Interview with dr. James Jay CARAFANO
Vasile SIMILEANU: Geopolitics, as a science, was challenged after the World War II. After 1989, it became part of the new world order.
Please tell us about your activities in the field of geopolitics!
How do you define geopolitics?
James Jay CARAFANO: My academic training was as a historian. I also had long career in the U.S. military sta-tioned around the world. Political science and international relations studies were something I picked up later in life. So, not surprisingly, my influences were more practical and operational than theoretical. Probably, why I am a realist.
Having a professional career that spans the Cold War and Post-Cold War eras, I accept change as normal. For instance, the perspective we had on the world during the Cold War is totally unsuited to thinking about the world today. One of the starkest examples is how Americans conceptualize Eurasia. For most of modern times for Americans it was an amorphous blob. Today, we need to be much more sophisticated in understanding the dynamics in places like the Caucuses and Central Asia.
I still find from a U.S. perspective, too many leave the “geography” out of geopolitics. In a world connected by the Internet and jet travel, it is easy to think that time, space, and boundaries don’t matter. But they do. The pathways of the Silk Road, for instance, are as relevant as they were centuries ago.
V.S.: Geopolitics has become of impact in all analyses of political, military, social, economic, cultural and diplomatic developments. Do you think that the classical theories of the geo-political schools are still relevant?
James Jay CARAFANO: No, I think they are terrible. What is worse, too many try to make the world conform to theory and constructs rather than the other way around. I think conceptualizing the world in terms of poles – unipolar, multipolar, hegemony – whatever, is overly deterministic. This might have made sense in era when empires had actual dominion and sovereignty over foreign lands, but I don’t think it serves well to describe the world after 1945, let alone today.
Another useless construct is the “rules-based order,” which I find largely a myth. It is very clear that after the Cold War, it was the influence of nation states not supranational organizations, international structures and regimes that maintained any semblance of order.
Constructivism is another bad idea that received some currency. It makes sense to try to understand how others approach international relations through prisms like race, culture, history. But, it is ludicrous to believe that an outside observer can be truly objective and not interject their own biases into the analysis.
There is a reason why after all these years I am still a realist. I still think it is the only international relations theory with enduring relevance.
V.S.: At university level, please tell us how geopolitics is reflected in the university curriculum (undergraduate courses, masters, doctorates)!
What research institutes, NGOs and other formats are developed for geopolitical studies?
James Jay CARAFANO: My strong feeling is that the history and political science departments are coming overly politicized and deterministic, rather than teaching students how to think, how to analyze, and make critical judgments. All the trend lines are bad. The recent effort to apply Queer Theory to nuclear proliferation and competition issues is a good example of a bad idea.
My experience is more dynamic and interesting work is going on independent re-search institutions that get from under the shadow of politics and academic influence.
I have always believed that the core of research is a trilogy of asking the right, answerable question; having sufficient data to find the answer; and a suitable, feasible, and acceptable method to study the data and answer the question. Too much academic research today begins with the presumption of an answer and then just assembling the facts and rhetoric to make the case.
More reliance of computer search and Artificial Intelligence is likely only to heighten the prejudice to have research give researchers the answer they want.
I also find there is way too much faddish in modern research with a tendency to appropriate new and ideas and methodologies to appear to be fresh. Political scientists, for instance, frequently adopt scientific paradigms, like Chaos Theory, not because they are appropriate, but because they seem more “scientific.”
Gaia Theory is a good example of bad nonsense, trying to apply an unproven envi–ronmental theory to geopolitics. I find this more fetishism than credible academic work.
V.S.: Do you think that there is a need for a better visibility of this geographical science in research environments worldwide? Through what forms and means?
James Jay CARAFANO: The more I travel around the world, the more I find being there and talking to people is one of the most important methods of research in contemporary geopolitics. I think field research is absolutely essential.
V.S.: Should geopoliticians and their theories be made more popular in the media and social media? What about in relations with partner structures in other countries?
Who do you work with to promote geopolitics?
Should an international organisation be set up to promote the interests of this science?
James Jay CARAFANO: Lord no. Most of their ideas teach how they want the world to work or how they want us to think how the world works – very rarely do they help us understand how the world works. Would rather folks learn more history, languages, and geography.
V.S.: In the new global constructions, determined by geo-strategic actions, how do you perceive geopolitical pressures on your state?
How should state actors react to pressures from non-state actors?
Is there collaboration between geopoliticians and business?
