This Week in Geopolitics, October 2017
October 16, 2017
As the fourth round of NAFTA negotiations comes to an end, the agreement’s survival has once again been brought into question. US President Donald Trump has threatened to strike a new deal with just Canada. Mexico downplayed the threat, saying it would walk away from negotiations if the new terms brought by the US put it at a disadvantage. For their part, the Canadians have been quiet, keeping their cards much closer to their chests.
October 9, 2017For over two decades, the American response to North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has been to seek a diplomatic solution that would give the North Koreans an incentive to abandon their quest. The North Koreans agreed to suspend production of nuclear material, took the money and other incentives, and then proceeded to develop nuclear weapons anyway. This policy of diplomacy, concessions, and betrayal lasted through the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, and...
October 2, 2017
Imagine the following scenario: Texas votes to secede from the United States, sparking bitter negotiations between Austin and Washington. A neo-Nazi party wins seats in the California legislature. Cook County, home to Chicago, threatens to break away from Illinois to form its own state, while government officials, worried about losing such an economically vibrant region, furiously try to prevent the election from taking place. The federal government, meanwhile, vows to suspend North Carolina’s...
September 25, 2017
The Equifax hack ought to have been the last straw in the saga of our inept computer industry. Critical information on the vast majority of American families was compromised. To say that this was not a rare phenomenon understates it. There has been an endless array of stolen information, from the recent theft of still proprietary stock information from the Commerce Department to the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee.
September 18, 2017Last May, I spoke at Mauldin Economics’ Strategic Investment Conference and made two points on the situation on the Korean Peninsula. I said that the United States and North Korea had entered into a major crisis and that the crisis would likely lead to war. The crisis ensued, but war has not broken out. As North Korea test-fired another missile that flew over Japan late last week, it’s time to review what happened and why the war hasn’t materialized.
September 11, 2017Low global energy prices have been a strain on the finances of many oil producers, but they’ve hit Russia particularly hard. Oil and gas accounted for 43% of Russia’s government revenue in 2015 and this figure was expected to drop to 36% in 2016, according to the World Bank. But this declining percentage doesn’t mean the government has become less dependent on energy; it’s simply a reflection of low energy prices.
August 28, 2017
For decades, the public generally placed its trust in technocrats, the people perceived to be skillful and knowledgeable managers of economically and politically important institutions (including banks). The thinking was that aspects of the economy and politics had become too complex for ordinary citizens to understand and that the best way to handle this complexity was to allow the experts to take over. The events of 2008–09 shattered that belief.
August 21, 2017
Most US presidencies are defined by their foreign policies, and most foreign policies are defined by wars—those that were fought and those that weren’t.
August 14, 2017
The United States has several thousand operational nuclear missiles. It has a large fleet of strategic bombers, an enormous navy, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and marines. The US could bomb, blockade, and invade North Korea if it chose to incur the cost.
August 7, 2017
The new US sanctions against Russia overwhelmingly passed Congress. But in parts of Europe, they are far less popular. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel last week called them “more than problematic.” In diplomatese, that means the Germans oppose them. The Association of European Businesses, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of European businesses with interests in Russia, urged that politics and business be kept apart.
July 31, 2017
The US Congress has passed new sanctions targeting Russia’s energy companies. Among the other notable aspects of the sanctions is that they take some authority away from the US president (who used to be able to implement some measures but not others at his discretion) and give it to Congress.
July 24, 2017
Before we begin…
A brief reminder that the Geopolitical Futures’ Global Investor Package will come offline at midnight tonight, July 24. After that, the package will not be available anywhere.
But if you take this opportunity today, you will join the highly exclusive club of people with access to Geopolitical Futures’ newest report, A Portfolio of Countries: Using Geopolitical Knowledge to Shape Your Long-Term Investing Strategy… get instant access to the Geopolitical Futures archive of...
July 17, 2017
Economics and finance are thought to be more predictable than other disciplines such as politics because they are quantifiable. This is debatable. The extent to which quantitative economic analysis is possible depends on the relationship between the number and reality. That there is a relationship is true, but the relationship is more tenuous than might be thought.
July 10, 2017
When people think about geopolitics, they tend to think about war, as if the two issues were the same. But that is only partly true.
