Latin America and the war in Ukraine: 21st Century geopolitics and the emergence of binary maps

It is neither a "clash of civilisations" nor "East vs. West" what is unsettling the international arena, whose foundations are creaking: it is the disconnection between institutions and regimes and emerging realities along with various forms of autocratic domination that are trying to prevail and threaten the values and principles of modern civilisation, democracy and human rights.

The interstate system on which the international order was built after World War II - represented by the institutions, agencies and regimes established by the United Nations to secure global peace and security, including the Security Council and the veto rights of the superpowers - is preferable to the Armed Peace or the international anarchy of the contending empires and expansionist powers that preceded it.

However, this core premise of the contemporary multilateral system has faltered in recent years, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine has dealt it a new and devastating blow. The principle of legal equality and sovereign integrity of states enshrined by the UN Charter is being undermined, and the self-granted rights of the great powers to subjugate countries, territories and populations are re-emerging on a world map where anarchy prevails, and law is imposed by force.

Vladimir Putin's Russia has brutally brought us back to the classic geopolitics of inter-imperial disputes, claiming that NATO and the European Union are not free associations between sovereign states but part of the “western empire” that threatens ''Greater Russia''. This attempt to recreate the East-West conflict of the bipolar Cold War world upends the classic "continental heartland", "pivot area" or "world island" theory developed by the English geographer and politician Halford Mackinder in the early 20thcentury and embraced decades later by Zbigniew Brzezinski to explain the "great global chessboard" on which the post-war international arena was reconfigured.

In 1919 Mackinder summed this up in a phrase that shaped the matrix of geopolitics in the last century: "Whoever dominates Eastern Europedominates the Heartland; whoever dominates the Heartland dominates the 'island-world'; whoever dominates the 'island-world' controls the world".

That vast part of the world - Eurasia - corresponded to that occupied by the Russian Empire, then the USSR, from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic.

From the Pax Britannica of the 19th century to the world wars and the Pax Americana that followed in the 20th century, we have now returned to the Mackinder and Brzezinski world map adopted as a state doctrine by the Russia of Vladimir Putin. "The post-Cold War is over for good, we are in an all-out confrontation with the West", wrote Kremlin adviser Dmitry Suslov. In this neo-imperial vision, Ukraine is conceived as an integral part of Greater Russia, ignoring its status as a sovereign state in a war of aggression that was also perpetrated with ethno-territorial allegations that bear ominous genocidalimplications.

Thus, there is a sort of transfer from one century to another of the Western geopolitical outlook on the East that prevailed in the 20th century to another in the 21st century that challenges the post-war world order, international peace and security, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, what is also exposed is the limitation of the binary cognitive maps that used to view global conflicts as a confrontation between East and West to explain and move through the systemic transition we are experiencing.

As Giacomo Marramao observes, "there is only one way to understand the reasons for this growing instability on a global scale: to take note of the uselessness of the old maps of the state, the economy and society. We need to build new maps capable of guiding us in the apparently unfathomable logic that regulates the game of alliances and conflicts, disrupting the hierarchies of influence between the various players on the planetary arena: political elites, financial powers, geopolitical blackmail over energy sources, newmovements". (https://www.clarin.com/opinion/nuevo-mapa-mundo_0_g0ly9JbjU6.html).

The war in Ukraine is part of this period representation, reflecting the crossroads and battles that are taking place in every society and within every country in a world still blighted by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic: nation-states crumbling at their foundations with archipelagos of diverse social realities within them. It is not a clash of civilisations or East versus West: it is the decoupling of established international institutions and regimes from emerging realities. Moreover, the various forms of autocratic domination, surveillance and submission are trying to impose themselves both in the East and in the West and threaten the values and principles of modern civilisation, democracy, and human rights, whether in the name of the homeland or in the name of the imperatives of global geopolitics.

Latin America, which in the 20th century endured the condition of being the setting for disputes, whether overt or covert, between the great powers, has also been a source of inspiration, a driving force and a key player in international organisations, the institutions that make up the multilateral system and humanitarian law. At the current crossroads, each Latin American country is once again grappling with a difficult dilemma: how to avoid an involvement imposed by the "big players" while at the same time being aware that it cannot remain removed from a conflict that has global reach due to its multiple direct and indirect impacts on and consequences for the lives of peoples on a local, national, and regional scale.


Fabián Bosoer is a political scientist and journalist. Master in International Relations. Professor and researcher at UNTREF/IDEIA, editor in chief of the Opinion section of Clarín. Author, among other books, of Generals and Ambassadors (Ediciones B, 2005), Malvinas, final chapter (Capital Intelectual, 2007), Braden or Perón, the hidden history (El Ateneo, 2012).

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