GEOPOLITICS: NATURE AND CONTRADICTIONS IN THE 21st CENTURY – Interview with Glauco D’Agostino

“Cosmographia,” illustration by Ptolemy, Ulm: Leonhard Holl, 1482

THE GOAL OF GEOPOLITICS IS NOT CONSENSUS (WHICH IS A POLITICAL GOAL) BUT THE TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE AND METHODS

The following interview, published last October in the Romanian magazine “Geopolitica. Revistă de Geografie Politică, Geopolitică şi Geostrategie,” was conducted by the director and founder of the magazine, prof. Vasile Simileanu, Associated Member of the Academy of Romanian Scientists and President of the Geopolitical Association “Ion Conea”.

Vasile SIMILEANU: Geopolitics, as a science, was challenged after the Second World War. After 1989, it became part of the new world order.

Please tell us about your activities in the field of geopolitics! How do you define geopolitics?

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: The term geopolitics, as a relatively modern discipline, can be assigned to different sectors of interest, depending on the purpose the matter itself proposes:

  • As a mere subject of study to understand the interactions between territorial features (physic-geographical, anthropic, relational, political-economic) and political-institutional behaviour of the settled populations to relations with similar government entities;
  • As a means of understanding and systematising international relations in the light of consolidated or claimed political-economic and military interests of the States;
  • As a tool for conditioning international law in the direction of an adjustment or, conversely, a modification of the global order.

These three exemplifying meanings correspond precisely to the term evolution during a process of adaptation to changing historical conditions. From the American Alfred Thayer Mahan’s emphasis on maritime control to the British Halford Mackinder’s underlying on the Eurasian “heartland”, an Anglo-Saxon tendency to regard “domination” as the main factor of geopolitics is always evident. The theme, certainly not new, is also, in my opinion, how you exercise this widely accepted “domain,” whether in the light of an ideology considering predetermined methods always the same regardless of the geo-anthropic and cultural characteristics of the “subordinates;” or, vice versa, by adapting the methods of exercising power to them. The latter path is the most complex and sharp because it presupposes knowledge and study of territories, cultures and behaviours of other peoples you claim to adapt to the way of conceiving values and institutions exogenous to their world.

The post-1989 era, which the question refers to, opened a season already assuming the global homologation to a single thought, or rather the standardised consumption of goods and services, forgetting it was precisely the all-encompassing Soviet communism thought that had theorised it and that 1989 itself had had the symbolic meaning of a defeat of thoughts and behaviours conformity to the prevailing model. Eventually, the model that emerged victorious, theorising assumptions quite opposite to the now obsolete one, implemented the same aims of homologation to a single thought but of a different sign.

What has geopolitics to do with all this? For over 30 years, geopolitics has been used as an ideological tool, a screen to legitimise wars of “domination” and normalisation (such as the Soviet normalizatsia) of “unruly” peoples. Cultures, just like religions, cannot be fought against. The “anti-Islamic crusade” had just the objective of confirming the geopolitical theories endorsing the need to oppose an enemy (real or presumed) that does not conform to the dominant power’s authority. With the USSR’s fall, part of the Islamic world immediately became the target, without considering the entire Umma reactivity and the geopolitical consequences. A steady mistake if one of the geopolitics tasks is the analysis of the possible outcomes of the actions undertaken. With greater geopolitical competence and foresight, the West would have been spared the terrible ideological war experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, would still control the Middle East, would not have been expelled from the Sahel-Saharan area of interest and above all, would enjoy better reliability with its allies (I am thinking of Turkey).

As for my experience in the geopolitics field, it is exercised today through my scholarly activity with the publication of books (on the institutional autonomy of Islamic minorities in Russia, the history and current events of political Islam, institutional relations with the inner territory in the Soviet era), essays and articles presented in various international journals (i.e., the Bucharest’s GeoPolitica itself, the Revista Chilena de Relaciones Internacionales or the journal of the Islamabad-based Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies). As an independent scholar of the Islamic world (especially politico-religious movements and sacred architecture) and following cultural experiences on these subjects in Western Africa, Maghreb, Libya, the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia, India, China, Russia and Indonesia, I have been director and manager of the online journal Islamic World Analyzes for ten years.

