Uncertainty about the immediate future seems to permeate most societies around the world. Few look far beyond the immediate. But what is now being put in place with the current global upheaval will form the basis of the strategic framework for the coming decades.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying that “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. Updating this in The Art of Victory, I noted: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will lead to disaster.” And the hallmark of the world entering 2015 is that there are few governments which actually have defined goals of a comprehensive or “grand strategy” nature. Many governments have short- to medium-term projects and plans, but few, if any, have a contextual view of themselves and have articulated measurable national goals into the mid-term (20 years or so) and longer periods.
What is occurring is not merely the possibility (and probability) of a major transfer of power, wealth, and influence from one region of the globe to another, but also a change in the way power is exercised, wars are fought, and languages and beliefs managed. For the first time in some two centuries, there is ambiguity — and potential debate — as to whether mankind is progressing or regressing, so accustomed have we become to the belief that human progress occurs on a linear and irreversible basis. We have forgotten the Dark Ages. We have even forgotten how Spengler warned us in 1917 of “the decline of the West”, and even how the great equations of nuclear balance governed the recent Cold War.
With that as sub-text, it is worth looking at the current and immediately-pressing observables, on the understanding that all the factors we discuss are interrelated and cannot be understood without contextual knowledge of how the past led us to this position. And within these considerations, too, must be an un-derstanding of the fragility of today’s infrastructure, and particularly the vulnerability of the existential human reliance on electrical power.
The Immediate Factors
2. The impact of changing alliances. The changing capabilities and prestige of the major powers have transformed how states see their need for the protection of alliances. The loss of purpose and capability of some key alliances has been evident in the past decade, most significantly in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but also in the relative positions of the ANZUS (Australia, New Zea-land, US) alliance, and other such treaties. It is often the threat which determines the viability of the alliance. Often, however, it is the prestige of the lead state. The decline of the de facto Western alliance position in the greater Middle East, for example, largely because of a decline in prestige and understanding, has meant that the states there have moved on to new arrangements.
Still one of the most stable alliances is the UKUSA Accords, often referred to as the “Five Eyes”, which links the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in a deep intelligence exchange. This remains one of the most productive and important security alliances in the world. However, there are questions as to whether it is adapting sufficiently to meet changing strategic circumstances.
Some of the key blocsUKUSA , or alliances, which are forming (or breaking apart) in their informal and sometimes formal arrangements, and which will be key in 2015 and beyond, include:
(e) Eurasia and the Northern Tier: Russia has woven a significant thread in the Northern Tier, with its expedient alliance with Turkey on oil and gas transit, and with Iran. But its two main partners there, Turkey and Iran, are, at their roots inimical to each other. Both Moscow and Tehran may ultimately see value in breaking up the troublesome Turkey alliance and, as Persian poet Omar Khayyám suggests, “rebuild it closer to the heart’s desire”. Russia’s ability to act as the broker of the region has continued to strengthen even as the US has led steps to isolate Russia through economic sanctions. The result may be not only a stronger Russian influence in the Northern Tier itself, but also a strengthening of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In all of this, we are yet to see Beijing begin its own process of developing stronger bilateral security treaties, or building the SCO into a true security bloc.
3. Significant changes in leadership. The normal processes of changes in national leadership have, for the most part, only marginal impact on the direction of major states. But the leadership transitions now contemplated through electoral or health reasons in, for example, the US, Greece, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, will be of key importance in the coming two to three years. The severe illnesses facing King ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud, of Saudi Arabia, and his neighbor, Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id al-Said, come at a critical time for the stability of the region. The succession realities are by no means clear, but what is clear is that attempts will be made to capitalize on the power vacuums which may occur. US Pres. Barack Obama and Qatar Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani have both expressed a strong desire to influence the Saudi transition. In that region, the forthcoming May 24, 2015, elections in Ethiopia will challenge Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and possibly his Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. In Greece, the January 25, 2015, election of the leftist Syriza coalition under Alexis Tsipras could not only impact Greece but further demoralize a European Union (EU) which is teetering on the edge of a deflationary situation. In the US, incumbent Pres. Barack Obama will not leave office until the beginning of 2017, but his “lame duck” term — following his humiliation in the mid-term Congressional elections in November 2014 — means that he will act unilaterally in the coming two years and likely introduce measures which will severely impact and constrain the US’ strategic recovery from many perspectives. Electorally, in 2015, Britain potentially faces a leadership change despite the strong economic performance of Prime Minister David Cameron’s UK Government. Nigeria, too, goes to the polls on February 14, 2015, and the prospect exists for the election of a new President to replace Pres. Goodluck Jonathan. The outlook for Nigeria, after these elections, is for continued crisis and conflict in the war against Boko Haram. But a Jonathan victory at the polls could substantially worsen the national security situation, despite moves to create a regional peacekeeping force to battle the insurgency.
4. The increasing distortion of the nation-state, and concepts of governance and “democracy” because of ongoing urbanization. The United Nations in 2014 revised its estimates of the percentage of the global population living in urban areas. This is critical because, as this writer noted in UnCivilization: Urban Geopolitics in a Time of Chaos, urban societies think and act very differently from those in more balanced, Westphalian nation-states. Thus, one of the most profound transformations, strongly becoming evident in 2015, will be whether the Westphalian nation-state concept will remain viable.
Significantly, the now-conscious belief that the Westphalian, or balanced, nation-state stands in the way of a new globalism based around urban societies has led to the outcome desired by urban political movements: the seeming end of “nationalism”. And where national identity and national cohesion has declined (in favor of a transfer of power to central governments), weaknesses and lack of leadership have resulted, with a resultant vulnerability of societies to unrest and terrorism.
7. The transformation of the technologies, economics, and doctrines of warfare. Warfare stimulates technological and scientific thinking, and few wars saw greater advances than World War II. The Cold War continued the pressure for the next 45 years, so that the successful World War II technologies continued to advance, creating one of the longest evolutions of scientific progress (and therefore wealth) ever seen.
8. The impact of transforming commodity prices, as well as transforming energy costs and efficiencies, and their relationships to water and security. There will be a temptation among some military planners to postpone the hard decisions on the replacement of old-style, energy-consumptive systems because an era of cheap oil has re-emerged. While it is true that lower energy costs will reduce some of the operating costs of military forces in 2015, the real problem is that legacy systems which require high diesel consumption still tie expeditionary forces to the heavy logistics chain.
Full article: The 8 Major Geopolitical Catalysts Of 2015 (Oil Price)