Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gas Pipeline Diplomacy

Yesterday's blog post about riddling the shrinking cities problem challenges all of us to remake our mental maps of home. I hazard to guess that my idea still leaves most readers scratching their heads. A change in geographic pespective is a lot to ask, but it isn't all that different from the calls for a more regional approach to Rust Belt issues.

In hopes of advancing the concept, I offer a New York Times article about the geopolitics of natural gas:

Europe has sought to build stronger economic, trade and political ties with the countries of Central Asia and North Africa without promising them any prospect of European Union membership in an effort to promote stability and economic development. Mr. Fischer sees Nabucco as an important part of that.

He is convinced that Turkey plays a pivotal role between Europe and Central Asia and, in fact, the Middle East, particularly since the Turkish government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has begun to carve out its own foreign policy priorities, which are focused on the region. Its biggest foreign policy shifts have been its decision to restore diplomatic relations with Armenia, to reach out to Iran and to improve ties with Syria.

Through Nabucco, “relationships between Turkey and Europe could have a chance of really improving,” said Mr. Fischer, who — unlike Mrs. Merkel’s conservative bloc — ardently supports Turkey’s admission into the European Union.

The Nabucco strategy articulated above is an alternative to the thorny question of Turkey's EU membership. Expanding the boundaries of economic and political cooperation is controversial. There is considerable resistance to admitting Turkey into the club, particularly in Germany (see Gastarbeiter). Short of political fiat, the inclusion of Turkey seems unlikely.

Fischer's recommendation is to increase connectivity between Europe and Turkey via the pipeline. This is the same geopolitical vision expressed in Parag Khanna’s TED talk I blogged about a few months ago regarding China's intentional export of talent. The idea is to increase the interdependence of two political geographies for mutual benefit. It is a kind of Trojan Horse that refuses to see things in terms of a zero-sum game.

To take a Pittsburgh-centric stance, this model could be applied to the talent shortage problem. Export promising high school graduates to energy hubs such as Denver, thereby increasing the connectivity between the two regions. The Pittsburgh job market will become increasingly well known at institutions such as the Colorado School of Mines.

Pittsburgh should incentivize a few key destinations for future members of the Burgh Diaspora. Targeting higher education makes the most sense since that demographic is most likely to leave the host state with private schools being ideal. This is making the best out of the inevitable out-migration, which is currently seen as a lost investment in human capital. Rust Belt cities are essentially ignoring what could be a significant comparative advantage, shrinking population.

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