LatAm’s Pacific Alliance highlighted at Davos

latamA panel entitled The Pacific Alliance Promise was held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It was attended by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Peru’s Prime Minister César Villanueva, and Chilean Finance Minister Felipe Larraín. At the gathering the panelists discussed the challenges of this alliance, formed by Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile. Continue reading “LatAm’s Pacific Alliance highlighted at Davos”

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Elections Don’t Matter, Institutions Do

By Robert D. Kaplan

kaplanMany years ago, I visited Four Corners in the American Southwest. This is a small stone monument on a polished metal platform where four states meet. You can walk around the monument in the space of a few seconds and stand in four states: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. People lined up to do this and have their pictures taken by excited relatives. To walk around the monument is indeed a thrill, because each of these four states has a richly developed tradition and identity that gives these borders real meaning. And yet no passports or customs police are required to go from one state to the other. Continue reading “Elections Don’t Matter, Institutions Do”

A Closer Look at India’s Naxalite Threat

By Fred Burton and Ben West

stratforOn July 6, the Indian government issued a warning to railroad operators and users after Maoist rebels — known as Naxalites — declared a “bandh,” a Hindi word meaning stoppage of work, in eastern India. When a bandh is declared by the Naxalites, it carries with it an implied threat of violence to enforce the work stoppage, in this case against the public transportation system over a two-day period. It is widely understood that trains and buses in eastern India during this time would be subject to Naxalite attack if they do not obey the call for a shutdown. Continue reading “A Closer Look at India’s Naxalite Threat”

NAFTA and the Future of Canada, Mexico and the United States

By Marc Lanthemann

northamericaThe 20th anniversary of NAFTA’s implementation on Jan. 1 has revived some of the perennial arguments that have surrounded the bloc since its inception. The general consensus has been that the trade deal was a mixed bag, a generally positive yet disappointing economic experiment. That consensus may not be wrong. The history of the North American Free Trade Agreement as an institution has been one of piecemeal, often reluctant, integration of three countries with a long tradition of protectionism and fierce defense of economic national sovereignty. While NAFTA was a boon for certain sectors of the economy, particularly the U.S. agriculture industry, the net effect of the world’s second-largest trade bloc remains somewhat unknown. Continue reading “NAFTA and the Future of Canada, Mexico and the United States”

Ukraine: On the Edge of Empires

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanThe name “Ukraine” literally translates as “on the edge.” It is a country on the edge of other countries, sometimes part of one, sometimes part of another and more frequently divided. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was divided between Russia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire. In the 19th century, it was divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary. And in the 20th century, save for a short period of independence after World War I, it became part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine has been on the edge of empires for centuries. Continue reading “Ukraine: On the Edge of Empires”

Letter from Kurdistan

By Reva Bhalla

stratforAt the edge of empires lies Kurdistan, the land of the Kurds. The jagged landscape has long been the scene of imperial aggression. For centuries, Turks, Persians, Arabs, Russians and Europeans looked to the mountains to buffer their territorial prizes farther afield, depriving the local mountain dwellers a say in whose throne they would ultimately bow to. Continue reading “Letter from Kurdistan”

Israel’s new strategic position

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanIsrael has expressed serious concerns over the preliminary U.S.-Iranian agreement, which in theory will lift sanctions levied against Tehran and end its nuclear program. That was to be expected. Less obvious is why the Israeli government is concerned and how it will change Israel’s strategic position. Continue reading “Israel’s new strategic position”

Israelis, Saudis and the Iranian Agreement

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanA deal between Iran and the P-5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) was reached Saturday night. The Iranians agreed to certain limitations on their nuclear program while the P-5+1 agreed to remove certain economic sanctions. The next negotiation, scheduled for six months from now depending on both sides’ adherence to the current agreement, will seek a more permanent resolution. The key players in this were the United States and Iran. The mere fact that the U.S. secretary of state would meet openly with the Iranian foreign minister would have been difficult to imagine a few months ago, and unthinkable at the beginning of the Islamic republic.  Continue reading “Israelis, Saudis and the Iranian Agreement”

Letter from Tangier

By Reva Bhalla

stratforMorocco rarely figures into international news headlines these days,  something of a virtue in this restive part of the world. The term Maghreb, which  translates as “land of the setting sun,” eventually came to denote a stretch of  land starting in the Western Sahara and running through the Atlas Mountains and  ending before the Nile River Valley, encompassing modern-day Morocco, Algeria,  Tunisia and Libya. However, the Maghreb originally meant the lands that define  Morocco, where the setting sun marked the Western frontier of the Islamic  empire.