June 26, 2017
If geopolitics studies how nations behave, then the nation is singularly important. Nation-states are the defining feature of the modern political era. They give people a collective identity and a pride of place… even when their borders are artificially drawn, as they were in the Middle East.
June 19, 2017
Technology is a major foundation of national power. Its uses are obvious. But the path from innovation to obsolescence is frequently less obvious.
June 12, 2017
There’s no end in sight to slumping oil prices—good news for consumers but a dire development for major oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia. And now, rising US oil production and exports are contributing to the slump.
June 5, 2017
Seventy years ago on June 5, US Secretary of State George Marshall gave a speech at Harvard University. Few speeches in modern times have had as much geopolitical consequence. In just eight paragraphs, Marshall made the case for significant US involvement in Europe’s economic reconstruction after World War II.
May 22, 2017
From its founding, the Soviet Union conducted campaigns designed to destabilize and neutralize potential enemies.
May 15, 2017
With no fat lady in sight as the opera unfolds in Washington, it is useful to stop and consider an interesting point: For all the tumult that has defined President Donald Trump’s domestic policy, his foreign policy is relatively stable. There are some notable differences, of course, but what went before is pretty much what is going on now—a startling revelation, given the expectations.
May 8, 2017
Two things happened in Syria over the past two weeks that went under the radar. First, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) claimed to have ousted Islamic State fighters from the last IS-controlled districts in Tabqa, a town 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa. According to the Syrian Kurdish Hawar News Agency, IS fighters are now besieged at the Tabqa Dam outside the town.
May 1, 2017
There is a paradox when it comes to perceptions about Afghanistan. No one would disagree that after 15 years the Afghan state built by the West remains ineffective. Yet, no one is willing to acknowledge that if present trends continue the logical outcome will be regime collapse.
April 24, 2017
Before we begin…
April 17, 2017
President Trump has reversed his stance on a number of foreign policy issues, including NATO, Russia, and China. This leaves citizens in the United States and worldwide more unsure than ever of what to expect from the coming months and years.
April 10, 2017
The flow of international trade has always been subject to geopolitical risk and conflicts. At all stages of the supply chain, trade inherently faces challenges posed by the geopolitical realities along a given route.
April 3, 2017
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet April 6–7 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Most meetings between world leaders are relatively unimportant. This meeting is an exception, not because of whatever agreements or statements will emerge, but because of what it reveals about the current needs of the political administration of the world’s two largest economies.
March 27, 2017
Much has been made in the mainstream media over China’s ongoing military buildup on reefs in the South China Sea. Chinese action has thus far been largely contained to two island groups: the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands.
March 20, 2017
Spanish essayist George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but there is a problem with this famous and witty line. Studying history has little practical utility in averting past outcomes. We are doomed to repeat history whether we know it or not.
March 13, 2017
The United States, Turkey, and Russia have deployed forces to fight against the Islamic State in a run-up to the final battle for Raqqa. No one has made a definitive move. This is because the oncoming battle for control of the IS heartland is complicated by geography and the conflicting imperatives of regional and international actors expected to participate in the offensive.
March 6, 2017
A domestic political battle is brewing in the United States between President Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican Party over the president’s economic plans. Trump’s key economic positions during his campaign included his opposition to free trade deals, his promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare, and his support of large-scale infrastructure spending. These are all positions that have clashed with general Republican orthodoxy. They were also the reason that some Bernie...
February 27, 2017
Geographic features and conditions are part of the building blocks of geopolitical analysis. And yet, the influence that geography has on a country’s imperatives and constraints can be underappreciated. Access to water is an important example. While the media and academics treat water primarily as an issue of climate and human rights, access to and control over water is a strategic imperative that has been the impetus of conflict throughout history.
February 20, 2017
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with defense ministers from other NATO member countries in Brussels on Feb. 15. The meeting was closed to the public, but some of Mattis’s comments were released to the media. “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.” He added, “America cannot care more for your children’s security than you do.”...
February 13, 2017
Geopolitical Futures’ forecast for 2017 says the following: “In hindsight, the coming year will be an inflection point in the long-term destabilization of Russia that we predict will reach a boiling point by 2040.” This may seem counterintuitive in light of the Russia hysteria following the US presidential election. Yet in the first six weeks of 2017, it is already possible to observe indicators that this forecast is on track.