My interest in geopolitics has developed through both training in parallel with my professional activity as an architect in the territorial field and with institutional or independent study initiatives in many areas of the world. My educational background includes a Doctorate in Territorial Planning, studies at North-Eastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., and University of Liverpool, England, institutional research activity in Russia and Poland (including the Moskovskij Arkhitekturnij Institut, the Siberian Krasnojarskgrazhdanproekt, the Institute of Urban and Spatial Planning of the Technical University of Warsaw). However, my first approach to geopolitics comes from research experiences in countries coming from centralised economies in the transition towards a market-oriented economic system: among them, I have known, with different opportunities, Poland, Russia, the Baltic Republics, the Caucasian countries, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, China, and the South-Eastern Asian countries.

By travelling across more than 50 countries, I took an interest in territorial structure of the big urban agglomerations, also from the administrative point of view (more than 70 metropolitan areas, including Shànghǎi, Dehlī, Mumbai, Ciudad de México, New York, Běijīng, Los Angeles, Moscow, İstanbul, Tehrān, Lima-Callao, Bogotá, Washington, Hồ Chí Minh / Sài Gòn, San Francisco, Boston, Xī’ān, Miami, Saint Petersburg, Liverpool, Casablanca, Montréal), as well as the status of ethnic minorities in Amazonas, Chiapas, Guatemala, Ecuador, Mali, Syria and Lebanon, Armenia, Shǎnxī and Yúnnán Provinces of China, Bukhara and Samarcand, Iran.

 

V.S.: Geopolitics has become of impact in all analyses of political, military, social, economic, cultural and diplomatic developments. Do you think that the classical theories of the geopolitical schools are still relevant?

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: Theories, when pondered, are never entirely superseded by events. They are rooted in foundations proving validity beyond the contingent. But the changes induced by progress, rather than historical events, determine the need to adapt those theories. In other words, they may still be valid based on some intuitions, and the update to the changed anthropic and technological conditions allows for a better understanding of the relational mechanisms, especially in an era of globalisation of almost all of their determining factors.

On the merits, today’s China proposes expansion both on the Asian heartland (Mackinder) and on the oceans (Mahan), launching the geo-political tool of the Belt and Road Initiative by commercial traffic and development assistance. It’s no news compared to Euro-Atlantic imperialism except for the modality, the geopolitics heart. Control of commercial traffic in the heartland and seas does not necessarily mean their military occupation. The more since, meanwhile, new elements determine the power of geographical conditioning without resorting to Ratzel’s Lebensraum or Spykman’s Rimland.

Technology has allowed the development of information and Artificial Intelligence, which is its application, turning by entanglement the territoriality concept into an identification detached from the contexts. It is unlikely all of this depends on the number of nuclear weapons and their territorial deployment. Thus, while Washington launches the AUKUS to equip its ally Australia with atomic submarines and NATO to strengthen the military system in the Pacific as well, Beijing creates or joins diplomatic-geopolitical instruments (such as the SCO, EAEU and BRICS) which project it towards geographical areas until yesterday precluded by a unipolar world order. Amazing? No, announced. All Chinese official documents that have an impact on geopolitics are based on three fundamental concepts just opposite to the ideological Western geopolitics:

  • Pursuit of a multipolar global order;
  • Respect for peoples’ cultural and institutional identities and expressions;
  • Thematic partnerships rather than alliances resulting in loyalty obligations and political conditioning.

I suppose the competition between the world’s giants is already played on these new parameters. Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, and perhaps the whole ASEAN are taking note.

Even the new geopolitics comes from the East!

 

V.S.: At university level, please tell us how geopolitics is reflected in the university curriculum (undergraduate courses, masters, doctorates)! What research institutes, NGOs and other formats are developed for geopolitical studies?

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: Geopolitics is multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary by its nature. I think it is wrong to count it among the professional activities. You get it through more knowledge, culture and experience. Many also consider it a bit cynical since linked to domination and power logic. But geopolitics, the non-ideological one, differs from politics (or political science, too) because based on historical features in given conditions and a given time context. Hic et nunc, recalling Martin Heidegger. Its time projection has little to do with utopias. If anything, it has to do with behavioural ethics, but we would be entering another much more complex field.

