2014: Geopolitical Thoughts and Predictions.
James Paul Zaworski
The new year is just a couple of days old as I write this, and I am already wondering what this year will bring to the world, and to yours truly. Rather than focus on me, let's focus on the geopolitics of 2014.
The world is seemingly more unstable these days than twenty or thirty years ago. There are not only more people alive today, using the same finite resources on a planet that isn't getting any larger to accommodate them, but also countries competing for resources in ways less expected, and more unpredictable, than ever before.
As I write there are civil wars going on in Syria, Central African Republic and in South Sudan. Thailand sees a likely military coup (the nineteenth in 81 years), and there are increasing tensions and jockeying for power and influence in many areas of the world, particularly the Middle East, Africa and in East/Southeast/South Asia.
In the Middle East, the Syrian conflict is a kind of free for all proxy war, with players as diverse as Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, The UAE, The USA, Russia, al Qaeda and a variety of smaller ethnic groups like the Alawites (and of course the Baathist regime of good old Bashar al Assad). What a chess game that is, and the stakes are higher than any of the highest stakes of poker imaginable. The Syrian conflict is a horrible tragedy, and risks spilling over into neighboring areas and engulfing the whole Middle East in a perpetual conflict. I predict this Syrian conflict will go on and on with no clear victors in 2014, unless of course there is active military intervention by an outside power on a major scale, which is doubtful.
Egypt is one of those countries with internal turmoil, with a coup last year ousting President Morsi, and a kind of government in limbo resulting with promises of "free and fair constitutional elections". Protests will continue, and even if a "free and fair constitution" and elections are held and adopted, there will be a situation in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood will likely cause a lot of trouble, i. e., internal terrorism/civil strife, and perhaps a Syria like conflagration. Nobody wants that.
The United States is due to pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, but an "American troop presence" is still up in the air beyond that date. A decision was supposed to have been made by year's end, but President Hamid Karzai delayed a decision. Likely, there will be an Iraq-like impasse, and the USA will pull out of Afghanistan completely, resulting in Karzai having to deal with the Taliban alone. Good luck, Hamid.
Africa continues to have its share of problems. Both the Central African Republic and South Sudan are embroiled in strife right now. Both are hard nuts to crack, and it will take United Nations peacekeeping forces backed by some kind of mandate from the Security Council to get that done. Good luck having pan-African forces solving the problem; they end up just exasperating the peace keeping efforts it seems, by taking sides.
Asia is the biggest, and most complex of the lot. China and India are vying for regional influence, China and Japan are on the verge of some sort of "complication" over the contested Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, North Korea is always predictably unpredictable, and the United States has its "pivot" toward Asia to consider. China is flexing its muscle, both militarily and trying to exert a bit of "soft power" as well, but neither seem to get street cred in the "South China Sea", and China is just looking like a big bully when it comes to the overlapping claims there. China's token help to the Philippines last year from the supertyphoon is an example of this "soft power" opportunity missed. The big bully in the neighborhood has both the Philippines and Vietnam flocking to the United States, shoring up ties and in the case of the Philippines, reaffirming its alliance with the United States. Japan and China are a big issue as well, with both powers acting and reacting in a totally unnecessary territorial dispute over uninhabited islands. It's like two selfish kids, squabbling over a toy.
One looks at a century ago, and the alliances that were in place then which led to a cascade effect of countries joining in World War I; the same is true today. If an "incident" occurs, this friend of that one will join in, and we will have a real mess on our hands.
However, I don't think anything like that will happen this year. Maybe in the future, but for now, the status quo will reign as economic development and trade are too important between China and Japan, and China and the United States.
Speaking of the United States, things are going to continue to improve, in terms of economic recovery. A surprise 4% GDP in the last quarter of 2013 is an indicator of better things to come. Of course, the domestic politics of the United States will be dirtier than ever with the mid-term elections coming. Good luck with that.
In Europe, Merkel will continue to dominate things although Putin will give her a run for her money, vis a vis gas and energy and the Ukraine. Austerity will continue to be felt in the PIIGS, but perhaps Portugal will wiggle free at last (thanks, no doubt, to all the Portuguese wine I purchase here in Macau).
I left out South America, and expect something to happen positively in a post-Chavez Venezuela, and Brazil will continue to see its share of domestic troubles with the inequality of wealth and poverty the way it has been, and will continue, to be.
As for the environment, unfortunately we have more pollution than ever, and can expect further deforestation of the great rain forests of the Amazon and Indonesia and Africa to continue at an accelerated pace. Animal and plant species that are threatened now will become endangered, and some species, like the Hainan gibbon, will likely go extinct. Nobody seems to care about a clean environment any more, it is all about economic growth and money, money, money in 2014.
Okay, those are my geopolitical, and global predictions for 2014.
--James Paul Zaworski
January 3, 2014.
Originally published by my blog: