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European Geostrategy’s geopolitical forecast for 2014: a mid-term review

© European Geostrategy

© European Geostrategy

At the beginning of 2014, European Geostrategy’s Senior Editors made a number of geopolitical forecasts. At the time we said that our aim was ‘to think about the future and its implications for Europeans’ place in the world’. We recognised then, as we do now, that the future is unknowable – and full of surprises – but that even a flawed forecast can help us to think about future events and trends, enabling us to better prepare for them. In this article we provide a ‘mid-term review’ of our initial geopolitical forecasts for 2014. The following analysis should therefore be seen as an audit of our initial geopolitical forecasts.

Is China’s rise still ‘unstable’?

Since January, we have seen the Chinese state denounce as illegal a referendum on full democracy in Hong Kong, and China has had to control mainland rioters in the north-western region of the country. President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption has led to the imprisonment of party members and general discord among the political elite. As we argued, these internal problems have bled into external policy actions that have played to China’s nationalist strains. Not only has the Chinese-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands continued to simmer after the Chinese-initiated East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), but China has also raised tensions vis-à-vis Vietnam by pressing ahead with the deployment of an oil rig in disputed waters.

Is it still ‘crunch time’ for Afghanistan?

As of now, President Karzai has still not signed a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), stating that such a decision is better left to his successor, who very well may be, former Northern Alliance leader, Abdullah Abdullah. However, it appears Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will be giving Abdullah a run for his money, in what will be a closer election than many may have previously thought. As for American and European military operations in Afghanistan after 2014, the consensus seems to be that the vast majority of American and European military personnel will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 with a small number of support and Special Operations troops from the United States (US) and a few other nations remaining in the country to serve in a training and advisory role to Afghan military and police forces.

Does Mesopotamia continue to stir?

Growing instability, regional tension, terrorist fortification, and separatism have all been developing at a much faster rate than we expected throughout the Mesopotamian region. All the tension between Sunnis and Shi’ites and rebels and state leaders have finally culminated in the recent development of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS has consolidated its power and commanded unchecked authority in much of northern and western Iraq, against a weakened Shi’ite ruler, and much of Syria, against the Assad regime. As the region’s stability is undermined and the threat of spreading terror power might spill over to Jordan and the rest of the Middle East, the Kurdish Regional Government has been pushing separatism through both claiming and selling crude oil in its Iraqi territories in an act of economic independence. This has caused the American government to seriously reconsider its involvement in the region.

What are the implications of the ‘Arab Spring’?

In our view, while the Arab Spring has been anything but fruitful for Syria, it has chaotically led to Egypt’s fifth president in over three years. With the start of a new presidency, the European Union (EU) has still to develop a coherent strategic relationship towards Egypt – a partner of high potential utility in the region for security and trade. As the dynamics of the presidency in Turkey are also always changing, Europe has failed to develop a cohesive policy with a partner that bears increasing importance bilaterally and through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) for European geostrategy in the region. With the increase in conflict in the region comes the increase in urgency for Europeans to develop a common policy to protect their security interests; they are still to prove themselves in this regard.

What about monetary politics and European integration?

As we asserted, the European banking system has become the subject of scrutiny and the loose monetary policies of a number of state banks including the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, and the Bank of England have caused the European Central Bank (ECB) to call for significant action. However, the ECB has yet to employ quantitative easing, much to the satisfaction of Germany who fears what the inflation that would result from such a policy would do to their economy. In the East, China has continued to stockpile gold, with its demand for the precious metal projected to rise twenty-five percent by 2017. International currency management continues to become an ever more direct expression of geostrategic influence throughout the world.

Is Russia’s resurgence still underway?

As we forecast, 2014 has only re-emphasised Russia’s recent prominence and consolidation of power in the region. With the corrupt accession of Crimea from Ukraine to Russia, Moscow’s sphere of influence has gained new strategic influence in the ‘warm seas’ – increasing not only the economic presence of Russia, but the fear for security of all its western neighbours. As Eastern Europe cries for help, the EU’s stagnant and incoherent Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) provides little security in a time of US rebalancing. The escalation of tension in the area and the diminishing stability of Ukraine has given life to NATO and called for a serious and urgent reevaluation of European foreign policy in its immediate neighbourhood.

Will Scottish separatism continue to wane?

While we predicted at the start of the year that Scotland will remain inside the UK, the Scottish people have yet to vote on whether or not Scotland will separate from the world’s first modern project of geopolitical integration. Opinion polls continue to suggest that the Scots will keep the UK united, although this should not be considered a foregone conclusion. We maintain that if Scotland does decide to remain British, this reaffirmation of unity among the UK’s component parts will provide London with the confidence to re-assert British power in the world and particularly within an EU context.

How has Germany’s economy gained attention?

In our view, although Germany is still the economic heavyweight of Europe, it is not all good news for the European giant. The first quarter of 2014 has provided dim forecasts for the future and Germany has not been excluded. First quarter growth for the country this year was less than one percent. However, Germany is not the only one in Europe demonstrating signs of a possible future recession, with many European countries experiencing negative growth and the EU as a whole recording only 0.2% growth. German business confidence is at an all time low for the year (German business climate index).

Are the generals revolting?

As we argued, with more recent security threats in the immediate neighbourhood of Eastern Europe, the debate on defence spending has increased strategic urgency. Money and the amount of it allocated to defence budgets will prevail as the most influential factor in determining the future of the CSDP and NATO. With Russia’s bellicosity and ongoing nearby conflict, the previously thought to be waning importance of land power might have resurgence in defence budget talks at a critical time when resources are needed to be promptly renewed and strategy coherently determined. At the very least, the NATO’s – and the EU’s – ‘eastern flank’ will need to be bolstered.

Are the admirals having their moment?

As we forecast, maritime power continues to be an increasingly important priority for nations across the globe. With the growing piracy problem all along the eastern coast of Africa and the resurgence of potential peer-competitor navies (like those of China and Russia) and the addition of the ‘Daring’, ‘Astute’ and ‘Queen Elizabeth’ classes, the Royal Navy will have both problems to solve as well as the tools with which to confront them. These persisting global maritime problems and the new additions to their fleets have given British admirals the credibility they need to both prove the Royal Navy’s relevance in the world today as well as its need for support and funding in the future. In sum, short of another cull of warships in the upcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2015, the UK – augmented by other European navies – will ensure that Europeans remain one of the world’s principal maritime powers for years to come.

Are Europeans really looking to the skies?

As we predicted, new developments in EU aviation technologies and capabilities seem to be on the way, with many EU Member States continuing to stress their interest in the establishment of a European drone programme, possibly spearheaded by rival defence firms Dassault, Airbus Group and Finmeccanica. The UK and France have spearheaded this movement, signing in July a memorandum of understanding to enable studies for a new combat drone over the coming year. In addition to drones, the need for EU Member States to develop viable mid-air refueling capabilities continues to be a much-talked-about issue. The requirement to extend the range of European airpower will most likely lead to the development of a new breed of European tanker aircraft sometime in the future.

Finally, the UK government has announced its intention to build a fully-fledged spaceport, the first of its kind outside the US. Perhaps as a sweetener to keep the Scottish people within the British union, the UK government has announced that Scotland is likely to be the location of the new facility, which should be completed by 2018. Equally, other European nations will probably invest in new and improved military satellites to maintain their influence above the Earth as well as on it. All of these developments in aviation and space technologies will boost the EU’s defence-industrial capacity as well as improve the geostrategic reach of EU Member States.

Vol. 6, No. 56 (2014)

Our thanks go to Omar Hegazy and Connor Maloney for helping the Senior Editors compile these forecast updates.

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