Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the players that may change the rules of world-power game in her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The question of a plausible world power shift from the West to Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050 necessitates an understanding of the trends driving change in today’s geopolitical landscape. Geopolitical positioning by the U.S., Russia, and China could continue the status quo. However, trends of increasing geo-economic strategies, geo-technological warfare, and geo-cultural identity suggest possible disruption to the current world order. These drivers of change could influence alternative ways in which the future unfolds.
Continued geopolitical positioning by the U.S., Russia, and China to exploit Heartland power is driving change from a unipolar to a multipolar international system. Following the Cold War, the U.S. moved forward, unchallenged as the sole superpower in a world order characterized by unipolarity. America extended her assumed “greatness” and sought to spread her influence throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East directly or indirectly through regional partners and global institutions. Russia and China did likewise, albeit more gradually and astutely. All three’s tendency to leverage the Heartland to their own advantage shows a pattern of promoting and protecting their geopolitical agendas and interests in the region. Presently, the U.S. hints at purchasing Greenland, whether to block China from establishing a Polar Silk Road or contain Russia’s growing presence on the island. As Russia, China and other stakeholders increasingly drive a multipolar world order, with the U.S. promoting an “America First” policy, America’s greatness is diminishing.
Russia and China’s foreign-policy shifts toward geo-economic commerce is disrupting the U.S.’ extension of power. Russia expanded her foreign policy, desiring partnerships with Muslim majority countries and other non-traditional partners in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Beyond political, military, and or security cooperation, Russia organizes international commerce among them by trade and energy imports-exports. China became the manufacturing hub for American companies pursuing competitive advantages through inexpensive labor. She adapted her foreign policy to support state-controlled capitalism, and could become the economic superpower by 2050. Ideally, China’s Belt and Road Initiative will facilitate international commerce across Afro-Eurasia through connectivity. However, India and other stakeholders perceive it as a precursor to economic colonialism in the Heartland. Russia and China’s foreign-policy shifts along with their embrace of geo-economic commerce has the U.S. scrambling to “Make America Great Again.” This change driver signals increasing disruption to U.S. power abroad. Still, China’s handling of COVID-19 may disrupt her superpower dream.
Geo-technological warfare supposedly waged by Russia, China, and Iran is progressively disrupting the international order. In this New Cold War era, they stand accused of cyberterrorism, cyber espionage and cyberwarfare against Western targets. These digital tactics pose as serious a threat to the established international order — based on peace and cooperation — as nuclear weapons, although on a different scale. Election hacking is eroding people’s trust in democracy. Fake news continues to damage the media’s credibility. And thefts of intellectual property and trade secrets are costing businesses, inventors, and artists billions of dollars in unrealized revenues. As digital warfare increasingly undermines international law, disorients governments, threatens national security, and destabilizes societies, disruption to the international order is accelerating. Geo-technological warfare has Western targets concentrated on reactive policies and measures and distracted from Heartland strategies. It is a change driver that could threaten the U.S.’ “Buy American, Deregulate, Innovate” domestic agenda.
Geo-cultural identity as a unifying ideology emphasized by Russia and increasingly adopted by her partners is disrupting Western influence in the Heartland. The underlying cultural spirit of Russia’s foreign-policy is expressed by Eurasianism. Identification with this ideology seemingly implies one’s rejection of Western civilization and capitalism, acceptance of authoritarianism, and or value for unity. South Caucasus, North African, and Muslim majority countries in Central Asia identify with the ideology’s inclusion of the Muslim community (“Ummah” in Arabic). Turkey adopted Eurasianism to symbolize her geopolitical reorientation from the West to Eastern and Central Asia. However, growing resentment among Turkish citizens of Syrian refuges and migrants may disrupt Turkey’s embrace of Eurasianist solidarity, especially if COVID-19 worsens. As Russia increasingly unites much of Afro-Eurasia around a geo-cultural worldview, Western influence in the Heartland is declining. This change driver could transform geopolitics, while Russia’s “Ummah Pivot” (rebalance to Asia) may position the Heartland for a world-power shift to the East.
