Sir Halford Mackinder, an English geographer, wrote in his famous paper Geographical Pivot of History,
“Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; who rules the World Island commands the World”.
Mackinder’s theory is very much relevant today. According to the theory, who controls the heartland controls the world. Today Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Eastern Middle East and Afghanistan lie in the Mackinder’s heartland. From 20th century to the present day, Mackinder’s heartland is the epicenter of the global geopolitics. During the Cold War, when communism was at its zenith, Eastern European states were led by communist regimes and therefore were under the tight grip of Soviet Union, also called Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Europe was divided into two parts: Eastern Europe led by USSR; and the Western Europe led by United States.
Furthermore, Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, but was ultimately defeated and USSR was disintegrated in 1991. Then in 2001 United States of America declared war on terror and invaded Afghanistan. Taliban’s were ousted from power. United States achieved temporary success but later on, insurgents regrouped and initiated guerilla warfare against the United States. Washington is still engaged in the bloody war against the Taliban. Afghan war has become a stalemate with both the Afghan troops trained by United States and Taliban unable to achieve total victory against each other.
Crimean peninsula, which also lies in Mackinder’s heartland was annexed by Russia in 2014. Crimean peninsula is of vital importance for Russia as it will give access to its navy to operate in proximity of Turkey and other East European states. Russia also invaded Georgia in 2008. The annexation of Crimean peninsula, invasion of Georgia and military intervention in Syria are seen by many observers as expansionist designs of Moscow.
Mackinder’s theory fails to explain the rise of China without the control of the heartland. The sudden rise of Beijing has raised many eyebrows in the Western capitals. Recently, the first ever overseas military base of China has been made operational in Djibouti.
Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worries in New Delhi, which fears that it would become another of China’s “string of pearls” of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. China has rejected Indian fears and says that the base will serve only logistic purposes. In the recent years Beijing has invested in several infrastructure projects in various African states. Furthermore, Beijing’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative is seen by many as Beijing’s desire to expand its influence globally.
According to recent Pentagon report China is planning to build more overseas bases after it establish a facility in Djibouti. The report further said that Pakistan is the possible location for another military facility. Pakistan and China enjoy close ties and both the countries have initiated the ambitious project called China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a vital part of OBOR. CPEC will connect the underdeveloped Western regions of China to Gwadar through a network of road and railways tracks.
Many analysts believe that CPEC will change the fate of the Pakistani people if implemented in letter and spirit. On the other hand, CPEC has many benefits for China too. Currently, 80 percent of Beijing’s hydrocarbons are passed through Strait of Malacca heavily militarized by United States and its allies. Besides this, the distance of the current route is 12000 miles while that of CPEC will be 2000 miles.
There is a growing rift between India and China over border issue that sparked anger in Beijing. Chinese Foreign minister also warned India of 1962-like consequences in case of any misadventure.
The world events indicate that new alignments are in the making. India, which once was the member of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during the cold war, has considerably tilted towards Washington. Moreover, United States is supporting India in order to contain China. Pakistan sees US support to its adversary India with suspicion and is therefore cementing its ties with China. The rise of dragon has challenged the superiority of America in the region. United States is losing its cards to Russia and China here.