Incredible Satellite Photos Of The Top 10 Geopolitical Events Of The Decade

Editor’s note: STRATFOR have compiled what they believe to be the 10 most important geopolitical events of the last decade. They range from economic to military moments, each with the power to shake global affairs and policy.

It’s a worthwhile review of where we’ve been in the last 10 years, and may provide clues as to what moves are next on the global stage.

10. Dec. 1, 2009: Obama Announces a Surge in Afghanistan

An unmanned aerial vehicle over the farming community of Marjah in southwestern Afghanistan on Feb. 12, 2010.At a speech at West Point, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would continue American involvement in at least one major war in the Islamic world while continuing to engage in a smaller one. Operationally, he switched the U.S. focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, but from a broader view he maintained the focus on the Islamic world. The window of opportunity for other powers to act while the United States was otherwise occupied thus would remain open.

At a speech at West Point, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would continue American involvement in at least one major war in the Islamic world while continuing to engage in a smaller one. Operationally, he switched the U.S. focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, but from a broader view he maintained the focus on the Islamic world. The window of opportunity for other powers to act while the United States was otherwise occupied thus would remain open.

Image: Digital Globe

9. Aug. 7, 2008: Russo-Georgian War

The Roki Tunnel on Aug. 19, 2008. Connecting South Ossetia to Russia, it was essential for surging Russian armour and troops into the break-away Georgian enclave.

In the first major foreign military operation by Russia since Afghanistan, the Russians delivered two messages. One was that they were able and willing to use military force. The second was that being aligned with the United States does not provide protection. The message was heard in many capitals of the former Soviet Union, and is still being heard.

Image: Digital Globe

8. April 4, 2004: Iran Emerges as a Regional Power

The Fordo nuclear enrichment plant just outside of Qom, Iran on Dec. 4, 2010. The facility was held secret by the Iranian regime until Iran revealed it to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Sept. 21, 2009On April 4, 2004, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite leader in Iraq, started an uprising against the United States upon realising that Washington was not going to agree to a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq and therefore was going to block Iranian intentions. Having destroyed the Iraq-Iran balance of power, the United States forced the Iranians to act, and Tehran unleashed its militant allies. The shift by Iran, the largest conventional military power in the region aside from U.S. troops, to a more assertive strategy in Iraq extended to the region as a whole. We could point to many points where Iran shifted to this role, but April 4, 2004, seems the pivot.

On April 4, 2004, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite leader in Iraq, started an uprising against the United States upon realising that Washington was not going to agree to a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq and therefore was going to block Iranian intentions. Having destroyed the Iraq-Iran balance of power, the United States forced the Iranians to act, and Tehran unleashed its militant allies. The shift by Iran, the largest conventional military power in the region aside from U.S. troops, to a more assertive strategy in Iraq extended to the region as a whole. We could point to many points where Iran shifted to this role, but April 4, 2004, seems the pivot.

Image: Digital Globe

7. March 29, 2004: NATO Expansion

Tallinn, located 165 km from the Russian border, is the capital of Estonia - one of seven new NATO members to enter the Alliance in 2004. Estonia's membership, along with other states, brought the Western Alliance uncomfortably close to Russian population centres.

NATO expanded to include Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. In addition, on May 1, 2004 the European Union expanded to include Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Add to this the Orange Revolution of late 2004 and early 2005 in Ukraine and you see a massive movement eastward by the two Western institutions. This rang alarm bells in the Kremlin that are still ringing.

