- (December 2011)
The new Silk Road
The Silk Road of a thousand years ago was bringing silk to Europe via Central
Asia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. That trade route was still working a century ago
at the time of the British and Ottoman empires. Then it fell apart when the
Soviet Union was born, and it progressively
became more and more dangerous as one after the other of those countries
was torn by mad dictators and civil wars. Whether by coincidence or a result
of tectonic historical shifts, there is now unrest along much of that route
and change might be coming soon. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are essential to
the economic boom of countries like China: they hold huge reserves of oil
and natural gas, not to mention uranium (Kazakhstan is the world's main
producer of uranium) and many other minerals. Alas, they are both ruled by
old-fashioned dictators who seized power when the two countries split from
the Soviet Union in 1991. Then there is Afghanistan with its chronic civil
war. It is not rich in minerals but it lies strategically in the center
of the north-south and east-west routes, connecting the great historical
lands of Iran, China, Russia and India. Then there is Iran, run by a widely
theocracy that is feared and despised by Christians (Europe and the USA),
Muslims (all the neighboring Sunni countries except for Syria and Lebanon)
and Jews (Israel). And people forget that the "Arab Spring" was actually
started in Iran, a non-Arab country but the first country in the world where
social media were used by young people to riot against the dictator.
It also controls the strategic Strait of Hormutz
Then there is Iraq, where thousands of civilians are still killed by senseless
acts of terrorism. Iraq may hold the largest oil reserves in the world.
The USA just ended its occupation of Iraq, leaving a weak prime minister in
charge of an ethnic mess of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds who have cordially hated
each other for centuries. And finally there is Syria, a poor country that
could be another strategic trade hub if it got rid of its dictator, a country
now torn by the bloodiest of all the Arab insurrections of 2011.
There is no other region of the world that has so much potential and has become
so unstable. Indirectly, it is succumbing to the forces of globalization.
When communism and Western imperialism kept those countries in conditions
of underdevelopment, there was no pressure to change. Now that the whole
world needs their contribution, they have come under pressure to change,
and the pressure is likely to accelerate.
TM, ®, Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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