Will the geopolitical landscape be shaped by a continuation of the same? How might geo-economic strategies, geo-technological warfare, and or geo-cultural identity drive change toward alternative futures? Could world power shift to Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050? These are the questions scenario stories will explore.
Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects Russia’s attention towards Asia in his fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In 2018, former Putin aide Vladislav Surkov wrote that "Russia's epic journey toward the West … [after] numerous fruitless attempts to become part of western civilization" had concluded. If this in indeed true, then the nation’s borders dictate that increased interest in Asia, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Japan, is likely over the coming decades.
China’s future as a great power and its reach west through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) threaten Russia’s influence in the region as a whole. Cooperation between China and Russia in the Western and Central Asian states could be a regional stabilizing force if economic and security agendas can be harmonized. On the other hand, these agendas could lead to flashpoints along Russia’s entire southern border if integration is resisted. Either way, Moscow’s game in Asia will assuredly affect the nation’s identity and regional alignment into the future.
Russia is keenly aware of its need to have a non-hostile relationship with China. While it is possible that a more complete alliance could form, the mid-20th century psychology of great power politics remains alive and well in Moscow. It is therefore more likely that the coming decades will see a warm-yet-wary relationship emerge with Beijing. In this future, Russia will play a careful game of reinforcing its security and economic partnerships with China while engaging in bilateral relationships with India and Southeast Asian nations as a hedge. Russia will also take advantage of its natural gift as the wide belt of land that separates China and all other nations to its South from direct access to the Arctic.
As interest in the northern pole heats up and Siberia becomes more inhabitable, Russia will likely take full advantage of the desire for influence in the region. Moscow may begin to welcome an increasing number of immigrants from India and elsewhere into its Far East in order to balance out the increasing presence of Chinese workers and reap the rewards of diverse labor force. This could in time start to tip the scales of economic power in Russia’s favor. However, at least in the coming few years, Moscow will be more focused on holding its ground as an energy enabler and economic beneficiary of the Chinese powerhouse.
Without friendly relations between Russia and China, Western and Central Asia could become a hotter geo-economic, if not literal, warzone. Chinese political influence through the BRI buildout could lead a threatened Moscow to push neighbors like Kazakhstan to pick a side. This is a future in which Asia’s middle increasingly resents the exploitative mindset of its behemoth neighbors, resists integration into this different flavor of globalization, and descends into fracture and volatility. Weakened economic relationships along its southern border, along with the need to secure it, could force a reluctant Russian reunion with Europe. However, Moscow will not be keen on making the concessions to the West that would likely be necessary.
Asia has long been a key arena of Russian foreign policy but is likely to now become the primary focus as an Asian Century looms. It remains unclear what course this future will follow, whether more cooperative or competitive. Cultural differences will continue to be a wedge between still-European Moscow and its southeastern neighbors, but over time an alignment of values could add fuel to the fire of Asia’s global growth. On the other hand, mismanagement of this partnership could serve to ignite conflicts in the unstable Central and Western Asian region. Regardless, if an Asian Century is inevitable, Russia may come to belong more and more to the continent over the next few decades.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the economic aspect of local entrepreneurship in Africa through her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In the early 2000s, the Africa Rising movement spurred the development of entrepreneurial opportunities in a contemporary way. But reflecting on the past two decades, what real momentum has come from entrepreneurship throughout the continent? What has hindered a lasting momentum and an enduring growth? Consider the impact that factionalism, tribalism, nepotism, and corruption have had on the successful long-term growth of entrepreneurship to date. Reflect on what real prosperity and development have accompanied the traditional political leadership model throughout the continent. Contemporary efforts of top-down development from African leaders over the past twenty years have not catapulted a robust existence of entrepreneurship across the general population. What can be done, starting now, so that a theme of thriving local entrepreneurship exists throughout the continent by 2050?