Academic education is decisive for approaching the subject. As a multi-disciplinary matter, geopolitics requires skills to be gathered not only in the areas of a specific faculty. It certainly concerns economics and history but even the shape of political institutions and diplomacy, territorial studies (with particular reference to natural and human resources), ethnology and the linguistic structures, anthropology, psychology, philosophy and religions. A complex picture that demands a versatility of interests, such as involving the sensitivity and willingness of public and private organisations and civil society itself.

As for the formats, I think there is no privileged typology. It depends on the aims and contents of the studies and the quality of their promoters. Apart from those of institutional expression, which represent the official vision of the same institutions and enjoy access to documents not simply available externally, the structures dedicated to geo-political studies can take the configuration of institutes, foundations, third-sector entities, trade associations and so on, but what identifies them is the use of knowledge. Analyses can be global or sectoral, statistical or profiling, stochastic or forecasting; equally, the results presented in a purely quantitative and mathematical frame or as methodological and strategic insights. Often, however, these structures overlap in the intervention methods each other, homologous in content and presentation to users. A more marked identification would allow, perhaps, for greater synergy instead of competition-like market mechanisms. As a result, the institutions have the task of making the initiatives flow into a participatory planning channel towards objectives of common national interest.

 

V.S.: Do you think that there is a need for a better visibility of this geographical science in research environments worldwide? Through what forms and means?

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: Geopolitics is part of the decision-making aid activities. I believe that, as stated above, the efforts of international scientific cooperation for better visibility should be developed in the methodological field and on a free initiative. Unlike naturalistic and descriptive sciences, geopolitics is not neutral, as it conditions and runs the march direction of nations. Geopolitics as a science risks remaining trapped in the prototypes suggested by the key recipients, the hugest institutional lenders, as well. If the premises are indisputable by political choice, the results will also be biased and predictable. Geopolitical science will face barriers built on bogus clashes set up by geopolitical assumptions.

Once again, the keyword is synergy, in this case, to affirm the dignity of a discipline that cannot be reduced to an enforcing role. Forms and methods will naturally be communication and interaction between schools of thought, assuming currently these exist beyond the contingencies suggested by events. Unfortunately, today’s exclusions and sanctioning regimes try to extend those barriers to the scientific field, claiming to limit the framework of the interlocutors. It is the new frontier of the liberal and democratic Western world.

 

V.S.: Should geopoliticians and their theories be made more popular in the media and social media? What about in relations with partner structures in other countries?

Who do you work with to promote geopolitics? Should an international organisation be set up to promote the interests of this science?

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: I think this still non-standardised discipline swings between an elitist figure and that of yet another consumer product. The first pattern points to closure within the limits of a small group proposing itself as the council structure of decision-makers. The latter aims at success in audience and approval ratings.

Presence in the media is focal for the diffusion of knowledge, but its qualitative choice is also relevant. And the dichotomy recurs. Is the target exclusive or mass? The solution can be arbitration (in medio stat virtus) or differentiated, multiple. It involves choosing the language and the intensity of the message. But I also believe that, as in a liberal-like market society, it is a marketing expert’s job.

In my opinion, the problem is another: how to elude media propaganda when they promote ideological content. The noble discipline of geopolitics when using the media does not escape it. If the source for discussion is fake news, the entire consequent analysis is distorted; the same if the analyses follow the cliché of politically correct. In practice, no distinction is made between method and content. When geopolitical confrontation rides only on aforethought assumptions and visions, the discussion does not exist because there could be no dissent with the dominant vision imposed by the media through the instrument of popularity consensus. The goal of geopolitics is not consensus (which is a political goal) but the transfer of knowledge and methods. The Western habit of often entrusting geopolitical analyses to celebrities and influencers from any sector also arises from this misunderstanding. In such a way, the debate on international crises, terrorism, Islam, and civil rights has been distorted.

Geopolitics needs debating between different mentalities and options. I don’t think it is correct to transform a methodology into instruments of the policy of a part, whether Western or Eastern or of an ethnic or religious group. The West pushes for the separation of cultures through the policy of sanctions and interdictions, and this concerns the means of mass communication when they marginalise or even censor the relationship of exchange and knowledge with the cultural expressions of other peoples. It is happening today with Russia, but for instance, the same has been happening for a long time with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Based on this attitude, the other danger is the practice of counter-information, which is also part of political activities: fake news versus fake news. I repeat: the theme is method and knowledge, not ideological lineup. The conditioning of ethical judgment is not geopolitics, under penalty of prejudice and bias. The abuse of terms such as “dictator”, “massacre”, “axis of evil”, and “terrorist” does not belong to geopolitics because they contain arbitrary and non-methodological discrimination. The concept of “jihād” is utterly mystified. The same protagonists of hybrid wars are called “contractors” in one case and “mercenaries” in another. What’s the difference but a field alignment?

