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America

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.

Where is Venezuela Heading?

Understanding Venezuela’s foreign policy

Venezuela often dominates the news agenda on account of its profound economic crisis and associated societal ills, including the dubious distinction of boasting one of the highest crime rates in the world.

Venezuela is often depicted as a revolutionary power owing to the so-called “Bolivarian Revolution” started by the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. Ideologically the Bolivarian revolution is a mix of Venezuelan nationalism, Pan-American regionalism and socialism.

Whilst enormous academic and media attention has focussed on how “Bolivarianism” has shaped Venezuela’s economic policy since 1998 (the year Hugo Chavez first came to power), comparatively small effort has been expended on understanding how the Bolivarian revolution has influenced Venezuelan foreign policy in the past two decades.

Welcome to KJ Vids. In this video we will examine the ideological, political and strategic considerations shaping Venezuela’s foreign policy.

 A Socialist revolution?   

Venezuela radically changed direction in the late 1990s with the advent of Hugo Chavez and his “Bolivarian” revolution. First elected to the presidency in December 1998 Chavez proved to be a remarkably resilient revolutionary leader in the face of massive internal and external opposition.

During his fifteen years at the helm of Venezuelan politics, Chavez faced determined opposition by US-backed political groups, widespread industrial unrest culminating in a general strike in 2002-2003 and an ill-fated coup attempt in April 2002. It is widely accepted in the expert community that much of the political, industrial and business opposition to Chavez was sponsored by the United States government.

But the nature of Chavez’s politics, and specifically his radical economic policies, intensified divisions in Venezuelan society leading to a highly charged polarised environment. Chavez’s support base was mostly amongst the poor – especially Venezuela’s indigenous (i.e. non-European) community – and the lower middle classes, whereas opposition to his rule was concentrated amongst the middle class, which is dominated by people of European origin.

Whilst drawing attention to Chavez’ shortcomings (in particular his demagoguery and single-minded pursuit of ideological-based economic policies) it is important to avoid the propaganda of his enemies who have tried to paint him as a dictator or failing that an authoritarian leader.

Throughout his 15-year reign Chavez operated within the confines of the Venezuelan constitution and by and large he respected the checks and balances of Venezuela’s democracy. By contrast, Chavez’s opponents consistently displayed disdain for Venezuela’s democratic institutions by continually fomenting unrest and attempting to overthrow Chavez through extra-illegal measures, notably an extended general strike and a failed military coup.

Chavez’s radical economic policies, and specifically his concerted attempt at the redistribution of wealth and opportunity, was fuelled by high oil prices in the first decade of the 21st century. The qualified success of some aspects of Chavez’s economic policies led to high hopes amongst left-wing activists in Latina America, and more broadly on the global stage, that Venezuela was successfully implementing a socialist economy.

But the reversal of these qualified successes, particularly after Chavez’s death in March 2013, has called into question the sustainability of “Chavismo”, Chavez’s quixotic take on the Bolivarian ideology. These shortcomings have come into sharp relief under the leadership of Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro.

In the past couple of years Venezuela has been gripped by a severe economic crisis interspersed with riots and widespread civil disorder. On top of this the country suffers from multiple systemic societal disorders, notably one of the highest crime rates in the world.

The combination of these ills points to the failure of “Chavismo”, and specifically the socialist economic policies underpinning it. But before we rush to judgement on Venezuela, it is important to note that the final script has yet to be written. To that end, it is noteworthy that Maduro’s government is proving to be resilient in the face of concerted and ferocious opposition.

More importantly, the socio-economic base of “Chavismo” appears to be largely intact, in spite of Venezuela’s profound economic crisis. This speaks to the intense polarisation of Venezuelan society and raises the prospect of civil war further down the road, especially in the event of foreign intervention in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.

The “Bolivarian” foreign policy

Named after the 19th century Venezuelan military leader, Simon Bolivar, who liberated vast swathes of South America from the grip of the Spanish Empire, the Bolivarian ideology is essentially a form of pan-American nationalism centred on national sovereignty as the building bloc of Hispanic solidarity.

“Bolivarianism” has been utilised by a variety of political movements in South and Central America and it is elastic enough to serve a multitude of political goals and ends. But in its native Venezuela, Bolivarianism is associated with militarism and a tough and uncompromising approach toward notions of national sovereignty and independence.