Image: Digital Globe

6. Oct. 19, 2010: Merkel and Sarkozy Propose New EU Structure

The Rhein river sits at the centre of the fertile Upper Rhine Plain of which Strasburg is the most important city. The plain, actually a rift valley, has been the site of centuries of conflict between European powers France and Germany. For the last decade however, the two countries have kept close together on reforming European institutions.German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy met in Deauville, France, to discuss the future of the European Union. Merkel had proposed changes to the European Union in which nations that do not follow EU rules and that require help be denied votes in EU councils and be placed under Brussels' supervision. Sarkozy agreed with Merkel's proposal. The original concept of a union of equals would be replaced by classes of membership based on behaviour. Given that the statement was made by the two major EU advocates and powers, the proposal is uniquely credible. It would not only transform the European Union, it would reopen fundamental questions on sovereignty and national rights that had been considered closed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy met in Deauville, France, to discuss the future of the European Union. Merkel had proposed changes to the European Union in which nations that do not follow EU rules and that require help be denied votes in EU councils and be placed under Brussels' supervision. Sarkozy agreed with Merkel's proposal. The original concept of a union of equals would be replaced by classes of membership based on behaviour. Given that the statement was made by the two major EU advocates and powers, the proposal is uniquely credible. It would not only transform the European Union, it would reopen fundamental questions on sovereignty and national rights that had been considered closed.

Image: Digital Globe

5. March 26, 2000: Putin Elected President of Russia

Russian military hardware staged in Moscow on May 2, 2010, just a few days prior to the Victory Day public holiday celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

Putin's election didn't quite happen in this decade, but it was such an overwhelmingly important event that it has been crucial in defining the decade. Under the communists, Russia had been poor but powerful. Under Boris Yeltsin it became even poorer and weak. Putin's election was the moment when Russia started to reverse the consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union, which Putin called the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. As Russia has strengthened in the past decade, its regional influence has surged, profoundly affecting the former Soviet Union and Europe as well as other regions.

Image: Digital Globe

4. March 20, 2003: U.S. Invades Iraq

One of Saddam Hussein's Palaces in Baghdad on March 27, 2003, just days after the U.S. military entered the city.

The decision to invade Iraq defined American power through most of the rest of the decade. Almost all U.S. ground forces were committed to the war. The war split the United States from several major European powers, creating tensions that still haven't healed. It also created windows of opportunity for both Russia and China, allowing them to pursue their interests without fear of a U.S. military response. The failure to anticipate a powerful insurgency left the United States off balance globally for the decade.

Image: Digital Globe

3. Sept. 15, 2008: Lehman Brothers Goes Bankrupt

An abandoned housing subdivision hard hit by foreclosures in North Las Vegas, United States. Image taken on Nov. 13, 2010.

The global financial crisis was brewing for years, but Sept. 15, 2008, was the breaking point. After Lehman Brothers, any illusion that normal processes could manage the crisis went out the window. The consequences reverberated through the international system, splitting the United States from Europe, dividing the Europeans and causing China to face the abyss of what a deep global recession could mean for an export-based economy. The crisis continues to reverberate in domestic politics and in relations between countries, particularly in Europe. In a way, Sept. 15, 2008, represented the end of the post-Cold War world.

2. Dec. 11, 2001: China Enters the WTO

A comparison of downtown Shanghai from 2004 (top photo) to 2010 (bottom photo) illustrating the explosive growth that has taken place in six years.

China had been surging economically since it changed its economic policy under Deng Xiaoping. It continued this surge into the last decade. Many factors influenced the rise, but Dec. 11, 2001, is both a symbolic and practical event driving the second phase of China's development surge, hypercharging exports and opening the door for the production and sale of more advanced products. China's economic rise in the last decade also began the more complex process of China's entry into the international political system.

Image: Digital Globe

1. Sept. 11, 2001: Al Qaeda Attacks the U.S.

Ground Zero on Aug. 27, 2010.

The post-Cold War world was built around the end of history, the idea that economics had supplanted geopolitics. On Sept. 11, history spoke up once again as the radical Islamist group al Qaeda attacked the United States. The attack reshaped the priorities of the world's only global power both internally and externally. Internally, the American priority became homeland defence. Externally, the global system was reshaped as the United States focused its attention on the Islamic world. This altered the way the world worked for a decade.

Image: Digital Globe

Now, what's STRATFOR think we're in store for next?

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