This expression “chaotic recomposition” seems best to summarise the phase where we currently are with regards to the development of the crisis, a step indicated here as extending over four years and which will include distinct progression phases.
It is quite clear that efforts to reorganise the world on a transnational logic have all failed in this first half of 2017:
. The inter-or supranational system built in the 20th century (UN, IMF, WB, NATO, etc.) failed to adapt and to oversee the new multipolar geopolitical configuration of the beginning of the 21st century. It is now in full slump, in all its forms, regions included (EU, Mercosur, etc.);
. Promising emerging experiences at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, with the G20, the BRICS and the OBOR projects as heads of list (and the connected financial institutions) found themselves confronted with the interests of the US; without Europe’s support, they have not been able to impose themselves as the basis of a new world organisation;
. When we followed closely the work of the BRICS, we could anticipate that without the Euro-BRICS recognition and dialogue, the multipolar world was going to bipolarise into two separate camps in the context of a new Cold War; or reunited within a vast global conflagration. For three years now (with the 2014 Euro-Russian crisis in the middle, which destroyed hopes of a constructive opening of Europe to the new world realities), two camps were structured on logics coming straight from the twentieth-century (combining “non-alignment” and “Communist bloc “) around cold-war front lines (EU-Russia) or warm ones (Jewish-Christian world – Muslim world), not always superposed (the positioning of Russia in particular is difficult to read, maybe because this country tries to escape a categorisation which can only remind it of bad memories);
. Today, any progression along this logic can only lead to literally explosive levels of tension.
These tensions are essentially the result of conflicts of interest and chronic incompatibilities between supranational “systems” (“imperialist” America, the EU, NATO, etc.) coming all from different periods and regions, serving economic interests and dehumanised institutions of all kinds; systems that are not yet rooted in a popular or democratic legitimacy (still not found today, despite 70 years of trans-nationalisation of governance mechanisms, except at the States level).
Thus, in 2016, faced with the growing risk of conflagration, the world has “re-landed” at the national level (nationalist leaders in the US, India and Japan, Brexit and consequences on a “multi-speed Europe”, whilst officially handing over the housekeys to the Member States, etc.).
This step is desired and judged to be rather reassuring for a part of the people who feel that they have a hand again on their destiny; and disturbing for another part who has in memory the very great failures of nation states in world management at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The success of this nationalist strategic retreat will depend on the efficiency and rapidity of the great states which, in consultation with the small ones, will succeed in putting in place the new principles of supra-national levels.
The most obvious risk is of course the escalation of tensions linked to the reaffirmation of exclusive and therefore incompatible national interests leading to a destructive process instead of the desired reconstruction phase.
In a way, we can say that the crisis ceases to be systemic in the sense that our collective destinies again depend (as in all major periods of transition) on a handful of politically over-doped individuals (Putin, Trump, Modi, Erdogan, Abe, Netanyahu, Xi …), trying to escape from the previous system, some of whom being Churchill / De Gaulle type, but others Mussolini / Hitler ones … without any media or leaders able to clarify who is who and how to preserve peace and build the future in such a context.
Needless to say, the exercise of anticipation has never been more useful and yet uncertain at the same time.
In the following articles, on the basis of concrete cases (the Syrian crisis, BRICS, EU, Euroland), we will study the new prospects offered by this return to national level in the management of regional or global affairs, as well as the probable risks to be generated by this method.
US Military Interventions in Syria, Korea, Afghanistan: Audacious bet or Domino Effect
Trump’s presidency has had a bad start already: his great plan to kill Obamacare was revoked by Congress, American justice is blocking his executive order of entry ban, forcing him to appeal the decision, the dollar was going up whilst he set his strategy of economic revival on a weak dollar… the strength of “political will” seemed to be running short in front of an establishment guaranteeing stability and dominating the presidential executive power.
It is within this context that the chemical attack of Khan Cheikhoun took place, providing Trump with magic opportunities to:
. Sweep away all accusations of being pro-Putin, which were reducing his manoeuvring space;
. Threw out within seconds the “media poison” linked to the event (which is still talking about the children who died in the attack?!)
