Special to WorldTribune.com
Editor’s Note: The following analysis echoes assessments heard last week in Washington from normally upbeat insiders. One former CIA analyst who held senior posts in an Democrat administration wonders if the U.S. will survive and doesn’t want to eywitness its demise. Another veteran warrior, in but not of the “Swamp”, suggested that within a decade the only safe space on Earth may be in the far reaches of Siberia. Neither they nor the following analysis made reference to the surreal standoff in Korea where the world’s most marginalized regime exercises out-sized influence.
Change, and the prospect of change, now breathes urgency into almost all geopolitical frameworks and processes around the world. There is a sense that a rush toward “seizing victory” at this 11th hour may avert a collapse into chaos, disorientation, and the unknown.
It is this visceral and emotional response in most societies — even the most advanced — which has relegated strategic planning to secondary consideration, if it has even that lip-service. There is hardly a society in the world which does not presently feel threatened, or feel a sense of uncertainty.
Almost no major power has been able to return to geopolitical strategic analysis and planning. Force structures and strategic planning have continued in forms which would have been recognizable 75 years ago, with some new technologies “bolted on”. Global society transformed at an historically unprecedented rate after World War II, but the Cold War represented a suspension of the need for dynamic geopolitical thinking. As a result, grand strategy thinking (context) became forgotten.
Leadership became management. And management is about process, not outcomes. Despite this, because of changing global demography, the ongoing processes now face interruption, with or without leadership or disruptive actions. So, in most countries, factions which represent process, or which have controlled politics to the point where power has become an entitlement, are entering an emotional phase as an unknown world approaches.
- The People’s Republic of China achieved dominion over Africa without firing a shot, and dominates much of the world’s politics and economics, but Presidaent Xi Jinping knows that he must rapidly suppress looming domestic problems, based on population transformations (numbers, ages, movements), and a massively growing food and water shortage. Xi may gain the world just as he loses China. He is in a race to bring the fruits of global success home before domestic difficulties overwhelm him. Authoritarianism is critical to his control, but will limit prestige and foreign investment. Xi does understand geopolitics, which is why he has a great sense of urgency. He must be reckless to deliver prizes to keep the PRC unified, but must bluff to deter serious challenge.
- The European Union, Brexit, and the rise of nationalism: The EU leadership — a bureaucracy on steroids — cannot allow a successful exit from the EU by the United Kingdom, especially in light of rising nationalism in ancient components of its member states. Its plan is to either ensure that the UK does not leave, or if leave it must, then it should be seen to fail as a result. Brussels has no plan to achieve economic or political viability absent the UK, and, losing legitimacy, will turn to enforcement, particularly turning against free trade by artificial protectionism. The UK will return to being the free trader and will benefit by virtue of a strategic flexibility and, if it embraces again a respect for its component elements, particularly its partnership with Scotland, it can be the model for Europe.
- The United States: Can the U.S. re-invent itself and re-unify before the urbanists and the nationalists create a political impasse which paralyzes governance and the economy? If the urbanists succeed in removing the Electoral College from the political system, it will remove the impact of geography and the rights of states, allowing all political power to concentrate into a few cities. And the lesser cities will defer to the major coastal cities. That would provide the incentive for a new secessionism in the regions, because the situation would so closely parallel the situation in 1861, when the efficient northern cities abandoned the south (and subsequently defeated it). Can the U.S. return to a process of inclusion? Or will Washington, like Madrid’s ultimatum to Catalonia, merely demand obeisance? If the latter path is taken, then the Union may not hold.
- Africa and the collapse of colonial boundaries: Few sub-Saharan African states have any compelling rationale to retain the colonial boundaries they inherited, and growing economic challenges will make a return to much smaller geopolitical entities — with historical ethnic, cultural, and linguistic commonalities — appealing. External pressures, particularly those from the PRC and international bodies, are the drivers in sustaining modern state structures which embrace ethno-linguistic diversity. Historical, local identity drivers may be the only galvanizing elements, particularly in keeping historical empires (or confederations) such as Ethiopia or Libya together.
- Australasia, and Canada, and the loss of identity and purpose: As with many “modern”, or constructed nation-states, Australasia (Australia and New Zealand) and Canada have difficulty in defining themselves unless confronted by an existential and visible threat. But until that threat emerges, these nation-states continue to unravel over issues of social unimportance.
- South Asia, or much of it, is on a roller coaster, searching for identity and for unity. India and Pakistan, in particular, find unity in only a couple of their institutions: the civil service and the military; and in the sense of nationhood which was bestowed by their era as satraps of the British Empire. Achieving cohesion sufficient to deliver great economic performance has yet to occur. In Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan, true viability has yet to be achieved.
- Many Middle Eastern states are searching for cohesion, and only a few societies have it, even though often with difficulty: Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iran, Oman. Northern Yemen, Ethiopia, and Syria can rebuild their historical unity. Turkey, however, with only a century of post-Ottomanism behind it, has unwound the Kemalist attempt to build a modern state. The Ottoman era had already died and will not be revived by a coercive leadership’s desire for ancient glories. Great internal divisions will break the country apart as Turkey’s leadership runs out of cash and power before its internal adversaries — long suppressed by a Turkic minority — rise.