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Global Trends

The geopolitics of the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean is an immense maritime space of great geopolitical and geoeconomic importance. It is a crossroad for sea trade that connects the advanced economies of the East and the West. At the same time, there are also many factors that threaten its stability. These are often closely related with the international dynamics of the Asia-Pacific, to the point that the two areas can be considered as single reality.

West: Challenges and Opportunities for Africa

On its western part, the Indian Ocean touches the shores of the vast African continent. This creates a peculiar mix of opportunities and challenges for coastal states like South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya. Thanks to their position, they can easily reach important economic areas such as India, the Middle East, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Engaging in maritime trade with these regions could provide a major economic boost to these African states and improve the living conditions of their citizens. In addition, emerging powers like China and India are heavily spending in Africa to access its much-needed natural resources and exploit the opportunities for high investment returns. Yet, in the case of China, this also raises concerns. While African states welcome Chinese investments as they come with no legal precondition on the respect of civil and human rights, some worry that its economic penetration might result in political leverage and in a form of economic neo-colonialism.

There are also two states whose situation is particular. The first is Ethiopia, the powerhouse of the Horn of Africa. As other states along the continent’s eastern coast, it can greatly benefit from international sea trade, but unfortunately it is a landlocked country. This largely explains the recent deal it reached with Eritrea to settle their longstanding conflict: turning Eritrea into a friend would enable Ethiopia to access the sea and engage in maritime trade along one of the busiest routes in the world. As a matter of fact, the Red Sea is an obliged passage for ships sailing between Europe and Asia. Ethiopia has even expressed its intention to build a navy, which is a clear sign of its seafaring ambitions.

The second peculiar case is Somalia. In theory, it is also poised to take advantage from its position on the Indian Ocean, but in practice it is a failed state ruled by armed groups where the central government has not enough power to pursue such kind of maritime policy.

This raises the issue of the threats to sea trade along the Western shores of the Indian Ocean. Somalia is part of the problem, as it has become a hub for piracy. The difficult economic conditions have pushed many Somalis to start attacking cargos navigating along the country’s coasts. This became a serious problem that prompted the international community to organize a military operation to patrol the Somali waters and combat piracy. These efforts succeeded in securing the area and in reducing the number of attacks, but as long as the socio-economic conditions of coastal population do not improve, the risk of piracy will remain.

Then, there are two important chokepoints that connect the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean via the Red Sea, which can be considered as a peripheral area of the Indian Ocean putting it in communication with Europe: first, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait; second, the Suez Canal. Both passages are essential for sea trade, and any interruption would have a major impact on the global economy.

North: India & Hormuz

Located to the North, India is certainly the main regional player. A large and fast-growing economy, it is one of today’s most important rising powers and its influence is growing worldwide. New Delhi considers the Indian Ocean as “its own” maritime space, a vector for power projection and economic growth but also an area to be preserve from the intromissions of hostile powers for the sake of national security. India can enormously benefit from its position protracting towards the ocean midway along the vital East-West sea lanes, and in fact it already taking advantage from it. At the same time, by building a powerful navy it can extend its power abroad and protect its interests. As a matter of fact, New Delhi is concerned over the presence of foreign actors in the Indian Ocean, most notably Beijing. The PRC is indeed investing heavily in the region on the basis of its Maritime Silk Road plan, aimed at creating a string of ports to sustain trade with Europe. This is of central importance for China’s economy, which relies on sea trade for exporting goods and importing hydrocarbons; but some consider that the real objective of the project is to extend its influence in the region by economic means. In a context of broader Sino-Indian rivalry, New Delhi worries about Beijing’s presence in countries like the Maldives or Sri Lanka, considering it as a potential threat to its security. Similarly, India also sees unfavorably the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that will connect the PRC with the ocean via the port of Gwadar.

Again, there is also a strategic chokepoint to consider: the Hormuz Strait, which connects the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean. This passage is vital for tankers carrying Middle Eastern oil to Europe and Asia and any interruption would have catastrophic economic consequences. Unfortunately, this is not a remote event: in case of a serious standoff between the US and Iran, the Strait would soon become a major flashpoint, since Teheran’s deterrence strategy is largely based on blocking the Strait; which it can do with relative ease due to geographic reasons.

East: the Indo-Pacific

To the East, the Indonesian archipelago and Australia separate the Indian Ocean from the Pacific. Similarly to Somalia, the waters around Indonesia had become infested with pirates in the recent past; and the phenomenon has been reduced only thanks to multilateral military and development efforts. Yet, if the living conditions of coastal populations deteriorated again, the problem may arise once more.

That said, Indonesia and Australia benefit from their position between the two oceans. It allows them to project their power in both directions, to reach the large European and East Asian markets and finally to access Africa with its resources and its potential for investments. Indonesia is particularly relevant in this regard: it is another emerging economy with a great potential, and its virtually controls all the major straits connecting the two oceans: Sunda, Lombok and most importantly Malacca. Indonesia’s growth is largely due to its position on these sea lanes, and Singapore has based its incredible wealth on it. Again, these passages are essential for maritime trade between Europe and Asia as well as for the latter’s energy security; and would become hotspots in case of war, notably between the US and China. If the US Navy closed them, it could seriously harm the tenure of the PRC’s economy. At the same time, they are also essential for American allies like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan; meaning that the US will use its naval power to ensure no hostile power blocks the Straits.

The eastern part of the Indian Ocean plays a fundamental role for maritime security; and the importance of the juncture between the two Oceans is leading many scholars, analysts and policy-makers to consider them as a single maritime region: the Indo-Pacific. The Indian Ocean is extremely important for states in East Asia because it represents the necessary passage to reach Europe; and the security dynamics of the Indian Ocean and of the Asia-Pacific are closely related. China’s New Silk Road initiative, the forays of its Navy in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the Sino-Indian competition, the free flow of oil from the Gulf and piracy in Indonesia are all strategic issues that tie the two oceanic regions. This explains why the concept of Indo-Pacific is also taking importance in American strategic discourse: the economic and security dynamics of the two areas are so intertwined that they must be considered as a single space. Other powers are applying the same logic, and this is having practical consequences: the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue uniting the US, Japan, India and Australia indicates their willingness to strengthen their political and military cooperation to face shared security challenges like the rise of China; and it represents the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a political and strategic reality.

Conclusion: an Indo-Pacific future?

Many scholars believe that “the future is Asian”, which is even the title of a recent book by Parag Khanna. But Asia’s rise largely depends on trade with Europe and on oil imports from the Middle East across the Indian Ocean. As such, Asian states have major strategic concerns in this area. China, Japan and South Korea need to keep the sea lanes open. India is an emerging power whose influence is growing across the world via the sea. Indonesia is the pivot connecting the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. The United States, the world’s primary security provider, is facing many challenges in both Oceans and is committed to preserving the freedom of navigation. Moreover, the interests of the various stakeholders in the area are sometimes colliding, such as in the case of China and India. As such, with Asia’s importance growing every year in both economic and political terms, the Indo-Pacific is also gaining primary strategic relevance.

That’s all for today guys, thanks for watching another KJ Vid. What are your views on Italy’s recession. Will Italy recover or implode and potentially leave the EU. We would love to hear your views in the comments below especially if you are from Italy.

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Will Putin become the Arctic Boss?

