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The Blue Arctic and the World-Island
On January 5, 2021, the Navy Department released
What if the Great Continent, the whole World-Island or a large part of it, were at some future time to become a single and united base of sea power?
Would not the other insular bases be outbuilt as regards ships and outmanned as regards seamen?
Their fleets would no doubt fight with all the heroism begotten of their histories, but the end would be fated.
Add air and space power to Mackinder’s question, and its meaning is clear in the 21st century.
In Democratic Ideals and Reality, which was written at the end of the First World War, Mackinder expanded his geostrategic worldview. He renamed the “pivot state” the “Heartland.” More importantly, he developed the concept of the “World-Island.” Mackinder’s “World-Island” consisted of the triple continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, which he envisioned as a single geographical concept. He called the triple-continent “this newly realized Great Island.” Strategists, he wrote, "must no longer think of Europe apart from Asia and Africa. The Old World has become insular or, in other words, a unit, incomparably the largest geographical unit on our globe."
So this strategist posits that Oceania is once again under threat from the combined forces of TROW (The Rest Of the World). China is on the rise and working with Russia. So says he. He fears coercion and calls for more NATO, more Navies, more Western Unity.
I don't have any argument with the prescription. Although I have a feeling that Navies may look more like this in the near future than he gives credit.
The OPV may be manned and only armed to repel boarders but it could be sailing in company with a couple of unmanned LDUSV arsenal ships and a screen of unmanned SeaHawk MDUSVs.
Add to that and underwater screen of UUVs and a cap of UAVs and you have an interesting force package.
But I digress.
My biggest problem is with the diagnosis and the underlying assumption that it is possible to organize the World Island.
Europe, Asia and Africa, combined, by my reckoning, comprises 85,000,000 km2 of land divided not just into three continents but something like 165 sovereign entities with, more importantly, 6,517,000,000 people. Six and a half billion mobile, rational decision makers, many of whom don't recognize the 165 sovereign entities - even when they are subjects of a particular sovereign entity.
How does any one individual get all 6,517,000,000 rowing in the same direction so as to be able to hoover up small, sovereign islands?
Europe can't organize 27 sovereign entities and 400,000,000 people to get vaccinated, or to agree a trade arrangement.
The US can't get its 50 states and 350,000,000 people to agree on who is President.
One of the three Presidents of the EU declared that of course the UK was more nimble and could act like a speed boat. The EU had to get 27 sovereign entities to work together. It was more like manoeuvering a tanker.
Getting The World Island to work together successfully would be akin to eliminating swarms of gnats with a single tanker, or using the same tanker to fish for marlin.
My sense is that for the World Island conflict will continue. It will continue to kneecap itself even as its population grows and it depletes its already diminished resources.
What should the rest of us do?
Leave them to it and go fishing in our fleet of small boats.
And just make sure that no single sovereign entity breaks out from the confusion on the mainland long enough to threaten the fishing.