Archive for the ‘Geopolitics’ Category

The resistance in the US and Canada to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline by Transcanada Pipelines has hemmed in that company’s ability to bring new oil to refineries on the US Gulf coast. It has also left Transcanada vulnerable to political whim and environmental protests. I’m not necessarily saying that the latter are bad things, but they do restrict freedom of action. Transcanada’s decision to start the process to build the Energy East Pipeline to ship Alberta and Saskatchewan oil to eastern Canada and eventually overseas markets provides additional options and freedom of action to sell western Canadian oil.

With freedom of action, you can select the time and place to attack and keep your competitors off guard. It is also an opportunity to diversify options which create dilemmas for competitors and additional ways around existing or potential obstacles to growth.

Are your decisions today likely to hem you in in the short, medium, or long term? What can you do to innovate now while maintaining or safeguarding future freedom of action?

Richard Martin is a consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

The Obama Administration seems quite clueless about realpolitik. It’s foreign policy reduces to “be nice and hope for the best.” They need to grow some cojones. Cancelling a meeting with Putin is nothing compared to real leverage.

The Russians are not Western allies, and never have been. I think I read last week or something in the WSJ that Putin is a classic strongman. He has to be perceived as strong in order to maintain his power. If he looses power, he’s probably going to end up the same way that Mubarak did in Egypt, which is also what awaits Assad. Or worse, like Saddam or Khaddafi.

The US and its Western allies should be doing things to put Putin on the spot and force him back. But since Obama came to power, there has been nothing but “strong words” and posturing, but no real action, from what I can perceive. The idea of cancelling plans for ballistic missile defence in eastern Europe without any Russian concessions set the tone. The Russians are trying to push everyone around in the Arctic. Surely there is something to be done.

On the other hand, I don’t perceive that the US has a very strong hand right now. For instance, NASA is completely dependent on the Russians for sending astronauts into space and bringing them back. The Russians have maintained their position in space and consequently have a lot of concrete leverage. They also send a lot of natural gas to Europe. The Western countries have been saving the Russians from themselves since the end of the Cold War by helping them disarm and clean up their nuclear mess. However, striking at that might not be a good idea because it could lead to proliferation.

If the Obama administration isn’t doing this kind of assessment, they need to start right now and use it to good effect. Why not expulse a few Russian diplomats? I’m sure there are few that could be caught spying. Or how about saying something to embarass Putin, put him on the spot and diminish him in the eyes of the Russian people?

The Great Game is on (it was never off), so Obama needs to get in gear and start pressuring the Soviets… oops I mean the Russians. Talk is good, but so is real leverage.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

Brilliant Manoeuvre
Disable your opponent’s centre of gravity–his unique source of balance and strength–and do so quickly and with resolve when you have a window of opportunity.

Whatever you make think of the overall political and strategic rationale, the US-led invasion of Iraq in early 2003 is a textbook case of attacking when the time is right even though you aren’t fully ‘ready.’ Coalition forces invaded Iraq with lightning speed and continually kept the Iraqi forces reeling. The offensive had so much momentum that there was barely time to assemble and process prisoners. American forces headed almost straight for Baghdad–the strategic objective–and didn’t waste time with sidefights and securing flanks. This is also exactly how the German invasion of France in 1940 played out. The Germans headed straight for the Channel coast in order to cut off the bulk of French mobile forces that had moved forward into Belgium where they expected the bulk of the German army to attack.

These historical military examples show that there are occasions when boldness and speed can more than make up for uncertainty, relative weakness, and lack of resources. They also demonstrate that you have to aim for the centre of gravity to disable it as quickly as possible. Whether you’re in sales, product development, procurement, etc., the best objective is to attack your opponent’s or your problem’s centre of gravity quickly and directly.

Richard Martin is a consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the erection of the Berlin Wall. A little known fact is that the “wall” actually ran the entire length of the Inner German Border.