Hailing from a military background, Hugo Chavez fit the conventional Bolivarian mould perfectly, but he was also sufficiently innovative to marry up elements of the Bolivarian ideology with his own socialist ethos. The result was “Chavismo” which has had a profound impact on Venezuela’s foreign policy.

Immediately after coming to power Chavez pivoted toward Socialist Cuba, a revolutionary state with a legendary anti-imperialist reputation. By extension, Venezuela distanced itself from the United States which from the very outset has attempted to overthrow Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution.

Chavez’s tough stance on American hegemony was entirely in keeping with his nationalist ethos and more importantly it resonated widely and deeply amongst nationalist communities across Latin America.

In trying to understand Venezuela’s post-1998 foreign policy, it is helpful to think of it as forming three concentric circles. The first circle is composed of the main political-ideological pillar of the Bolivarian revolution, which is centred on anti-imperialist sentiments, and specifically opposition to the US role in Latin America.

The second circle is centred on achieving Latin American unity and wider notions of pan-Americanism. In practise this involves greater engagement with Latin American states, in some cases to the point of interfering in the internal affairs of regional states with a view to strengthening nationalist and socialist movements.

The third circle is concerned with developing global positions, and specifically using Venezuela’s oil wealth to develop influence and outreach beyond Latin America. To that end, Bolivarian Venezuela has sought to develop strong ties with major non-Western powers, notably Iran and China.

Pushing back against America

During the early years of “Chavismo”, Chavez’s huge reputation and his massive influence on public opinion across Latin America was interpreted as the locus of a continent-wide Socialist “Pink tide”. The “Pink tide” was depicted as representing a decisive political and economic tilt toward the left, and by extension a decisive rejection of the dominant neo-liberal economic model.

In so far as the United States is the chief proponent of the neo-liberal economic model, Venezuela was necessarily in opposition to it. But contrary to conventional wisdom Chavez’s anti-Americanism was not primarily driven by socialist ideology. For a start, in the early years of his reign Chavez proved to be a moderate socialist in so far as he refrained from the root and branch rejection of the capitalist model.

Instead Venezuelan foreign policy developed an anti-American trajectory for primarily two reasons. First, in keeping with the Bolivarian nationalist ethos – and mindful of America’s consistent intervention in Venezuelan domestic affairs throughout the 20th century – the “Chavistas” had to be by definition anti-American.

There was also an immediate practical need for a tough attitude towards the United States inasmuch as Venezuela had a pressing need to contain American influence both domestically and more broadly in its immediate environment. This need intensified when the US government openly reached out to the Venezuelan opposition and leading industrialists with a view to fomenting unrest in the country.

Under Nicolas Maduro’s leadership attitudes towards the United States have hardened still further. This development is a direct reaction to hostile US policies which seek to isolate Venezuela in South America, in addition to weakening it from within by fomenting unrest and insurrection.

The forlorn quest for Latin American unity

The Chavistas never stop talking about South American unity. To be fair their vision of “unity” is not entirely unrealistic in so far as they envisage a broad-based solidarity bound by minimalist principals revolving around nationalism and a rejection of neo-liberal economic models. These principles resonate widely across the continent and they continue to energise a multitude of political parties and movements in every Latin American country.

More specifically, despite its economic crisis, neo-Bolivarian Venezuela continues to be a source of ideological inspiration across the continent. Notwithstanding these positive features, it is fair to say that Venezuela’s policy of promoting South American unity has failed.

For a start, the continent is as divided as ever and by extension American influence, particularly in Colombia, Brazil and Chile, is arguably as strong as it has ever been. Second, Venezuela is politically isolated on the continent as demonstrated by its strained relationship with the continent’s biggest power Brazil.

Furthermore, Venezuela faces hostility from neighbouring Colombia as Caracas has supported left-wing political and guerrilla groups in Colombia for the past 20 years. This has largely been a reaction to Colombia’s outreach to anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela.

A “global” foreign policy?

The Chavistas have always aspired to a global standing. Buoyed by high oil prices, in the first decade of the 21st century they set out to develop influence and sympathy across the world. This led to some strange policies, notably the decision in 2007 to supply cheap fuel to bus services in London, the capital of the United Kingdom. The deal was a flamboyant demonstration of gesture politics designed to strengthen the position of London’s then left-wing mayor Ken Livingstone.

Theatrics aside, Venezuela has undertaken serious moves on the international stage. The most important and far-reaching, both in terms of Venezuela’s global outreach and the reaction it elicits from the US government, has been Caracas’s alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran.    