Geostrategy of the Arctic’s Chokepoints

 As the Polar ice cap melts, new shipping lanes are opening across the Arctic. Navigation in the area is still in its initial stages, but in the long term it has the potential to transform international maritime trade and to profoundly affect the geopolitical scene. In particular, if this happens, new chokepoints will take a central strategic importance: the Bering Strait and the North Atlantic passages.

The four Arctic routes

The idea of reaching the Pacific Ocean by navigating through the Arctic is not new. centuries ago, explorers risked their lives to find the fabled Northwest Passage. It sails north of Canada and then crosses the Bering Strait to arrive in the Pacific, and it is the first of the possible Arctic Routes. The second one is the Northern Sea Route, or NSR, which is the most debated today. Starting from the Pacific Ocean, it passes through Bering and proceeds along Russia’s northern coasts towards Europe. Then, there are two other options: the least important is the Arctic Bridge, which connects Northern Europe with Canada; the other is the Transpolar Sea Route, that crosses the centre of the Arctic Ocean instead of passing along the coasts like the NSR does. While this is theoretically possible, in practice this area is still covered in ice and therefore it will become navigable only if the Polar cap disappears almost completely.

For centuries, the Arctic ice cap made it impossible to sail across these frozen waters during most of the year, but things are different today. Global warming is dissolving the Arctic’s ice, and this is opening these passages to navigation for increasingly long periods. As a result, the NSR and the Northwest Passage are becoming commercially viable, something this could radically change the world’s maritime trade patterns. The reason is that such lanes are way shorter, and therefore time- and money-saving, than the traditional ones passing through the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This is why more and more ships are already using these lanes and the NSR in particular, even though the trade volume remains only a tiny fraction of the one flowing along the ordinary seaways. But apart from merely economic considerations, Arctic lanes present other geostrategic advantages for the various powers that are interested in their development.

Why the Arctic?

The first country that wants to develop the NSR and Arctic trade in general is Russia. As a matter of fact, Russia is the region’s prominent power: first, because most of the coast around the Arctic belongs to it, and then because of its unrivalled fleet of ice-breakers and of the military forces it has deployed there. Moscow considers the NSR as an excellent opportunity to develop its northernmost territories and ports by providing logistic support to the ships sailing across these waters. Moreover, the Arctic also hosts large oil and gas reserves, which would further strengthen Russia’s stance as a world-class energy supplier. Of course, such projects are technically challenging due to the rigid climate and they require huge investments to develop the necessary infrastructure, but Russia is already working on it; and most importantly it can cooperate with other powers that want to open such routes and access the Arctic’s resources.

As a matter of fact, many Asian countries are also interested in the Arctic. Among them, the most important is certainly China, who is already operating in the region. There are three reasons behind its interest. First, gaining access alternative hydrocarbon sources and reduce its reliance on the Middle East. Second, opening a faster and cheaper shipping lane to Europe and to America’s East coast. The third reason is geostrategic, and it is closely related to the others. Beijing is engaged in a great power competition with Washington, and the traditional southern routes it currently uses for trade with Europe could easily be cut by the US Navy in case of war; something that would compromise its economy and its energy security. Chokepoints like the straits of Malacca, Hormuz, Bab el-Mandeb and Suez are particularly vulnerable.

Similar considerations are at the base of Japan’s and South Korea’s presence in the Arctic. However, in their case the security dimension is different: they fear that China, or a Sino-American war, may disrupt trade along the traditional routes; and because of this they want to open the alternative seaway to Europe.

But will the NSR actually solve their strategic problem?

The new chokepoints: Bering and the North Atlantic

The traditional shipping lanes are effectively exposed to threats. The US can easily block them, but China and other powers also have some capacity in this regard. In addition, piracy can also be a problem. So, China and other Asian countries consider the Arctic routes as a safer alternative. However, they also have their narrow passages, which will assume a great strategic importance if Arctic trade develops.

The first and most important one is the Bering Strait, and 82-kilometres wide channel that divides Siberia and Alaska. It is the only connection between the Pacific and the Arctic, making of it the prominent strategic passage for Polar trade. In other words, who controls Bering also controls the shipping flow across the Arctic. Now, this power can be either Russia or the US. But for them, the Strait is not only important due to trade: it is also a matter of national security. For Russia, it is the only point where it can directly attack the US territory with ease short of using ballistic missiles. Due to the presence of a developed oil industry, hitting Alaska would allow Russia to damage America’s economy and to create a useful diversion. This eventuality, in turn, means that the area takes a significant military importance for Washington as well. Additionally, if Arctic trade develops, blocking the Bering Strait would allow the US to damage both China and Russia, its two main competitors. It is therefore not surprising that both America and Russia have military bases and perform manoeuvers around Bering, whose militarization is expected to continue as long as more and more ships travel through the Arctic. It is likely that both sides will deploy Anti-Access / Area Denial assets along its coasts as a mean to ensure their control over it by impeding the enemy forces to operate.

As far as China is concerned, Bering will also take a major strategic importance. But while its naval build-up will allow it to deploy its Navy in the area, China will have to rely on Russia to ensure that the Strait remains open. This implies that its access to the Arctic could be seriously hampered in case its relations with Moscow deteriorated, which is a possibility that should not be excluded in the long term due to a series of possible contrasts that may emerge. Moreover, from Beijing’s perspective Bering is not even the first chokepoint to be crossed to reach the Arctic: before, its ships need to pass either through the Korea Strait or the La Pérouse Strait. The former divides Korea and Japan, while the latter separates the Japanese island of Hokkaidō from Russia’s Sakhalin. Both are extremely vulnerable, since the US or even Japan may easily block them and deny China its access to the Arctic.

The second susceptible area is located at the other end of the NSR. It is not a single strait; rather, it is a group of maritime zones that connect the Arctic with the Atlantic. Each of them is sensibly wider than Bering, but they are narrow enough to allow a great military power like the US to mount a blockade capable of disrupting the regularity of trade flows; especially considering the performance of modern missiles and aircraft. Among these areas, the most famous and relevant is certainly the GIUK Gap, which takes its name from the initials of the three countries forming it; namely Greenland, Iceland, and the UK. Once the maritime frontline of the Cold War, it lost its importance after the fall of the Soviet Union. But if the NSR becomes a viable lane, its strategic importance will emerge once again; also because the Russian Navy is becoming active in the Atlantic once again and because Chinese ships may follow. That said, there are two other passages in the Atlantic: first, the North Sea; second, the Davis Strait, which divides Canada and Greenland and is one of the extremities of the Northwest Passage. The US and NATO can block both of them quite easily.

Finally, it should be noted that such areas work in both senses: cargos travelling from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Arctic also need to cross the aforementioned passages. This means that Russia, and to a lesser degree China, may block them to damage Western economies; even though this would also harm themselves. Thanks to its powerful military and to its favorable geographic position, Russia is particularly well placed to act as the “Arctic seaways gatekeeper” and exploit this to exert pressure on the West or, if necessary, on China.

What future for Arctic trade?

By now, the importance of the Arctic’s chokepoints remains limited, because the trade volume across the region is still very low. But as the Polar ice cap shrinks and the Northern shipping lanes are developed, these passages will acquire a greater relevance in both economic and military terms.

Yet, the Arctic seaways will not resolve the chokepoint problem for China and other Asian powers: they will simply move it to the North. Nevertheless, such countries will probably develop such routes, because their economic sense remains as long as peace reigns: they are faster and cheaper than traditional ones. Moreover, energy deposits should not be forgotten as well. It will take decades, but the Arctic routes can reshape the world’s maritime trade; and the northern passages will become a great power battleground in case war breaks out.

