Hubert Wala, “Strategic Flows, by Jacek Bartosiak” (Strategy & Future, 11 January 2021)
Strategy & Future is a Polish thinktank founded by lawyer / speaker / writer Jacek Bartosiak dedicated to stimulating and developing geopolitical thought and strategy for Poland and Central Europe. This film on how connections and flows between and among individuals, communities, organisations, nation states and their networks influence and are influenced by geopolitical / geostrategic concerns. At the level of nation states and their relations with one another, connections and flows which Bartosiak calls “strategic flows” (be they movements of people, trade in goods and services, flows of data, information and technology, and transportation logistics) not only determine the destinies of nations and their peoples but have also been subjected to varying forms of regulation including restrictions and outright bans. In his narration (a transcript of which can be found at this link), Bartosiak draws on history, and in particular recent history from 1945 onwards, to emphasise the importance of strategic flows as a major rationale (if not the major rationale) for the decisions that nations and major powers and superpowers especially make and have made in recent times.
Bartosiak flits between the example of Poland and larger powers such as the US to demonstrate how these nations’ physical geographies influence and determine the decisions they make with respect to defence and allocating resources to their militaries. He states that over the past 500 years, beginning with European nation states traversing the Atlantic Ocean to found colonies in the Americas and to open up trade routes to Asia, the World Ocean has become the major foundation over which global power can be exercised by nations. In the past, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Britain and France all vied for influence over the Atlantic Ocean and its networks and then over other oceans and theirs; since 1945, the dominant power that rules the World Ocean is the United States through its Navy.
European and then US control of the World Ocean produced its antithesis in other nations’ conquests of the Eurasian landmass and the construction of railways to strengthen their control of the lands of the Eurasian heartland. Nations such as Britain and France that were sea powers were also keen to dominate trade networks in regions of the heartland (the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia) to link their colonies with both land and sea routes.
In recent times, US control of the oceans, and the political influence exercised by the US by its military projection, has come to be challenged by the rise of China as a major economic power and as an alternative role model, ideologically as well as politically and economically, for other nations, especially Third World nations, to follow. Bartosiak concludes his talk by stating that a new era of power struggle has begun between China and the US, with China challenging the US in creating a new trade network (the Belt and Road Initiative) across the Eurasian heartland and into Africa and even the Pacific ocean, in disputing and undermining the assumptions underlying the international rules-based order, in determining and controlling narratives about who runs the world and how it should be run, and in presenting an alternative model of economic growth and development that is not dependent on understanding and following Western political ideologies.
I must confess that the transcript is not easy to follow – it does have a stream-of-consciousness direction – and the film is even less easy to follow. Bartosiak’s voice-over narration is very monotonous and his narrative would have been better served in being structured in sections organised chronologically and perhaps starting with Poland and then jumping to the US. The narrative would have been much easier to follow. The continuous background music is unnecessary and is unintentionally soporific. At least the collage of films, much of which is irrelevant to the narrative, will keep viewers awake.
My main criticisms of Bartosiak’s talk are that he appears very selective in choosing facts and other information that support his views, and he makes assumptions about China and Russia – two nations that happen to be designated enemies of the US, and by extension enemies of Poland – that are not supported by facts or later political and economic development. He blithely brushes aside the chaos and poverty Russia suffered in the 1990s as a result of President Yeltsin’s leadership. He interprets China’s BRI ambitions and the nation’s move into developing 5G technology as geostrategic moves by Beijing to break Eurasia away from US domination, ignoring the fact that through economic sanctions on China and other nations signing up to China’s BRI, the US is effectively retreating into isolation of a not-very splendid kind. He ignores the possibility that American military dominance of the World Ocean has come at a significant cost to the American people themselves in the form of decaying infrastructures across the US mainland, the loss of manufacturing jobs to China and Mexico from the 1990s onwards, and the destruction of the US middle classes by their politicians, the US financial industry and large US corporations, all of whom, Bartosiak might have noticed, are linked through money flows and shared ideologies.
If USE blog readers are still interested in watching the film, following the transcript is best recommended – unless they’re watching it as a cure for insomnia.