February 6, 2017
Newly minted Secretary of Defense James Mattis wrapped up his first international trip this past weekend. According to a Defense Department press release about his visit to South Korea and Japan, Mattis’s purpose was to “listen to the concerns of South Korean and Japanese leaders.” The two countries are crucial US allies in Asia, and both face serious threats in their near abroad.
January 30, 2017
One of Geopolitical Futures’ most controversial forecasts is that by 2040, Japan will rise as East Asia’s leading power. Many readers often ask for an explanation of the logic in this forecast. They understand that GPF is bearish on China. And while some readers may disagree on that point, they usually see that the reasoning is sound and that China will face serious problems in coming years… problems that will strain the Communist Party’s rule.
January 23, 2017
Last Friday, Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. For Trump, as with every president before him, everything he said until that point consisted of promises. He had no power, so the only thing that could be expected of him was his analysis of what is wrong with the country, and what he would do to solve it.
January 16, 2017
International relations and geopolitics are not synonymous… at least, not the way we understand them at Geopolitical Futures. “International relations” is a descriptive phrase that encompasses all the ways countries behave toward one another. “Geopolitics” is the supposition that all international relationships are based on the interaction between geography and power.
January 9, 2017
We end this series of sneak peaks at our 2017 forecast by describing what the year ahead will look like for Europe. To do that, we must keep two things in mind. First, due to limited space, this must be a high-level overview of the forecast. Many of the specifics and the argument’s logic are contained in our 2017 forecast and in our daily tracking of these issues. The goal here is to paint a picture of the major forces at play. Second, we must remember that geopolitics does not observe the...
January 2, 2017
In the coming year, the United States will remain the overwhelmingly dominant geopolitical power in the global system, and President-elect Donald Trump will be at the helm. His presidency will mark a turning point as the first significant shift towards nationalism at the center of the US political system.
December 19, 2016
Last December, Geopolitical Futures published its first annual global forecast, which was written before we opened for business. December has come once more, and for us that means two things. First, it means writing our forecast for 2017, which was published last week on our website. We will be sharing elements of our forecast with this audience over the next few weeks. Second, it means grading ourselves on how we did the previous year.
December 14, 2016
One of the biggest challenges in writing forecasts is clearly communicating our predications for the coming year. There is a certain level of background and analysis that goes into forecasting geopolitics, but often, that background and analysis can serve as either an intellectual crutch or a way of using a lot of words without actually making a call one way or another.
December 5, 2016
Wednesday will be the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It happened three-quarters of a century ago, but it remains the defining moment of our time. It continues to inform the way we look at the world, and it triggered a redefinition of the federal government that still haunts us in some ways.
November 28, 2016
Since the election this month of Donald Trump as the US president, something considered to be a new phenomenon has become a focus of attention. Some suspect that false news may have swayed the election. Perhaps equally as important, some claim this false news was planted by Russian intelligence under orders of President Vladimir Putin, who allegedly supported Trump’s election.
November 21, 2016
The United States has been at war for 15 years. There is still a debate over whom the United States is waging war against. Some say we are fighting terrorism. Others say we are fighting Islamic terrorism. The debate is between those who regard the wave of terrorism undertaken by al-Qaida and the Islamic State as linked significantly to Islam and those who want to distinguish between Islam and these groups in order not to tar an entire religion with the actions of a few.
November 14, 2016
The US presidential campaign contained a constant undertone of Russia and President Vladimir Putin. Putin said nice things about Donald Trump, and Trump about Putin. In fact, there is a small faction of Trump supporters that admires Putin for being a strong leader and for his position on gay rights and other matters. They do not see him as a former communist, but rather as a defender of Western civilization.
October 31, 2016
The Islamic State captured Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, from the Iraqi government after a seven-day battle in June 2014. The US-backed Iraqi assault to recapture Mosul began with great fanfare on Oct. 18.
October 24, 2016
The election is far from over, and given the pattern of this election, nothing can be taken for granted. So while at the moment Hillary Clinton appears to be winning, two weeks remain. Nevertheless, whoever wins the election, certain massive shifts in the party structure of the United States have become visible and need to be considered.