5 Geopolitical Trends to watch in 2019

In today’s globalised world, many geopolitical events take place every year, and they have a long-lasting effects in time. So, considering what happened on the international scene in the year that has just ended, what are the top five global trends to watch in 2019?

1 – “America first”, America alone?

President Trump’s “America First” policy was put into practice various times in 2018. He introduced new tariffs to protect the US economy; he abandoned those agreements that he deemed contrary to America’s national interest; he criticised allies for free-riding on the US in security issues.

This is a trend that will continue as long as Trump remains in the White House, and that will have an important impact on the global order. For decades, the international system was centred on the US and its commitment to sustain its rules and provide security; albeit with limitations and largely for its self-advantage. But now, Washington prefers pursuing a narrow definition of its own national interest. This has already raised concerns with traditional partners; most notably with the European members of NATO to whom he demanded to spend more on defence. This divergence between the two sides of the Atlantic has cast doubts over the tenure of the Alliance. All this happens in a moment of renewed tensions with Russia, who in turn is taking benefit from the situation because in case of a confrontation, it will have to face a more divided and therefore weaker NATO. This uncertainty over the future of the Alliance damages European but also American interests: alienating its traditional allies risks to isolate the US and to reduce its international influence.

All this happens in a delicate moment for the US economy. While its GDP grew of almost 3% in 2018, its monetary policy is object of political debate as Trump accuses the Federal Reserve of being the “only problem” of America’s economy. If the Fed keeps on raising the interest rates to contain inflation, the US growth will slow down. This will also combine with the effects of tariffs plus the considerable public and private debt. Moreover, American stock markets have lost much value in the past year: the price of shares according to the Dow Jones index dropped of around 9.5% in 2018. And if the US economy slows, the rest of the world will follow.

2 – China’s economic slowdown

The world’s second-largest economy is also facing troubles. While it is predicted to grow of about 6.6% this year, which is still extraordinary given its size, the rate is no longer a double-digit figure as in the past. The Chinese economy is also slowing down, and this will inevitable have repercussions on the global scale. As economic prosperity is considered fundamental for social stability and for the rule of the Communist Party, the government is taking measures to maintain a steady growth. This explains various initiatives like “Made in China 2025” aimed at upgrading its industry, the huge investments in high-tech, or the far-reaching “One Belt, One Road” project.

Apart from purely economic issues, this will also have geopolitical consequences. Beijing has been increasing its worldwide presence in the past decade, notably through economic means; but if its growth slows down, its ability to sustain its greater plans in the Asia-Pacific and beyond will suffer. In this sense, the very plans it is implementing to boost its economy may result counterproductive: they are certainly ambitious projects with a great potential, but they are also very challenging. The enormous investments they require will result in a waste of resources if they do not translate into economic growth, and this will hamper China’s economy. As such, observing Beijing’s economic policies and its performance through 2019 will be an indicator of its future global role.

3 – The European (dis)Union

The EU will cross troubled waters in 2019. Anti-EU movements have risen everywhere, its economic recovery remains sluggish and each of its four most important members is not in the position to lead a reform of the common institutions. The United Kingdom will finally leave, but the exact terms are still undefined and a “No Deal” Brexit seems probable. This is the worst scenario, because it means uncertainty for economic and political actors alike. Italy is now ruled by a Eurosceptic coalition that has already clashed with the EU over immigration and economic policy. Germany continues opposing more economic integration in the form of a common fiscal policy, and Angela Merkel’s leadership has been weakened. In France, President Macron is calling for a reform of the EU and promotes further integration, but his popularity is at a record low and the country has first to deal with domestic issues.

Other members are also unable or unwilling to move the integration project ahead. The emerging countries of Central-Eastern Europe, notably Poland and Hungary, want to preserve their sovereignty and therefore oppose devolving more powers to the EU. Moreover, the Union has even initiated the infraction procedure for violation of core values against these two countries, thus leading to an open diatribe. Spain is focused on problems at home; while Greece is heading towards elections in 2019, and any change in its government could make the markets nervous and result in a renewed standoff with the EU.

As such, no state is in the condition to take the lead and move forward the much-needed reform of the Union. However, what is more worrisome is that the divergences do not simply concern the policies to implement, but the basic values of the EU and its very legitimacy are questioned and openly criticised. Considering also its complex institutional procedures, it is unlikely that the stalemate will be solved in 2019. On the contrary, it is likely that the EU will be even more divided at the end of the year.

4 – Sanctions on Iranian oil

Following President Trump’s decision to scrap the nuclear deal, a boycott on Iranian oil will be reintroduced in 2019. Given that it is largely dependent on oil revenues, the Islamic Republic will certainly suffer. The effects will not be only economic, but they will extend to the social sphere as well. Signs of discontent already appeared in late 2017 – early 2018, when mass protests erupted all over the country. As pressure increases on Iran’s economy, similar episodes may repeat in 2019 with destabilising effects on the region. Moreover, this means that Iran will have much less resources to sustain its goals abroad; notably in Iraq and Syria. As a result, it will have to reduce its international commitment and focus on domestic issues.

But this will also affect other countries who used to buy oil from Iran. China and India were its main customers, followed by Japan, South Korea and European countries. As sanctions come back into effect in 2019, such states will comply and change their import sources to avoid angering the US. This will impact the global oil market by putting an upward pressure on its price; even though many effects such as a less than expected demand may nullify this effect at least in part. Finally, while the intended effect of the boycott is to put pressure on the country and force it to negotiate another deal deemed more compatible with America’s interest, it is possible that the result will be the opposite. If Iran feels threatened enough by the US, it may decide to resume its nuclear programme after concluding that is the only way to ensure its national security. This is not likely, because Teheran would be even more isolated, but if this happens the whole region will be further destabilized.

5 – Tension with Russia

Relations between Russia and the US have not improved through 2018. Many important issues continue dividing them, like the war in Syria or Ukraine’s issue. The situation remains volatile in both cases, and the recent Kerch Strait incident has revived tensions between Moscow and Kiev. Additionally, there is another country to watch: Georgia. The new President Salome Zurabishvili has pro-EU Western views and openly calls for Georgia to join the EU and NATO. Russia will hardly accept such a scenario and may launch a military operation to prevent it, thus sparking another crisis in the post-Soviet space.

Moreover, a pillar of the longstanding strategic equilibrium between Russia and NATO has fallen: the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF. This agreement, dating back to the Cold War, prohibited the deployment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Europe, as they risked compromising the nuclear balance in the region: due to their limited range, such weapons enabled the Soviets to strike NATO in Europe without threatening the US territory, thus casting doubts among Europeans that in such an eventuality the Americans would have exposed themselves to retaliation by launching nuclear weapons on the USSR just to protect Europe.

Now that the Treaty is gone, a new arms race is likely to take place, and in fact this is already happening. Russia has tested several nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in 2018, and is rapidly working to deploy new hypersonic missiles capable of travelling at five times the speed of sound or more. The US is doing the same, and both powers are developing new weapon systems and doctrines to prevail on the other. But to pursue these objectives, Russia needs economic resources. Since oil is one of its main sources of revenues, Moscow will seek to coordinate with other producers to keep its price high enough to sustain its economy. This will largely determine the evolution of Russia’s role in 2019, but one thing is sure: Moscow will do its best to pursue its interests abroad, and as the Russian-American rivalry continues, the international scene will remain tense.

