Stupid Geopolitical Analysis

There are “geopolitical experts” who base their analysis using broad sweeping abstractions.

Geopolitics is the study of the effects of Earth’s geography (human and physical) on politics and international relations. It is a pseudoscience of political geography” and other pseudoscientific theories of historical and geographic determinism.

Some major works and examples in this area are Zbigniew Brzezinski bookThe Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives and The Geostrategic Triad: Living with China, Europe, and Russia. The Grand Chessboard described the American triumph in the Cold War in terms of control over Eurasia: for the first time ever, a “non-Eurasian” power had emerged as a key arbiter of “Eurasian” power relations.

This kind of analysis had some uses in the late 19th century and early 20th century when there were many nearly equal “Great Powers”.

There is currently a constant prediction and expectation that the US will lose economic and military primacy. This will transition the world back to a multipolar world. This would be a World where other countries and groups matter a great deal again.

Dave Lee interviews a guy, Jacob Shapiro, who came from Stratfor. He studied the Middle East as an academic and has never been there. He got raised at Stratfor from the guy making coffee because he had some Arabic language skills.

Jacob Shapiro predicts that “Russian advantages” will most likely assert themselves and Russia wins over the next few weeks. He then predicts the Ukrainian insurgency. Jacob gives himself the out for his prediction where Ukraine successfully resists for a few more weeks and Kyiv cannot be taken.

This ignores a proper and detailed military assessment.

Russian ground forces attempting to encircle and take Kyiv began another pause to resupply and refit combat units on March 11 after failed attacks March 8-10. Russian forces also appear to be largely stalemated around Kharkiv. Russian advances from Crimea toward Mykolayiv and Zaporizhya and in the east around Donetsk and Luhansk made no progress in the last 24 hours, and Russian forces in the south face growing morale and supply issues. The Ukrainian General Staff asserted Russia has so far failed to take its territorial objectives for the war and will likely increasingly turn to strikes on civilian targets and psychological operations to undermine civilian support for the Ukrainian government. Uncoordinated and sporadic Russian offensive operations against major Ukrainian cities support the Ukrainian General Staff’s assessment that Russian forces face growing morale and supply issues and have lost the initiative. The Ukrainian General Staff stated on March 11 that Ukrainian forces are “actively defending and conducting successful counterattacks in all directions,” but did not state where reported counterattacks are occurring.

The Kremlin likely seeks to increase its combat power by drawing Belarus into the war and leveraging Syrian proxies, in addition to ongoing efforts to directly replace Russian combat losses through individual conscripts that are unlikely to be well-enough trained or motivated to generate effective new combat power.

The mess, delayed attacks and long and bloody struggle scenario for Russia is not a “maybe it happens over the next few weeks”. This scenario has been happening for the most of the 16 days of the invasion so far. Modern sieges of large cities tend to average eight months or more. Kyiv has not been uncircled and Kharkiv has not fallen. Russian being unable to take and secure more of the smaller cities and towns means they cannot concentrate forces for the major cities.

Russia has not established air superiority. Ukraine’s MIGs are still flying. Ukraine has 17000 Javelin missiles and over 2500 Stinger missiles. Russia will not be able to risk its air force using it as a major tool against Ukraine.

Russia is not overmatching Ukraine’s ground forces. Russia’s Navy has launched some cruise missiles at Ukraine’s cities. However, the 8 missile launching ships in the Black Sea fleet are not a major part of this war.

The Crimean War 2014-2022 has involved about 20,000 military Russia forces vs 20000 Ukrainian forces. Those bogged down into a modernized version of World War 1 trench warfare. There have been a total of about 50,000 civilian and military casualities in that “lower intensitty” conflict. The current Russia-Ukraine war is about ten times the forces on both sides.

A ground force war with Ukraine getting other weapons and Russia with logistical problems and no air dominance is a long and bloody war.

Jacob Shapiro then makes the prediction that a few weeks of a stalement but bloody war situation will mean Putin could lose power and would go for a peace settlement. Peace-Cease fire could happen but the best window is before the urban fighting gets really bad. It is unclear if Ukraine and Russia would be willing to agree. The terms that would seem to be possible would be Russia officially taking Crimea and the Donbass and withdrawing elsewhere. Ukraine would say they would remain neutral. Ukraine will not disarm.

Russia has not properly maintained the tires of its military vehicles and has major logistical problems that will not be solved in weeks or months.

Prediction markets can be better at making more precise and falsifiable prediction questions and keeping accountability for those predictions.

Here are some Stratfor predictions from 2015-2025.

* Russia will collapse
* Japan will be Asia’s rising naval power.
* China’s growth and production increases stall. This will lead to 16 mini-China’s with more growth and manufacturing: Mexico, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Indonesia could see improving economic fortunes over the next decade as more manufacturing jobs arrive.
* US power will decline

SOURCES- Metaculus, Business Insider, Dave Lee
Written By Brian Wang,

25 thoughts on “Stupid Geopolitical Analysis”

  1. Zeihan did predict that Russia would try to conquer Ukraine.

    Unfortunately, he said this would happen by 2019. Actually they would grab all of eastern Europe by 2019.

