Geopolitics of 2016

A few days into this new year I thought it might be appropriate to write a bit about what geopolitical developments I expect us to hear more about during the coming months and/or that I think we should keep an extra eye on. I will, in this article at least, omit the most obvious topic such as the war in the middle east and the refugee crisis, not because I don’t recognize their importance but begeo2016cause I don’t have anything particularly intelligent and original to say regarding those matters right now. I will also mostly focus on Europe, because that is where I live and the region I know the most about.

So, lets handle the simplest issue first. There is an upcoming election in the United Kingdom about weather or not the country should remain in the European Union. The reason I call this simple is because it has to do with a single yes/no-election taking place on one particular day.

This is the second election in about a year that will be handled by many people as a possible quick fix. There will be people believing that if only the UK leaves the European Union things will fundamentally change for the better, just like the election about Scottish independence was approached and ironically enough in a manner similar to how some people in the newest EU-member countries talked about joining the EU in the first place. I spent quite a lot of time in Croatia before they joined the EU, and noticed a certain optimism among locals about their future inclusion into the union. I can easily imagine that this attitude is mirrored in the way some people in Scotland think about leaving the UK or people in the UK think about leaving the EU.

The point here is that it might or might not be beneficial in the long run for the UK to leave the European Union, just as it might have been beneficial for all kinds of countries to join or not, but it will take some time until those benefits can be collected. There are rarely quick fixes in politics, things can quickly deteriorate but once a country is sufficiently developed, peaceful and free, further improvement tends to be incremental. That being said, the impact of the UK leaving will be felt all across Europe, and increase the probability of other countries leaving. If, however, the Brits vote no it will be a relative non-event and things will continue as usual, but if the people do vote to leave and David Cameron somehow tries some trickery, Nigel Farage and UKIP will be dancing in the streets while counting all their new voters.

Going a bit further east, geographically outside of Europe but involving a major European power, we have the situation between Russia and Turkey. As most people by now have heard, the Turkish military shot down a Russian airplane over or close to Syria in November last year. This incident was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the most recent series of confrontations between Russia and various members of NATO, that have been going on since the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Let me bring up some of the fallout from these conflicts. There was once an agreement between Turkey and Russia that Russia would help Turkey build it’s first nuclear power plant and that a pipeline for oil or gas would be built between the two countries. As you can read here, these plans have been put into doubt. Likewise, there was once an agreement between France and Russia regarding the sale of some french military ships, plans that went down the toilet over the conflict in Ukraine, read about that here.

Could Russian nuclear scientists and Turkish construction workers not do with some extra business? Likewise, would the people of Turkey not have benefited from cheaper electricity? Is there not a case to be made for how France in times like these really needs more work for its shipbuilders and not less? And what has been gained in exchange for messing up these economic opportunities, has there been some improvement in say the human rights situation in any of the concerned countries or has any other benefit been observed that might be worth this? Or have all involved countries simply traded something for nothing? These are not just crude materialistic concerns, and I do not mean to be an alarmist or fulfill Godwin’s law when I don’t have to, but any student of modern history knows what kinds of developments have historically been preceded by economic depressions and unemployment.

So to put it as simply as possible, there are no winners in this conflict, a future continuation of what we have gotten so far would only lead to a downwards spiral in the standard of living for everyone concerned and an escalation of this conflict that draws in other NATO members would be an apocalypse where everyone loses.

While speaking of Russia, it might also be interesting to observe that Russia seems to be at the head of a possible future block in Europe, a collection of governments that I would refer to as conservative nationalists. One should not be surprised if we start seeing even more similar rhetoric then we already have, as well as actual cooperation, between Russia and primarily Hungary but also Poland. The newly elected foreign minister of Poland recently said (source) that the the previous government had been contributing to:

“…a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians who only use renewable energy and fight all forms of religion”

This choice of words is very interesting. Instead of just focusing on important and controversial issues such as immigration, war and so on, about which conservatives often talk and where discussion is of course necessary, this foreign minister also makes a point out of picking sides. The quote doesn’t say much about policy, it simply is a way of proving that the minister doesn’t like hippies. Expect more of this kind of polarization in the future, with like I said Russia, Hungary and Poland and so on forming a block and the United States, perhaps more than any actual European country, forming the core of the other side.

Finally, at least for now, we have the upcoming presidential election on the other side of the Atlantic. I have already written about this topic quite a lot, so I shall be content with stating what I believe to be the probabilities of the various candidates becoming the president of the US. These probabilities are as follows:

  • Hillary Clinton, 60 %.
  • Donald Trump, 20 %.
  • Bernie Sanders, 15%.
  • Anyone else, say Ted Cruz, 5 %.

This may seem weird, so let me explain. Donald Trump has a better chance of winning his primary than Bernie Sanders, that is why he is listed as having a higher probability of winning the whole thing than Sanders. Clinton is the default candidate, if nothing remarkable happens she will win, ergo her high percentage. Senator Marco Rubio, who is spoken of as the main GOP candidate among the more mainstream ones, probably has a smaller chance then Trump or Cruz to get his voters to show up for the general election. I imagine that a lot of the more hardcore republicans will be disappointed and just stay home come election day if Rubio is their candidate. But things can quickly change and I might have to scrap these numbers after the first primaries, in Iowa and New Hampshire in a month or so.

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