Conversation: Emerging Alliance in Eastern Europe, New Fissures in Iraq

Video Transcript:

David Judson: Hello. I’m David Judson. I’m the editor-in-chief of Statfor. With me today is George Friedman, founder and chairman of Stratfor. George, thanks for joining me today.

George Friedman: Pleasure.

David: Geopolitically, it’s a busy time in the world. We’ve got crisis in Eastern Europe sort of easing up and crisis in Iraq potentially deepening. Before I get to the second crisis, I want to talk briefly about the first. You’re just back from a grand tour of Central and Eastern Europe. Even for a Texan a month on the trail is a long time. On that point, you’ve been talking and writing for some time about the emergence of a new alliance structure in Eastern Europe, the Intermarium. That’s kind of a foundational term. Where does that come from, „Intermarium”?

George:  Well, the term itself comes from a Polish general and founder of modern Poland, General Pilsudski. He was dealing with the same geopolitical problem that exists now. He had a Russia, a Soviet Union that was in the 1920s, increasingly assertive and pressing on his frontiers and the frontiers of the rest of what we now call Central Europe. Behind him he had a Germany that at that time was unclear with its intentions. Poland had emerged from World War I with these two empires clearing the way, so his question was how to preserve Polish independence. He had really two strategies since he wasn’t strong enough to defeat them. One had somebody from the outside guarantee their security and that was France for him, but he didn’t really trust that this would be sufficient, so he imagined an alliance that ran from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, including countries at the time like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Turkey. This group would serve to contain Russia and would have, instead of an east-west orientation, a north-south orientation. It was so that it never came to pass, it never gelled. But what I started thinking about was the fact that Russia was reasserting itself, was going to be reclaiming its priority within the former Soviet Union, repressing on them, and the fact that Germany is once again uncertain. I thought this might be something that would emerge and in a kind of very early protostage, that seems to be what is happening.

David: So from what I understand, from what the columns you’ve been writing recently, you see that the idea is most advanced perhaps in Poland and Romania with the Czechs a bit nervous and other people kind of scratching their heads around this. Still a hope that the existing NATO infrastructure will serve the purpose.

George: Well, this is the point. Does NATO really serve a purpose? One of the things that was interesting in Europe was the juncture between how the people on the frontier as they called it, the Eastern Europeans, felt, and how people to the rear (Spaniards, Dutch) felt. To them this was a very distant non-crisis. Ukraine mattered. It was unacceptable, they would argue, how the Russians behaved, but it was nothing to threaten their national security. The setting on the alarm for Poland, Romania, or any of these other countries is much lower. They see the Russians as capable of much more aggressive behavior. So, necessarily the Poles took the first step in calling on NATO to act, but also the second step in reaching out to Romania, the other large country, and the one on the Black Sea, to begin having intense conversations with. In fact, there were intense conversations between Poland, Romania and even Turkey, so they looked to the United States, not the rest of Europe, as their guarantor, and they looked to each other as the alliance.

David: So is America in a mood to be the guarantor the same way they would like the United States to be the guarantor at this point?

George: Well, lets distinguish between the mood of the United States, which is always manic-depressive, and look at American history. The 20th century was all about the relationship between Germany and Russia for the United States. When the tsar fell in 1917, the United States intervened weeks after. They stayed out of it as long as they could, and then they sent a million men. The United States really got deeply involved, not in a periphery of the EuropeanPeninsula, but in the EuropeanPeninsula itself, in 1944, late in the war. One of their goals was to limit the Soviet advance into Germany. Of course, the Cold War was all about Germany’s relationship with the Soviet Union. Germany was divided. The fear was that it would be amalgamated because a Germany allied with Russia is an enormous combination of capital, technology and natural resources. It is frightening to the United States. Now, there is the mood of the president and the assistant secretary of this or that, and there is this underlying geopolitical reality, which is that the United States really cares about this. So, somewhere between President Obama’s reluctance and the pressure of history, he went to Poland. Vice President Biden went to Romania, and they both made commitments of a very limited sort, but significant steps in guaranteeing their security.

David: So, we have this new security-political architecture that the new „proto-Intermarium,” if you will, merging on one side of the Black Sea, moving eastward, we’ve got this new emerging, or re-emerging perhaps is a better word, crisis with the temporary collapse of Mosul and the evaporation/surrender of the Iraqi army in their first confrontation with the insurgent group and a lot going on that we are trying to understand. Are there points of intersection between these two crises?

George: At the moment there doesn’t seem to be, except there is this much. The Russians have to welcome the crisis in Iraq because the United States had an almost laser-like focus on the Russians, on the Ukraine, on the Eastern Europeans over the past few months. Now the Americans have to be looking at Iraq. Iraq seems to be on the verge of being divided between the Sunni region, which ISIS, the group that’s doing this would dominate, the Shiite region, which is moving into an even closer relation with the Iranians, and the Kurdish region, so you seem to be having a situation where the government is losing control over the country side. Now, we can’t overdo this. We have a tendency to see everything as apocalyptic. What has happened is a very carefully coordinated campaign by relatively few troops on the part of ISIS against Iraqi troops that appear to be unmotivated. To the north of the Iraqis are the Kurds, who have the peshmerga, their own force of about 40,000. They’re quite powerful and don’t like this insurgency. To the south you have the Shia, who backed by the Iranians, could cause any number of problems. In the end, the United States has not said it is going to intervene in any way, shape or form, but has made it clear that it guarantees in some way the Baghdad government. So, as we speak, the situation is unclear, but certainly the ISIS group has made it clear, made its presence known in definitive terms. I suspect that we have many rounds to go and many evolutions to take place, but the intersection not really, except for anything that really diverts the American attention pleases the Russians.

David: Well, we’ll have to leave it there. A lot more to talk about and a lot more to pay attention to here at Stratfor, which we’ll be doing. Thank you, George.

George: Thank you.

<a href=””>Conversation: Emerging Alliance in Eastern Europe, New Fissures in Iraq</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”


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