Will there be a EUROPEAN ARMY? – KJ Vids

In an era of mounting rivalry between great powers, and with the Trump administration raising doubts over the America’s commitment to protect Europe, the recent declarations by French President Emmanuel Macron over the need of a “European Army” to protect the continent against Russia, China and even the United States have caused much political debate. But will there ever be a European Union Army?

The evolution of the EU policy on defence

The debate over the establishment of a European common policy on defence and therefore over the creation of a unified armed force is as old as the European integration process itself. The first step in this sense was came with the Brussels Treaty of 1948 which established the Western Union, an alliance that included the United Kingdom, France and the three Benelux countries. Knowing that their military forces would be insufficient to defend the continent from a Soviet invasion, one year later these and other countries (including the United States) formed NATO, which soon became the main collective defence pact in Europe. Still, the European countries wanted to increase their cooperation in defence in order not to be completely reliant on America. In 1952, France, Italy, West Germany and the three Benelux states signed a treaty to form the European Defence Community. This was an ambitious project that was supposed to create a unified European Army. However, it ended in a failure: the French Parliament did not ratify the Treaty and consequently it never entered into force; which is quite notable considering that today France’s Macron is calling for a common military structure. At that point, the European countries opted for a revision of the Western Union. In 1954 its founding Treaty was modified, transforming the organization into the Western European Union, which included the original members plus Italy and West Germany. This was essentially a political-military mutual defence pact, and did not include any plans for a common armed force. The WEU continued existing as a separate organization until 2011, when it was finally dismantled.

All these initiatives ran in parallel to the European integration process that would later create the EU, which back then was simply the European Coal and Steel Community and therefore had a primarily economic connotation. In 1957, its scope was enlarged and it became the European Economic Community (EEC), whose aim remained essentially that of creating a common market as a premise to greater political cooperation, but which had practically no military ambitions. But various international crises raised the need to at least coordinate the foreign policy actions of its member states. Because of this, the European Political Cooperation was launched in 1970. Yet, it was merely a mechanism to attempt coordinating the positions of members states on foreign policy issues. It did not devolve specific competences to communitarian institutions, did not oblige member states to comply with the decisions that were taken (provided a common agreement was reached) and had essentially no military content. After a series of other international crises in the late 70s and early 80s, the EPC was gradually improved and was finally renamed as Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that transformed the EEC into the European Union. The CFSP was one of the three pillars of the Treaty, something that signalled the willingness to do more on foreign affairs but also, and quite notably, on defence issues. As a matter of fact, the CFSP included the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), that was conceived as the crisis management component of the CFSP. Later, the ESDP was transformed into the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in 2009.

However, the name “Common Foreign and Security Policy” is highly misleading, as seems to imply that such issues are treated via the communitarian procedures and therefore that member states devolved at least part of these core sovereign competences to the EU institutions; as it is the case with trade or agricultural policies. In reality, it is exactly the opposite: the CFSP remains under the intergovernmental procedure, so security and defence are still competences of single member states. As the EPC before it, the CFSP is essentially a mechanism to coordinate the action of EU members in security and defence issues.

The military means of the EU

Even though defence remain a competence of member states, and in spite of the fact that the EU is and wants to appear essentially a civil power, this does not mean that it has not its own military means. In particular, in the framework of the CSDP, the Union can deploy troops under its mandate for accomplishing the so-called “Petersberg Tasks”, established by the now-extinct Western European Union in 1992 and integrated in the EU’s juridical body since the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty. These missions are essentially humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and crisis management, which includes peace enforcement. The decision-making procedure is based upon four bodies. The first is the European Union Military Staff (EUMS), whose task is to monitor international crises, evaluate the situation, raise the alert, plan operations according to the Petersberg Tasks, and in general to provide military expertise. On the basis of its assessments, a second organ (the European Union Military Committee, EUMC) advises the Political and Security Committee (PSC); which in turn advances its proposals for EU military actions that are ultimately approved by the member states via the Foreign Affairs Council, a particular formation of the EU Council. As of today, the EU has launched a series of missions abroad; notably in Africa, the Balkans, Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these had a military nature and were meant to provide either peacekeeping or training; whereas the others were civilian operations.

The broader strategic vision upon which the whole of the CFSP is based (therefore including military operations in the CSDP framework) is defined by the European Security Strategy, whose first version was released in 2003 and that has been updated and enlarged twice in 2008 and finally in 2016. As a matter of fact, it is possible to note an evolution in scope through time. The 2003 paper was rather vague and simply presented the EU’s view on the world and its main threats (notably terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction). The 2008 version was essentially an update of the previous: it included more issues, notably energy security, but remains a declaration of objectives rather than a proper strategy. The latest document is the most complete one. It describes the challenges that the EU is facing in various domains and regions, notably in the Middle East and Africa but also in trans-Atlantic relations, in Asia and in regards to Russia. It also declares the EU’s objectives: to promote security, stability, prosperity, state resilience and the rule of law. A notable point to note is that it states that Europeans should take the responsibility to defend themselves and that they should be ready to deter external threats; adding that in NATO’s framework they must become more capable of participating to collective self-defence but also – and this is the most interesting part – to act autonomously if necessary.

This raises the issue of the coordination between the EU and NATO on security. By now, the matter is regulated by the so-called “Berlin Plus Agreement”, which can be summed up by the “Three Ds”: no discrimination, no decoupling and no duplication. In practice, they mean that both the EU and NATO can perform peacekeeping and crisis management operations, that non-EU states can participate to missions managed by the Union, and that if one of the two organizations intervenes the other will restrain from doing so. The EUMC ensures the military coordination between NATO and the EU. However, the Berlin Plus arrangements only regulate the interventions that fall in the scope of the Petersberg Tasks, as in spite of the declaration that Europeans must be able to act on their own that appeared in the 2016 EU Strategy, by now collective self-defence remains a prerogative of NATO, and the EU has neither the juridical powers nor the practical means for this.

Yet, the EU has its own military units: the EU Battlegroups. Established in 2005, the first of them became operational two years later, but have still not seen any actual action. The Battlegroups are multinational battalion-size units established at the EU level; in contrast to multinational forces created by member states outside of the EU framework but that can still be deployed for EU missions as well as for those of other organizations. The Battlegroups’ composition varies, but normally they consist of around 1,500 infantrymen plus support personnel. They are under the political control of the Council, while operational command goes to the “leading country” that gives the main contribution to the Battlegroup in terms of personnel and equipment. Non-EU countries can also participate. Today, a total of 18 Battlegroups exists, and they rotate on a six-months period so that there are always two of them ready for deployment. As of today, the Battlegroups are what gets closer to a EU Army, but they are essentially rapid intervention forces meant for crisis management operations and they are clearly not sufficient for protecting Europe from an external invasion in the optic of collective self-defence; a task that by now only be carried out by NATO.

Will there be a EU Army?

Over the decades, the EU has slowly increased the capabilities and the scope of its military means, but its foreign policy tools remain largely civilian and it is still very far away from having its own armed forces. As a matter of fact, there are various challenges along this path.

The first are political and juridical: according to the norms introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty, giving the EU collective defence competences requires a decision of the European Council, which is an institution that acts by unanimity; notably for what concerns the CFSP and consequently the CSDP. Also, creating a EU Army would require a higher level of political integration and a common defence budget, which may exist in parallel with national ones or substitute them. This demands in turn to establish the rules related to drafting and approving the budget, to weapons procurement, to strategic planning and command, and others. Considering the political divergences and the different strategic needs of member states, reaching a common position on such matters is very difficult. For instance, other member states may likely oppose or at least refuse to support Macron’s EU Army project by interpreting it as a French-centric initiative aimed at expanding France’s influence and at pursuing its national interests in the EU and abroad.