There is a real prospect for exponential growth related to entrepreneurial opportunities. As Africa seeks to unlock its potential by 2050, entrepreneurial ventures are essential to growth. However, an important nuance to a renewed effort involves an alternative approach. Consider the manifested impact that may arise for the African people as they adopt a bottom-up approach. How might ventures led by the African people opposed to a top-down approach from formal African leadership offer greater evolution? As systems of governmental instability, military rule, suppression, and genocide are overturned by grassroots efforts such as human rights, a growing feminist presence, educational advances, and increased networking, the continent is reshaped. Along with this evolution, entrepreneurship further opens the doors for new hope and prospects not before available to the people at large.
Transforming the continent calls for shifting values. A shift away from racism toward valuing human development. A shift away from communism and command economies toward appreciating open markets. A shift toward valuing educational and vocational programs. A shift away from poverty toward valuing a skilled workforce. A shift from destruction toward comparative progress and peace. Further, these values fuel long-term expansion and sustainability of a bottom-up form of entrepreneurship.
Local entrepreneurship lends itself to a variety of beneficial aspects for the African economy. Empowered local business owners, in turn, provide communities with sustainability, employment opportunities, internship and apprenticeship positions, and greater voice. At the same time, prosperous and meaningful local entrepreneurship disrupts historical power dynamics, contends against generational cycles of poverty, and encourages an end to the African brain drain. With the people driving the growth of local entrepreneurship, there is an exponential opportunity for higher discretionary spending throughout the economy from the bottom-up.
Another critical benefit of local entrepreneurship on the economy is its inclusive nature. Entrepreneurship is non-discriminating and can be inclusive across all geographies, industries, and cultures. Consider the economic benefits available to all sectors through local business innovations - businesses to address the infrastructure issues, climate change, oil and gas discoveries, preventative health care, urbanization, technological advances, living conditions, and agriculture, for example. Local entrepreneurship is the best hope for Africa and its people as they unlock their potential by 2050.
Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions the alternative future scenarios of the Arctic region in his fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Sustaining the current geopolitical system in the Arctic will become increasingly challenging. Alternative scenarios will be shaped by continued collaboration and/or growing strategic competition. Regardless of what emerges, the Arctic Council’s role in the region might be forced to either expand or become irrelevant. Five scenarios help frame what could arise in the region: (1) Sustained Current State, (2) Polar Cold War (3) Diplomacy Triumphs (4) Polar Commons, and (5) The Bering Plug.
A sustained current state would require the Arctic Nations to agree to keeping the Arctic open for the common good, while also yielding competition in favor of collaboration. However, the Arctic Council has limited powers to ensure that collaboration is sustained. Even if Arctic Nations verbally commit to cooperation, competition over sea routes and natural resources will continue to rise. The Arctic Council does not have the political or financial resources to mitigate the growing tension in the region.
A Polar Cold War might be on the Horizon. The US claim that the Arctic is in an “era of strategic competition” is a signal that tensions will grow in the region. Although the US is lagging behind in Arctic military developments it could shift course and seek to expand military operations in response to Russian and Chinese activities. China’s maritime access has several choke points, but these will be alleviated as scientific and commercial BRI partnerships with Russia, Finland and Iceland continue to expand. These partnerships could also lay the foundation for a wider military strategy and China’s Beidou-3 Satellite system is already in place to support the navigation of both missiles and Arctic ships. Russia’s military developments will expand to include the revitalization of cold war military installations. New airbases, radar stations and monitoring systems will bolster Russia’s already strong maritime presence in the Arctic. As the Polar Cold War scenario unfolds. The region will become militarized and Arctic Nations will seek to enclose their territories. The Arctic Council will play an increasingly smaller role in the region and bilateral and multilateral agreements will dominate.
