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Defense and Foreign Affairs

Defense and Foreign Affairs

Defense and Foreign Affairs is a geopolitical news publication offered by the International Strategic Studies Association.

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The 8 Major Geopolitical Catalysts Of 2015

The 8 Major Geopolitical Catalysts Of 2015

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.

The current pre-occupation with “the decline of the West” and “the rise of the East” is misleading. In fact, what is of paramount importance in these two phenomena (and which plays in to the inability of the West to respond to such factors as jihadist terrorism) is the reality that states of “the West” have been progressively losing their sense of national identity and national pride. The European Union (EU), in particular, has sought to dominate Europe by suppressing and penalizing “nationalism”, and therefore any sense of national cohesion.

With this in mind, what is equally misleading, or pointless, is the obsessive hand-wringing over Islamist jihadism, which, in essence, attempts to create a sense of a “national” or common cause identity. This sense of unifying “national” purpose, is the real weapon it wields against modern Muslim societies and the West alike.

The “decline of the West” and Islamist jihadism are, indeed, factors to be considered, but only as part of a comprehensive view of issues and options, and within a longer-term context. But it is the broader, global watershed coincidence of political, economic, military, technological, and economic disruptions underway at present which offer more opportunities and dangers than perhaps at any time for the world for perhaps 500 years.

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

1. The decline of the West or the rise of the East? Most Western states — including Japan — have become so enmeshed in the complexities of their legislation, entitlements, and the dominance of their bureaucracies that individual leadership cannot emerge. If, for example, India has difficulty competing with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it is partly because its governance structures have become so complex and bureaucratic that individual leadership is difficult, and decision making and entre-preneurship are constrained.

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Can Western governments reverse their strategic decline vis-à-vis the PRC? Yes, but only by abandoning the current concept of “democracy” — which has been extant for only the past decade or so — and reverting to a less doctrinaire version of it. That “less doctrinaire” vision of democracy occurred, for example, in World War II, when social entitlements were set aside and social duties voluntarily replaced them; decision making was streamlined, and leadership sought and respected. In a non-war situation, however, the removal of over-governance is difficult, but it is critical if the freedom is to be found to encourage entrepreneurship and economic growth.

It is significant that the rise of the PRC (and other states) is not necessarily the result of the decline of “the West”, although the reduction of the prestige of the West does directly enable a climate which supports, for example, the rise of the PRC’s yuan as a trading currency, and a trade focus which does not refer to the West. In most respects, except in the nascent sense of jostling between the West and the PRC in terms of military capability and projection, the West and the PRC have not yet even begun their real competition.

Each side is rising or falling on the basis of its own merits or faults rather than as a result of strategic competition. What happens when there is something profound over which to squabble? That may not be so remote.

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 blocs, 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:

(a) The Middle East: A new Middle Eastern bloc consisting of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and, to a degree, Oman, already exists. The US is not part of this new arrangement, although has access to it to some degree, as do other powers. Within this new bloc, Israel and Egypt have strong links to Russia. Saudi Arabia can also “invoke” support from Pakistan; Israel can invoke support or cooperation from India, Ethiopia, and Azerbaijan. Israel and Egypt also can invoke cooperative arrangements with Cyprus and Greece. But this bloc has some inherent challenges as a result of lingering conflicts within it, and because of leadership issues [see point three, below]. In the Maghreb, new modalities are emerging, with considerable sympathy between Morocco and the non-radicals in Libya, and between Morocco and Egypt, for example. Algeria continues to function relatively autonomously, and is engaged in a significant defense build-up. Egypt, meanwhile, is taking a constructive rôle in developing its relations with Ethiopia over the management of the Nile waters, but instability in Sudan — particularly with regard to plans for a renewed war against South Sudan — could jeopardize stability in the region. In the Persian Gulf, the dissolution of the bloc (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, with the US) created to emplace Sunni leadership in Syria (to strike at Iran’s influence in the region) has not yet been replaced. Ankara maintains a very discreet arrangement with DI’ISH [al-Daula al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa Sham: The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (historic greater Syria)] — the Islamic Caliphate — which owes its existence essentially to Turkey. Turkey and Qatar continue to work together on this project, and in the process, essentially created or empowered the evolution and operation of the Islamic Caliphate. Qatar also continues to seek the tacit backing of Iran to support Qatari challenges to Saudi Arabia, despite Iran’s and Qatar’s “agreement to disagree” over Syria and the Caliphate. But Turkey’s discreet, and opportunistic alliances with, particularly, Muslim Brotherhood organizations, and with Iran (in an attempt by Ankara to placate Tehran), and with the US White House, and so on, are of key importance.