October 17, 2016
Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted overwhelmingly to support the Muslim claim that the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (which includes the Islamic holy site Al-Aqsa Mosque) ought to be regarded as a solely Muslim site. This particular vote was different than the usual condemnation of Israel because it did not condemn Israeli actions. Instead, it essentially denied that either Judaism or Christianity have any legitimate claims to the site....
October 10, 2016
Before we begin this week, I have a quick language lesson for you.
October 3, 2016
Following the September 26 premiere of Crisis & Chaos: Are We Moving Toward World War III?, we return this week with a full issue of This Week in Geopolitics. Before we begin, I want to thank the many readers who sent us thoughtful and valuable feedback on the documentary.
September 26, 2016
Dear This Week in Geopolitics reader,
September 19, 2016
Firstly, I want to thank all of you who reserved your online seat for the premiere of my new documentary, Crisis & Chaos: Are We Moving Toward World War III? The keen response has shown us just how many of you are deeply concerned about the turmoil casting a shadow on most of the Eastern Hemisphere and its potential effects on the United States.
September 12, 2016
Before we start this issue, I want to share with you what I’ve been doing this past couple of weeks–I’ve been filming in New York for a special documentary, Crisis & Chaos: Are We Moving Toward World War III?
August 29, 2016
The term “conspiracy theory” has been part of our culture for a very long time. It is often justifiably followed by the word “nut.” It is also a way to stop discussion, or to embarrass others from believing what is being said. The aversion to conspiracy theories flows from a revulsion at the thought that well-known events are caused by a group of people acting in secret.
August 22, 2016
Any discussion of Islamist terrorism in Europe and the refugee crisis has to be placed in a broader historical context. One way to approach this is to think about the Mediterranean Sea, which was central to the Roman Empire.
August 15, 2016
This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin did three very interesting things. First, he fired his long-time aide and chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, and moved him to a lower position. A few weeks earlier, Putin fired at least three regional governors and replaced them with his personal bodyguards. Removing that many governors is a bit odd. Replacing them with his bodyguards is very odd. Then removing someone as close to him as Ivanov is extremely odd.
August 8, 2016
The Olympics have begun in Brazil. The games were greeted by massive demonstrations by Brazilians. With Brazil facing hard economic times, many thought that spending more than $12 billion hosting the games was outrageous. The demonstrators felt there were better uses for the money. Supporters argued it would add to Brazil’s worldly luster.
August 1, 2016
The controversy over the Trans-Pacific Partnership has escalated in the United States. At this point, both presidential candidates oppose it. Donald Trump appears to oppose most multinational agreements, including noneconomic ones. He believes that such treaties do more harm than good. According to some, it puts poor countries at a disadvantage
—at the mercy of multinational corporations.
July 25, 2016
In my book The Next 100 Years, I argued that Turkey is going to become a major regional power. Recent events would seem at odds with this prospect. But in fact, they confirm it.
July 11, 2016
The Chilcot report, the product of a British inquiry into the Iraq war, was published last week. It harshly criticized Tony Blair and, by extension, George W. Bush and the United States. Many reading the report—and others before the report was published—concluded that the invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law.
June 27, 2016
The vote has come and gone. A major European nation has chosen to leave the EU. The markets have had their obligatory decline. A weekend has passed. It is time to think about what exactly has happened… and what it means, if anything.
June 20, 2016
Before we start, I want to say “Thank You” to the many of you who took advantage of our offer to subscribe to my new service at Geopolitical Futures. This effort was so successful that we have decided to extend it for one more week. If you’d like to read our analysis every day, you can subscribe today at the discounted price of only $99 per year. And now, let’s dig in…
June 13, 2016
I recently spoke at the Mauldin Economics Strategic Investment Conference about how the world is going to hell. I’m an investment community outsider. And I was struck that almost every investor and economist that spoke at the event was singing the same apocalyptic tune.
June 6, 2016
The Chinese have a strategic problem in the South and East China seas. China is obviously interested in what happens in these waters. There is much speculation as to why the level of interest is so high.
May 30, 2016
George Friedman was one of the featured speakers at Mauldin Economics’ annual Strategic Investment Conference that was held last week in Dallas. In true Texas style, we corralled George for a one-on-one talk and picked his brain on a few topics that are currently grabbing media headlines: Trump, immigration, trade, Mexico, and China.
