2014 is about to start; the centenary of the ‘great war’ is approaching. We have become accustomed to decades of peace (which ironically have led to the worst economic crisis of modernity), in Europe and throughout the world, but will it last? Or rather are we on the brink of new ‘great wars’? The National Intelligence Council of the USA (which includes the CIA) forecasts turbulences towards the year 2025. Problems and tensions of various kinds are in fact out there right now.
In a few years, the United States may not be the first world economy anymore; it has been such continuously since about 1880. Considering the pace of Chinese growth, the sum of Beijing’s economy with those of Hong Kong and Macao (and Taiwan?), its vast zones of ‘grey’ and ‘black’ economy, the overtaking could take place sooner than expected. How will they react in Washington? Will they accept it light-heartedly? What will happen then to the Middle East, amidst tensions and conflicts also caused by US ignorance? And in the Far East, where China, Japan and South Korea continue to look at each other menacingly? In Central Asia, all (or almost all) seems quiet, but the availability of resources could lead to tensions between China and Russia, and maybe others. The risks are there, and call into question the great powers, in an increasingly multipolar world.
But why 2025? Studies on economic cycles show that in those years there could be a sharp downturn, with political repercussions. The problem is that in the West we are in trouble already now, from the USA to Germany…
First, let us forget about Asia. Its central region, on the brink of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, is controlled by Russia (militarily) and China (economically). In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, angered at American inaction, is looking for new partners, from Russia to China: the latter has become her largest importer since 2012. Even old friends like Turkey, India and Japan, are moving away from the USA. Ankara looks with favor to China and Moscow, despite divergencies with the latter (read: Syria), and how to blame her, since Turkey is one of the main transit countries for gas? Between India and China there is old grudge, but now the latter is Delhi’s second trade partner, ahead of the USA…India also has excellent ties with Moscow, and follows with interest Putin’s Eurasian Union. As to Japan, Abe’s choices are always more nationalist and there is a desire for greater autonomy from Washington, which is perceived as a ‘protector’ in clear demise. In short, it seems that we really are at the beginning of an ‘Asian age’ in international relations, where there is a role for Russia, the United States is in decline, and Europe does not exist.
The EU is now at the stake; it has not even reached Kiev. Ukrainians wonder what role they could play in the fledgling Eurasian Union. At present, there is already a Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Armenia has formally decided to join last September, to the surprise of European chancelleries. Locked between old enemies, Turkey and Azerbaijan, what would they ever do? Wait in line for Lady Ashton or a statement by Mr Barroso? Europhile Georgia (but until when?) meanwhile takes time. The war in Georgia in 2008 in fact ended the eastern advance of the West.
Especially in the 1990s, the US provoked and humiliated Moscow, trying to transform Russia into a vassal state, bringing NATO and the EU (which is a Washington vassal!) to Eastern Europe, and improvising a market economy in a country recovering from seventy years of socialism. A bottomless pit to which Russia has reacted in a muscular and aggressive way, but for now without a direct confrontation. With the Ukraine we must be careful, because one-third of her inhabitants are Russian speakers. What can offer her an already devastated EU, which has also lost the famous ‘triple-A’ of Standard & Poor’s?
Here there already is a creeping war, and is taking the form of a fight for survival. EU Statistics says that in the Union 120 million people are at risk of poverty; among them, 27% of children (almost a third). Speaking of individual countries, the Italians at risk are about 30%; many, but beware … in the ‘great’ Germany the figure exceeds 16% – quite a lot for a country once idealized as a model of economic virtue. The reality of a clash between generations is also discussed in a country like the United Kingdom where, for a variety of reasons, tensions between the young and the elderly are less extreme than on the continent. If the Europeans of the future will be young, unemployed, disillusioned, angry and increasingly poor, what will they do? Maybe they will vote on the far right (see Greece and Hungary), maybe they will be captured by a Marine Le Pen, and certainly they will take issue with representative democracy (see the Piraten or Italy’s Forconi). Representative of whom? Whose interests and aspirations?
One of the top counsellors of the Russian President, Sergej Karaganov, says clearly that at present the world is on the Pacific, while the future will be played on the chessboards of the Arctic (for resources, on which little is known) and the Indian Ocean. Europe will just watch. China has arrived on the Moon; we have not, pace the Lisbon Strategy and the ‘knowledge economy’.
Will there be a war to pull off Europe out of trouble? Is it some kind of physiological need? The point is that going on this way we will approach it. If the political classes do not offer responses to the crisis, social tensions will explode. Some smart guys then (Hollande has already tried a couple of times) will try to discharge tensions outside, and venture into some ‘crusade’. How will we end up ?… shall we ask the ‘experts’ of the European Commission?