a pressing necessity, especially for Russia and Iran, the most sanctioned countries in the world. The strengthening of the International North-South Transport Corridor could implement that triangulation. The multimodal North-South corridor is 7,200 km long and makes it possible to reduce costs and times for transportation of goods, if contrasted and compared to the Suez Canal passage. According to estimates, the North-South could double the volume of goods from the current 17 to 32 million tons. Furthermore, over the past year, the reveal of the corridor has grown. So, this project brings numerous geopolitical and geo-economic opportunities and challenges, making Asia autonomous and (self-)integrated for the first time.
The advantages of the corridor:
Rather recently on these very pages, the IFIMES researcher Dr. Maria Smotrytska – while marking the 60th anniversary of the inaugural, Belgrade conference of the Non-aligned Movement (NaM) (Aug-Sep 1961), recalled the famous argument of prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic ‘No Asian century without pan-Asian multilateral settings’ which was prolifically published as policy paper and thoroughly debated among practitioners and academia in over 40 countries on all continents for the past 15 years. Then and there, Smotrytska was revisiting and rethinking the professor’s very argument, its validity and gravity in retrospect.
Hence, she noted “Today Eurasia is the axial continent of mankind, which is home to about 75% of the world's population (see Map 1), produces 60% of world GDP (see Map 2) and stores three quarters of the world's energy resources (see Map 3) [Shepard, 2016]. In these open spaces, two giant poles of modern geoeconomics are being formed: European and East Asian, which are tearing the canvas of the familiar geographical concept of “Eurasia” and at the same time providing opportunities for new synthesis through the construction and connection of transcontinental transport arteries.”
Past the historical Johannesburg gathering of BRICS, with the “unprecedented (post) Maastricht-like deepening (institutions’ building) and widening (massive enlargement with 6 robust either demographics or/and economies – hence larger than any of the EU /or for that matter NATO/ enlargements ever) – this grouping is the best living example of the grand idea of Tito, Nehru and Nasser’s postulated active and peaceful coexistence that came to life in Yugoslavia in 1961” – as professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic commented the 15th BRICS Summit.
How the active and peaceful coexistence is materializing itself without confronting but rather by complimenting the existing world order?
Rise, decline, marginalization, or collapse are inevitable stages in the life cycle of empires as gravity centers. Political power always tries to amortize, even reverse the decline (if in a good time admitting it self), but power transfer is an unstoppable historical constant. The Power’s disappearance leads to the emergence of a challenger capable of (re-)organizing space. In the VI Canto of Paradise, the poet Dante – talking through Emperor Justinian – uses the metaphor of the eagle flying “against the course of heaven” to depict the transfer of power from Rome to Constantinople, to the “new Rome”.
Nowadays, irreversible power relocation has begun, even if there is not a precise gravitational center. Indeed, the global order is archipelagic and “fluid”, as even the western media recently admitted. Since the Russian special operation in Ukraine, a magmatic phase started, incentivizing new triangulations and alliances, sometimes alternatives to the West primacy. Of course, the United States remains the global technological and military pivot, and NATO remains the first military alliance, but it is undeniable that the balance is evolving.
The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) involving Russia, India, and Iran (in total, 13 members) fits into this multipolar-evolving context. If integrally implemented according to plans, it would make it possible to reduce the supremacy of Suez, through which about 12% of global trade transits. This project will encourage a Euro-Asian synchronization and provide an alternative to the traditional Suez route exclusivity, reducing approximately 40% distance and costs by 30%, as claimed by Silk Road Briefings.
Infrastructures have a substantial role in the growth and decline of power. The case of the Suez Canal is emblematic: it interrupted the complex circumnavigations and restored the centrality of the Mediterranean. For this reason, powers aspiring for a hegemonic role invest in infrastructural networks: China with the “Belt and Road” Initiative – Research Fellow at IFIMES/DeSSA Dr Maria Smotrytska described the shifting-balance project in her detailed analysis – while Russia and Iran with the Corridor. As a result, the project is fraught with enormous geopolitical implications.
However, these are not the only initiatives. Having overcome the internal turmoil, Algeria (as a forthcoming BRICS member) has heavily invested in the new Trans-Sahara Highway Project, 5,000 kilometers long, from Algiers to Lagos. In this way, the “republican” Algeria hopes to bypass the “monarchical” Morocco and, finally, the Strait of Gibraltar. The name "African Unity Road" testifies to the socio-geo-political significance.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the great Anglo-Saxon geopolitical strategists –Mackinder, Spykman, Lea – asked themselves the problem of how to counter the rise of the gigantic Euro-Asian empires located in the Heartland and their expansion to the critical fault line of the Rimland. In The Day of The Saxon (New York Harper, 1912), Homer Lea warns of the risks of integration between Euro-Asian powers, such as Russia and Germany, as evidenced by the Berlin-Baghdad railway project.
The Anglo-Saxon thalassocrat powers – the authors argued – could not withstand the impact of such vast empires, with young and numerous populations set off for industrial and infrastructural development as well as with boundless natural resources. For this, it is essential to control the Rimland and try to hold back the momentum of the empires, fighting one at a time: once Russia, once China. The containment policy against the Russian giant also derives from these reflections.
They were well-justified fears. At the time, Russia, which had already become a pivotal protagonist on the European scene since the Napoleonic wars, had expanded into the Caucasus and Central Asia. Soon after, that very theatre scored significant rates of economic and demographic growth, primarily thanks to the Trans-Siberian railway and the consequent colonization of Asian Russia. The Czars also aimed at the seas, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean. For that same reason, Crimea has historically been crucial in Moscow’s strategies.
Analyzing the complex geographical composition of the Euro-Asian mass in The Geography of Peace (Harcourt, Brace, 1944), Spykman notes that the seas arranged in an arc all around has facilitated the development of the coastal areas, while the more inland areas have always remained disconnected and without reliable communication routes; this prevented full integration. As a result, communications almost always took place with sea routes. However, there are infrastructural interventions that can break the setback of geography.
An escalation of Ukrainian crisis led the Western world to (unfold already prepared: to) sever relations with Moscow. However, as evidenced by the growth of the European import of Russian LNG and ever better rankings of Russia on PPP (Purchasing Power Parity which now stands better than one of Germany), it is nearly impossible to disconnect Russia from a fully integrated global economic system. For example, during the Cold World, Charles Levinson in Vodka Cola (Gordon and Cremonesi, 1977) highlighted a similar situation: the interdependence between the two opposing blocks – he also envisaged hybridization in a more authoritarian sense.
Nevertheless, compared to the twentieth century, Russia is no longer an “ideological lighthouse”, no longer commands the Warsaw block, and, after the dissolution, has been increasingly marginalized. Past the shock caused by the loss of its historical territories, that Eurasia giantis successfully pressing its peripheries, and knocking on the global doors. Even in the harsh circumstances (past the February 2022 calamity), Russia has found numerous and is developing effective alternative channels to come out of isolation.
First, the Russian-Chinese integration is already a reality: trade could reach a value of about 200 billion USD by the end of 2023. Furthermore, China is a privileged end market for Russian resources, but Russia is also a relevant market for China that could compensate for the loss of shares in Taiwan and the United States with Russia.
Similarly, trade between Russia and Iran quadrupled in 2022. Interestingly, trade between Iran and the Caspian littoral states amounts to 5.54 million tons worth $3.03 billion (according to Mak A. Bajrektarevic’ book ‘Caspian: Status, Challenges, and Prospects’).