(b) Asia-Pacific: A new Asia-Pacific bloc consisting primarily of Japan and Australia, but gradually gaining the attention of Canada and New Zealand, came into being in 2014. This is designed to offset the declining flexibility and the declining relative importance of ANZUS. The US supports the new arrangement, in concert with ANZUS, largely because ANZUS links into the “Five Eyes” intelligence exchange agreements of the UK-USA Accords between the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Growing concerns over polar resource and political issues also link Australia and Canada, apart from their historical Commonwealth links. India is attempting to build more strategic relations with Japan, the Republic of China (ROC: Taiwan), and other East Asian states. Indonesia, meanwhile, continues to build defense relations with the Republic of Korea. There, it is all about defense against possible PRC encroachment into the Pacific, but the PRC itself remains relatively without alliance partners, save for central Asian cooperation with Russia.

(c) Africa: The alliance vacuum in Africa caused by the strategic withdrawal of the US, UK, and France, and as-yet not taken up by the PRC, has yet to be filled adequately by new regional alliances. The African Union (AU) has become relatively impotent, and may not be able to see the restructuring of African borders to stabilize the Continent, as it had planned. Significantly, ECO-WAS (the Economic Community of West African States) has not proven effective in meeting regional security threats posed by, for example, Boko Haram, and related Caliphate and other jihadist movements. So Africa is “in play”, and as its economic growth proceeds may be less susceptible to pressures from external powers. In other words, the PRC is unlikely to merely supplant the US or European powers as a source of influence, although Beijing’s presence will rise.

(d) The Americas: The absolute end of the US Monroe Doctrine and its ability to dominate events south of the Rio Grande has opened Latin America to a diverse new set of alignments. As things settle, it seems unlikely that any external power, regardless of trade linkages, will dominate the region, and a US resurgence in the area is not likely soon. Some Latin American states, such as Chile and Colombia, as well as Mexico, will remain within the US economic orbit. The question remains whether the Organization of American States (OAS) will cease to be influential at all, or whether its residual value may be in those institutions which relate to US support for defense institutions and education continue. Brazil, the only Portuguese-speaking state in South America, has the ability to gradually build blocs, or working groups, to suit its strategic needs; the question remains as to whether it can, or whether it will continue to grow as a strategic power on its own. The end of the US embargo with Cuba will undermine the continuation of a strong anti-Western, leftist bloc, a process compounded by the impact of lower energy prices on Venezuela [see point eight, below]. Meanwhile, the US and Canada, while working on a more equal footing on many issues, will diverge on others, particularly on Canada’s view of its sovereignty over the North-West Passage and other areas of its littoral facing northward.

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(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.

The Israeli elections scheduled for March 17, 2015, will be very bitter. The campaign is already more volatile than average. Rhetoric notwithstanding, these will be the first post-Peace Process elections. Alt-hough virtually all parties and candidates declare their commitment to the peace process, everybody is cognizant that no peace process is possible. Hence, the polarization of the Israeli electorate and political map is based on gravitation to two separate issues. The mainstream left is focusing on issues of social justice, welfare state, fighting corruption, and standard of living. Their key argument is that with Israel no longer threatened by major states, Jerusalem should focus on remedying neglected socio-economic is-sues. The mainstream right is focusing on issues of long-term security, ranging from finding new national security modalities for meeting the Islamist-jihadist threats (and the ensuing demise of the Arab states), addressing a no-peace-no-war-yes-terrorism in the Palestinian Authority, codifying and institutionalizing Israel’s de facto alliances with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States, addressing the looming Turkey and Iran threats, and, most important, meeting the challenges of moving away from the US (a trauma akin the French crisis of 1967) and closer to Russia and Asia.