To answer your questions more directly, I favour relationships with partner structures in other countries, with which I already interact while offering a personal approach. The set-up of international structures not dependent on predetermined political approaches is desirable, and I am open to collaboration.

 

V.S.: In the new global constructions, determined by geo-strategic actions, how do you perceive geopolitical pressures on your state?

How should state actors react to pressures from nonstate actors? Is there collaboration between geopoliticians and business?

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: The country where I live does not pay particular attention to geopolitical issues, certainly not for lack of will or ability, but for historical reasons due to a marked geopolitical dependence (exact!) deriving from consolidated alliances, at the same time protective and limiting. The decision-makers approach is necessarily univocal and, therefore, not interested in alternatives, even appropriate ones. Consequently, foreign policy decisions follow schemes each time the same, as conceived elsewhere, with little room for original proposals. Its role in the context of alliances (political, commercial or military) is delimited by a lack of leadership, mostly not even allowed beyond ritual formalities due to the diplomatic canons.

Schools of geopolitics also lack broad historical background, such as other countries have, due to the marginality of current political-economic interests in the global framework. If we look at other global contexts, it is natural for the five countries sitting permanently on the UN Security Council (and to which the destinies of the world are devolved) to develop geopolitics as a tool for the geo-strategy to be adopted in the various territorial-spatial and disciplinary fields. If we consider all the great European colonial countries of the past (such as Great Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Germany), the relationship exercised and strengthened over time with the former colonies has also reinvigorated their ability to understand better (albeit for often unmentionable purposes) the needs and requirements of the populations, but also the ethnic-religious composition and related behaviours, social and institutional relations, virtues and defects, beliefs and ambitions. While we perceive the strength of some geopolitically emerging countries (such as the BRICS, Turkey and many Arab and Middle Eastern countries) when projecting themselves onto world theatres and leaving their strictly regional contexts, we should understand that the relationships with them, even from a marginal perspective, go to a refinement of Italian geopolitical skills to the related contexts.

That said, it’s true that there is a national geopolitics driven by interests linked to economic and security factors, above all energy and defence resources. The State has the golden share over the three major companies in this sector, ENI (oil and natural gas), ENEL (electricity) and Leonardo (defence, aerospace and military supplies), which, through their projections on international markets, have an influence on government policy and in matters of foreign affairs. Therefore, there is a close connection between geopolitical players and public businesses. The key institutes dealing with geopolitics act under the aegis of institutions,  state-controlled companies or public universities.

The influence of non-state actors on geopolitics is run through lobbying, as legitimate in a liberal free-market society. As an importing and consuming country, the multinational lobbying action is heavy, and it aims at influencing legislative choices favouring opening traditionally protected markets. Long-standing problems have dragged on for decades in communication, health, transport and tourist bathing areas, for example, with compromises ranging from fictitious privatisations to repeated bailouts of formally private companies in the state orbit.

In the absence of institutional long-term planning of resources, the investment sector fluctuates between the protection of consolidated interests and the indiscriminate opening even to occasional investments unfasten from a logic of national coordination. This prevents innovation in the method, as well as in the governance and ruling class renewal. Examples are the historically low capacity to use European Structural Funds and the hesitancy in implementing the Memorandum of Understanding signed for the Belt and Road Initiative, which involves the Port of Trieste, prominent in Italy in freight traffic. Both examples have significant geopolitical implications, but these topics are not part of the public political debate.

The only geopolitical topic involving public opinion is the dramatic one of immigration, which is tackled on an ideological level and, as a result, destined to change its approach depending on the ruling government’s majority. In Italy, it means each year on average. Quite the opposite of the concept of geopolitics, which, by its nature, is based on stable and lasting rules and consequent international visions. It demonstrates the weakness of civil society, which is not proactive on these issues, and the low incidence of intermediate bodies (Confindustria, trade unions, trade associations), which prefer to exert lobbying activities with poor regard for the general interest, like the prevailing business pattern.