Second, there are the actual military aspects. Having a single EU Army would require the coherent standardization of equipment, doctrines, practices, trainings, uniforms, denominations, and more. Again, given the different national priorities of member states, this is complicated to achieve.

Finally, there is the linguistic dimension: the number of idioms used in the EU makes creating a unified Army more complicated. This could be solved with relative ease by adopting a single “official” language for the military, but there would still be disagreements over which one to choose.

As such, it is extremely unlikely and probably impossible that a EU Army will be created anytime soon, if ever. At best, some progress may be made over expanding the number, size, capabilities and roles of the Battlegroups; which after all would already be a quite considerable achievement considering all the obstacles towards some form of collective defence. As the international context becomes more challenging, the EU member states may find the political willingness to deepen their defence cooperation, but this will surely be a long and complicated process.

The Weaponisation of Space

Space: The final frontier, where no war has been fought before. In the past few years, both states and firms have shown a renewed interest for space exploration. New ambitious missions were launched for scientific and commercial purposes, with some aiming even at landing a manned mission on Mars. But will space also become the final frontier of warfare?

Space: Militarization & Weaponization

When examining the use of space for war-related activities, an important distinction must be made between the militarization and the weaponization of space.

The term “militarization” refers to the use of space for military purposes; be it reconnaissance, targeting, communication, direct attack or anything else. In this sense, space was militarized decades ago. The armed forces of advanced countries, as the United States and its competitors like Russia and China, have deployed satellites in orbit to perform such tasks and support their combat operations on Earth.

On its part, the term “weaponization” has a more specific meaning: it indicates the deployment of weapons in space, and sometimes also that of weapons capable of striking space-based assets. Space could soon be weaponized, and in some sense it already is. But to understand the scope of this trend, it is first necessary to consider the legal framework of space use.

The legal framework

Due to its nature, space is part of the global commons. It is therefore a domain that anyone can freely access and exploit for various activities. This conception underlies the legal framework on the use of space, and this is why there have been efforts to prevent its militarization and most of all its weaponization. However, important juridical vacuums persist, and they leave room for exploiting space for military purposes.

The most important treaty in this sense is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which a total of 107 countries have adhered; including the US, Russia and China. Its aim is to regulate activity in space and in particular to avoid an arms race. It states that “The exploration and use of outer space […] shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries”, that space “shall be free for exploration and use by all States”, and establishes that it “is not subject to national appropriation”. But its most important provision appears in Article IV, which reads: “States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner”. It also establishes the peaceful use of the Moon and other celestial bodies.

The treaty therefore explicitly forbids the deployment of weapons of mass destruction (or WMDs) in space. But in spite of the will to promote the peaceful use of this domain, there is no clear prohibition on the placement of non-WMD weapons in space. In this sense, an important provision concerning Anti-Ballistic Missiles system (or ABMs) existed in the 1972 ABM Treaty between the US and the USSR (later Russia). The treaty banned the deployment of similar systems in space, but when Washington abandoned the Treaty in 2002 the prohibition became practically void.

Another important concept is the one of non-interference, which is included in several treaties and prevents states from conducting actions that may hinder the verification of compliance with the norms on the use of outer space.

Then, there are a number of Resolutions of the UN General Assembly that call for avoiding the military use of space and for ensuring that only peaceful activities take place there; but for their very nature they are not binding. Still, it may be argued that the existing juridical body and the expressed desires of states to grant that space remains a domain to be used only for peaceful purposes are already sufficient to create a consuetudinary and possibly binding norm against the weaponization of space; but this remains subject to interpretation and, most importantly, the behaviour of states in recent years is going in the opposite direction, thus weakening the solidity and even the existence of this norm.

Types of space weapons

The exact definition of “space weapon” is not clear-cut and it can include a wide array of systems, most of whom remain theoretical or experimental concepts. In general, they can be divided into two broad categories: space-based and Earth-based assets.

Regarding the first, these are all kind of weapons deployed in orbit or on a celestial body, but the latter are more complicated to operate and would be a clear contravention to the Outer Space Treaty. So, satellites would be the most likely option. They could use jamming equipment to interfere with other satellites or use destructive weaponry, which can be either direct-energy weapons like lasers or kinetic-energy systems. It may even be possible to use “suicide satellites” designed to crash themselves against other satellites. Of all these, the most probable are satellites equipped with jammers, as other solutions would be technically more challenging to build and operate. Still, such satellites could affect the nuclear equilibrium: if the satellites used to detect the launch of ballistic missiles could effectively be jammed, then the immediate retaliation capabilities upon which nuclear deterrence is based could be undermined. So, similar jamming satellites would be a contravention to the non-interference norms meant to ensure the verifiability in nuclear matters.

But in theory satellites could also be used to strike targets on Earth. This can be done with lasers, or via kinetic bombardment. The latter refers to the use of satellites to launch projectiles on the planet’s surface: even without any kind of warhead, the sheer speed at which they would hit the target would be sufficient to cause damages comparable to those of a tactical nuclear bomb. As such, they could be considered a form of WMD and be therefore illegal.

Lasers could also be used to destroy targets in in the atmosphere, notably ballistic missiles. Since the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Russia has firmly opposed America’s ABM initiatives also out of concern that space-based systems could be deployed.

Then, there are Earth-based systems. The most important ones are anti-satellite systems, or ASAT. Various solutions are possible. A first and most common kind are missiles, fired either from the ground or from airplanes. The former type could also include ABM systems, since they could also be used for targeting satellites, and this has caused concern. Then there can be ASAT lasers, that have been tested by both the US and Russia. In addition, Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs) could be considered as space-related weapons as well. These are essentially ballistic missiles capable of travelling at speed of five times that of sound or more, and for their characteristics they blur the distinction between the air and space domains.

The actual deployment of most of these systems remain to be seen, as they imply considerable technical difficulties and high costs. But there is one exception: ASAT missiles. These are already a reality, as various powers have successfully tested them; and this is why space can be considered already weaponized to some extent.

Security dynamics in space

In spite of calls for the peaceful use of outer space, in practice this domain is already militarized and is central for the national security of many countries, first of all the US; which has deployed numerous satellites in space that are employed for intelligence gathering, targeting and navigation (via the GPS) and communications. Space is therefore vital for the ability of the US armed forces to operate effectively, and the Pentagon is fully aware of that; but so are America’s competitors.

In spite of their military power, Russia and China still cannot compete with the US on an equal basis in military terms. Therefore, they are adopting an indirect approach which aims at America’s weak spot: the satellites, which are essential for US military operations. This is why they, but the US as well, are so engaged in developing ASAT weapons. The first successful test of a Chinese ASAT missile dates back to 2007. This test has been largely considered as signal to the US, who in turn experimented a similar weapon shortly after. On its part, Russia tested its Nudol system several times, and there have been speculations that a missile spotted on a MiG-31 fighter in September this year could be an ASAT weapon.

Another driver in Russia’s and China’s quest for ASAT weapons is America’s Conventional Prompt Global Strike initiative, or CPGS. The aim of this program, that was revived since 2008 to counter the Anti-Access / Area Denial strategies of Moscow and Beijing, is to enable the US military to strike a target located anywhere in the world with conventional weapons in no more than one hour. Various systems have been proposed to satisfy the CPGS’ requirements, including some that are linked with space: among them, the most important are hypersonic missiles, as they require satellites for targeting and guidance. Russia and China started developing ASAT weapons also to counter this threat. But satellites could also be used as early-warning systems to detect incoming hypersonic missiles: considering that all three powers are testing such vectors, it is clear why they all invest so much in deploying satellites and in being able to take down those of their adversaries.

