François Hollande’s declaration of war against Isis (also known as Islamic State) was, perhaps, a natural reaction to the carnage in Paris but the situation is now so grave that we cannot merely react; we also need sustained, informed and objective reflection.
Critical events of early 2015—cheap oil and Middle East violence—will probably continue to take their toll as the year goes on, according to a new projection of geopolitical hot spots. Lower overall prices for commodities may hurt the economies of resource-rich nations.
Realpolitik made a comeback in 2014. In the immediate post-Cold War-era, during those years when America enjoyed its unipolar moment, international politics as it had been usually understood seemed to have been eclipsed. The world began to focus more on the liberalization and globalization of the world economy, the spread of democracy, and the threats posed by non-state actors.
Economic interdependence was supposed to defuse geopolitical tensions over time – or at least allow the two to be compartmentalized. But today the West is using Russia’s participation in the global economy to punish it for its actions in eastern Ukraine. The EU has announced sanctions that will hit Russia in the banking, oil and defense industries.
Resource security is now a priority for governments the world over. Markets for many resources are likely to remain tight and unstable as demand growth outstrips production and stocks struggle to recover. Government interventions in resource markets, such as biofuel mandates and export controls, often make things worse. In the medium term, climate change will create local scarcities in vital resources such as food and water, increase market instability by disrupting production and trade, and by fuelling conflict.
Countries are “pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world,” wrote Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, in 1898. Nothing has changed. The shopping mall massacre in Nairobi was a bloody facade behind which a full-scale invasion of Africa and a war in Asia are the great game.
So far, public debate about the intervention in Syria has centered on the immediate scope and aims of any U.S.-led military operation, and whether the U.S. Congress should be involved. But no matter how the possible intervention and its aftermath play out, one thing is certain: the eastern Mediterranean — where exploratory drilling has unearthed vast reserves of natural gas, and where competition over the rights to tap those resources is already fierce — will become less stable.