. Put Republicans and Democrats in the position of having to accept their “Commander in Chief” D. Trump’s unilateral and illegal military action from the democratic point of view;
. Put NATO allies (starting with France and Germany – much more than the United Kingdom) in the position of having to salute the US President’s unilateral and illegal military action from the international point of view;
. Create the conditions for a dialogue with Russia, relegating the political survival of Bashar al-Assad to the second level;
. Gain credibility / visibility in sending US ships off the coast of North Korea two days after Trump’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart (and while the March 30 shipment of F-35 fighter aircrafts had passed quasi- unnoticed), thus opening a common US-Chinese record of “resolving” the North Korean issue;
. Reopen a third front in Afghanistan (near the very sensitive Pakistani border), this time targeting the underground tunnels built by the United States and used by Daesh ;
All these belligerent actions are carried out without a democratic or international mandate, and are welcomed by a diplomatic silence, coming from the UN and all the media (imagine for a second that the Russians make a tenth of what Trump has just initiated), validating the “who is the craziest” strategy we noted in the previous issue of the GEAB.
On the US side, the national re-landing promises not to disappoint the audience in suspense and surprises!
At this stage, the objectives sought are essentially of two types:
. Re-impose the US as the world’s primary military power… henceforth at its own service and no longer serving the international system;
. And move the front lines by blowing up locked bolts.
The first point has the merit of clarity: the United States was no longer able to intervene in an international framework that is increasingly reluctant to act in an increasingly visibly American interest, forcing them to divert actions (drones and proxy-wars); Trump officially takes them out of the international and democratic framework (USexit) but at the same time comes up with new US visible strategic actions. But this clarity of course brings with it the conditions of all those direct confrontations which the international system was meant to prevent.
The second point has the merit of the utility: in a system completely blocked by an international framework that is hinged on files which are “untouchable” (North Korea, two states solution in Israel, Syria, Crimea, Pakistan…), the opening up of the taboo has in fact become inevitable. The problem is that those who could have done so in an organised manner did not do so, leaving a “fool” (in the sense of the “strategy of the craziest”) to take care of it, with all the risks ahead (a “second crazy guy” would suffice for everything to explode in our face).
Syria, Korea, Afghanistan … is the South China Sea the next step to take?
Speaking of the second “madman”, Philippine President Duterte’s unexpected twist in island ownership suggests that those negotiations are currently taking place between the US and himself. Trump’s crossing of this red line would be a clear and very worrying indicator of the initiation of a frontal logic between the western camp (to which the EU is structurally included) and the non-aligned (Russia, China, Iran).
To understand whether Trump’s actions are unlocking situations or opening war ones, we invite our readers to follow closely the declarations of the weather vane Duterte, a good indicator of the wind direction in this region. For the record, the Philippines was one of the important allies of the United States, belonging within the ASEAN to the camp of those who ask for the intervention of the US to defend the non Chinese property rights on the islands located in the Southern China Sea (remember that these rights are not written in stone);
Then Duterte came to power and triggered a complete turnaround on the matter, being very aggressive with Obama’s administration, resolutely turning to China to accuse the US of raising tensions on an issue which should be dealt with regionally and without external interference. But in March, Duterte accused the US of having forced his country to turn to China because of their inaction in the region, suggesting that US interventionists could regain his support. Indeed, on April 6, he announced that he would plant a Philippine flags on a series of islands claimed by his country, before retracting a week later in the name of the Philippine-Chinese friendship. That said, our team anticipates that Trump will not try anything in this region until Russia is back on his side. We recall that the greatest uncertainty that we see on Trump’s foreign policy horizon is the articulation with China rather than that with Russia (although recent movements make us worry in the shorter term).
Stylistic exercise: what might the Middle East look like in 2021?
If Trump’s “poker shots” turned into a “domino effect” (i.e. degenerated into open conflict), let’s go back to the Middle East and allow ourselves a small anticipation exercise with regards to the possible look of the map of this region by 2021 (end of Trump’s first term (should he make it that far!) and minimal reconfiguration delay).
First of all, several certainties:
. A large Israel integrating territories and the Gaza ;
. A newly marginalised Iran, headed by an Ahmadinejad or equivalent, who will have regained power thanks to huge regional tensions.