The religious right adds the newly found emphasis on declaring Israel a Jewish State in order to prevent future concessions to any Arab interlocutor.

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.

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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.

According to the 2014 UN report, 54 percent of people now live in urban areas; in 1950 only 30 percent was urban. The UN’s 2014 revised report noted: “Today, the most urbanized regions include Northern America (82 percent living in urban areas in 2014), Latin America and the Caribbean (80 percent), and Europe (73 per cent). In contrast, Africa and Asia remain mostly rural, with 40 and 48 percent of their re-spective populations living in urban areas. All regions are expected to urbanize further over the coming decades. Africa and Asia are urbanizing faster than the other regions and are projected to become 56 and 64 percent urban, respectively, by 2050. The rural population of the world has grown slowly since 1950 and is expected to reach its peak in a few years. The global rural population is now close to 3.4-billion and is expected to decline to 3.2-billion by 2050. Africa and Asia are home to nearly 90 percent of the world’s rural population. India has the largest rural population (857-million), followed by China (635-million). The urban population of the world has grown rapidly since 1950, from 746-million to 3.9-billion in 2014. Asia, despite its lower level of urbanization, is home to 53 percent of the world’s urban population, followed by Europe (14 percent) and Latin America and the Caribbean (13 percent).”

5. The start of the global population slowdown and the impact on property demand, among other things, is now becoming evident. We no longer see the lock-step evolution of wealth and population growth which was the hallmark of the half-century following World War II. The gradual decline, in most societies, of population growth, coupled with the movement of increasing numbers of people to cities, is uneven around the world. But global population growth is approaching its apogee, and is already slowing.

This would be more manageable if the remaining rural population would continue to see growth in agricultural productivity. To some extent that is happening, but rural societies are becoming increasingly disenfranchised because “democracy” in today’s world is about numbers and population density, and disregards, to a large extent, national geography as an element. The result is that rural areas become increasingly disenfranchised and neglected, but overall in 2015 it should be expected that some of the slowdown in overall population level growth will impact urban real estate values.

This in turn will impact the ability to leverage real estate value for capital formation, which is the key to economic growth, and to the sustenance of research and development budgets. This is already impacting key areas. Real estate prices in the People’s Republic of China began to undergo price volatility at the beginning of 2015. This may not become a significant issue in 2015, but it is the start of a trend which will gradually worsen over the coming decade.

6. The decline in productivity. The decline in industrial and economic productivity has be-come one of the major impediments to Western strategic capability. It is one of the most damaging terminal results of the unfettered growth in government, which consistently raises the cost of labor and diminishes the rôle of the productive sector of society in favor of bigger government and a less motivated, subsidized non-producing sector of the population. In a democratic society, government is motivated to subsidize non-productive citizens because although they do not produce, they can provide votes.

But more insidious is the threat to productivity by raising workforce costs and benefits disproportionately, without demanding compensating innovation to reduce the overall cost of products. This is particularly evident in the impasse which the present Australian Government inherited: a situation whereby it can no longer viably build many of the essential systems needed for national security. Its proposed new submarine acquisition program, which had been intended to go to Australian industry, would cost some dramatically (an unrealistic amount) more if the vessels were built in Australia as opposed to a military off-the-shelf (MOTS) buy from abroad. In other words, Australia, once an industrial innovator and powerhouse, is now dramatically less productive than Germany, France, Sweden, or Japan, the countries which currently vie to provide the submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.

The great distortions in productivity in Western states — and now appearing in the PRC — also apply to the fundamental thinking about the use and creation of technologies, and particularly to the doctrine of their use. Vast transformations of productivity are possible, but they must be sought with at least the same vigor as the attempts to dispense “bread and circuses” — entitlement programs — to the electorate. In essence, productivity gains must be seen both in population-wide approaches, as well as in empowering entrepreneurial innovation in the private sector. To think that these gains can be made while the state maintains high levels of non-productive labor is wishful thinking.

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.

