Geopolitics can be defined as the study of the way a country’s size and or position influence its relationship with other countries. The geographic factors and the influence on power relationships in international politics is another means to define the term geopolitics. In providing an illustration to best understand, we can use the feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran, where a cold war of sorts uses Syria as its battle ground.
The oil reserves and country’s strategic location becomes the geography and a politics is played around it. Where generally speaking we would use the term geopolitical.
With financial markets remaining increasingly volatile, taking hits and bouncing back, one should remember that geopolitical cycles are slow-moving. It will take a long time for any geopolitical order, with coalition politics and election cycles, such as the February 16th Nigerian general elections and recently concluded surprise opposition party victory of Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In essence it takes years and decades to gain momentum whereby the process of erosion takes place.
Indeed, 2019 could be the year that the world ‘breaks’, with an earth-shattering Russian cyberattack, or Iran and Saudi Arabia or even Israel triggering a fully-fledged Middle Eastern war. Or even a prolonged Chinese and American trade war causing a deep depression. There are other notable risks of similar scale, however, considered low-likelihood events.
The geopolitical dangers that are starting to take shape around the world will bear fruit in years to come, if we consider the overwhelming majority of geopolitical dynamics that actually matter.
Allow me to reflect on the paths of some of the current geopolitical dynamics that not only matter but require serious consideration. Starting with the relationship of US-China, the state of affairs of the European Union, the highly unsuccessful Brexit vote, which as of Wednesday evening the British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of no confidence by the skin of her teeth. Consider NATO, the G20, the G7, Russia and the Kremlin, or the regional power politics in the Middle East.
Every single one of the geopolitical dynamics that matter are trending negatively, not some but all. And it could be argued that in a way that has not been in evidence since the Second World War. I read a statement which said, ‘think climate change, but in the geopolitical sphere.” These important pieces of international architecture, some of them foundational may not collapse overnight, but the risks plaguing them are filled with landmines.
Allow me to highlight the 4 biggest dynamics:
The United States Political Institutions
President Donald Trump has been notably constrained by US institutions, with the judiciary limiting his immigration policies, officeholders slow to roll out regulatory change, and Congress focused on incremental approaches to change rather than passing legislation that generates sudden, dramatic upheaval. After two years of the Trump administration, the most important domestic takeaways are how resilient US political institutions have proven and how effectively they’ve limited Trump’s intended actions.
The ongoing Brexit fiasco has made clear that nobody benefits from an exit. Without Britain, Europe isn’t what it was. Also considering Chancellor Angela Merkel in succession mode, neither is Germany for that matter. President Emmanuel Macron of France is also faced with a state of national emergency as his national reforms continue to prove to be an uphill battle. Now consider the governments, with Italy and much of Eastern Europe in control by those who wish to assert more national sovereignty and claw back power from Brussels. Add to that an even more divided European parliament and Europe is headed toward a long, slow unwind.
3. Global alliances
Like it or not but the US remains a critical ally for most of the world’s developed nations. Now comprehend that the US alliances the world over are weakening. President Trump has made it categorically clear that it is not America’s job to police the world and that other nations need to pay for their own security, case in point is the December 2018 withdrawal of armed forces from Syria. President Trump’s views on trade are particularly one-sided. On all fronts, the Trump administration sees alliances as limitations that restrict the US’s ability to pursue its interests. This confirms that global alliances are eroding and will continue to do so.
In its simplest form, populism is the idea that society is separated into two groups, ‘the people’ and the ‘elite’. Populism therefore strives to appeal to the ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by the established elite groups.
Populations remain minorities in most developing countries, with less ability to force change than the elites in power and most governments will need to be conscious that when the political systems are unable to meet the needs of ‘the people’, movements of uprising shall be the order of the day.
In conclusion, the geopolitical risks we face in 2019 will define the world economy, optimistic growth will only materialise from greater synergies and respect, doing not only what is considered right but remaining impartial and unprejudiced.