A Diplomacy Triumphs scenario could emerge if the Arctic Council, or another multinational organization, is granted legal political powers to settle disputes and govern commercial and military operations in the region. In this scenario, as Arctic Nations pursue their national strategies, the tension in the region increases. However, diplomacy and legally binding cooperation keep things stable. Friction between Russia and US would become a norm, as Russia seeks to maintain its rights to a large portion of the Arctic and enclose its sea routes and territory.
To sustain a Polar Commons, the Arctic Nations agree to expand the role of the Arctic Circle to include legal governance over Arctic Circle developments. Military operations take the backseat to economic and scientific collaboration and cooperation. China expands the “Polar Silk Road” though bilateral and multilateral partnerships. The increased oversight and governance by the Arctic Council alienates Russia or the US, who are resistant to give up their rights to act unilaterally. In general, the Arctic is unenclosed, sea routes are open for international use, and economic developments are cooperative.
The rate of climate change and uneven ice melt could result in wildcard scenarios. Tides and wind could continue to create a much colder, ice covered Bering Strait. This Bering Plug is a growing possibility that would make access to, and development of the Northern Sea Route and North West Passage uncertain. Asian Nations would have inconsistent access to the new shipping route, decreasing China’s maritime interests in the region. This would reduce Russia’s profits from transportation tariffs and curtail Russia-China developmental partnerships, shifting focus to Russia-European Partnerships. The Bering Plug would also reduce Russia-US tension that is created by maritime boundary lines and military operations through the straights. Overall, a Bering Plug might reduce some of the competition and strategic positioning in the region. If this is the case, then the current role of the Arctic Council might look similar for several years into the future.
Regardless, The Arctic region will continue to change in both climate and geopolitical landscapes. The emergence of these alternative scenarios will depend on the desired future outcomes of the Arctic Nations and the interplay of their national strategies.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks multicultural and multiethnic populations shaped by global migrations in his fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
How do nations control multicultural and multiethnic populations? We need to examine the concept of the nation and nationalism in relation to this question. Control is the word that must be thought through first. The word control implies that the nation-state, through heavy-handed measures, forces upon the migratory population a standard of behaviour to which they must conform. Control can be achieved through devious, circumlocutious tactics as well. A nation can deceive a migrant population to create docile subjects for governance. In the first is governance by repression; in the second, through ideology. Both of these cases rely on an unquestioned assumption. This is the separation of the self, the national population and the other, the migrant population. The boundary between the two is much more porous than they appear. There is no eternal national body with unchanging boundaries and neither is the migrant forever an excluded outsider.
What is the nation? The nation is much more than citizenship and bureaucratic inclusion. As scholar of nationalism Benedict Anderson suggests through the title of his landmark work, the nation is an “imagined community.” It is imagined because it is a constructed collective that relies on an imagined bond connecting members of the nation to other imagined members who they will never interact with. It is a community because the nation is “always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” as opposed to a hierarchical relationship. Nation-states are able to extend this community to migrants, and redefine the borders of national belonging. Construction does not imply invention and falsity. Even though nations and the feeling of national belonging are culturally constructed, it inspires community, belonging, and meaning for its members.
Canada is an example of one nation-state in which the definition of the national subject has changed. Canada is known for its brand of multiculturalism today. This was hardly the case in the mid-20th century, when Canada’s identity was predicated on Britishness and whiteness. White Canada policies excluded non-white individuals as national subjects. However, the boundary that once existed between white Canada and the once unassimilable migrant population has disappeared in the present day.
Other nation-states are going through their own transitions. The foreign population in South Korea was roughly 40,000 in 1990 and has grown to approximately 2.5 million today. Previously, one had to have “pure” Korean blood to claim belonging to the Korean nation, but the growing foreign population is challenging and redefining what it means to be Korean. The South Korean state is an active participant in these redefinitions through mechanisms like multiculturalist policies.