The pace of these advances began to decrease very early in the 21st Century, perhaps partly as the result of a decline in global military competition with the end of the Cold War in 1990. In any event, by 2014, most Western military doctrine and technology was an extrapolation of the World War II-origin thinking, but by then the threat models had changed. The use of the logistics-centric model of expeditionary warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan proved disastrous for the West: logistics costs consumed almost all the warfighting budget and tied operational military activities tightly to the end of logistics nodes.

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Moreover, the great conventional air-sea battle doctrines and air-land battle doctrines were, ultimately, extrapolations of World War II models of sea and air power and, despite a few computer-age bells and whistles, had begun to run out of steam by 2015. By 2015, the carrier battle group, for example, will be useful only for peacetime power projection against primitive adversaries. In normal conflict terms, it becomes extremely vulnerable to long-range maneuverable re-entry vehicles with nuclear warheads, or supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, or torpedoes fired from conventional (and stealthy) submarines. Of course, as with the battleship, some modifications to technologies will further the useful life of the carrier battle group, but at a high cost. Still, by 2015, the bulk of the large-scale Western military capital equipment was not only mission restricted, it was also prohibitively expensive, because it had been overtaken by lower-cost counter-systems and creative doctrine.

How then, do Western military forces move back to a new flexibility, while not abandoning the legacy capital systems which may yet have some utility in the face of a classic military-to-military confrontation? As with all things, national prestige and the prestige of military forces compensates for, or reinforces, military systems. So the question for the West in 2015 is how its member states can rebuild their prestige — their mystique — while at the same time gradually adapting their force structures and doctrines to meet a new type of threat environment?

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.

But that is not the only strategic distortion which 2015 will produce as sustained lower oil, gas, and mineral prices affect societies.

Sustained lower oil prices — averaging lower than $50 per barrel — will severely impact investment in US shale oil recovery, and may cause some US shale operations to become uneconomic. At what point will it cause US producers to cut back on domestic oil operations? Will this cause a return of the US to purchasing Nigerian oil, for example?

Conversely, it seems logical that cheap oil and gas could significantly benefit the PRC, India, Japan, and the RoK, among others, and those states could also benefit from lower mineral prices. Commodity pro-ducing states will find 2015 challenging; commodity client states will find some relief, economically, from lower prices. Consumer spending in many states will be empowered, providing some short-term relief to economies, and a reduction in political pressures on governments.

But the longer-term impact on economies could be significant. In Africa, the incentives for the PRC to invest heavily in projects to dominate the oil and gas (and mineral) industries there should decline because of the ready availability of the commodities, possibly reducing overall foreign direct investment in the Continent.

To conclude …

There are many other factors emerging in 2015. The likelihood of renewed Indo-Pakistani tensions could be one of them. So, too, could decisive moves by the PRC to claim and occupy disputed territories in the East and South China seas. Direct military confrontation between NATO states and Russia over the Ukraine or Crimea seem unlikely, despite attempts by the current administration controlling Kiev — in Western Ukraine — to push its supporters in the West into shoring it up against Russia. But fighting inside Ukraine seems set to continue.

The prospect exists in 2015 that the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, backed by Turkey and Qatar from bases in Libya and Sudan, could attempt to escalate insurgency or terrorism in Egypt.

Equally, the prospect exists that Greece could begin a process of separating from the euro currency zone. This would have a profound consequential effect for the future of the European Union, but even without a Greece withdrawal, the EU faces a period of economic stagnation. For this reason alone, early 2015 will see discreet moves by Germany and France to reconcile with Russia, and to help bring about an end to US-led sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

And through all of this, the ongoing jihadist conflict against Western states seems likely to continue una-bated. Much of this will owe its momentum to the inspiration of the Islamic Caliphate. And yet no Western state seems ready yet to challenge Turkey — a NATO state — on its complicity in sustaining the via-bility of the Caliphate.