And almost certainly:
. A Kurdish Confederation.
Then the probabilities:
. A confederation of the Arabian Peninsula including the Gulf countries, Yemen and Oman;
. A Sunni “sham” born on the ruins of Lebanon (which almost no longer exists after those two waves of emigration in 70 years of constant conflict in the region: 400,000 Palestinians and 1.5 million Syrians for a population of 4 million thus increased to 5.5 million), Syria and Iraq, all destroyed and in the hands of a Sunni Islamic Republic;
. A kingdom of Jordan preserved; what a useful buffer zone to Israel.
And a great uncertainty:
. A large Azerbaijan cropped on Iran and integrated into a federated Caucasus which Turkey could join (with Armenia as a stumbling block), itself excluded from the Russian zone of influence; this uncertainty relies on the success of the operation, as this Caucasus could remain in the Russian camp after all. So here is a map which has probably long been in the minds of the great shadow strategists in Washington, Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
The enormous errors of this vision of the Middle East are striking:
. Founded on the regrouping and confinement of ethnic-religious groups inevitably radicalised by the conditions in which this map was set up: radical Shiism, Wahhabi Sunnism, hard Judaism, encamped on their ultra-secure blocks;
. Constructed within violence and historical negationism in complete denial of the successive strata that history has posed on this region of the world, including the era of nation-states;
. Unable to address all the stumbling blocks in the region (we have already identified two, Armenia and Kuwait, but there are many others) whose solution is based on an integrative and holistic vision and not on a divisive and communitarian vision.
This map, close enough to what Europe tried to do in the days of the great empires, will end in the same way – and without waiting for a long time – in a new chaos, this time brought to an unprecedented degree of violence given the size of the entities involved and their ideological radicalism.
End of the exercise: we repeat that times are extremely uncertain and that the Russian and Chinese visions, including in this region which are under strong Western influence, are likely to prevail more than one imagines (let us not forget that the America of D. Trump is still scaring everyone and that the alliances between the Hebrew State and Saudi Arabia are above all completely against nature). But it seems useful to give you an idea of the field in which Trump as Commander-in-Chief is now advancing his pawns.
Latin America: the end of the Bolivarian left wings
As part of its observation of the recomposition of the world on national basis, our team is closely following the very rapid process of “de-lefting” the entire South American subcontinent, a process which is all but democratic.
The so-called “Bolivarian” leftists who dominated the region a year ago, despite their incredible successes in democratic governance and economic recovery, and in spite of the fact that they were mostly re-elected, disappeared one after the other under civil pressure or parliaments aroused by accusations of corruption which were abused by the media in the hands of even more corrupt economic interests (e.g. Temer in Brazil).
Brazil is done. Argentina is done. Venezuela, the last big country to resist, is on the brink of collapse but does not fall down. In a way, it is the “red rag” (as the case may be) of the region of which the de-lefting operation needs to justify its speech. One might even anticipate that it will not be until 2018 that the coup de grace will be brought, namely when the last bastion of modern and effective socialism will have fallen, namely Bolivia.
But before that, Ecuador started to fall. Rafael Correa’s foal, Lenine Moreno, ran for election and won 51.11% of the vote on April 4th. The opposition led by a banker named Guillermo Lasso does not recognise his victory, accusing election fraud and immediately creating impossible governing conditions for Moreno. Here is what follows, as far as we know: Moreno, elected by a weak margin and prevented from ruling, will disappoint and lend merit to accusations of corruption that will degenerate into manifestations and probably end in destitution or equivalent. On the other side, Bolivia, and the very popular Evo Morales who, like Correa in Ecuador, has achieved an economic miracle since he was in power in his country, experienced his first setback last year when he tried to get a constitutional change to apply for a fourth term. It is therefore a foal who will compete in the presidential election in 2018 with the same consequences as described above for Ecuador. Bolivia’s exit from ALBA is on the way.
One thing is certain, the Bolivarian lefts united in the famous ALBA have the flaw of being camped on an ideological axis dominated by anti-Americanism. One can understand the reasons behind this position, but the frontal character of the Alliance with their very nearest neighbour in a context of a geopolitical crisis leading the US to count its troops is a strategic error: in an ALBA-US confrontation, ALBA has very little chance.