James Jay CARAFANO: For the U.S., China is the pacing challenge. There is no question about that. But, that said, Europe, the Greater Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific are all critical theaters for the U.S. In addition, I have argued the Caucuses and Central Asia are increasingly of interest to the United States. We, of course, also have interests in Africa. I have argued, however, it is not just about “great power” competition, the U.S. needs to give equal effort to promoting free and open spaces in critical parts of Eurasia. Eurasian routes have dominated global trade from Roman times to the 15th century. Then, as now, goods travel along one of three routes: the northern corridor, which winds through Russia to the West; the middle corridor, which makes its way through Central Asia, the Caspian Sea, the Caucuses and the Black Sea; and a southern corridor, which crosses the Indo-Pacific to Africa and then moves upward through the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has triggered a flurry of sanctions against Moscow and has hamstrung the northern corridor. Nations in the middle corridor, the countries of Central Asia and the Caucuses, have been reluctant to sign big ticket infrastructure deals with China after watching Beijing saddle countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka with massive amounts of debt that have stymied economic growth and led to bankruptcy. As for the southern corridor, China simply doesn’t have enough strength to dominate the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean – all key links in one of the world’s most vital maritime corridors.
There is huge opportunity here for the U.S. to promote free and open spaces through projects like the Three Seas Initiative, Ukrainian reconstruction, a “free and open” Black Sea, the Middle Corridor to Central Asia, and the Abraham Accords.
V.S.: What are the geopolitical and geo-strategic challenges of impact and how are they reflected in the strategies promoted by your state?
James Jay CARAFANO: The U.S. is a global power with global interests and global responsibilities. For sure, we want stability in critical regions that link the world – Europe, the Greater Middle East and the Indo-Pacific, as well as freedom the use the “global commons” that link these parts of the world together.
In addition, the U.S. needs a Atlantic Strategy to deal with competition in America’s own backyard. No, this isn’t all about China, although, it has a lot to do with China. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the coast of Latin America and the islands of the Caribbean to the beaches of Africa and the Greater Middle East, and even among the partners of the transatlantic community Beijing has sought to extend its power and influence. We should not stand by idly watch that happen. The Atlantic region is a huge and geopolitically complex area. From Greenland and Iceland in the north to Antarctica in the south, it covers approximately forty-six million square miles. It touches eighty littoral nation-states and dependent or autonomous territories – all pursuing a diverse set of interests and all confronting diverse geopolitical challenges. Handling risk in an area this vast and complicated requires a strategy.
V.S.: What impact do geopolitical theories have on the decisions of your country’s leaders?
James Jay CARAFANO: Think it is defining. The Republican and Democrat parties have become less politically and geographically diverse. As a result, instead of politics ending at the water’s edge, foreign policy is increasingly an extension of domestic politics. Republicans are more uniformly realists. The Democratic party is increasingly guided by a structuralist philosophy. The result is that depending on which party controls government foreign policies could look pretty different.
It is wrong to describe Republicans as isolationist. That is simply not true. Nor are Democrats pathologically committed to internationalism. These are caricatures of both policies. That said, there are real differences. Energy and environmental policies are a good example. The left is committed to net zero and a rapid transition to green technologies. The right believes traditional fossil fuels will dominate the energy mix for many decades to come.
V.S.: Do you consider it appropriate to collaborate with the Romanian GeoPolitica Magazine on these approaches?
We would be honoured to publish your analyses in the magazine’s pages!
James Jay CARAFANO: Of course, Romania is an increasingly important geostrategic flex point in the world. It is central to building the North-South infrastructure con-necting Europe. The country is critical for a “free and open” Black Sea, and a pivot point for the Middle Corridor.
V.S.: New technological changes have led to the emergence of new geopolitical theories such as GeoIntelligence: the geopolitics of information, which we promoted in Romania in 2014, Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence: the fifth dimension of geopolitics (2019) and Exopolitics: the geopolitics of outer space as the sixth geopolitical dimension (2021), theories that have been presented in the pages of GeoPolitica Magazine.
How do you assess these theories?
In the environment of an academic in your country are there such concerns?
James Jay CARAFANO: There is no question that outer space is a critical dimension of geopolitics. I absolutely believe that AI and quantum computing will be game-changers in the technology space.
V.S.: Please specify the impact of geopolitics on your state’s international relations, military strategy, economy, energy resources and security!
James Jay CARAFANO: For sure, the U.S. has the capacity to be energy super power and we ought to build out that capability. U.S. military presence in Asia, Middle East, and Europe is crucial as well as the strategic and conventional deterrence provided by U.S. forces. These are crucial global stability. The U.S. economy also must be resilient and robust. The U.S. has get its national debt under control and boost productivity. These are essential steps for the U.S. and important to our allies as well. A big part of this effort will be protecting the U.S. economy from malicious influence and dependence on China.
Dr. James Jay CARAFANO is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, an accomplished historian and teacher, as well as a prolific writer and researcher. He holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Georgetown University, as well as a master’s degree in strategy from the U.S. Army War College.
James Jay CARAFANO currently serves as The Heritage Foundation’s Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies; the E. W. Richardson Fellow; and the Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies. Previously he served on the Homeland Security Advisory Council convened by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He formerly was a senior fellow at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute. He also served on the congressionally-mandated Advisory Panel on Department of Defense Capabilities for Support of Civil Authorities, the National Academy’s Board on Army Science and Technology, and the Department of the Army Historical Advisory Committee.