However, the picture is neither so negative nor static. It is a transitional period of re-setting institutional structures and their modus operandi in anticipation of a leap in quality and, I would say, commitment to building a modern nation in line with the needs posed by the 21st century. And yet the slowness of this transition process limits the ability to see (and the possibility of even glimpsing) an Italian political role in the world, which the various governments claim and the people are proudly convinced of. Thus, for example, its executive powers casually switch from one year to the next to judge Erdoğan (the President of an allied NATO country) as a dictator to a helpful player in resolving Italy’s geopolitical problems in the Mediterranean. A step forward in recognising the role of geopolitics as the backbone of foreign policy and consequent diplomatic action. The suspicion of unreliability to the integrity of long-term commitment remains, given the fickleness with which such delicate international relations are faced. It is the imprint of decades-long responsibility forcibly delegated overseas rather than of people’s certainly not Teutonic credit they boast.

 

V.S.: What are the geopolitical and geo-strategic challenges of impact and how are they reflected in the strategies promoted by your state?

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: I would say that the environmental and energy issues and the stability of the traditional labour market are the priorities, also recognised by the government in office as such. All of them have relevant geopolitical implications. Italy is not alone in facing these problems, which are now present in both the developed and emerging worlds. The important thing is awareness of the stakes. I don’t think they can be faced either by environmental proclamations with a propaganda tone like those of the good old years, or with references to national pride (Made in Italy), or with autarchic policies based on sanctions such as those dear to the ideological attentions of human rights movements. All these solutions recall policies of the last century, of which the current political-institutional debate is still permeated.

The dividing line for these approaches is openness to the world as an indispensable player in the balance of the social system. Remaining hooked to almost obsolete economic-productive models and pursuing collective behaviours homologated in exogenous consumerism does not help to identify the constitutive foundations of one’s future. The correct path in this phase is necessarily national within the framework of a global vision, albeit protectionist-like closures in the economy do not necessarily meet a correct identities defence. These are topics to be treated methodologically separately, even if, in reality, they are mutually affecting.

On the merits, environmental and energy issues impose decisions regarding production models and the acquisition of resources. The latter determines the former and, as a result, poses geopolitical questions of fundamental importance for national development. Being a country without natural resources, the theme is dependency management. The option is political, of course. You can select to procure from military allies or countries with Westminster-style institutional patterns (because they are deemed more reliable) or be more pragmatic, resorting to less democratically reliable countries. Naturally, the judgment on compliance with democratic canons is all devolved to the decision-makers. If the two considerations go hand in hand, it would be hard to explain to public opinion the profitable business done in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and Middle Eastern countries, Israel, even Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Perhaps replenishing the necessary resources in these countries does not involve assuming their cultural contents, as often happened with military allies and countries with institutional models such as Westminster.

The same goes for China due to its predominance in the supply of rare-earth elements and the production of electronic components, personal computers, air conditioners and telephones. Either Western countries begin a clear reflection on the folding of their economic-productive model to the innovative capacity of emerging countries (or already emerged ones like China), or they can take refuge behind the geopolitical recommendations-impositions of trusted military allies waiting for the collapse. But meanwhile, electronic components, personal computers, air conditioners and telephones in Italian homes are predominantly Chinese, and I don’t think Italians have noticed or are worried about it.

The other issue mentioned above is the resilience of the traditional labour market. Technological innovation has brought its fluctuation due to the adaptation of production and business processes, which did not yet match a complete transfer of roles and skills. Internal market issues, which I won’t go into further detail here except for the geopolitical implications. It also means addressing the immigration question, especially the illegal one. The demand for immigrant workers is strong chiefly in the northern industrial areas and southern fruit and vegetable sectors. It is an economic-productive need having little to do with identity or religion. Even the integration issue does not cause main problems as it is a social one, not a political one as it is in France. The geopolitical projection is the relationship with the countries of origin and transit of immigrants and the solution of clandestine immigration. In practice, an appropriate widening of one’s gaze beyond the sea surrounding the Peninsula.

The stimulus comes (as it is presented to public opinion) from the need to solve an annoying domestic political problem with inevitably international political implications. In the background, the now lost Italian influence in Libya, the commercial traffic control in the Mediterranean, the exploitation of marine natural gas fields (for which President Sīsī’s consent is required, evidently deemed Westminster-style), the ambitions towards the Sahel-Saharan area, where French influence is macroscopically declining after the failure of the so-called anti-terrorism military campaigns.