This also explain the calls from Moscow and Beijing for a treaty to ban space weapons, known as PAROS; an acronym for Prevention on an Arms Race in Outer Space. By now, Washington has constantly declined to adhere to this project; but the actual goodwill of Russia and China is debated, with some suggesting that their offers are not driven by the actual desire to avoid a space arms race, but by the willingness to conduct it on their own terms. Here, the distinction between “weaponizing” space and “deploying weapons in space” is important: Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov talked about forbidding the latter, which would make space-based systems illegal but would allow ASAT weapons like those that Russia and China are developing.

Beside ASAT systems, there are also other activities that the three powers are conducting in space which may have a military connotation. In cooperation with SpaceX, the US Air Force has already performed several missions using the X-37B space plane, which was used to carry classified payloads in orbit. This raised rumours that a new weapon could be involved, but it is uncertain and some analysts reject this hypothesis. Again, earlier this year, the strange behaviour of a Russian satellite created concerns among some US officials that it could be a space weapon, possibly an ASAT system. Similar worries exist over Chinese activities in space. All this may indicate that space weaponization is moving to its definitive form, namely that of having proper weapons into space.

Finally, while the US, Russia and China are surely the main actors in the weaponization of space, they are not the only ones. Beside them, Japan, India and Israel are testing ASAT or ABM systems as well. Along with Germany, Italy and France, they also have their own reconnaissance satellites. In addition, North Korea has recently launched a satellite, and Iran is working on ASAT systems.

The final frontier of warfare?

As seen, space is already militarized, and new systems developed by major powers are leading to its weaponization. It is to be expected that this trend will continue, and it is practically certain that in case of conflict space will turn into a battleground, with space assets being targeted and possibly becoming attack vectors themselves. Space is the final frontier, also for warfare.

The Geopolitics of Climate Change

Climate change is set to profoundly alter the world in the decades to come. Its will deeply affect the entire planet’s ecosystem, as well as the global economy and the lives of hundreds of millions of people. But it will also have, and in practice already has, a notable geopolitical impact; with the potential of radically modifying the existing international order.

Climate change and the Anthropocene

“Climate change” is a broad term encompassing various phenomena, but the most important of them is surely global warming, largely imputed to the boom in CO2 emissions caused by the massive consumption of fossil fuels, animal breeding and deforestation. The rise of the world’s average temperatures, even of a few degrees, can have tremendous consequences on the planet and on mankind. It will alter the existing climatological dynamics, resulting in more frequent and intense cases of extreme weather like droughts, violent storms, floods and blizzards. Desertification will extend to large swathes of territory. These factors will cause a dramatic drop in agricultural output, also due to the spread of pests, therefore threatening food security across the globe. Warmer temperatures will also favour the diffusion of disease, and will increase energy consumption and therefore create competition over energy sources. Whole ecosystems will be seriously harmed both on land and at sea, causing severe losses in terms of biodiversity. This will in turn result into subsequent chain damages for agriculture and fishing, that already suffer from overexploitation. The ocean level will rise, putting at risk the living conditions of millions of people who reside along the coasts. All this bears huge economic and social costs, both in the form of losses and of expenditures to repair or prevent its effects; and is to be considered along with other phenomena caused by human activity, notably pollution and overexploitation of water and soil.

The combination of these factors has led some experts to label our current geological epoch as “Anthropocene”: a period marked by the humans’ capacity to affect the environment to the point of derailing its dynamics out of the natural order. While the term remains debated among scientists, what is certain is that climate change has taken a considerable political relevance in the past few decades with the appearance of ecologist movements and parties all over the world. This is also true at the international level, with states making efforts to tackle its effects, as in the case of the 2015 COP21 agreement and other eco-friendly initiatives. But climate change will also alter the global geopolitical and geoeconomic environment, with tremendous consequences for power distribution and for international security.

The global effects of climate change

In general terms, the whole of mankind is set to be harmed by climate change. Apart from the direct economic loss in the form of reduced agricultural output, poorer fishing zones and damages to costal areas caused by rising sea levels; it will also have huge social and human costs due to environmental degradation, sanitary problems and migratory flows, which in turn will bring other expenses to repair and prevent its harmful effects.

Yet, there are areas where its impact will be more marked than in others, namely Equatorial Africa and South Asia. Both are extremely vulnerable due to their geographic position, and moreover are highly-populated zones whose economy is still underdeveloped. As a result, they will have to bear all of its negative consequences: GDP loss, food insecurity, water scarcity, violent weather, epidemics and so on; and the consequences will be felt outside these regions.

In South Asia, the costs of global warming may slow down and even stop India’s rise. Population displacements may result in a humanitarian crisis and social tensions. This is notably the case of Bangladesh, a very poor and densely-populated country extremely exposed to the negative effects of climate change. Existing divergences over the control and the use of water basins may get more serious; for example between India, Pakistan and China over Kashmir (the cornerstone of the Indus river basin) or between India, China and Bangladesh over the Ganges and Brahmaputra.

The situation is dramatically similar in Equatorial Africa. The deleterious consequences of climate change may compromise any hope of economic development, condemning the continent to poverty and perpetual conflict. As a matter of fact, fighting will result from increasing resource scarcity; notably of food and water; thus making the situation along the “Conflict Belt” that crosses it from Somalia to Nigeria even more troublesome. This is what could soon happen in Ethiopia, where the effects of climate change exacerbate economic and ethnic divides. War could also take a state-to-state dimension, as it may break out over the control of rivers like the Niger, the Congo or the Nile. In regard to the latter, some tension already exists between Egypt and Ethiopia over its use; and a future “water war” is a real possibility. Finally, this catastrophic situation will push more and more people to displace, thus amplifying an already serious humanitarian crisis. Many will try to reach Europe; perpetrating and worsening the migratory crisis that the continent is facing, with all the social and political consequences this will have on the European Union and its member states.

Still, there are also some parts of the world that are set to benefit from higher global temperatures; like those state whose development was historically hampered by a rigid climate. A first example is that of Canada or Scandinavian countries, whose agricultural output could be boosted. Russia is a similar case. Already a major wheat producer, thanks to a warmer climate it could increase its export share, even though this is debated; and it is also true that it may face migratory pressures from other countries suffering from declining production. Moreover, access to the rich resources of Siberia would become easier. Lastly, it is poised to earn from another geopolitical consequence of climate change: the melting of the Arctic ice cap.

Climate change and Arctic geopolitics

Of all the regions of the world, the Arctic appears the one where the geopolitical impact of global warming will be more marked. The reason is twofold. First, as the Arctic ice melts, accessing its considerable energy resources will become easier, and this is already attracting the attention of various countries and firms. Second, the gradual disappearance of the ice cap is opening the Northern Sea Route, or NSR; a maritime course linking Asia and Europe via the Arctic. Shipping via the NSR is already a reality, but by now the trade volume is only a tiny fraction of the one along the traditional sea lines of communication (SLOC) crossing the Pacific and Indian Ocean via Malacca, Bab-el-Mandeb and Suez. But as the ice melts and the necessary infrastructures are built, more and more ships will use the NSR due to the advantages it presents: it is way shorter than the ordinary maritime routes and is not exposed to piracy.

