Almost two thirds of this year are gone. Where is the balance, so far, in global politics? It is summer time, so it is time for reflection.
As last December—when we asked you for the last time for a prognosis, the liberal world order, established after 1945—is in disarray. An alternative is not in sight. The American president is a loose cannon, erratic and unstable. Midterm elections may cost him the majority in at least one chamber of the House. China’s economy looks slightly more stable, but it is entangled in a trade war with the U.S. A medicine scandal is tainting the highly centralized Chinese system, so the buck has to stop at the top.
In the EU, another country is moving away from the basic consensus of the Paris Charter in 1990 – Italy. Half of voters in recent elections voted populist. An impending trade war with the U.S. is on hold, and may (or may not) commence later this year. In Russia, the soccer championship was enjoyable for many, but a much criticized pension reform is shifting the allegiances of the electorate away from the current powers. Ukraine is still not considered to have moved beyond Russia’s sovereignty. Internally, political issues in Ukraine are significant. India and Brazil are facing their own domestic issues.
Climate change is on the march. We are experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. Plastic is covering ever bigger parts of the oceans (and the earth). The big IT companies are still unsure how to address data protection demands. And how to balance the freedom of expression, and the protection against ‘hate speech’. Protectionism and mercantilism are en vogue, as are nonsense concepts such as ‘alternative reality’. The independence of media has to be defended every month.
What is your forecast for the rest of the year? What can be expected?
Europe is watching with puzzlement and growing despair at how the world is changing. The liberal global order as it was established after 1945 is becoming weaker. The guarantor for this order, the administration of the United States, is turning away from this role. China, while implicitly
suggesting that it might take over this role, is far away from it, at least far from any support for a liberal order. Russia (a middle power with nukes and based on carbon-based energy resources) is far away from both: order, and liberalism.
The EU, the biggest economic bloc and with two permanent seats in the Security Council, is considering its options. While alliances with either China or Russia are out of the question, the 70 year alliance between the EU and the US is under threat.
What, then, is a higher risk to the EU? To muddle through and hope for a better U.S. president (possibly an erroneous tactic), or to finally take over more of its own responsibility—especially in security and trade?
Following the Italian elections in March this year, we now have the opportunity to observe a newly elected populist government in action. One can argue that Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have become increasingly populist under existing conservative and nationalist governments. Austria’s governing coalition uneasily incorporates many aspects of populism into their far-right platform. Italy, however, is the most explicit example of populist governance in action, because the election campaign was led with clear anti-EU and anti-Euro rhetoric, pro-Russian and anti-German messages, and a radical anti-immigration program.
A few days ago, the Austrian chancellor, Kurz spoke of a new ‘axis’ between Vienna, Rome and Munich. Decisions made in German politics this week may result in significant collateral consequences for the traditional German party system and for the stabilizing role that Germany has played under chancellor Merkel in the EU and beyond.
The current strategy of the acting German government’s majority is to address the new Italian government (and the Austrian government) by suggesting concrete solutions for factual issues, instead of fighting ideational battles.
Do you think that this is the right way of addressing populists in power?
See also: Was denkbar ist – Klaus Segbers
The current conflict in Myanmar has broad-ranging effects and side-effects. The core issue is the fate of the Rohingya group, a Muslim minority which in some respects is a leftover of British colonial times and the partition of this empire in 1947. Many Rohingyas are not entitled to elementary citizens’ rights, even today.