    So he was out by 3 years? Big deal?

    But the timing was a fundamental part of his theory. He argues that Russia demographics meant they would have to regain control of all of eastern Europe by 2019, because after that they wouldn't have enough soldiers. And if they didn't push their borders up to the various mountain ranges and river then they would be destroyed by the invading hordes of… mumble… Swedes or something? OK, that last bit was the weakest part of his argument.

    Though, it may be that he was right. They DON'T have enough army to grab all of Ukraine, let alone Poland and Rumania and the Baltic states as well.

    So he may have just fallen to the 1913 fallacy. (In 1913, there were all sorts of people who proved, conclusively, that any major war in Europe would destroy the world. And they were absolutely correct. And so they concluded that such a war would not happen. And they were absolutely wrong.)

  2. I failed the troll test. Now I just have to comment on my own. It's so hard coming up with correct opinions just by fact-checking!

  3. If Putin is ousted this would be a great opportunity to offer aid for Ukraine and Russia in exchange for denuclearizing and rapid carbon emissions reductions to reach net zero quick.

  4. Geopolitics is a "social science", the way political science, international relations and even history used to be considered. It's very hard to run any sort of blind test in these disciplines, so most of the output is theorizing and projecting future results from past history by way of analogy.
    To Brian's point, much of the output is bunk. Some based on incomplete knowledge, some on bad analysis and more than a little on the search for more funding by typing up what your patrons want to hear.
    There are a couple of gems in the field that deserve to be read, in order to make your own assessments. Graham Allison's classic "Essence of Decision" and Olson's (U Mich) work on alliances.
    Full disclosure B.A. International Relations U MN 1984 and 12 years in the 'big stick' end of the industry in the Navy – so yes, I have studied this a bit.

  5. It all seems that there are too many significant elements to cover accurately in Putin's War. So, best stick to advanced and advancing technology. Technology has increasing impact, and politics in the US makes me feel that there's nothing holding us together, anyway.

  6. I was once a stratfor subscriber. I decided that if I was operating a business with overseas operations, their "intelligence" would be useful, but there was little, if any there of use to me, that I didn't already know, or surmise. I ended my subscription.

    A couple years later, I had to replace my credit card, because stratfor had not expunged my information before their security failed. What good is a "private CIA" that can't keep secret information they should have expunged years earlier? It would be one thing to have still had my information on backup media, but it must have still been on disk, on line years after my subscription ended! I do not recommend stratfor.

  7. "Kyiv has not been uncircled"
    I take it that is a typo for 'encircled'.
    It is barely conceivable that someone would use 'uncircled' to mean breaking an encirclement.

  8. Tragically, Ukraine may soon have the sorts of logistical problems Russia is experiencing, with Putin threatening to blow up any resupply trucks. Drivers, especially those from other countries, won't drive suicide missions that keep failing. Russia is slowly encircling major battlezones like Kyiv. Ukraine's fighters have shown unusual bravery, though perhaps not compared to other countries, including the Revolutionary U.S. that are defending their own turf, but without ammunition & new weapons & planes to replace those lost, they will fail.

  9. I’d be more likely to say that geopolitics is “not a science” than to say it is a “pseudoscience”. Trying to make predictions form it is speculative at best but an understanding of it can help explain certain things.

    For instance, the continent of Africa has very few navigable rivers, the tsetse fly makes domestication of draught animals extremely unlikely, it’s coasts have very few harbours and shorelines are shallow enough to prevent deep water ports until modern dredging was developed. It has a high altitude interior but without the kind of mountains ranges which collect large amounts of snow to keep rivers running all year round. Weather patterns cause soil to be hard to cultivate more than a few years at a time, making permanent settlement harder and plant and animal domestication harder. The only places where some of these factors were less intense did see small empires and large kingdoms. This indicates that geographical factors were the most important limiting factor to the development of large scale agricultural empires like Rome, Persia, Assyrians and such.

    Geography may not be destiny and geopolitics may not be a science but it can yield valuable insights if you don’t try to make too much out of it.

  10. Read the link, bottom section. It is a voluntary withdrawal from the crazies. *Real* power increases. Also, we go to Space(that is from me).

  11. I think the point is that the Shapiro predictions are already *false*, not already *true*, as in the climate models. Do you work for Exxon?

  12. "and other pseudoscientific theories of historical and geographic determinism." is the core of the problem. Determinism is dead in Nature v Nurture (epigenetics), Physics (attractor theory) and anthrohistory (Graeber). Everywhere.

  13. I didn't see any support behind the prediction that US power will decline.
    What is this based on?

  14. Pundits lay too heavily on structured models and computer analysis. An in depth knowledge and strong intuition and common sense backed by fact is superior to it.

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