From the West’s wars to the new silk roads of Eurasia

The Third Edward Goldsmith Lecture, Victoria University of Wellington, for the Pacific Institute of Resource Management, 29 October 2015, by James O’Neill, Barrister at Law, Brisbane, Australia.


In geopolitical terms the post-World War II period can be divided into three broad categories. The limits are not arbitrary and inevitably there is a measure of overlap. From 1945 to around 1990 the dominant power groups were the Soviet Union and the US-led block of western nations. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet empire shortly after, the US reigned supreme as the sole superpower. Little noticed in the early post-1990 period was the beginning of the rapid rise of China, in economic, political and military influence.

The Period 1945–1990

The decades following the end of WW2 could not be described as years of peace. The US flexed its geopolitical muscles in a variety of arenas. Two aspects stand out. The first of these was the pursuit of policies directed at ensuring the survival of regimes friendly to US corporate and military interests (which were frequently indistinguishable).

The Period 1989–1991

Epochal changes occurred in very rapid succession in a relatively short time period. The Berlin Wall came down at the end of 1989. Germany’s two parts were reunited. And the Soviet Union had collapsed by the end of 1991. Too little credit for the peaceful nature of this transition has been accorded to the Soviet Secretary General of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev assured US President George Bush Senior that there would be no Soviet intervention as had disastrously occurred in the GDR in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968.


Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 Boris Yeltsin came to power as the first President of the Russian Federation. Yeltsin was lauded by the western media as a democrat who jumped on tanks, and defied the communist old guard. In fact he presided over the fire sale of Soviet era assets, greatly enriching a select group of Russian oligarchs and western corporations. It was a disastrous period of Russian history.

The New Silk Roads

Mr Putin and Mr Xi are far from oblivious about what is going on. They have refused thus far to respond militarily to the constant provocations on their borders, and in the case of China, within their borders. Their response instead, has been to embark upon the greatest infrastructure project in the history of the world. It is taking a variety of forms. One aspect has been the development of three separate blocs, with some overlapping membership: the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) spearheaded by Russia; BRICS, a union of five nations which accounts for approximately 40% of the world’s population alone; and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which in July 2015 added India and Pakistan as full members, making a total of eight nations. (33)


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  32. Scott, Road to 9/11 op cit.
  33. China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan.
  34. A rare display of independence from the US.
  35. 19 December 2013.
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  40. Ibid.
  41. Ibid
  42. The forthcoming Australian Defence White Paper, like its predecessors, is expected to identify China as the major “threat” to Australia, despite a complete absence of any plausible evidence to justify that stance. It is probably more accurately identified as a down payment on the American alliance insurance premium.
  43. Brilliantly brought up to date by Alfred McCoy The Geopolitics of American Global Decline 7 June 2015
  44. H. Mackinder Democratic Ideals and Reality (reprint) Forgotten Books (2012).
  45. McCoy op cit n43. Part 2 is Grandmaster of the Great Game 15 September 2015.
  46. Most recently in President Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly 28 September 2015.

Published by the Pacific Institute of Resource Management

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