Due to its geopolitical prominence in the Arctic, Russia is the best-placed state to benefit from the exploitation of hydrocarbon from the region and from developing the NSR. But apart from it, the other power that is showing a great interest in the region is China. In principle, the Arctic’s energy resources and the NSR could solve its strategic problems of being almost completely reliant on the traditional SLOC for its trade with Europe and for oil imports from the Middle East, which is also a politically unstable area. This is why the Chinese are so keen on developing the region in cooperation with Russia. But for the same reasons, other states like Japan and South Korea have also showed their interest in the Arctic.

As a result of all this, competition may arise in the region, and its gateway (the Bering Strait) will gain greater geostrategic importance; potentially becoming a hotspot for international conflict, notably between Russia and the United States.

China and climate change

As an emerging great power with global-scale ambitions, China is also attentive to the effects of climate change; which offers a unique combination of opportunities and challenges for it.

Apart from the prospects of accessing the Arctic’s resources and of trading via the NSR, China could benefit in other ways of the effects of a warming planet. The combined effects of higher temperatures, economic development and population growth across the world will result into a boom in energy demand. Renewable sources of energy will be particularly regarded; as a way to reduce pollution, decrease the dependency on imported fossil fuels and minimize climate change and its detrimental consequences. But generating clean energy require technologies that use rare earths, a group of minerals whose particular characteristic are particularly valuable for industrial manufacturing. Today, China holds a virtual monopoly over their production; and even though new suppliers will enter in the market, the PRC will remain a major producer. As a consequence, its rare earths exports will be favoured by climate change.

Yet China is mostly poised to suffer from it. One reason is that its vast population is concentrated along the coasts and is vulnerable to extreme weather, rising sea level and damages to agriculture and the like. This could hamper its economic growth and consequently its social stability. For this reason, the PRC is investing enormously in developing renewable energy sources. Moreover, it could easily find itself involved in disputes with other states over water: some of the most important rivers flowing through South Asia, most notably the Brahmaputra, originate in Chinese-controlled Tibet. Similarly, Indochina’s most important rivers (namely the Mekong, the Red River and the Irrawaddy) all have their source in China.

Similar conflicts over water, agricultural lands and fishing areas may arise all over the world, taking the shape of both inter-state war or that of insurgencies and piracy. Several practical cases can be examined to understand the interplay between climate change and emerging security threats.

Climate change and security

The first one example is the surge in piracy around the Horn of Africa a few years ago. It can be imputed to a combination of the effects of domestic conflict in Somalia, fishing overexploitation and collapsing agricultural output due to drought; which left no choice to many Somalis but to attack tankers sailing close to their shores. Other countries may follow a similar path in the coming years, like Vietnam. Being an agricultural country located in an area already subject to violent tropical storms and whose population is concentrated on its very long coasts, Vietnam is considered one of the states most exposed to climate change. It is possible that the effects of higher temperatures like extreme weather and rising sea levels combined with overfishing and pollution will stop its economic growth, spark a migratory crisis and push many Vietnamese to become pirates; thus worsening the already complex scenario in the contested waters of the South China Sea. As seen before, the Bering Strait may also become an area of tension with Russia; and other conflicts may emerge in the Middle East, Africa and Asia as a consequence of rising temperatures combined with other factors; notably over the control of river basins or cultivable land.

Global warming can therefore be a powerful driver in the emergence of new security threats across the globe. And while this is often neglected, for this reason it poses a considerable challenge to the world’s leading superpower: the United States.

The US and climate change

As the core of the international system with interests at stake in any area of the globe, and as a major polluter itself, the US must be attentive to the geopolitical and security consequences of global warming. Diplomatically, the US has usually sustained the thesis of other developed countries that the cost of curbing CO2 emissions should fall on emerging economies like China, that today are the main polluters. Under the Trump administration, the US has now openly adopted a climatosceptic policy: he favours traditional fossil fuels over renewable energy sources and has left the COP21 Paris agreement.

Yet, the US is also threatened by climate change. As temperatures rise, drought and extreme weather like hurricane and snowstorms are becoming more common; causing considerable damage to agriculture, infrastructures and ultimately to the foundations of America’s strength. But as a superpower with interests in practically any region, the US will also need to face the security threats that will emerge as a consequence of climate change. Because of this, there is an institution that is particularly active in studying the effects of global warming and that calls for efforts to prevent its effects. Surprisingly, it is not some ecologist lobby, but the military.

As a 2015 report demonstrates, the Department of Defense openly expressed its concerns about the consequences of climate change over the ability of the US armed forces to operate overseas and over the multiplication of security threats that may require armed interventions. The US military is therefore adopting a preventive logic: tackling climate change today to avoid complicated campaigns in the future. Now that Trump is in power, it seems that the Pentagon is de-emphasizing the risks linked with global warming, but there have been calls from lawmakers to continue taking them into account.

Coping with climate change

As seen, global warming is having global-scale consequences that will affect virtually any domain of human life. But in general, it can be said that it puts our security at risk – be it economic, alimentary, sanitary, physical or of another type. Scientists have repeatedly raised the alarm over its deleterious effects, but up to now the actual efforts to counter it are insufficient. Since it appears that avoiding its impact is impossible and that we can at best limit its consequences, the best thing we can do is to foresee and understand them and prepare ourselves for the world that will inevitably emerge from climate change.

Can India become a global power?

India is a country that is expected to play a central role in the 21st century. Having a large and fast-growing economy, it is also strengthening its military and is well positioned to dominate South Asia and extend its influence beyond it. But it must also face notable challenges, both domestically and geopolitically.


To understand India’s current international role and to anticipate the one it will have in the coming decades, it is necessary to analyse the geographic fundamentals of its power.

The first thing to consider is its dimension. India is a vast state and this has several positive and negative implications. On the one hand, this means that India can benefit from a notable strategic depth, but on the other it also means that connecting all the parts of its territory is a difficult endeavour.

This must be considered along with India’s configuration. Its territory presents a wide range of environments and climatic areas. Far to the north there are the towering mountains of Himalaya, a formidable geographic barrier that separates it from China. This is important, considering the complicated relations between the two powers.

Then, there are the fertile valleys of the Ganges and other rivers, which are vital sources of water and useful communication lanes that have favoured agriculture, industrialization and energy production.

The Deccan Plateau that occupies the southern part of the Peninsula is another notable geographic feature, also because of its mineral resources.

India holds quite abundant ore deposits that have helped its industrialization. In terms of energy, while it has its own production of oil and other fossil fuels, this is not sufficient to meet the country’s large and expanding needs.

Other areas include jungles, arid deserts and tropical shores; which all present both advantages and challenges: for instance, the Thar desert between India and Pakistan is a useful buffer zone, but is also a problem for economic development.

Finally, in terms of position India occupies most of South Asia, and its location favours both defence and power projection. As seen before, it benefits from good natural barriers to the north, but at the same time its neighbours are not friendly.

To the north-east, China is getting everyday more powerful and its geopolitical ambitions are a matter of concern for India.

To the north-west lays Pakistan, which apart from being India’s arch-nemesis since the 1947 partition has also built close ties with the PRC. But while the situation to the north is very challenging for India, its southern borders are very favourable.

There, the coast extends for thousands of kilometres on the open Ocean. This means three things: first, that there are no hostile powers at the border that threaten India’s security; even though it does not see positively China’s activities in that maritime area.