A major issue is the decline of the Westphalian state and its replacement by a very unstable/uneasy bal-ancing between regional dynamics and localized self-rule. The key is the crises and self-doubts facing Europe. The EU “magic” has been to undermine European nationalism/patriotism and replace them with increasingly-resented Euro-bureaucracy. The economic crisis and the immigration-terrorism crisis hasten the break-up of the EU without any viable substitute other than populist-nationalist movements. The myriad of European secessionist movements have so far failed to attract sufficient public support to break states. These developments will only hasten the decline of Europe due to demographic and economic reasons.

The Western/European state system has until now been the bulwark of the global system of statehood, and the panoply of international organizations (UN, etc.) using these states as building blocs for higher dynamics. The Third World followed the Western model and acquiesced to the imposition of statehood for fear Western retribution. With the decline of the Western state, the Third World’s frustration and despair drive a quest for non-state solutions, often to the plight of the populace.

On the macro-level, the world is gravitating anew to a Mackinderian-based regional dynamics. Russia and Germany are the driving force behind the establishment of a Lisbon-to-Vladivostok Common Eurasian Home order. (The US dread of such a bloc is the raison d’être for the US relentless flaring of the war in Ukraine, and, for that matter, of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.) Being first and foremost a land power, China is seeking to revive its great power gravitas through the extended Silk Road from the Pacific Ocean to the greater Middle East. Below, there remains Africa, a region perceived to be of no great power rôle but full of natural resources and markets to be used and abused. On the other side of the Ocean, there emerges former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s dream of an Anglosphere through the expanded Five-Eyes (where the UK is increasingly inclined to delink from Europe). Brazil is busy consolidating a Latin American bloc aimed to reverse the Monroe Doctrine. And, as noted, the Monroe Doctrine is effectively dead, even if the Chinese are attempting to create a Monroe Doctrine-style approach to achieving hegemony over its near ocean regions.

On the micro-level, the aggregate impact of the failure of states and the rise of a class of socio-economic destitutes gives rise to ethno-centric self-identities as the key to finding salvation and realizing manifest destinies. These trends are the strongest and most pronounced in the hardest hit regions of the greater Middle East and Africa. The most important and lingering outcome of the so-called “Arab Spring” is the death of the Arab modern state. Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are essentially no more, and Jordan and Yemen may not be far behind. In their place there emerged entities based on ethnic and religious self-identities: the Sunni Arab Islamic Caliphate of the al-Jazira heartland, the predominantly ‘Alawite-Druze entity of western Syria, the Shi’ite HizbAllah land, the Maronite-Druze bloc, the Shi’ite Arab entity of south-eastern Iraq, and the Kurdish land. Yemen is being torn apart between the Houthis, Hadhramautis, and smaller groups. Libya is in the midst of a fratricidal orgy of violence between tribes, clans, and other power-seekers. These will never agree to lose self-control in favor of return to the erstwhile states that failed them.

The demise of the modern Middle East is providing inspiration to sub-Saharan Africa. Post-colonial Africa has never fully legitimized the decision to keep the colonial-era boundaries as the key to building new states and nations. Military dictators and their superpower sponsors kept most states from collapsing. The key secessionist crises — the Eritrea and South Sudan that give the appearance of having succeeded, and the Biafra, Darfur and Somaliland that failed — have kept the dream of non-state self-determination alive.

But, the multitude of domestic and socio-economic crises plaguing sub-Saharan Africa have brought vast swaths of the populace to a point of despair. They believe that the only way out is to revive localized self-identity frameworks irrespective of existing state borders, and the grassroots are ready to confront and fight the states in order to realize their respective destinies. The modern African states are too weak to contain this up-and-coming grassroots rage. A lot of blood will be spilled before Africa calms down...

An interesting year; an interesting decade.

By GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Staff

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  • zipsprite on January 23 2015 said:
    While I agree with your analysis of western governments' stagnation, ineffectiveness and paralysis, and the devastating impact that has on moving anything forward, they are not the only entities contributing to this problem. There are whole other power centers that have learned to game and control the system and vacuum out tremendous wealth for themselves, and concurrently accumulate tremendous power. They use that power to keep things as they are, for their benefit- thus, no progress. This is at least as crippling as governments' dysfunction. Chief among these would be the "financial industry", an "industry" that, in its current incarnation, produces negative net benefit to society. There are others, health care industry being another big one.

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