However, the consequences of this work such as the deconstruction of economic recovery, the emergence of middle classes, the reduction of favelas, etc., are catastrophic for the whole region.
We are particularly concerned about Brazil. As a member of the club of emerging powers in 2009, this country is returning to the stage of being an underdeveloped country at full speed, after three years of impossibility to govern under Rousseff and one year of governance under Temer. The favelas are on the rise again, sanitary conditions are deteriorating, prisons are blazing, mafias are reigning, infrastructure is collapsing and generals are making increasingly alarmist statements suggesting military interventions to solve problems on the streets and at the borders; a virulent extreme right (we invite you to discover the character of Jair Bolsonaro in particular) emerges slowly and could serve as a “democratic” bail for a military coup on the country. Settlement is expected in 2018, the date of the elections are supposed to put an end to the interluding Temer (whom, we recall, has never been elected).
We have always bet against the irresistible nature of regional integration of South America. We have also always explained that the ideological (right-left) polarisation of the region represented a brake and that, in a certain way, its ideological “harmonisation” through the elimination of the left would revive MERCOSUR type dynamics. In the long term, we maintain this anticipation. But South America, which is set up by the end of the decade, is much more fragmented than hoped, and if the Brazilian mammoth tilts as we begin to fear in a military dictatorship (speaking exclusively of border control and could serve the attack strategy against Venezuela that we anticipate for 2018), next year, the prospects for the whole continent will considerably darken.
European Union / United Kingdom: same challenge of union reinvention
Let us now return to Europe, where Brexit has of course inaugurated the famous “re-landing” of our continent. But the difference with South America is that regional integration is much more anchored, institutionally and humanely. On the other hand, the much smaller size and population densities of the European continent contribute to making co-operation more inevitable. As we have often said, Brexit opens an era of reinvention for these modes of cooperation. If Europeans fail in this reinvention effort, national logic would prevail more and more, which could lead fairly quickly to the reappearance of centuries-old conflicts.
For example, the Gibraltar file, now out of the EU framework, could quickly recreate a fire between England and Spain. The failure to identify innovative solutions could re-ignite relations between Britain and Ireland. And if the continent continues to disintegrate, myriads of conflicting topics can reappear very quickly. It is therefore essential to put a stroke on the principles and tools of intra-continental cooperation as they were been set up over the last 25 years and to regain control of our regional integration.
The national re-landing (the choice of multi-speed Europe being emblematic of this) is certainly the inevitable step to recompose Europe, but this is another step by default, resulting from the failure of integrated institutions to appropriately adapt their way of functioning. Greater vigilance is therefore required: the opportunity for reinvention can end in a widespread conflict.
In particular, our team believes that the “revanchardism” that currently dominates most of the speeches relating to Brexit and UK topics is really not auspicious. There is really nothing to celebrate about the process of the disintegration of the UK that is reinforced by Brexit. The UK and the EU face similar centrifugal forces and would do better to observe each other in order to feed their thoughts on solutions to this problem than to point fingers and accuse each other. The continent in particular has an interest in looking at what the UK is doing in this area, for two main reasons:
. The UK is one step ahead in terms of disintegration and finding solutions;
. The UK due to its size can be considered as EU’s laboratory.
For several years already, the UK has confronted these centrifugal forces in a rather progressive way, avoiding to block them, even accompanying them, notably through the process of “devolution” and referendums (as the independence of Scotland for one) and which seems to integrate with lucidity the socio-political transformations induced by the internet revolution and the organisation of the companies. London certainly does not intend to let go of its union and if it lets go, it is certainly within the framework of a project of reconstruction of new axes of cooperation between constituent parts of the Kingdom which are more autonomous. Let us not forget that the UK is still at the head of a Commonwealth whose members continue to recognise the Queen of The United Kingdom as their sovereign.
While the UK has not had a good influence on the EU, largely contributing to the drift which caused its exit last year, and that the EU had ultimately a primary interest in the mutual de-alienation allowed by Brexit, it is therefore the moment to set up bilateral EU-UK cooperation, on many subjects at the forefront of which is the reconfiguration of our unions.
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