Although the immediate cause of Rohingyas fleeing and being expelled is actions by the Myanmar armed forces (or parts thereof), these actions rest on an apparently solid support by the Buddhist majority population in other parts of Burma. Violence is applied from all sides involved – there are armed Rohingya/ Muslim militias, and there is the (much more powerful) Myanmar army. Some aspects of the events in the last two months resemble features of ethnic cleansing. To chase out all of them – so far about 750,000 people – would ‘solve’ the problem from the perspective of the power circles in Yangon and Naypyidaw. It´s not quite clear what the role of the ‘Lady’ is exactly: Aung San Suu Kyi has wasted a lot of her considerable accumulated social capital by making no statements, or only ambivalent once, about this crisis. Obviously, she wants to avoid a situation where she would find herself estranged from the domestic Buddhist majority and from the military, even when, alternatively, she may be appreciated by some Rohingyas and the Western media. China is another factor, watching from the sidelines. More relevant, and often overlooked from our perspective, is the effect of all of this on Bangladesh. This poor country is clearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis, and the financial and political costs of the incoming hundreds of thousands Rohingyas. There are credible reports that the current government, not in a strong position anyway, is increasingly coming under pressure from domestic groups who are calling for stronger action against Myanmar’s policies. This issue also may work to strengthen radical Islamist groups in Bangladesh. All this looks, especially from Europe, like a major tragic disaster, and quite messy.
This week’s question is: Is there anything you may come up with that could be done from the outside, by Europeans or others, except handwringing?
– Klaus Segbers
Recent visits by high-level guests (the Vice President, and the ministers for defense and the exterior) from D.C. to Europe were scrutinized as rarely a visit from the most important partner country has been before. Comments during and after the election campaign about NATO being ‘obsolete’, and the EU being ‘bound for a breakup’, in sync with welcoming anti-EU insurgents created an atmosphere of puzzlement.
As for defense matters, EU member state leaders suddenly rushed to assure their willingness to increase defense budgets to (a long ago agreed) 2% of their respective GDP, maybe until 2024. But they also started to get involved in number games – don’t we also have to consider development aid, expenses for refugees, or costs for stabilizing currencies? The guests from overseas were not visibly impressed. As for the EU, which this year faces up to four crucial elections (Netherlands, France, Germany, possibly Italy), ‘mainstream’ leaders (one of the populist battle cries) continued to borrow some topics from the populist activists: unaccepted refugee candidates shall be returned quicker, austerity policies should give way to state-sponsored spending for infrastructure, social niceties, etc.
Yes, the EU is undergoing its most serious crisis after it was created about 60 years ago, but it also remains a success story. The question is: what are Europe’s options for not just surviving, but regaining momentum and initiative?
– Klaus Segbers
Global Matters has polled our select group of experts on what political issues they believe will be the most important in 2016. In order to do this, we provided a list of eleven major issues, and asked each expert to select 3 issues which they believed would be important in the year ahead. Of these, the most important issue was given 3 points, the runner-up 2 points, and the final issue 1 point.
The eleven issues which they selected from were as follows:
- The emergence of populist movements
- Daesh/ the Islamic State, and related terrorism
- The rise of artificial intelligence/cyborgs
- Climate change
- Unregulated migration
- The erosion of the EU
- The meltdown of China’s economy
- A collapsing Russia
- A populist republican administration in the US
- A new financial crash
- Military action in the South or East China Sea
Following our poll of 12 experts, this was the result:
As can be seen several issues dominated our experts’ concerns. Among these the threat posed by the Islamic State (also known as Daesh) was viewed as the most important and pressing issue for 2016. Following closely behind was the issue of ‘unregulated migration’ relating to the large number of refugees who have entered Europe over the last year.
Climate Change, a hot topic following the Paris Conference, also was viewed as an important issue for the year ahead, as nations begin to implement policies which will tackle this global problem. A final issue which has emerged as important was the risk of a new financial crash, perhaps triggered by a slowdown (or meltdown) of China’s economy.
Do you agree with our experts? Which issues would you score as the most important in 2016, and why? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
(Paco Rivière/Flickr/Creative Commons)
How can we understand – beyond the differences – the similarities of cases like Catalonia, Crimea, Chechnya, the Karen state in Myanmar, Kashmir, Kosovo, the Kurds, Scotland, South Sudan, Xinjiang and Tibet in China, and most recently Venetia?