However, Italy has proposed its geopolitical plan still in a nutshell: emphatically called Mattei Plan, it could lead to a change of course from an interventionist war policy requested by the Western allies (such as the one exercised in Iraq, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia) to civil geopolitics based on diplomacy and a new concept of development cooperation. Perhaps a new beginning for geopolitical studies as well. Conversely, Farnesina, Leonardo and university experts could be enough.

 

V.S.: What impact do geopolitical theories have on the decisions of your country’s leaders?

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: I also complete the answer picture of the previous question. Italy’s location in the Mediterranean core has always projected it towards the neighbouring and opposite shores. Control of the seas had marked for centuries Venice’s power, both commercial and maritime. Following the 1884-85 Congress of Berlin, Italy had entered Africa by the acquisition of its colonies, and already before WWI, it had conquered the Libyan shore, challenging, rather than the dying Ottoman Sultanate, the French predominance in the Maghreb and the English one on the sea. During the Fascist period, Rome, rhetorically returned to an Imperial rank, consolidated its power in Libya and looked to the Aegean and the Balkans.

After WWII, Italy, although defeated and lacking an autonomous political will, had not yet lost its geopolitical role in the Mediterranean precisely under its geographical and political-economic features. The Cold War brought it back to a crucial role for not just the control of the sea but also civil and military air traffic, albeit within the framework of an alliance that did not allow for great geopolitical alchemies. And yet, its atavistic drive corresponding to a geopolitical necessity had led it to play a decisive role in the Qaddāfī’s advent in Libya and the  Bourguiba’s ousting in Tunisia, once again weakening the influence of the British and French allies. The opening up to the Arab-Islamic world in the 1980s, tacitly allowed by the American allies until the Sigonella episode, is then known to the experts, if not to the general public.

Since the 1990s, the Mediterranean has lost its centrality due to the escaped Soviet danger. Italy, now marginal, remained at the mercy of the Brussels bureaucracy and, on a military level, in tow of the Euro-Atlantic allies in the “human rights” adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries poorly known in their cultural and anthropic elements by Western experts and above all lands far removed from its historical geopolitical framework. Indeed, Rome was forced to participate in the invasion and contributed to undoing Libya of his friend Qaddāfī. Foreign policy was no longer under its geopolitical interests. Conversely, the executive powers fluctuate between international recognition of the government in Tripoli (under Turkish aegis) and winks at the government in Tobruk (supported by Russia and Egypt, among others) endorsed by Italian highest institutional offices.

The New World (Matthäus Seutter, ca. 1744)

Since then, Farnesina’s attitude has been quite subordinated to the will of the White House, going through the contradictions of U.S. Presidents, and while intimidated by a European Union which is trying to grab the competence of a shared foreign policy is not for it, and which the broadest nation-states formally agree to as pursuing their geopolitical agendas. Covid and the Ukrainian crisis expose the great European bluff, which shows a fading unity of purpose under the NATO umbrella, but where disguised hardships mix with the distinctions of the bravest. Italy, of course, upholds, without addressing its geopolitical interests in the least, mainly energy. The next possible step? It will be Indo-Pacific, following a warlike Euro-Atlantic agenda leading from North Atlantic defence to the antipodes for Western national interests (?), now sweetened and dissolved in an ideological globalism molasses functional to interests of which Rome is hopefully aware. But what does one not do for human rights?

 

V.S.: Do you consider it appropriate to collaborate with the Romanian GeoPolitica magazine on these approaches?

We would be honoured to publish your analyses in the pages of the magazine!

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: GeoPolitica magazine has already published my contributions for about a decade, since in 2014, it hosted an article of mine on geopolitical and religious relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Following it, covered topics have ranged from architecture in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to the symbolic historical sites preservation in wartime, from geopolitical analyses on the Sahel-Saharan and Black Sea areas to Azerbaijan, Iran, Russo-Iranian and East-West European relations.

I have always appreciated the magazine’s openness to accept often thorny and divisive topics from “another” perspective, considering different starting points from the one most media offer. The professionalism of its geopolitical analysts and the unceasing commitment to witnessing and interpreting events make it a landmark for those who do not limit their vision to strictly national and partisan issues.