There are several potential incoming sources of migration in the coming years. These range from “pull” factors, such as labour market migrations, to “push” factors, like climate change related migrations. How might these migrants be welcomed into the national body? Thinking about the future is always limited by the ways of thinking in the present. There has been a revival of narrow nationalist discourses in the political landscape in recent years. In these discourses, the migrant is a figure who is completely exterior to the national community. The migrant threatens traditional, eternal ways of life with a strange dress, a strange tongue, and unfamiliar mannerisms.
However, the politics of the present need not be the politics of the future. Just as the national community is constructed, it can be reconstructed anew. The story of migration is in part a story of the reinterpretation of the national community. The migrants of today can be full members of the nation tomorrow.
Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects the effect of climate change on global institutions. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Climate change increases stress on governmental structures, intensifying vulnerabilities present within. The more taxing a situation turns, the more difficult collaboration and communication often become, creating a vicious cycle that brings cultural and political tensions to the fore. It’s the rare event when one country is effectively able to coordinate with another during times of crisis. Take the current coronavirus pandemic and its wide reaching economic impacts. The international economy is reeling as a result of the virus’ spread, yet there remains little consultation between governments, with plans for stimulus cropping up incrementally and separately across the globe.
As climate change progresses, the scale, scope and speed of difficulty will deepen around the world, testing the strength of international institutions to greater degrees. Indeed, climate issues are already showing both how difficult negotiation between countries is, and how insufficient our existing international institutions are to addressing issues of serious concern. When it comes to climate change, the authoritative limits of organizations like the United Nations or the World Bank are progressively highlighted and undermined. All international agreements made since the first COP (Conference of Parties) Climate Change Convention in 1995 have been non-binding, with participating countries left to follow its recommendations via voluntary interpretation. Many global leaders, such as the United States, have pulled out of agreements entirely.
Our international institutions, from the World Health Organization to the International Monetary Fund, retain only the power to recommend, pressure or sanction. They do not enforce. In times of strife, following recommendations that have less directly calculable benefit, such as recommendations from the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement that participating countries support sustainable development and enhance adaptive capacity, can become political liabilities. Making moves towards measures that require longer periods of time to show results is all to often a harder move to sell.
Again, the coronavirus crisis currently gripping the planet is a useful reference to assess where our international systems might be heading. While not directly caused by climate issues, coronavirus and its devastations are imprints of what is likely to come. As climate change brings warmer temperatures and glacial melt, researchers anticipate that new infectious diseases will arise, to which modern humans have little to no immunity. Coronavirus has shown that sequestering such diseases can be near impossible. In our modern world of global supply chains and constant travel, what affects one part of the globe affects us all.
Sadly, our existing international bodies are not up to the task of managing such outbreaks. In the early days of coronavirus’ reach, the World Health Organization sent out warnings, letting governments know that the virus required serious preventative measures. Some countries, like Singapore and South Korea, places where more recent outbreaks of SARS and MERS have left lasting impacts, took the recommendations to heart. Others, like the United States, Brazil and Italy, did not. The WHO has no authority to manage how international governments follow its recommendations, creating conditions where diseases and infections that might have been effectively regulated with cross governmental coordination go on rampant, causing widespread loss of life, economic fallout and social decay.
Researchers are certain that climate change will bring more and stranger viruses than we have experienced in living memory. With the conditions of scarcity, uncertainty and fear that come with such pandemics, many leaders may well work to strengthen their respective states and reinforce feelings of nationalism. Governments across the board could enact emergency restrictions and policies to navigate the mounting crises, restrictions that, when those crises abate, leaders may not readily relinquish. Such concentration of power often leads to diminished reliance on international governance and a weakened belief in the power of multilateral cooperation.
As the diseases, conflicts and extreme weather events that come with climate change increase, the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of current global institutions will continue to show. The amount and frequency of refugee movements will only spike, bringing more conflict and spurring greater demands on existing resources, challenging the ability of global institutions to manage and guide the flows. Only direct support, coordinated reimagining and international investment, can prevent the already present cracks in our institutions from breaking.