Second, this grants India an easy access to offshore resources and most importantly to sea trade. This is also favoured by the fact that India is located mid-way between East Asia and Europe, two of the world’s richest economic areas, plus to the Middle East and its energy resources. Third, this enables India to project its power with little effort, notably through its Navy.

Yet, there are also challenges deriving from India’s position, notably linked to climate change. Having a typical monsoon climate characterized by cycles of abundant rainfalls and dry periods, South Asia is extremely exposed to its effects, as demonstrated by the seriousness and frequency of recent phenomena like drought, floods, and violent storms. Moreover, this also favours the spread of pests and disease. All such factors bear enormous costs both in the form of direct damage and of prevention efforts, and is a notable obstacle to India’s development.

India’s economic and military power

The rise of India as a major power largely lays on its economic development. In 2017, its GDP rose by 6.7% and today it is the world’s fourth in terms of Purchasing Power Parity. Its economy is diversified and several Indian firms have become major players in global business. Financially, India is generally stable, even though it experienced some troubles in recent years.

But the country is not yet fully developed. Infrastructures remain insufficient, and inefficiency exist in various sectors. While unemployment is low (less than 9% in 2017), larger shares of the population continue to live below the poverty line, and traditional agriculture still absorbs a considerable portion of the workforce. Income inequality remains strong, with large differences in wealth distribution between upper and lower classes and between different regions.

In the demographic dimension, India has a population of around 1.28 billion people, making it the second largest in the world just behind China, and it is expected to surpass it in the coming years. Most Indians are young, which is positive for its economic development. But at the same time having a big population also brings several challenges: achieving food and energy security becomes more difficult, as well as providing public services such as a healthcare.  Moreover, this raises the problem of overcrowding and pollution, especially in large cities. Finally, the differences in wealth distribution can result in to social tensions: most of the population lives in the north, where a considerable Muslim minority is also present, but these areas are poorer than the southern parts of the country. In this regard, it should be noted that India has been fighting for decades against the insurgency of a Maoist group called the Naxalites.

Nevertheless, India continues its rise, also in military terms. It can field a large force that regularly participates to international exercises, and over the past few years it has been spending around 2.5% off its GDP in defence expenditures to modernize its armed forces. The Navy holds a particular importance, as it represents the mean to project its power across the Indian Ocean. As of today, the Indian Navy operates a large fleet that includes an aircraft carrier, a nuclear-powered attack submarine and several other units. In cooperation with Russia, India is also developing the BrahMos hypersonic cruise missile. Finally, it must not be forgotten that India is a nuclear power with an estimated stockpile of more than 100 warheads.

India’s geopolitics and foreign policy

For decades, India has maintained a nonaligned policy, of which it has been one of the leaders. But non-alignment does not mean neutrality.  As a matter of fact, India has pursued its own national interests and has been involved in several conflicts.

Its oldest rival is of course Pakistan. Immediately after the partition in 1947, the two fought a major war, followed by another two in 1965 and 1971, plus series of skirmishes. Today, the relations remain tense, but the conflict remains frozen because both states have developed a nuclear strike capacity.

The main point of the divergence is Kashmir, which remains divided between India, Pakistan and China (who controls the Aksai Chin since the 1962 war with India). Apart from having become a symbol of the Indo-Pakistani rivalry, Kashmir also has a strategic importance for these powers.

Ruling it allows to control the flow of water along the Indus valley, with all the consequences for human and economic development. For India, Kashmir is the gateway towards Central Asia as well as a region to control in order to prevent Pakistan from cooperating with its powerful Chinese ally.

On the other hand, for Pakistan dominating it is necessary to have more strategic depth and to preserve its connection with China, especially now that they are working together to develop the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an ambitious infrastructure project to connect the two countries and that Islamabad considers fundamental to boost its economy, even though there are concerns over the debts its completion will bring.

This makes it clear that Pakistan is not India’s only strategic problem, and not even the main one. In recent years, China has become the prominent national security concern for India. One reason is the former’s close ties with Pakistan, but there also direct disputes between Beijing and New Delhi, namely over the aforementioned Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. The latter belongs to India, but is claimed by the PRC, and it represents a unique strategic challenge for New Delhi. As a matter of fact, it is connected to the rest of India only via a narrow passage chocked between China and Bangladesh and known as the “chicken neck”.  India fears that in case of a conflict the Chinese will rapidly overtake the Arunachal Pradesh by attacking this passage and cutting it from the rest of its territory.

In addition, Beijing and New Delhi are engaged in a geopolitical competition in South Asia. In 2017, the two powers faced each other in a military standoff over the Doklam Plateau, a strategic territory belonging to Bhutan (traditionally close to India) but claimed by the PRC; and since then they have been building up their military forces along the border.

China is also establishing ties with Nepal, raising concerns that the country me fall under its control, which would allow it to directly threaten Northern India. New Delhi has similar concerns over Bangladesh, because if it were to adopt a pro Chinese stance, the “chicken neck” would become even more vulnerable.

But the Sino-Indian rivalry is not limited to South Asia. The two are also competing in Indochina, where each of them is promoting its own economic and political projects. New Delhi is doing so on the basis of its “Look East Policy” launched in the 90s, whereas the latter considers this region an important element of its broader “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) strategy. In this regard, it is notable that India has refused to cooperate with China in this ambitious project.

Another country where their interest collide is Iran. India considers it a potentially precious ally, because it would allow to take Pakistan between two fires. Moreover, it is also a source of oil. But for these very same result and to counter the U.S., China is also interested in building a partnership with Iran.

Last but not least, there is the maritime dimension. Beijing is fostering its ties and establishing a greater presence in the Indian Ocean, in the optic of developing its Maritime Silk Road to connect its territory with Europe and the Middle East and by sea. But New Delhi considers this as “its own” Ocean and as an essential area for its plans to extend its influence on a global scale. Therefore, it is concerned by Beijing’s initiatives; notably in countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives. In regard to the letter, the political turmoil that has affected the archipelago was largely to be interpreted in the optic of the Sino-Indian rivalry; and the recent electoral victory of Mohamed Solih seems to have marked a point in favour of India.

As a consequence of its rivalry with Beijing, New Delhi is also developing closer ties with other capitals that share similar security interests. The most notable trend is the gradual rapprochement with Washington. Even though it was never openly opposed to the US, during much of the Cold War India sympathized with the USSR and its relations with America were rather cold. But now that both are concerned over China’s rise, they are gradually establishing more cooperation, notably in security terms. India is following a similar policy with Japan and Australia, two other powers that are worried over the initiatives of the PRC. Together, these four states form the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal framework to ensure stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Two other noteworthy partners for India are Israel and the EU. The relations with the former are complicated by India’s tilts towards Iran, but the Jewish State remains an important partner as an arms supplier and for technological cooperation. On its part, the EU has a central role for India’s trade. Lastly, it should also be mentioned that New Delhi is increasing its economic cooperation with Africa as well.

Conclusion: India at the crossroad

This overview allows to draw some conclusion on India’s current and future role. The country finds itself at a crossroad. It has all the potential to emerge as a major world power, but to achieve this objective it must successfully solve the multiple challenges it is facing. Only time will tell to what extent it will manage to, but what is sure is that India is a power to monitor, and that in any case it will have a considerable impact in world affairs in the coming years.

This article was originally commissioned and first published by KJ Vids. It was written by Alessandro Gagaridis. You can visit his website at www.strategikos.it. Please request permission to info@kjvids.co.uk before re-posting.

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