Therefore, I would be pleased and honoured to continue contributing to a relevant and appreciable initiative such as this one. I am sure geopolitical analysts will welcome its further international expansion.

 

V.S.: New technological changes have led to the emergence of new geopolitical theories such as GeoIntelligence: the geopolitics of information, which we promoted in Romania in 2014; Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence: the fifth dimension of geopolitics (2019); and Exopolitics: the geopolitics of outer space as the sixth geopolitical dimension (2021), theories that have been presented in the pages of GeoPolitica magazine.

How do you assess these theories?

In the environment of an academic in your country are there such concerns?

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: At the 2021 Trade and Technology Council summit, the US and EU declared opposing Artificial Intelligence for possible uses contrary to human rights. They showed significant concerns that authoritarian governments using AI could drive sorting systems that implement large-scale social control. The message is clear and must be interpreted openly. The West is not a leader in this cutting-edge technology. What it has been devoted to for more than 30 years through mass media, i.e. social control, cannot be dominated by its geopolitical competitor, firstly China.

The matter is severe and noble, the motivations a little less so since they are, as usual, instrumental and self-referential. As if to say mass control is a prerogative of democracies. Except this time, the technological leap comes from the East, with prominent geopolitical implications, just as the use of atomic energy had in the 1940s. It right depends on how you handle the technology. And, in turn, it does not rely on the institutional set-up or respect for human rights, given the outcome that led 78 years ago to the greatest crime against humanity.

So, a first thought. Technology does not stop in the face of ethical concerns, often used on and off and according to convenient interpretations. Failure to use AI would have negative geopolitical consequences; hence, you cannot do without it. If anything, the problem is the control and regulation of its development, the danger of the substitution of decision-making processes devolved to machines rather than human judgement, the adaptation of behavioural and social standards to the new parameters that will gradually be introduced, the change of political and bureaucratic models that are functional to the new objectives. In practice, whoever controls AI can effectively influence social and economic patterns to their advantage.

But, even without AI, hasn’t it been the case since mass media and social media development? We have had and still have the danger of social control by managers supported by institutional pulse. It does not seem there has been a heavy contrast to the phenomenon; the contrary. Of course, the introduction of AI is a significant leap in quality, but like all technological innovations introduced in history, starting from the wheel, shocking at the time, with all its geopolitical implications of that ancient era, such as the beginning of mass movements of people and goods.

Today, remote control, an AI forerunner, has already changed geopolitics. On the military front, the U.S. Africa Command controls the skies of Africa as a whole from Stuttgart. Civil maritime traffic takes place worldwide under satellite control which also identifies the strategies and methods for security. AI exponentially amplifies the speed and quality of performance, and the quantum computer will change the connotations and sense of these control activities. Geopolitical confrontation will always occur on a level of competition and timing of new technology take-over and development. Perhaps the subject holding conditioning power will no longer be unique, and we will move towards a multipolar world.

This new situation alarms those who held this monocratic power until recently. But the dangerous game of international politics is built on a contest, which need not always translate into warfare on the proxies’ skin, also because this approach does not pay off in the long run. It depends on geostrategies and, as the question rightly points out, on new, more specialised disciplines such as GeoIntelligence up to the geopolitics of outer space. War of the Worlds? Only if we identify geopolitics as a military art.

 

Map of part of the Russian Empire and southern Poland (Jäger, 1769, Collection Koninklijke Bibliotheek)

V.S.: Please specify the impact of geopolitics on your state’s international relations, military strategy, economy, energy resources and security!

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: Geopolitics has the task of identifying and suggesting international policy priorities. Some institutional Italian ambiences, when sensitive military business, budgets of multinational corporations and post-war reconstruction (the Foreign Ministry and the industrial companies have already applied for in Ukraine), do not need such in-depth studies. Above all, they don’t need long-term projections. It is enough to follow the daily performance of the stock exchanges, of which high-level state financiers are experts, while often winning the highest institutional offices, not just national ones. There is time for long-term priorities. In the meantime, as Xi’s China works with the 2049 horizon, Rome pursues the agenda dictated by allied friends in Europe and across the Atlantic. Then you will see. Much will depend on who is next in the White House. Italy will take note of it and adjust its daily policy accordingly.