Originating in the close personal bond between former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez, the embryonic Iranian-Venezuelan alliance has persisted to this day (albeit at a less dramatic level), thus allowing Iran to establish a firm foothold in Venezuela. This is in keeping with the broader Iranian policy of penetrating Latin America with a view to achieving strategic parity with the United States.  

By developing strong ties to countries like Iran and China, Venezuela both improves its global standing and simultaneously acquires an insurance policy against American threats to overthrow the Bolivarian revolution.

In conclusion, whilst Venezuela has failed to achieve its core foreign policy objective of creating a united Latin American front, nevertheless it has successfully raised its international profile by developing sustainable ties with major non-Western powers like China and Iran.

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.

Does America need Saudi Arabia?

America is pretty much less dependent on Saudi oil now, but why does it still need Saudi Arabia?

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Are Saudi-Turkish relations deteriorating?

The relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now becoming a subject of mediatic interest following the alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khoshoggi, a critic of Riyadh’s current government, in his country’s consulate in Istanbul. To better understand this event and its consequences, it is necessary to put it in the broader context of the bilateral relations between the two states, which dates back to the 1920s.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and its aftermath.

Once the main power in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in both political and territorial terms in the wake of its defeat in WWI; thus reshaping the region’s geopolitical order. Many of its former lands became de facto colonies under the rule of either Great Britain or France (on the basis of the Sykes-Picot agreement), but two cases stand out as exceptions: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Turkey.

During the Great War, Britain was fighting against the Ottoman Empire, who was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In this context, the British were actively supporting an Arab uprising to weaken the Ottomans and extend their influence on the Middle East. This led to a deal with the Saud family: in exchange of aid against the Ottomans, the House of Saud would rule an independent kingdom after the end of the war.  This resulted into the establishment of Saudi Arabia (which takes its name from the ruling al-Saud dynasty) in 1932.  An important aspect of the newborns state was its affiliation to Wahhabism, a juridical and religious doctrine of Islam known for its conservatism and that became the basis of the Saudi political system. This made the Kingdom the champion of Sunni Islam, even though its adherence to Wahhabism has recently become less marked under the influence of Crown Prince bin Salman. After the discovery of huge oil reserves in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia gradually became a major producer and started accumulating wealth. During the Cold War, it forged an alliance with the United States, thus becoming (in spite of occasional divergences, like the 1973 oil crisis) one of its main allies in the Middle East. As of today, the House of Saud is still in power and its cooperation with the US remains a central element of its foreign policy.

On its part, the Ottoman Empire was weakened by war, politically delegitimized and in social unrest; and had to face the consequences of defeat. With the nationalist movement led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk gaining more and more influence, the imperial rule did not last. The last Sultan (and Caliph) was deposed, and a Republic was proclaimed. But its territory was much smaller than the pre-war Empire. Other than Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Arabia, it even lost some lands in mainland Anatolia; which it recovered after a war with Greece in 1919-22 that gave the country its current shape. Atatürk promoted westernization in the newly-born Republic, notably to transform it into a secular state after centuries of religious-based Ottoman rule.  This is a major difference from Saudi Arabia, which instead based its polity upon religious conservatism.  But like the KSA, Turkey decided to side with America after WWII, joining NATO in 1952. During the decades, the country experienced several coups, the last of which occurred in 2016 as an attempt to overthrow President Erdogan, who has held the office since 2014 after serving eleven years as Prime Minister.

The history of Turkey – Saudi Arabia relations

Official relations between the two countries were established in 1932, when the KSA was founded. During the pre-WWII era, when the Middle East was still largely influenced by European powers, their bilateral relations were stable and no major issue emerged. During the late ‘40s following the withdrawal of colonial forces, new states appeared in the region and started pursuing their own geopolitical objectives, thus complicating the regional dynamics.

A first factor of disagreement was the Palestinian issue and the creation of Israel. Turkey recognized the Jewish state and adopted a moderate stance towards it during the Arab-Israeli wars, whereas Saudi Arabia refused to establish official relation with it and actively supported the cause of Palestinians as well as that of Arab states fighting against Israel.