Carl Michael inspects the impact of technology on Belt and Road Initiative in his fifth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The term technology covers the development and utilization of technical capabilities in relation to people and the environment. Technologies are material and non-material or digital inventions that have enabled human beings to survive, thrive and advance. They ought not to be considered in isolation from the era or the societies in which they exist. For instance, some experts consider that were it not for the development of the chariot, China itself as a unified entity would not exist. Such is the impact of technology on society. Continuing on this note, if one considers the very concept of the state as a ‘technology’ in its own right, one can define a state as the sum of human endeavour in the production of economic, military, social or artistic outcomes. Extending this train of thought, one can consider the state or the BRI to be a ‘network’, and one which acts within a global network.
The evolution of the BRI must be considered in the context of political technologies such as states and intra-state activities. It should be acknowledged how these technologies interact with other cutting-edge technologies and the resulting evolution of governance. In this macro-context, national or civilizational interactions are part of a complex technological network. When insights from complexity theory and network theory are incorporated into one’s perspective, the evolution of the BRI and its vision can be viewed in a new light. This provides a viewpoint which could be useful when considering how technology impacts the intentions driving an initiative such as the BRI. The economic future of China is technology dependent and effective utilization and transfer of technology will be at the heart of the BRI. Further to this, as BRI members develop, there will be greater demand for advanced technologies, wherever they come from.
For China, technology and success are almost synonymous and the ‘Made in China 2025’ strategic plan is the blueprint for China’s intent for seizing leadership in advanced technology. It is a world leader in digital payment systems and the intent is to surge forward in ICT, artificial intelligence, robotics, high-speed railways, biotech and medical technology, pharmaceuticals, space technology, renewables, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, nuclear energy and military technology. To fuel this surge China needs access, one way or another, to commodities from developing countries or cutting-edge technology from developed countries. The BRI presents China with opportunities to use its accumulated capital to increase its ability to control and optimise global value chains on favourable terms for developing and exporting its technology.
The danger from the current global crisis has showcased China’s strategic biotech capabilities. Chinese leadership in other key technology sectors can be noted from its young, large and ambitious technology workforce, its recent accounting for a third of a space-launches, its pushing ahead with ambitious plans for cleaner and safer next-generation nuclear power, and its acknowledged strength in 5G telecom networks and digital platforms. With this in mind, we can see that China’s ‘Technological Tianxia’ will be one of fast, technologically driven economic and social change with a centrally managed approach, including the use of technology for military and power-projection. The speed of this change is considerable. China took just over a decade for over a billion people to double industrial output per person. In comparison, the UK took well over a century and the US took about half a century. The technology driven vision of the future will be a distinctive factor for an imagined community such as the BRI and this vision will be driven by Chinese technology prophets, entrepreneurs, influencers and venture capitalists.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program identifies players that could likely affect the world-power game in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
India, Iran, and Turkey are three regional powers being wooed as part of U.S., Russian, and Chinese geopolitical agendas. How they align their aspirations with the civilizational values of the U.S., Russia, and China may upset the balance of power. One of these or other stakeholders could influence a world-power pivot to Eurasia’s Heartland.
To advance their respective civilizational values, the U.S., Russia, and China have extended their rivalry through India, Turkey, and Iran. The U.S., an ally to Israel, firmly defends the values of Western European civilization. She seeks to cozy up with India in Asia and desires Turkey to support her interests in the Middle East. Russia is a self-described Eurasian civilization state. She’s friendly with Iran, pursues an alliance with India, and is improving relations with Turkey. China has been characterized as a civilization state due to her historical heritage, religious diversity, and distinct cultural identity. Despite border disputes with India, she aims to preserve their cultural and economic exchange, dating back to the Old Silk Road. She sweetens relations with Turkey through increased trade and wants Iran as a strategic partner. These regional powers could play critical roles in shifting the balance of world power.
