"Stratfor" forecast: World enters a new phase

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Baku, 17 April 2013 –

Geopolitical processes developing on the global scale are alarming. Uncertain nature of the processes is the key concern. Dynamics of changing relations between the large powers is unclear. However, analysis and forecasts of the experts reveal quite interesting and noteworthy aspects of those issues.

Post cold-war geopolitics

Founder of "Stratfor” analytical center George Friedman authored an interesting analysis with respect to changes happening in the global geopolitics (see: George Friedman. Beyond the Post-Cold War World // "Stratfor”, 2 April, 2013) that contained noteworthy forecasts on transition of the world into a new geopolitical phase.

According to G. Friedman three factors defined the world in the wake of the cold-war. First was America’s influence and power. Second was the rise of China as a global industrial center based on its domestic potential. The third was transformation of Europe into a massive and integrated economic giant. Russia was weakened while Japan adopted a new economic model. Friedman goes on to divide the post cold-war era into two phases. The first one lasted from December 31, 1991, until September 11, 2001. The second phase started from 9/11 and continues to date.

"The initial phase of the post-cold war world was built on two assumptions. The first assumption was that the United States was the dominant political and military power but that such power was less significant than before, since economics was the new focus. The second phase still revolved around the three Great Powers - the United States, China and Europe - but involved a major shift in the worldview of the United States, which then assumed that pre-eminence included the power to reshape the Islamic world through military action while China and Europe single-mindedly focused on economic matters”.

G. Friedman continued with the thought provoking analysis. He believed that idea of Europe enshrined in Maastricht Treaty is no longer crucial for Europe. Economic perturbations are ever stronger and Europe is politically divided. Chinese economic miracle is drawing to a close and therefore, Beijing is evaluating military options to assert itself. The most interesting idea was on the U.S. It was withdrawing from Afghanistan and reconsidering relationship and correlation between pre-eminence and omnipotence.

G. Friedman riveted attention to two key notions – pre-eminence and omnipotence pointing to differences between the two. He emphasized changes in correlation and interdependence of those notions. What would be the direction of a change? What would be the new aspects of its content? Those questions evoke interest.

Although the analyst failed to address those questions in detail, he nevertheless elaborated on some key features. According to Friedman, Europe existed primarily as economic force. But it attempted to own individual states. The idea unattainable by itself now fragments Europe. Germany, Netherlands, and Luxembourg have low unemployment while the situation on the periphery of the EU is not so optimistic. Germany wants to retain Europe to protect German trade interests. Berlin attempts to direct the economic course of the member states. Germany does not just help those countries; it wishes to control their budgets. This is a source of contradictions as the EU member states do not want to cede their sovereignty that entails a rise of ultranationalist trends in some countries of Europe (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and etc.).

Cyprus example has revealed a crucial aspect from the EU standpoint. Apparently, European Union wants to subject weaker members to pressure. This aspect questions the very prospects of European integration. It also reveals quite undemocratic attitude towards the weaker members within the institution that prides itself on being democratic. If this principle is applicable to the EU, then how democratic relations with other countries are? How objective can be the EU attitude towards the resolution of regional conflicts? Friedman’s analysis makes identification of those questions imperative.

New relativity of forces

China has received extensive attention in Friedman’s article. According to the author, China’s economy couldn’t possibly continue to expand at the same rate. Export-oriented economy defines the rise of the domestic demand. But China would need to revolutionize the domestic life. Beijing tried it before, to no avail. China could not realize cardinal social-economic changes in the time needed. Instead, China cuts profit margins on exports. The same method shook the pillars of the Japan’s economy. China is likely to face the same fate.

Those are indications of similar mistakes made by Europe and China. They believed that geopolitical and domestic political problems can be neglected; sustainable growth could be maintained by economic prosperity. That forecast was indeed true for the years 1991-2008. The reality is staggeringly different today. Unlike EU and China, the U.S. learnt different lesson of history.

America believed that global problems could be solved by military intervention. September 2001 overthrew the idea. Afghanistan and Iraq proved the impossibility of forcible imposing of will. This was the moment to acknowledge a difference between pre-eminence and omnipotence. It is tough to say whether Washington has everything figured out. Meantime, America recognizes the changes in the global geopolitics and adapts its foreign policy respectively. America’s actions in connection with the Middle East, Central Asia and China manifest the changes.

The key aspect is that U.S. no longer considers direct military intervention. It does not abandon its leadership ambitions either; it simply aims to apply a new formula to ensure the balance of forces. America possesses better economic system compared to two other giants - EU and China. It faces less economic problems. Nevertheless, that does not guarantee absolute supremacy. Time will show the effectiveness of the U.S. policy in the new phase. But it is already clear that global geopolitical picture will undergo dramatic changes.

G. Friedman defines four crucial characteristics of the new phase. The first, the United States remains the world's dominant power in all dimensions. It will act with caution, however, recognizing the crucial difference between pre-eminence and omnipotence. Second, Europe is returning to its normal condition of multiple competing nation-states. While Germany will dream of a Europe in which it can write the budgets of lesser states, the EU nation-states will look at Cyprus and choose default before losing sovereignty. Third, Russia is re-emerging. As the Europe fragments, the Russians will do what they always do: fish in muddy waters. The deals they are making are not in their economic interests, but they increase Moscow's political dividends substantially. Fourth, China is becoming self-absorbed in trying to manage its domestic problems. Aligning the Communist Party with volatile economic situation is a challenge. Without prosperity, China will become nothing but an authoritarian state.

Significant conclusions stem from the analysis, including thought provoking aspects with regard to changing relativity of forces on the global scale. Apparently, leadership based on concrete parameters (military, economic or political) will not be viable. It will require combined supremacy for any country to dominate on the global scale, including politics, economy, ecology, military and other aspects. Europe and China are no competition for the U.S. in terms of economy. They are depleting their capability by betting solely on economy.

The issue of U.S. hegemony is yet to be definite because new power centers may emerge. Russia, India, Brazil, Turkey are dynamically developing. Moreover, conflicts in various regions can instantly affect the geopolitical situation in the world. Unresolved conflicts can create never before seen problems for the large powers. Emergence of regional leaders adds an impetus to the dynamics of the geopolitical picture. There can also be other scenarios.

However, theses by G. Friedman produce notable aspects. New international rules are surfacing. Given the timing, we must acknowledge the possible uncertainty in that area for some time to come. There could be a time when concrete criteria regulating the geopolitical processes in the regional scale would be obliterated. In that case, resolution of conflicts could become a pressing issue.

On the other hand, as national statehood is gaining importance in Europe, the optimal solution of the issue with regard to newly independent states deserves a thought. There may be a need to conceive new relativity between national sovereignty and processes of globalization. Incompletion of the current phase constitutes a major challenge as many principal aspects are yet unclear. Thus, we have no choice but to accept the final thesis of G. Friedman: "And now we enter the new era”.

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