Relations with Iran would soon become another problematic issue. Before the 1979 Revolution that overthrew the Shah and established the Islamic Republic, Ankara maintained good relations with Teheran. The instauration of the new Iranian regime resulted into colder relations for some time (due to Turkey’s friendly ties with the US and Israel, the arch-nemesis of Iran) but then they gradually improved. Prior to the Islamic Revolution, Riyadh also enjoyed generally positive relations with Teheran, with the two main points of disagreement being religious divides (Sunni vs Shia respectively) and the recognition of Israel by the former. But this dramatically changed after 1979: the difference in faith combined with the Saudi’s amity with the US turned their mutual relations into strong hostility.

The Iran-Iraq war that raged between 1980 and 1988 saw the KSA and Turkey taking a different stance. Riyadh, in spite of strained relations with Baghdad, considered Teheran’s revolutionary regime to be the main threat to its security and therefore supported the former with financial aid. In contrast, Turkey was more conciliatory with Iran: keeping a neutralist policy, it maintained economic ties with both belligerents, thus refusing to implement the US-led embargo on Iran. The outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991 following Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait saw both Saudi Arabia and Turkey joining the US-guided coalition against Iraq.

Ankara and Riyadh also took different postures after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by US forces. The fact that most of the terrorist that had hijacked the planes used to strike the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were Saudi nationals caused some strain between Riyadh and Washington, but in general the Saudis cooperated with the US in the War on Terror the latter launched after 9/11. On its part, Turkey supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but opposed that of Iraq in 2003 out of fears that the instability that would follow the end of Saddam’s regime would allow the Iraqi Kurds to obtain an independent state.

Saudi-Turkish relations in recent years

The year 2011 can be seen as a turning point in the history of contemporary Middle East, and the events that took place since then had a profound effect on Turkey-KSA relations. In 2011, the “Arab Spring” shook the region, leading to the outbreak of a bloody and still-unsolved civil war in Syria. The US withdrew its last combat forces from Iraq and reduced its direct involvement in the Middle East in accordance with President’s Obama “Leading from Behind” policy. Since then, the region’s geopolitical landscape has significantly changed and local actors have become more active.

Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have supported the rebels trying to topple the al-Assad regime in Syria. The two also found some common ground in the fight against the auto-proclaimed “Islamic State”. In 2014, this Sunni extremist group rapidly seized control of considerable swathes of territory in the northern parts of Iraq and Syria. An international coalition started hitting its position with airstrikes to support the local forces on the ground. Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey have condemned the group, even though there have been allegations that wealthy Saudi nationals founded the group and that Turkey has secretly traded oil with it. The struggle against the IS also explains why both have sustained the Iraqi state, even though their involvement responds to a slightly different logic. Ankara did so to avoid that a Kurdish state may emerge from the fragmentation of Iraq, plus to prevent that Teheran may complete a pipeline that would allow it to export its hydrocarbons without having to pass via the Turkish territory; while Riyadh acted to limit Teheran’s influence in the area, given that Iraq’s population is mainly Shia. Also, in the frame of the Iran-KSA proxy war in Yemen, the two powers are both helping the government forces to defeat the Houthi rebels sustained by Iran. Finally, the Saudis promptly expressed their support for Erdogan’s government during the 2016 coup attempt.

Yet, in the broader struggle for influence over the Middle East, the divergences between Riyadh and Ankara have multiplied. First, there is some form of ideological divergence. Since Erdogan became President in 2014, he promoted a reintroduction of religious-based norms in Turkey; and many consider this as being contrary to the secular spirit that the Republic has had since its foundation by Atatürk. At the same time, Saudi Arabia moved in the opposite direction under the leadership of Prince bin Salman. Even though he centralized power (similarly to Erdogan), he lifted many of the traditional Islamic limitations in many aspects of Saudi society. But beyond that, there is much realpolitik underneath.

