At President Sun Yat-sen’s Side
In the fall of 1911 in London Homer Lea was informed that a new revolution was prepared in China. He very soon departed for France to sail to China. But he wanted to be their when the new Chinese republic was born. It was during the month long passage by sea he prepared the manuscript for his second geopolitical book, The Day of the Saxon.
The author and general arrived in time to see the goal of millions of Chinese become reality in Nanking on January 1, 1912: Chinese Republic with Sun Yat-sen its first president. Lea was made a full general and chief of staff of the president. Within months, however, Lea suffered a stroke and had to return to the United States. At home his new book was published. It sold fairly well with 7,000 copies and had a large international readership.
The Day of the Saxon and The Swarming of the Slavs
In the The Day of the Saxon he warned about the threat of Germany and Slavic peoples to the Anglo Saxon powers. Lea also warned of a future war between Germany and Russia and that such a war would lead to victory for Russia.
The second geopolitical book was not only a warning to Great Britain. Lea put emphasis on India and in a very clear way outlined the expansionist policies of Russia in Europe and Asia:
1. In the northwest to force Sweden from the Baltic littoral and establish the Russian frontier on that sea.
2. In the west to gain Ukraine and Belorussia from Poland.
3. In the south to gain the Black Sea, to create unrest in Turkey preparatory to invasion.
4. In the southeast to secure the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus.
5. In the east to move toward the Pacific and India.
He also noted what today lies behind Russian geopolitics:
Russia is European. It is also Asian.
Lea noted, however: On the other hand, while Russian soldiers have still to march for the first time on Indian soil, yet its conquest has always formed the basic principle of Russian expansion.
This was true in 1911 and is still true. The attempt in 1979 by the Soviet Union to reach India via Afghanistan failed. Had Lea been alive today he could been able to observe an independent India rising to great power status with an economic development even surpassing that of China.
After Sun Yat-sen was elected President of China Lea began writing a third geopolitial book, The Swarming of the Slavs. It was never completed. Lea passed away in 1912.
The Geopolitics of Homer Lea
Homer Lea was a believer in the possibility of war. He saw the reasons to be overpopulation of the earth, the necessity for survival and the competition for resources and transportation. Especially the competition for resources has become evident in the 21st century. This is especially significant for China of today. The present regime in Peking is persuing a doctrine of no greater moral. Signing off oil deals with totalitarian regimes it is just business, no political conditions. Sudan is one example Burma and Iran two other. No doubt today’s China is fearing the chokepoints of oil delivery…and wants to secure the oil reserves beneath the Spratly and Paracel islands.
China is increasingly dependant on resources, including oil and gas, being transported on ships from the south. The two most important Choke Points for the passage by sea to China are the Strait of Malacca and the Sunda Strait. Geopolitics is very much about future flashpoints of international politics and Homer Lea’s comments on competition for resources is very much about the geopolitics of flashpoints.
Wars could also be the result of aggression (this relates well to Russia of today) and economic expansion (which relates surprisingly well to the economic rise of China in the 21st century).
In his books Lea warns of states being located between great powers will be the location of future wars. As examples he mentioned Poland in Europe, which was truly a victim and partitioned by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 as a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. The Balkan countries was another “risk” area. In the Middle East he mentioned Iran and Afghanistan was also on this list.
In the same vain as Sir Halford Mackinder he regarded Great Britain, Germany and Russia as the important powers in the future. He wrote too early to understand that the real great player, the hegemon, would be the United States. But Lea also included Japan and China. N the 21st century China has also truly emerged as a great power. There are even those who believe that it might be a future hegemon. In Lea’s analysis Germany and Russia would attempt to expand into Poland. In reality Russia/Soviet Union would expand westward as far as Berlin in the west after the Second World War. Japan would be the “industrially controlling factor in Asia”. Indeed, Japan was just that until China rose in competition.
In the Middle East many eyes are on Iran/Persia in 2009 as the regime in Tehran is moving closer to completing nuclear weapons and long distance missiles. The main purpose is to control the area around the Persian Gulf. Already in 1909 Lea predicted this development (minus of course nuclear weapons, which did not exist in that time).
Japan and Russia were regarded as natural geopolitical allies. This did not come to pass. Instead Japan was to ally itself with Germany during the Second World War but Lea thought that there might be future friction between China and Russia. The future growth of Chinese power would be seen as a threat by Russia. In reality China and the Soviet Union were for a long time partners and Moscow contributed immensely to the establishment of Communist China. Starting already in the 1920s Comintern provided the Chinese Communists with financial support and weapons. The aid grew crucial after 1945 and led to victory of the Communists in 1949. It must be noted here, however, that the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek also depended on the refusal of a Democratic administration to support the Nanking government economically and with weapons. On India it is important to note that Lea predicted the dissolution of the British Empire in Asia and the independence of India.