I saw the wall at a place called Hof in 1989, near the Inner German-Czech border. I was serving as an officer at 4th Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in Germany at the time. We visited a unit of the 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment near there. They took us to a border point. It was sobering to see the “wall.” Two rows of chain link fences about six feet apart with barbed wire and electrified wires at the top. There was also a wire running down the middle with a very mean half-starved German Shepherd patrolling his particular length of fence. Nearby there was a concrete guard tower about 50 feet off the ground manned with border guards with AK47s and, no doubt, machine guns.
At the location they brought us, there was an East German textile factory just on the other side, with women looking at us from the windows, and waving. The American Staff Sergeant had warned us all prior to going that we were not to wave back at the girls because the East Germans would take pictures and then doctor them, say to show a NATO soldier flipping the bird instead of innocently waving at a pretty girl on the other side. Wouldn’t you know it, we weren’t there 30 seconds that some dolt couldn’t help himself and waved back. The American NCO immediately sent him back to the bus.
Our German translator stood there and had tears in his eyes. It was sobering and moving, and I will never forget the experience.

© 2011 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted for non-commercial purposes with full and proper attribution.

I’m not against oil per se, or any other energy source for that matter. However, developments in recent years lead me to question how long Western economies will remain dependent on oil, particularly gasoline to propel automobiles. Gasoline consumption in the US appears to have peaked a few years ago, and continues on its downward trend. Substitution of lower consuming cars is just getting underway: hybrids, plug-in electric vehicles, continuing increases in efficiency of gasoline engines, more diesel engines, etc.

As electricity becomes progressively more important in vehicle propulsion, we can expect demand for electricity to continue rising. That means more centralized electricity production. These plants will continue to be fuelled by (hopefully cleaner) coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, and possibly wind and solar sources (though not in any great quantity for the latter).

On the other hand, with the massive growth in Asia, they will take up the slack in oil demand and eventually surpass Western based consumption. Countries such as China and India will continue investing massively in oil production and development of reserves in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Russia will probably also supply their needs. So, we will have a block of economic juggernauts getting their oil from underdeveloped countries with authoritarian regimes. Neither side cares much about human rights, political freedom, or the environment.

© 2011 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted for non-commercial purposes with full and proper attribution.

It’s a fallacy to think that war can be prevented by having intertwined economies. If it were, there would be no civil wars such as what happened in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. If anything, it can create even more animosity between countries because it can provide an excuse to claim inequality and victimhood, both good excuses for going to war.

© 2010 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes authorized with proper attribution.

I will be teaching a course in Management of Humanitarian Assistance Projects as part of the Summer Term of the Masters in Project Management at Université du Québec en Outaouais (May-June 2010). This will be the second time I teach this course, and I’m looking forward to it a lot, especially as I will be teaching to both the English- and French-language cohorts.

We will using the Sphere Project standards for humanitarian assistance projects. This is the internationally recognized approach. However, I will bring my own real-world experience to bear in managing complex projects in crisis-ridden international environments.

For more information, you can contact me at 514-453-3993, or by email at

The world economy needs some kind of global currency, or else a power that is willing to backstop international trade and exchange. There has always been an economic superpower (some would say hegemonic) that is at the center of global trade networks and that provides a global currency, or ensures the safety of payments. First it was the Italian city states, then Holland, and Britain, and since WWII, the U.S. Interestingly, all of those centers have also been the dominant and enduring naval power, with an ability to both interdict hostile merchant shipping and directly challenge any other navy in the world.

As long as the U.S. remains the dominant naval power and that its various economic centers stay at the top of the global production and trade pyramids, then it is in no danger of losing its dominant position. However, history has also shown that countries have swung between greater and lesser forms of free trade and protectionism, capitalism and mercantilism, and market driven or regulated economies. I believe we are at the beginnings of a swing towards protectionism, mercantilism and regulation, even to the point of a renewal of state ownership. One could argue that the various nationalisations of financial risks and even assets is only temporary, but in my mind it has already broken the unwritten assumption of the last decades that government can only be bad if it tries to regulate economic activity or be an economic actor.

© 2009 Richard Martin