An aspiring emergent global superpower determined to safeguard her borders, India has civil relations with the U.S., Russia, and China. Her foreign-policy agenda is aligned with a multipolar power balance. Supposedly, India is moving away from some Western values — liberalism, individualism, and secularism — that conflict with traditional Indian culture. Yet, she may promote U.S. and Japanese interests in Asia. India could counter China’s encroachment into Central Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Still, for her security, India will “make nice” with China, including joining China’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Recently, India purchased Russia’s S-400 missile defense system against strong U.S. objections and sanctions. Her bilateral relationship with Russia across mutual interests likely will mean continued economic, political, security, and nuclear cooperation in the future.
Turkey is a wild card and complicates the rivalry between the U.S., Russia, and China with her own aspirations. A NATO member and Western ally against communism during the Cold War, she aspires to be a major regional power. Even so, she faces a Kurdish rebellion, Greek territorial disputes, and threatening Iranian power. Potentially, Turkey may stabilize the Middle East and contain Russia’s expanding influence. Still, she defied U.S. expectations and joined Russia in backing rebels in the Syrian War. Having secured Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, she is abandoning Western liberal democracy and embracing authoritarian rule. Plans to connect Turkey’s Middle Corridor transportation network with the BRI supports China’s trade ambitions in Eurasia. But how they address a bilateral trade deficit that favors China could better or sour their relationship.
Supported by Russia and China, Iran seemingly has hegemonic aspirations of being the central regional power in the Middle East and Central Asia. However, her increased involvement in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria has incited Israel’s military opposition. She rejects westernization and strategizes to limit U.S. influence in Central Asia. Trade with Russia is Iran’s saving grace, given the destabilizing impacts of U.S. economic sanctions to deter her from amassing nuclear weapons. Yet, despite their reciprocal friendliness, Russia refused Iran’s request for a S-400 missile defense system. While Iran sought but was denied full membership in the SCO, it’s likely she will stay connected to China through economic and cultural exchanges along the BRI. Their bilateral relationship could solidify Iran as China’s strategic partner in the area.
India, Turkey, and Iran add to the complex rivalry between the U.S., Russia, and China. Will these regional powers or other stakeholders influence a world-power pivot to the Eurasia’s Heartland? Understanding the forces that could drive or block change is key to reducing uncertainty.
Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the possibility of a unified Asia through trade ties in his fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Globalization is not on the decline, but it is evolving. Developments over the last two decades—including a financial crisis and a pandemic—have accelerated the change in economic relationships between and within all regions of the world. Trade with neighbors, in particular, have come into the spotlight as nations narrow their focus. Asia is no exception. Over the coming years, China and India will be playing an economic game with the rest of the continent that could lead to Asian unity or heightened distrust and paranoia. Deep trade integration could bring a form of economic unity to Asia that would totally eclipse Western markets.
The rise of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a signal of what could be realized across the continent. The regional organization has come to develop relationships with other Asian and Pacific nations, including China and later India. As the geographic scope of partnership has increased, so has the complexity of pursuing common interests in light of imbalanced power. India’s recent decision to not participate in ASEAN’s proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is indicative of these limits. India is an attractive market for exports but has concerns that the terms of RCEP could result in a flood of imports, especially from China, harming its domestic industry and agriculture. While India’s economy continues to experience strong growth relative to the rest of the world, it is not yet capable of competing directly with its advanced Eastern neighbor in the trade arena.
In one possible future, India’s growth outpaces China and it makes the necessary structural changes and infrastructure investments to dramatically increase its exports. These developments occur while the encircling Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) struggles through a decelerated Chinese economy and underwhelming returns on its massive foreign investments. India takes advantage of these trends to strengthen its trade relationships in both Southeast and Central Asia, creating a new balance of geo-economic power in the region. China reluctantly recognizes this new state of the world, scales back its assertiveness to avoid military conflict, and becomes a more amenable partner in a broader trade union across the continent.
