2016 was a watershed moment for the contemporary world order. If only Francis Fukuyama could have predicted this, back in 1991. Europe is at breaking point; Russia is resurgent; China is more bolshy; America is cowering; Britain is facing a self-identity crisis, and the world is beset by Putin’s idols: Erdogan, Trump, Duterte, and Xi.
With the ending of World War 2, the grand viziers of post-war Europe created the Coal and Steel Community (1951) in an effort to ameliorate war based on market competition for industrial commodities. Fast forward 65 years and this grand, bold vision, for peace and prosperity seems to be breaking apart. The thorn in all centrists’ sides is nouveau nationalism, the rise of the strongman, and spin that even Alastair Cambell must be envious of. What follows is a roundup of events that I saw as defining 2016.
Divide and conquer, that’s how you consolidate power and rule unchallenged. The world’s first corporation: the British East India company, ruled swathes of India for nearly two centuries using this strategy until embroiled in scandal. So, drawing parallels with empires of old and the imperialists’ trump cards, it is incredible to see the same tricks being used in the world’s liberal democracies by both the Right and Left. Nationalism is back and this time will we see a re-run of the 1930s?
Living standards in the OECD, a rich club that every aspiring nation wants to join, have increased consistently through the late 20th Century – and only retreating after the Financial Crisis of 2008 – 2012. The contemporary political order constantly reminds us about this achievement. The underlying narrative being trickle-down economics – the lie that the rich and powerful use to cement their power and exacerbate inequalities in nuanced ways. But the trickle-down myth is facing an existential crisis. Flag-bearers for change (Farage, Trump, Le Pen, Victor Orban, and friends) have been rattling the cage of working class angst for some time. In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, coupled with sanguine conditions in the OECD, migrants and wage stagnation are being whipped up to fuel anti-globalisation fervour. Nationalism is making a comeback and this time, the mainstream political consensus is speechless.
Farage has been spouting his Voodoo magic as an MEP for years but, since 2010 UKIP and its pit bull leader have been surfing a tidal wave of the ‘forgotten classes’ problems. Nationalism is the invisible panacea to their qualms. As usual, the working class, typified by lower educational standards and locked out of Pall Mall clubs, have been mobilised and seduced by the Machiavellian politicians; obviously, their new masters (Trump and Farage) don’t care for their concerns but this is not the point. The new kids on the block need this critical mass of Strictly Come Dancing viewers to vote for them. By tapping into this nascent nationalism, political outsiders can snatch the keys to power, bitch slap the establishment and find themselves in Downing Street and the White House, quite quickly.
Nationalism is but one of the years eminent trends – although, it is arguable that the trend has been masked behind retreating foreign policy adventures of the Old Fox and friends. New Scientist ran a brilliant piece on this which can be viewed here.
The neo-medievalists (those receptive to trade) want, as in the case of London, to transform their identity to that of city states. Rather than having 44 countries in Europe, they’re opting to make the geographer’s life even harder by becoming splinter regions, states, and cities. They argue that this decentralisation will allow the chosen few to carry the torch of liberalism, freedom, prosperity, and human dignity forward, in a highly fractious world. The underlying story here is the inequalities of wealth, life, and opportunity.
Feminism seems to have been the Centrists’ response to the rise of the Right. The poster boy of this movement is Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau. He has made many speeches endorsing his feminist embrace; of course, this is just spin: hyperbole to appeal to the rising female intelligentsia of Canada – and at the same time to distract opponents and allies from his tar sands projects. On the European side of the Atlantic, Cherrie Blair has been using the shield of feminism to protect her husband’s dishonour (after Chilcot’s Inquiry was made public). What’s interesting is, where has this love of ‘feminism’ come from? Surely, Trudeau, Tony, and Cherrie, aren’t brunching together and reading the latest offering from the Vagenda?
The United Kingdom:
Has there ever been a more media friendly Mayor of London? The Left love him as do the Right. The incumbent, Sadiq Khan, was elected Mayor of London in a stunning victory for the Labour Party, which under Jeremy Corbyn has been having mixed fortunes as of late. Sadiq won a stunning 56.8% of Londoners’ hearts. The press has been having a field day ever since. There’s been lots of talk about “post-truth politics” this year but the media have been divisive as ever. All the headlines focus on Sadiq being the first Muslim mayor. This distracts from who he is, what he is, and what he represents. All in all, the election demonstrates how the world’s leading Alpha++ city embraces change.
On Chilcot, it’s amazing how the legacy of the Iraq war stills haunts the roads and halls of Whitehall. There’s not much to say on this, other than a lot of people are dismayed that Tony Blair wasn’t impeached or imprisoned. The man certainly draws a crowd, still, but for all of the wrong reasons.
Ah, the piece de resistance, Brexit. In the western world, this was unequivocally the most important event of the year, even after the election of Donald Trump. Whilst in defeat, all party leaders emphasised that this was “democracy in action”, the reality is, the propaganda machine of government, media, and big business, all spun many lies, and used terror to immobilise the electorate from contemplating voting anything but remain (in the EU). It was an almost Orwellian prophecy. Will the UK become Air Strip One? Who knows, but the way things are going, and looking for 2017, I think Theresa May’s government would do anything for a bilateral trade deal, even if it meant subjecting their constituents to increased authoritarianism under the umbrella of meritocracy.