This evening in Tangier, I watch as ribbons of intense red and orange weave  through plum-tinted clouds and settle behind the mountains on the Spanish  coastline. Continue reading “Letter from Tangier”

The U.S.-Iran Talks: Ideology and Necessity

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanThe talks between Iran and the Western powers have ended but have not failed. They will reconvene next week. That in itself is a dramatic change from the past, when such talks invariably began in failure. In my book The Next Decade, I argued that the United States and Iran would move toward strategic alignment, and I think that is what we are seeing take shape. Of course, there is no guarantee that the talks will yield a settlement or that they will evolve into anything more meaningful. But the mere possibility requires us to consider three questions: Why is this happening now, what would a settlement look like, and how will it affect the region if it happens? Continue reading “The U.S.-Iran Talks: Ideology and Necessity”

China’s Inevitable Changes

By Rodger Baker and John Minnich

stratforThe Central Committee of the Communist Party of China will convene its Third  Plenum meeting Nov. 9. During the three-day session, President Xi Jinping’s  administration will outline core reforms to guide its policymaking for the next  decade. The Chinese government would have the world believe that Xi’s will be  the most momentous Third Plenary Session since December 1978, when former  supreme leader Deng Xiaoping first put China on the path of economic reform and  opening.

Whether or not Xi’s policies will be as decisive as Deng’s — or as  disappointing as those of former President Hu Jintao — the president has little  choice but to implement them. China’s current economic  model, and by extension its political and social model, is reaching its  limits just as it had prior to Deng’s administration. The importance of the  upcoming meeting is that it comes at an inflection point for China, one that its  leaders can hardly afford to ignore. Continue reading “China’s Inevitable Changes”

U.S. Foreign Policy from the Founders’ Perspective

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanLast week I discussed how the Founding Fathers might view the American debt crisis and the government shutdown. This week I thought it would be useful to consider how the founders might view foreign policy. I argued that on domestic policy they had clear principles, but unlike their ideology, those principles were never mechanistic or inflexible. For them, principles dictated that a gentleman pays his debts and does not casually increase his debts, the constitutional provision that debt is sometimes necessary notwithstanding. They feared excessive debt and abhorred nonpayment, but their principles were never completely rigid.

Whenever there is a discussion of the guidelines laid down by the founders for American foreign policy, Thomas Jefferson’s admonition to avoid foreign entanglements and alliances is seen as the founding principle. That seems reasonable to me inasmuch as George Washington expressed a similar sentiment. So while there were some who favored France over Britain during the French Revolutionary Wars, the main thrust of American foreign policy was neutrality. The question is: How does this principle guide the United States now? Continue reading “U.S. Foreign Policy from the Founders’ Perspective”

U.S. and Iranian Realities

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanU.S. President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week  in the first such conversation in the 34 years since the establishment of the  Islamic Republic. The phone call followed tweets and public statements on both  sides indicating a willingness to talk. Though far from an accommodation between  the two countries, there are reasons to take this opening seriously — not only  because it is occurring at such a high level, but also because there is now a  geopolitical logic to these moves. Many things could go wrong, and given that  this is the Middle East, the odds of failure are high. But Iran is weak and the United States is  avoiding conflict, and there are worse bases for a deal. Continue reading “U.S. and Iranian Realities”

Stratfor’s Fourth Quarter Forecast

stratforFirst, the issue everyone is talking about — a developing rapprochement between U.S. and Iran. We’ve long said that Iran and the U.S. would eventually come to an agreement, but the timeline that both sides have set is ambitious with a number of potential pitfalls that will need to be watched closely. This quarter, both the Iranian and U.S. presidents will be negotiating with their publics as much as they are negotiating with each other through multilateral talks and backchannels. This is especially true for Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, who has a limited mandate to deliver concessions — particularly on energy-related sanctions — from a U.S. president that faces his own political limitations in unilaterally repealing these measures. Continue reading “Stratfor’s Fourth Quarter Forecast”

OECD sets out roadmap for Colombia membership

logooecd_enThe OECD set out a clear path for Colombia’s accession to the Organisation, reinforcing its commitment to further extend its global membership to include more emerging economies. The 34 OECD Members approved on 19 September a Roadmap to accession for Colombia establishing the process and setting out the terms for Colombia’s future membership. This follows the political decision taken at the OECD Ministerial Meeting in Paris in May.  Continue reading “OECD sets out roadmap for Colombia membership”

China’s Growing Interest in Central Asia

stratforChinese President Xi Jinping’s tour of four Central Asian countries in early  September highlighted a trend followed closely by Stratfor: China’s  struggle to reduce its exposure to security risks and supply disruptions in the  South and East China seas by exploring new overland sources of and transport  routes for goods, energy and other natural resources.

Over the past fifteen years, the Chinese economy’s extraordinary growth has  turned it into the world’s largest importer of key industrial inputs like coal,  iron ore, copper, nickel and aluminum, as well as the second-largest importer of  crude oil Continue reading “China’s Growing Interest in Central Asia”

The U.S.-European Relationship, Then and Now

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanI am writing this from Greece, having spent the past week in Europe and having moved among various capitals. Most discussions I’ve had in my travels concern U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to move decisively against Syria and how Russian President Vladimir Putin outmatched him. Of course, the Syrian intervention had many aspects, and one of the most important ones, which was not fully examined, was what it told us about the state of U.S.-European relations and of relations among European countries. This is perhaps the most important question on the table.