Surprise attacks were the future of warfare:
In the future, it can be considered as an established principle that nations will more and more make war without previous notification, since modern facilities increase their ability to take their opponents by surprise and to strike the first blow as nearly as possible to their main
Both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are fresh in memory but of course Lea did not envision the type of “stateless entities” like Al Qaeda in the 21st century with its virtual caliphate.
Logistics and transportation would have a great impact on future warfare and Lea could of course not envision the profound influence of air power and heavy air transport starting in the Second World War. Future wars would start swiftly and would have much more destructive results. The technological revolutions of warfare (as a result in Afghanistan armed drones are
are for instance playing a vital role in the war on Muslim extremists). A recent important contribution on military revolution is Max Boot’s War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History 1500 to Today (2006).
A further prediction by Homer Lea was the great impact of internal policies and economic change in the geostrategy of states. Economic interdependence (globalization?) would not reduce conflict but rather heighten it. In 1909 Lea pointed out that Japan, if it wanted to extend her sovereignty on the Asian continent it would have to first gain control of the Pacific Ocean. If not her national greatness would diminish. Japan failed in the Second World War to do just that and in he beginning of the war Japanese armies were first in China and then in South East Asia.
Lea believed in professional armies. He was critical of the “citizen soldier” to fight in any
national conflict unless it was a “total war”. On the subject Lea wrote:
The soul of the soldier can only be developed by discipline, by honour and martial deeds. It cannot be constructed to order or dressed up with false shoulders in twenty-four days by uniforming (sic) a civilian volunteer or by comissioning and spurring him with purchased valor…
Quite rightly Lea pointed out that the amalgamation of small states into great political entities was the reason for a smaller number and frequency of wars. This was a correct remark in the beginning of the 20th century. After the Second World War conventional wars are far smaller in number. Most conflicts are civil wars, during the Cold War revolutionary wars and resulting counterinsurgencies.
Like many other geopoliticians and geostrategists Lea was a critic of disarmament. Armament was important for democratic societies. It reduced the costs of being on permanent war footing.
Homer Lea’s warning in 1909 about Germany and Japan is a prediction of great truth:
Should Germany on the one hand and Japan on the other continue to adhere rigorously to these laws [of national existence], resisting the deteriorating influence of industrialism, feminism, and political quackery, they will, in due time, by the erosive action of these elements on other nations, divide the world between them.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 geopolitics has returned with full and even greater force. The Soviets did not allow any geopolitical debate. It was an “imperialist science”. In today’s Russia it plays an important role in the context of international relations and is focused on the Eurasian roots of Russia, a culture with roots both in Europe and Asia.
Culture was also the main theme of Samuel P. Huntington, the cultural roots of conflicts. This theme was important in the writings of Homer Lea. The reasons for aggression were not economic or ideological. Robert Kaplan is another American writer who in books and articles has described the historical heritage of man for ethnic conflicts. Also crime, overpopulation, and tribalism contribute to violence in the world of today.
Geopolitical thinking is still relevant today. The single European nations are today united in the European Union (EU). Not so long ago, during the Iraq war the French wanted the EU to be independent of the United States and even rival the hegemon. A possible alliance between the EU and Russia would partly make real dreams of a Transcontinental Bloc once envisioned by German geopoliticians.
China’s economic system is the market economy but ruled by a totalitarian Communist party. This is far from the dream of Homer Lea, who wanted a China allied to the West (the United States and Great Britain). China has turned into an expansionist superpower and has replaced Japan in Asia when it comes to aggressive dreams of an empire. The vision of Lea has been realized in the Republic of China on Taiwan. The development of all China is closer to the dream of Chiang Kai-shek than to that of Mao’s extreme totalitarianism. It may well be that the vision of President Sun Yat-sen and his advisor will become reality in the future.
Homer Lea is in the first decade of the 21st century more relevant than ever with his theories on converging and intersection of lines coming from centers of power. He early pointed to a method for forecasting future wars and his theories had relevance from 1909 to 2009. They are of course also relevant for the future. In 2009 it is 100 years since the publication of Homer Lea’s first book, The Valor of Ignorance. It is time resurrect him and his ideas. Lea should be placed among the leading geopoliticians of the 20th and 21st centuries