That said, I don’t want to oversimplify a complex topic that I think I have given my opinion on in previous answers. The dependence I have widely pointed out as a limiting factor has not often prevented past strategic actions under geopolitical visions. We have already spoken about diplomatic waves in the Mediterranean during the Cold War. But other foreign policy operations have been made with a view to wise and engaging geopolitics: peacekeeping missions, with the decisive presence of highly professional Italian contingents such as in southern Lebanon and Timor-Leste, as well as decisive diplomatic actions for the internal conciliation of African countries such as Mozambique. The latter was an initiative of the Community of St. Egidio, an international association of faithful of pontifical right, which nonetheless has an appreciable stimulus role in raising awareness of Italian public opinion towards some global socio-political issues.

Map of the area around the Black Sea: Circassia, Georgia and the borders of European Russia and Turkey (Didier Robert de Vaugondy, 1769)

A fruit of Italian geopolitics is the international projection of its energy industry I already cited previously, but of which I want to mention some relevant examples precisely regarding the importance of geopolitics:

  • ENI’s activity in Kazakhstan, which is the demonstration of national interest in Asia and the development of the Eurasia concept;
  • the South Stream project, whose MoU was signed in Rome in 2007 between ENI and the Russian Gazprom to transport natural gas of the Russian Federation through the Black Sea to Europe;
  • the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) to freight natural gas from Azerbaijan to Italy.

The South Stream Project was aborted for political reasons following the deterioration of Euro-Atlantic relations with Moscow and the decisive contribution of the Brussels bureaucracy. Instead, the TAP, built in 2016 and operational since 2020, strengthens relations with the Turkic world and opens up to Central Asia. Apart from the fragility of occasional Italian choices, some geopolitics reflections are that the country’s energy policy needs long-term planning because it impacts relations with providing countries. If one of the target markets for Italy is Central Asia, it cannot remain trapped in the game of vetoes and sanctions. It needs a policy for Central Asia and good relations with Russia and China, which dominate that area from many points of view, and with Turkey, which has a cultural aegis over the majority Turkic population. An assessment should have been drawn on the twenty-year war in Afghanistan against an internal faction of an ethnic group we merely do not like, and a debate should have been triggered throughout the country with effects of a geopolitical nature. Silence.

 

V.S.: Finally, please send a message to the GeoPolitica staff and our readers!

GLAUCO D’AGOSTINO: Beyond the appreciation already made, the message I feel like sending is the testimony of a closeness to the sensitivity of the Romanian people and this magazine, too. I’m not just surprised by the understanding I found in their welcome. The feelings binding me to Eastern Europe are supported by my experiences, which marked my debut in the interest of international issues right there. Since then, cultural imprinting has prevented me from neglecting that complex and fascinating world that cannot be merely reduced to a consumer market.

All of this seems to escape the principles of geopolitics only for those who inscribe it in the economic sciences sphere aimed at “domination.” I find not surprisingly sensitive and open interlocutors in the Eastern Europe world, a fundamental geopolitical crossroads for the Euro-Asian continent, but also an area of culture, history, and traditions. And I find this dialogue on the ground of the relationship to Islam in an area, the Balkan one, particularly difficult due to its historical, political and religious past, a synthesis of my cultural interests and existential projections.

A last consideration.

My origins are in Southern Italy, a land culturally interweaving the Byzantine and Orthodox worldview with the Arab-Islamic one. This is not a historical-political or identity claim since part of my education developed mainly in the Western and Anglo-Saxon world. It is a matter of placing at the centre of decision-makers’ attention that there are people’s cultural and behavioural settings with which one must deal respectfully when setting geopolitical visions and beyond any cosmopolitan ambitions. That is also geopolitics.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Categories

Hijri Calendar

    February 2024
    Rajab - Sha'ban 1445
    S M T W T F S
    1
    21
    2
    22
    3
    23
    4
    24
    5
    25
    6
    26
    7
    27
    8
    28
    9
    29
    10
    30
    11
    1
    12
    2
    13
    3
    14
    4
    15
    5
    16
    6
    17
    7
    18
    8
    19
    9
    20
    10
    21
    11
    22
    12
    23
    13
    24
    14
    25
    15
    26
    16
    27
    17
    28
    18
    29
    19