Geopolitics of Now and the Future

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the downfall of the Soviet Union, many commentators and political scientists assumed that the world had arrived at the finish line of the political and social marathon. This was exemplified by Francis Fukuyama who argued in his 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man” that the advent of Western liberal democracy may signal the end point of humanity’s sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government. The United States assumed the role of a hegemon and the majority assumed that nations would follow in the footsteps of liberal democracy and free market capitalism. Wars and conflicts were to be the thing of the dreadful past. The reality however has turned out to be quite different. First of all, the USA can no longer claim any all-round pre-eminence, but other nations like China, Russia or India have not yet achieved a status where they can claim to be the new ruling world power. The political arena currently is in a situation where no great power is predominant and for the foreseeable future it is likely that there will be nobody to rule the world, leaving nations in an anarchical state system. This is likely to mean that conflict and wars will prevail as nations will continue to battle with each other for that coveted prize of being able to boss other nations around. Looking at some of the key players, it is highly possible that there may be a stalemate for some time.

Europe to start with has reached a state of near impotence. Despite the potentially promising outcome of creating a super-state called the European Union, Europe has been divided by the debate on the euro and whether austerity policies are helping to revive the EU or further plunging the Southern states into the deep pit of permanent depression. With its political elite fumbling in the face of continuous internal crisis, Europe has forfeited any prospect it may have had of becoming a global player. Looking into the future, it is possible to see Germany as the only mid-ranking power with the rest trying not to suffocate under the barrage of debt and economic crisis.

Russia will continue to hold a strong hand of cards for as long as natural resources like oil and gas continue to play an important role in the geopolitical arena. However it is questionable how much longer Russia can survive internally under the corrupt and crippling political system. Russian financial system has been branded as a “gangster economy” thanks to the reports by Russian central bank authorities of vast illegal movements of capital abroad and the continuous survival of the so called “oligarchs” who are allowed to possess billions of money which arguably belongs to the state, as long as they stay out of politics and let Putin get on with ruling the country his own way. However, any instability that the regime currently faces comes from over reliance on oil and gas rather than political opposition. It is likely that the regime will continue to survive due to rising prosperity for large sections of the population and lower government debt than most western countries.

The Arab world is indisputably going through a huge transformation. First of all, oil rich Arab countries that have not yet experienced an uprising and a revolution are wary that such events can hit their nation too. This is especially true for Saudi Arabia which has headed potential unrest only through spending programmes funded by oil.   It will be interesting to observe how the shale gas and oil revolution will affect the price of oil from the Middle East and whether countries relying on selling oil will become destitute once the oil supplies run out.

The United States on the other hand is going through some revival. After the 2008 financial crisis, questions were asked regarding whether America will be able to recover and return to its previous economic glory. The recovery is certainly slow and is occurring in parallel with continuous decline in living standards of the Americans, unsustainable level of debt and expensive interventions and conflicts in other parts of the world. Nevertheless America is experiencing a rebound and still remains a haven for capital and investment. Despite the fact that the USA is no longer a hegemon, it is in a better position to deal with an era of slow growth than any other great power.

China is an interesting case. Many have championed the country to be the next great power and understandably so given the incredible growth that the nation experienced over the last few years which enabled millions of Chinese to be lifted out of poverty. However China has a problem. Endemic corruption and the role of the Communist Party as a vehicle for elite enrichment have hollowed out the Chinese state. Social peace may be disrupted if growth starts to stagnate, which is a real possibility, given an aging Chinese population and a lack of future young workers (thanks to the one child policy).

Ultimately, the current international system can be viewed as a more pluralistic arena with potential conflicts and wars still prevalent (though the type of industrial warfare observed during the 20th century is far less likely and it is more probably that cyber warfare and the use of unmanned drones will be the prevailing way to conduct conflict). Natural resources will continue to play a pivotal role in geopolitics and potential conflicts. As the polar ice melts from global warming, the Arctic may become the site in the next round of “who gets the oil games”. Perhaps advances in science and technology will alleviate some of the effects of resource scarcity; however these same advances may enable states to carry out conflicts in a more destructive manner.  One thing is clear- the political world is still far away from the “End of History” that Fukuyama envisioned. There is still a lot to play for and the story will continue to unravel.

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Categories: International politics

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