In another future, India’s infrastructure remains inadequate to take advantage of its demographic and economic growth lead. The BRI successfully draws Central Asian nations closer into China’s orbit of influence, heightening tensions with interested neighbors Russia and India. China uses RCEP as a lever to increase pressure on Japan, Vietnam, and others with respect to its territorial disputes. Nations across Asia face a difficult choice whether to cave to Chinese pressure or face the economic consequences of their trade sanctions. The rest of world seeks to better balance its flow of trade with China while taking a careful approach to relationships in the rest of Asia, mostly seeking less risky deals closer to home. What unity exists in this future Asia is predicated on whether you are under Chinese economic influence or not.
Trade integration promotes peace, but it does not erase borders nor national interests. While disputes about exactly where some Asian nations begin and end may not be settled anytime soon, successful strengthening of trade agreements could lead to unprecedented regional integration and stability. While unanticipated events in the coming decades could accelerate the balance of power in favor of China or India, what is certain is that trade relationships with these two nations will be a determining factor for Asia’s future. The way these regional economic alliances develop will either create a newfound unity or an uneasiness felt around the globe.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the intra-continental cooperation in Africa through the lens of security in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Foundational to intra-continental cooperation lies the abilities of leaders. Now is the time for African leaders to create a structure that perpetuates cooperation with paradigm shifting impact. The African Union (AU) is an African institution with the ability to increase security guarantees. In 2002 the AU, consisting of 55 member states, formed in an evolutionary nature from the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Where the OAU focused on ridding Africa of decolonization and apartheid, the AU’s focus is on cooperation and African driven growth.
In 2013, the organization launched a 50-year plan called Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, noting a critical aspiration to be ‘a peaceful and secure Africa.’ Flagship projects in the plan include a high-speed train network, a commodities strategy, African continental free trade, free movement of people, silencing of guns, e-network, virtual university, cybersecurity, and an African museum authority to preserve cultural heritage. The AU’s work is critical in achieving intra-continental cooperation and associated security guarantees. But, how much of this work is achievable within the next three decades? What is a realistic expectation of progress to be made by 2050?
Security benefits accompany intra-continental cooperation. Security benefits may appear at several different levels within African society by 2050, including both people and businesses. With greater cooperation the day-in-the-life of an African may include burden-less travel in-between major African cities (think of vacation opportunities or family growth), readily available goods manufactured from other African regions in local stores, and the regular ability to consume and cook with foods and spices grown in other African regions. African businesses experience possible benefits of higher buying power in a cooperative market environment, an increased customer base due to a broader market, and opportunities to scale business operations throughout areas in Africa.
Intra-continental cooperation emphasizes peacebuilding efforts and conflict prevention strategies.
Consider the potential conflicts that cooperation may reframe by 2050 to include religious confrontation, tribal disputes, ethnic conflicts, and refugee displacement. Though Africa is a central contributor within the non-integrated gap, the Sahel is a primary source of African conflict. The Sahel, a belt spanning across the northern region of Africa, is known for its instability and violence. How might intra-continental cooperation defuse the Sahel’s reputation for violence come 2050? Will peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategies overturn the present corruption and kleptocracy that exists by 2050? Will the AU hold to their Agenda 2063 plan and create an unwavering African structure?
The desire for peace, security and stability is certainly not new. Yet, over the decades, leaders have not been able to achieve cooperation among the Africa nations. Why is this? Why has peace and security not existed? As a matter of comparison, why does the AU not hold the same level of cooperation as the European Union (EU)? Why are African nations not already cooperating with each other? When thinking towards 2050, modern leaders must ask themselves what will be different? What is be different today, tomorrow, and over the next three decades so that a peaceful and secure Africa, as the AU suggests, exists in 2050?
Cooperation reshapes the types of conflicts and security concerns that arise in 2050. With peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategies a default way of thinking within society, resources are relieved and available to combat other potential threats. Ultimately, intra-continental cooperation opens doors. Might these doors lead to non-European neo-colonialism? What about local entrepreneurship? The security guarantees that accompany intra-cooperation created through African structures drastically impact the continent’s ability to unlock the potential of Africa by 2050.