As a social studies teacher of world geography and contemporary issues courses at The Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy, an Austin, Texas-based high school, I am always incorporating current events and geopolitical analysis into my lessons. In the past, I have used publications such as The Economist and The New York Times as sources, but their coverage of countries and regions of the world can be uneven.
How I Became Aware of Stratfor
I have taught an elective course called Contemporary Issues for 19 years. It focuses on American foreign policy from 1945 to the present. I am always looking for quality written and primary sources of current and historical analysis to further my own and my students’ understanding of world affairs and world geography.
A friend of mine introduced me to Stratfor, a great source of geopolitical forecasting and analysis. When I received an invitation to hear a talk by Fred Burton a few weeks later, I jumped at the chance. At the time, Fred was the Vice President of Tactical Analysis at Stratfor. He had just written a book about his time working in counterterrorism operations in the State Department and he was giving a book talk at the local Jewish Community Center. I asked Fred if he would be interested in speaking to my Contemporary Issues students about his experiences and his views on current events. Without hesitation, he accepted, and that began my 10-year relationship with Stratfor.
I am always looking for quality written and primary sources of current and historical analysis to further my own and my students' understanding of world affairs and world geography.
Fred has visited my Contemporary Issues class every year to share his varied experiences. He provides a firsthand perspective on how organizations like the State Department and the National Security Council operate. During his presentations, he asks students how they would advise the president in a particular world crisis situation and presses them to explain their reasoning.
Based on his real-life experiences, he gives the students feedback on how their ideas would be responded to by various policymakers such as the secretary of state or CIA director. His presentations tie directly in to the student projects on the U.S. government's involvement in Third World countries such as Nicaragua and Vietnam during the Cold War.
Stratfor in the Classroom
I was given a free online access to Stratfor Worldview, and found a wealth of analysis rooted in geography and history that helped to shape my understanding of the world we live in. I teach ninth grade world geography as my main assignment, and it immediately became clear to me how valuable this resource would be to me and my students.
I was able to distribute Statfor Worldview articles as foundational readings in my unit on Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. At the beginning of the unit, students read the article "The Geopolitics of Russia." For their corresponding project, students choose a country from this region to represent at a mock summit meeting on economics and security. They then prepare treaties to work on during the summit.
As part of their research, I provide them with more Stratfor articles on the region. These articles have been extremely useful to my students because it is difficult to find information and analysis on the geopolitics of countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and other former Soviet Union countries. Students are able to write realistic treaties, and the entire summit experience is more authentic with their thinking rooted in a deeper knowledge and understanding of the history and current geopolitical situation of the region.
Building Upon Success
Last summer, I was asked if I would be interested in providing free access to Stratfor Worldview for all 350 freshman students of world geography. This was part of a project at Stratfor to understand how to provide the most value to teachers and students at various educational levels. I jumped at this great opportunity!
The Stratfor team was excited by the prospect of our students using Stratfor as a learning tool, and the possibility of providing access to more high schools in the state and throughout the country. As of today, all of my students have Stratfor Worldview accounts and have been its articles to research information on countries for their Country Demographics Project, their Core-Periphery Country Analysis Project, and their weekly current events assignments.
Students are able to write realistic treaties, and the entire summit experience is more authentic with their thinking rooted in a deeper knowledge and understanding of the history and current geopolitical situation of the region.
The results of using Stratfor more extensively in the classroom are clear. The quality of the students' work has vastly improved due to their depth of understanding. Students read in-depth reports on assigned topics and come away more aware of the forces shaping the world around them, which is critical to their learning. Several of my former students and one current student have gone on to jobs and internships at Stratfor.
The Eurasia Summit Assignment
A Central Asian and Transcaucasus Summit on Economics and Security
Background: With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, many of its states became independent countries and part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). With this new independence came new governments, the expression of long bottled-up ethnic and religious identities, and the struggle for survival outside of the communist system.
Over 25 years later, many of these countries are still struggling with authoritarian rulers, economic stagnation, drug trafficking, and the rise of Islamic radicalism. The first target of America's "War on Terror" was the Central Asian country of Afghanistan, which was ruled by militant Islamists known as the Taliban. They were supported by and giving shelter to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, al Qaeda.
Some of these former Soviet states are rich in resources, especially oil, but find those resources difficult to extract and ship out because they are landlocked and lack pipelines. Other countries are resource poor and struggling to keep their states alive. Historically, the 19th century competition between Britain and Russia for control and influence in this region was known as "The Great Game." A new Great Game is now underway, and the United States, European Union, Russia, and China are all very interested in helping develop the oil exporting potential in these former Soviet states and have strategic military interests in the region as well.
Working with a partner or by yourself, choose one of the countries from this region to represent at a regional summit on economics and security. As representatives of your country at this summit, you have the power to conclude treaties with the other countries concerning trade, resource issues, security issues such as border disputes, terrorist threats, drug trafficking, threats from outside countries, etc. At this summit, your leaders and the people of your country expect you make treaties that will benefit your country and bring stability to the region. You will create bilateral agreements (between two countries) and multilateral agreements (between many countries).
To prepare for the summit your group must do the following 3 things:
- Part 1 – Geopolitical analysis paper
- Part 2 – Treaty proposals: Write four proposals that you would like to see become treaties during the summit. Each proposal should be explained in one-half to one page and should answer why you are proposing it and what you hope to accomplish.
- Part 3 – Country Ad: Create an ad for your country.