We have spoken of the Russians, but for all the flash in their Syria performance, they are economically and militarily weak — something they would change if they had the means to do so. It is Europe, taken as a whole, that is the competitor for the United States. Its economy is still slightly larger than the United States’, and its military is weak, though unlike Russia this is partly by design. Continue reading “The U.S.-European Relationship, Then and Now”

Strategy, Ideology and the Close of the Syrian Crisis

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanIt is said that when famed Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich heard of the death of the Turkish ambassador, he said, “I wonder what he meant by that?” True or not, serious or a joke, it points out a problem of diplomacy. In searching for the meaning behind every gesture, diplomats start to regard every action merely as a gesture. In the past month, the president of the United States treated the act of bombing Syria as a gesture intended to convey meaning rather than as a military action intended to achieve some specific end. This is the key to understanding the tale that unfolded over the past month.

When President Barack Obama threatened military action in retaliation for what he claimed was the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, he intended a limited strike that would not destroy the weapons. Destroying them all from the air would require widespread air attacks over an extensive period of time, and would risk releasing the chemicals into the atmosphere. The action also was not intended to destroy Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime. Continue reading “Strategy, Ideology and the Close of the Syrian Crisis”

Syria, America and Putin’s Bluff

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanIn recent weeks I’ve written about U.S. President Barack Obama’s bluff on Syria and the tightrope he is now walking on military intervention. There is another bluff going on that has to be understood, this one from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin is bluffing that Russia has emerged as a major world power. In reality, Russia is merely a regional power, but mainly because its periphery is in shambles. He has tried to project a strength that that he doesn’t have, and he has done it well. For him, Syria poses a problem because the United States is about to call his bluff, and he is not holding strong cards. To understand his game we need to start with the recent G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Putin and Obama held a 20-minute meeting there that appeared to be cold and inconclusive. The United States seems to be committed to some undefined military action in Syria, and the Russians are vehemently opposed. The tensions showcased at the G-20 between Washington and Moscow rekindled memories of the Cold War, a time when Russia was a global power. And that is precisely the mood Putin wanted to create. That’s where Putin’s bluff begins. Continue reading “Syria, America and Putin’s Bluff”

Obama’s Tightrope Walk

By George Friedman

georgefriedmanLast week began with certainty that an attack on Syria was inevitable and even imminent. It ended with the coalition supporting the attack somewhere between falling apart and not coming together, and with U.S. President Barack Obama making it clear that an attack was inevitable, maybe in a month or so, if Congress approves, after Sept. 9 when it reconvenes. This is a comedy in three parts: the reluctant warrior turning into the raging general and finding his followers drifting away, becoming the reluctant warrior again. Begin with the fact that the United States was not the first country calling for military intervention in Syria after pictures of what appeared to be the dead from a chemical attack surfaced. That honor went to France, Turkey and Britain, each of whom called for action. Much as with Libya, where France and Italy were the first and most eager to intervene, the United States came late to the feast. Continue reading “Obama’s Tightrope Walk”

In China, an Unprecedented Demographic Problem Takes Shape

From Stratfor

china_demography_2010Chinese society is on the verge of a structural transformation even more profound than the long and painful project of economic rebalancing, which the Communist Party is anxiously beginning to undertake. China’s population is aging more rapidly than it is getting rich, giving rise to a great demographic imbalance with important implications for the Party’s efforts to transform the Chinese economy and preserve its own power in the coming decade. Continue reading “In China, an Unprecedented Demographic Problem Takes Shape”

Syria and the Limits of Comparison

By Robert D. Kaplan

kaplanBecause so many war plans simply do not survive the reality of war itself, each war is a unique universe unto its own and thus comparisons with previous wars, while useful, may also prove illusory. One of the many wrong assumptions about the Second Gulf War before it started was that it would somehow be like the First Gulf War, in which the pessimists had been humiliated by the ease of the victory. Indeed, the Second Gulf War unfolded in vastly different ways, this time proving the pessimists right. That is why the recent media refrain comparing a military operation in Syria with the one in Kosovo in 1999 worries me.

There are profound differences.

Syria has a population ten times the size of Kosovo’s in 1999. Because everything in Syria is on a much vaster scale, deciding the outcome by military means could be that much harder. Kosovo sustained violence and harsh repression at the hands of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, which was met with a Continue reading “Syria and the Limits of Comparison”

The PC16: Identifying China’s Successors

By George Friedman

postchina16China has become a metaphor. It represents a certain phase of economic development, which is driven by low wages, foreign appetite for investment and a chaotic and disorderly development, magnificent in scale but deeply flawed in many ways. Its magnificence spawned the flaws, and the flaws helped create the magnificence.

The arcs along which nations rise and fall vary in length and slope. China’s has been long, as far as these things go, lasting for more than 30 years. The country will continue to exist and perhaps prosper, but this era of Chinese development — pyramiding on low wages to conquer global markets — is ending simply because there are now other nations with even lower wages and other advantages. China will have to behave differently from the way it does now, and thus other countries are poised to take its place.

Reshaping International Order

Since the Industrial Revolution, there have always been countries where comparative advantage in international trade has been rooted in low wages and a large work force. If these countries can capitalize on their advantages, they can transform themselves dramatically. These transformations, in turn, reorganize global power structures. Karl Kautsky, a German Continue reading “The PC16: Identifying China’s Successors”