The two support opposing factions in Egypt: the Saudis favor the government led by General al-Sisi; whereas the Turks support the opposition forces, notably the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not a factor to neglect, because having a friendly government in Cairo makes easier the access to the Red Sea and its shipping lanes, an objective that Ankara is pursuing. In regard to Iran, the KSA maintains its longstanding hostile stance, while Turkey (in spite of the differences) has shown more willingness to cooperate with it (and Russia) in regard to Iraq and Syria. In turn, this is linked to their relations with Israel. Riyadh, considering that Teheran is the main regional rival of Tel Aviv, is unofficially but concretely establishing closer ties with the latter; all with Washington’s patronage. The Trump administration has clearly shown its willingness to support both Saudi Arabia and Israel, so this come with no surprise. At the same time, Turkey’s ties with the Jewish State have been deteriorating during the past decade, notably since Erdogan became President in 2014. Israel does not appreciate Turkey’s support for Islamic movements and for the Palestinian cause, something which recently led to a verbal escalation between Erdogan and Netanyahu. Plus, Tel Aviv does not see positively Ankara’s closer ties with Teheran. The access to offshore gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean is another factor that is straining their bilateral relations. Israel is collaborating with Cyprus and Egypt to exploit these energy resources, whereas Turkey is asserting its rights in a quite aggressive manner against other players. In this context, Tel Aviv is also fostering closer ties with Athens, whose relations with Ankara are historically problematic. Lastly, there is the Qatar issue. In 2017, the KSA and other countries (including Egypt) initiated a blockade on the small Gulf state, because of its friendly ties with Iran and for allegedly sponsoring terrorism; a move that Israel approved. Soon, Turkey showed its support to Qatar by providing economic aid and even by dispatching its troops.

The result is that an informal yet tangible entente is forming between Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US and other powers to counter Turkey, which in turn is creating closer ties with Iran (and Russia). The most recent events are to be interpreted in this context.

The current crisis: the alleged killing of Jamal Khashoggi

The Saudi-Turkish standoff that is making the headlines these days is just the latest episode of the deteriorating ties between the two countries, but relations with other powers should be factored in as well.

The Turkish authorities accuse the Saudis to have assassinated Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist known for its critic position towards the government in Riyadh, at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. This has sparked a crisis between the two countries and has attracted much mediatic attention. One interesting thing to note is that Turkey has decided to exploit this occasion to free US pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been detained for two years over accusation of being involved in the failed 2016 coup attempt to overthrow Erdogan. It appears that Turkey is trying to exploit the Khashoggi affaire to restore its ties with the US, which have been damaged in recent years due to various issues. First, this is due to Turkey’s cooperation with Russia and Iran combined with its growing enmity toward Saudi Arabia and Israel. Second, the US refuse to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric that Ankara blames to be responsible for the 2016 coup attempt. This leads to the third factor, namely the imposition of US sanctions on Turkey, something that caused a considerable depreciation of its currency (the lira), putting the country’s economy under stress and forcing it to take restrictive economic measures in the form of higher interest rates; a measure necessary to stop the fall of the lira’s value but that will damage Turkey’s economy by adding pressure on its negative trade balance and on its external debt.

As such, the timing Andrew Brunson’s liberation now appears both as a conciliatory act towards the US in the hope of having sanctions lifted and to restore better political ties, as well as an attempt to improve its international image all while damaging Saudi Arabia’s. It is another application of Turkey’s traditional policy of tilting alternatively towards the US and then towards Russia and Iran so to keep viable relations with all and maximize its own benefit. After a period where it built its ties with Washington’s adversaries, it is therefore to be expected that Ankara will now seek a reconciliation; but this will likely be only partial. Still, the US-Saudi ties are indeed becoming more strained following the episode, but in the long term it is likely that mutual interests will prevail. What will happen next is yet to be seen, but it is certain that the complex power interplay in the Middle East will not end here.

How do Germans view Americans?

The relationship between the United States and Germany has been a cornerstone of the liberal international order for decades. From the Marshall Plan to early entry into NATO to German reunification and USSR era, the two countries have been engaged together in major historical events while facing many of the same challenges to both security and prosperity.

But despite this shared history, the Americans and Germans express very different opinions about the state of relations between their two countries. I’m Kasim, welcome to KJ Vids and in a brand-new series of videos, I will be looking at global attitudes and how people from different countries view each other.

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America and Turkey, FRIENDS or FOES? – KJ Vids

The close U.S.-Turkish relationship dates back to the early days of the Cold War. That’s when Turkey sent its troops to fight alongside U.S. soldiers in the Korean War. In return, Turkey become an important NATO member and a bulwark against Soviet expansionism in the eastern Mediterranean. As of 2018, Turkey’s armed forces are the fourth most powerful in the Alliance. And the Incirlik air base in Southern Turkey serves as a critical hub for U.S. fighter jets in their Middle East missions, particularly over Iraq and Syria.

But despite the current cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey, the strategic alliance and trust between the countries began to falter with the end of the Cold War. I’m Kasim, this is KJ Vids and in this video, we will look at the US-Turkish Relationship.

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