Part 1 – Geopolitical Country Analysis
Write an analysis of the geopolitics of your country. Explain the kind of power or lack of power your country has, and why. You should consider physical geography, location, cultural factors, political reality, economic situation, relationships with other countries, and any other factors you think are important. You should include how your country fits into the World Systems Model (Core-Semi Periphery-Periphery) in the world and the region. This should be one to two pages typed, double spaced, size 12 Times New Roman
For your main source, you should use Stratfor Worldview at www.stratfor.com. You should find your country by clicking on "Sections" and then going to "Regions and Countries," or go to https://www.stratfor.com/region. You should read the "Synopsis" as well as a variety of articles related to your country and the region. You should search Stratfor's website or YouTube channel to learn about the geographic challenges of your country.
Part 2 – Treaty Proposals
Your country is required to come to class with four treaty proposals. Two of the treaties must deal with economic issues like trade, resources, pipeline routes, etc. Two of the treaties must deal with security-related issues like border disputes, terrorism, security threats, military alliances, etc. At least one of the four treaty proposals must be multilateral, meaning that it involves three or more countries. Each treaty proposal should be one-half to one page long, double spaced, size 12 Times New Roman.
Each proposal should include the reason(s) why you are proposing it, what you hope to achieve for your country, and how it will benefit the other country(-ies) involved. Make sure you are aware of the political and economic situation your country is in and the diplomatic relationships you have with the other countries at the summit. You are trying to achieve what is best for your country. You may create more than four treaty proposals and can come up with other ones during the summit. The treaties may also be revised during the summit.
Each person should create at least one ArcGIS map using www.arcgis.com/home/ to show what your treaty is proposing. Research tips for geopolitical analysis and treaty proposals:
1.) Radio Free Europe http://www.rferl.org/ Click on the Central Asia, Caucasus, and/or Russia and other tabs. This news site has great region-specific information and articles.
2.) CIA World Factbook
3.) Information from Stratfor can also be found in the reading packet on Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucuses. It is very important for you to read the Stratfor packet. It contains a wealth of information on the region and will help you tremendously in thinking geopolitically and developing ideas for treaty proposals.
4.) BBC Country Profiles http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/country_profiles/default.stm
5.) NY Times Topics Section – click on your country in the “Places” list http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/places/all/index.html
Part 3 – Advertisement for Your Country
Create an advertisement for your country. It should be in color, include at least one picture, and have a slogan/catchphrase. The purpose of your ad is to entice someone from outside your country to travel to your country and/or to do business with your country. It can be drawn or computer-generated. You could use Google Slides, Google Draw, or Canva. You will present your ad at the beginning of the summit.
Part 4 – The Summit
To be prepared for the summit, you need to read the packet of articles from Stratfor on Central Asia and the Caucuses, do outside research on your country, take notes, and discuss issues and strategies with your fellow countrymen and countrywomen.
You need to think critically and analyze what would be in the best interest of your country and for the whole region. What kind of relations do you want with your neighbors? What do you have to offer them and what do they have to offer you? What do you need to boost your economy, secure your borders, keep your society from falling apart, and hold on to power? What kind of relations do you want with the United States, the European Union China, Russia, and Iran — military, economic/corporate, cultural, aid, etc. and why? You are expected to be involved in negotiations during the entire summit.
You will be graded on both the quantity and the quality of your participation. Make sure you don't stray far from your country's interests. This project will be worth 210 points:
- 100 points for the Geopolitical Country Analysis and the treaty proposals
- 30 points for the advertisement
- 70 points for successfully conducting yourself during the summit
- 10 points for the bibliography
I will represent any countries not chosen. Countries to choose from:
- Ukraine (if needed)
- Germany (if needed)
- Moldova (if needed)
- United States of America
- Belarus (if needed)
- Iran (if needed)
- Turkey (if needed)
Central Asian/Transcaucasus Summit Project Rubric
Part 1: Geopolitical Country Analysis Paper (50 points)
- Thesis statement about geopolitical situation of country _____ (5 pts)
- Analysis of the geopolitical situation of country _____ (30 pts)
- Connection made to World Systems Theory
- (Core-Semi Periphery-Periphery status) _____(5 pts)
- Organization, grammar, spelling, punctuation _____(10 pts)
Part 2: Four Treaty Proposals (50 points/10 points per treaty and 5 points per map)
Treaty proposals clearly explain the issues and are relevant to the current situation of the countries involved. One of the treaty proposals is multilateral. Treaty proposals are typed. GIS maps show details of two treaties.
- Two treaties dealing with economic issues _____ (20 pts)
- Two treaties dealing with security issues _____ (20 pts)
- Two GIS maps _____ (10 pts)
Part 3: Country Advertisement (30 points)
- Ad has at least one picture and a slogan that makes sense _____ (15 pts)
- Ad is colored and neat. _____ (15 pts)
Part 4: Summit Participation (70 points)
- Ambassador shows extensive knowledge of the issues facing his/her country and of the region as a whole _____ (35 pts)
- Ambassador engages in active negotiations with the other ambassadors throughout the summit _____ (35 pts)
As the world's leading geopolitical intelligence platform, Stratfor brings global events into valuable perspective, empowering businesses, governments and individuals to more confidently navigate their way through an increasingly complex international environment. Learn more at Stratfor.com.
The Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) High School is a four-year comprehensive, public, urban, advanced academic magnet high school of 1,191 students. The class of 2018 numbers 260 students. The program recruits the most academically advanced students from public and private middle schools in Austin; as such, admission to LASA is competitive, based on test scores, previous accomplishments and teacher recommendations.