The big story from across the pond, other than the newly widened Panama Canal reopening, was that of the Panama Papers – and the extent to which the world’s rich evade paying their fair share of taxes, and the dismay of tax avoidance schemes. This story culminated in the former British prime minister, David Cameron, hosting an anti-tax summit.
President-elect Trump. Enough said!
Economic sanctions against Russia continue unabated. But it’s with considerable surprise that the slumbering bear has made its voice heard more loudly this year than any other in recent memory.
Following the successful annexation of Crimea, Russian hard power has been at export strength throughout most of 2016. In the last half of the year, the world looked on in amazement as the Admiral Kuznetsov sailed through the English Channel destined for Syria’s west coast. This ‘slow’ was followed up rapidly over recent weeks with two ‘fasts’. It is Moscow, and not Washington, brokering peace in Syria. But why has the west failed and the strongman succeeded?
The rise of the Occident and Mesopotamian strongman ties in quite accurately with the location of key geostrategic resources. Why has Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan suddenly become bold and nonchalant towards the EU and his NATO allies? Climate governance might be stifling OECD economies but the likes of Putin, Erdogan, and Iran, demonstrate that when you have a strategic advantage, you call the shots. The West – the EU and Europe – is powerless to this passive-aggressive foreign policy.
The possible signing of a Qatar-Turkish pipeline, the Turkstream pipeline (signed in October 2016 between Turkey and Russia, which delivers gas to the heart of Anatolia and southern Europe; avoiding Ukraine), and the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline are all key indicators of the changing face of geopolitics.
2017 looks like the strongman will continue to go from strength-to-strength. Europe is vulnerable to Russian aggression (passive or not) and Turkey, knowing that it sits at the heart of the pipeline network – and certainly not needing to join the EU – is holding a lot of cards. Europe needs to weaken the Kremlin and Ankara’s grip over it. Germany is struggling to hold the EU project together. Indeed, the influx of Syrian migrants and energy politics may see the institutional fabric of the EU, not NATO, weaken even more in the coming 12 months. Will 2017 be the year that East – West gas flow is turned off?
The Middle East:
The start of 2016 saw official sanctions lifted against Iran. Over the course of the year, investors have been cautious but curious. Iran was hell-bent on ramping up production and flooding the oil markets with yet cheaper crude. But the real story was the ongoing proxy war in Syria. Iran (Shia) vs. Saudi Arabia (Sunni), and this wasn’t the only case of these two regional powers engaging in regional affairs. Despite the recent ‘talks’ of easing production, logically, I can’t see Iran, starved of investment and literally sat on stranded assets, doing anything but ramping up production. Nevertheless, the real story across the MENA region will be gas pipeline deals. Who’s influence will succeed: Qatar (backed by the US) or Iran (backed by the nefarious bear)?
Let’s hope and pray that the strongman peace deal will last and that the lives of ordinary Syrians can start to be rebuilt. The Syrian Civil (proxy) War, 2012 – 2016. And the final nail in the coffin of the ‘Arab Spring’.
He’s shot drug dealers, he’s threatening to throw corrupt officials out of helicopters. Is there anything this unmasked superhero won’t do for the Philippine’s economy? The reality is, the Philippine premier is repivoting his country away from, what I suspect he sees as a decaying power and realigning against a rising power. American influence in the AP is certainly on the decline and more so now that TPP is dead and buried. Under Obama’s watch, America has cowered away from protecting the status quo; instead, it has been in constant retreat. Strongmen fill this vacuum. For 2017, make sure you have adequate housing insurance. If any corrupt official crashes through your roof, at least you’ll be covered.
March saw the lifting of Very Large Ore Carriers from docking in Chinese ports. This has allowed Brazilian mining conglomerate, Vale, to capitalise on its economy of scale approach to satisfying Chinese dry-cargo demand in iron ore and coal.
OBOR and The Chinese Dragon
The Northern Star of Chinese soft-power has to be the ‘One Belt One Road’ project. It’s billed as opening up long-forgotten trade routes across Central and South Asia. This is Chinese globalisation. This does have great promise, and like most Faustian pacts, if you can’t pay the Chinese will build it; but will recoup the money back via natural resource extraction. Apart from this, this is the Dragon’s attempt to develop the interior. The west of the country and its hinterland has largely, apart from Lhasa and Shangri La, been left behind from the ‘boom’. This initiative will hopefully see the Tibetan region develop, and allow for the rapid deployment of the PLA to the disputed province and to the border region with India.
The rising dragon personified. 2017 for Xi will likely see him continue his consolidation of power. This mercurial fellow will also look to firm up Chinese island building in the South China Sea and more than likely, continue to flout the ICJ’s ruling on the Nine-Dash Line.
2017 will be a challenging year. Geopolitics will continue to take centre stage, and the West’s media will no doubt fail to properly provide coverage of real news. Strongmen will go from strength-to-strength and, I believe, China will become even more dominant. The US under a Trump administration is too uncertain, but as his team is composed of business people, it’s plausible that the US will be looking for the best ‘deals’ going. The world is entering a pivotal year. The West’s institutions are struggling and failing to adapt to ‘a shades of grey world’, as Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer has said,
“…there is no global leadership, it’s a G0 world”.
Of course, geopolitics and climate governance fit hand in glove. All the regions where strongmen are flourishing are all sat on carbon assets – soon to be stranded assets. The sooner Europe and North America become free from these the sooner the world will change, and change for the better.