May 23, 2016
Last week, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey announced that they would expand military cooperation. Most will likely see this as fairly trivial and surely not important for Americans. However, it is actually a major event that impacts the broader region.
May 17, 2016
Similar to Russia and Australia, Canada is a vast and—to a large degree—uninhabitable country due to climate and/or terrain. That does not mean it is a desolate country. It is, however, a very small country when you exclude the unlivable areas. Its population is oddly distributed due to this reality.
May 10, 2016
Since World War I, US policy has been split between isolationism and internationalism. From debates over joining the League of Nations to intervention in Europe, Americans have found odd comfort in siding with one of these two camps.
May 2, 2016
There are four key regional powers in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Within this group, however, there is a distinct division. Turkey and Iran are potential hegemons—they represent the heirs of the Ottoman and Persian empires. Israel and Saudi Arabia are key players, but they share a critical limitation: their strategic needs outweigh their capabilities, and they are limited in how much they can shape events in the region. We have studied in depth the weaknesses...
April 25, 2016
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced last week that he will take command of all of China’s armed forces, including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). He is already chairman of the Central Military Commission that oversees the army. He is now assuming a more direct role as head of the new Joint Operations Command Center, ostensibly putting him in operational command of the PLA in time of war. In all likelihood, the new title means little in terms of actual command, but it has tremendous...
April 18, 2016
Last week, two Russian SU-24 fighter planes buzzed a US Navy destroyer over the Baltic Sea. One of the planes flew within 30 feet of the ship, according to US officials. Secretary of State John Kerry protested, saying that the Russians were endangering the destroyer. The media in the West concluded that the Russians were simulating an attack on the destroyer. The Russians made no official statement, though a spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry commented to Interfax that Russia had...
April 11, 2016
I will be leaving shortly for a week in Europe, visiting Slovakia, Romania, and the Czech Republic. After 1989, these former Soviet satellites sought integration with Europe—and, in a sense, salvation—by becoming members of the two major transnational organizations: the European Union and NATO. The former was strictly European, while the latter bound Europe and the United States together.
April 4, 2016
French President François Hollande and US President Barack Obama held a joint press conference last week. At the conference, Hollande referred to Islamist terrorism, but his remark was inaudible on the video that was released. After the omission was noticed, the White House said that it was due to a technical error, and a later release contained the restored wording. The muting of Hollande’s remark may have been a technical snafu, but it reminded me of Obama’s unwillingness to refer to...
March 28, 2016
In 2013, President Barack Obama pointed out that more people are killed in the United States in car crashes than in terrorist attacks. More recently, he said that more people are killed by handguns in the United States than by terrorist attacks. Both statements are true. His intention in making these statements was to put terrorism into perspective, in order to calm the public and keep terrorism from defining our national policy. Obviously, his argument did not achieve its rational goals....
March 21, 2016
To understand North Korean strategy today, we must first understand the implications of its geography. Korea is a peninsula jutting southward from Manchuria. The waves of the Yellow Sea break on its western shores, and the waves of the Sea of Japan roll in on its eastern flank. It shares a 30-mile-wide border with Russia, its northeastern border about 70 miles from Vladivostok, Russia’s major eastern port. The southeast corner of Korea juts to within 100 miles of Japan to its south, and the...
March 14, 2016
Mexico has the 11th-highest GDP in the world based on purchasing power parity, according to the International Monetary Fund. As Europe weakens, it will be in the top 10 in the not-too-distant future. Yet, this country is regarded by many Americans as a Third World nation, dominated by drug cartels and impoverished people desperate to get into the United States.
March 7, 2016
Donald Trump appears likely to be the Republican candidate for president. This does not mean that he will become president, but it does mean that he might. It also means that the basic dynamic of the American political system has shifted, suggesting the behavior of the United States might change. And that makes Trump a matter of geopolitical interest.
February 22, 2016
What is striking about American strategy is its paradoxical nature: The fact that each solution to a threat poses a new threat. Since its birth, the United States has sought to defend itself. The US approaches each threat with a constant outward movement of attention and resources…and now, it straddles the world. This means that the political, economic, and military postures of the United States have tended to be offensive.
February 15, 2016
As an outsider to the investment community, I am constantly struck by its obsession with politics… and particularly with the role of the president. Attention and money flow to candidates in the belief that there is a unique importance to the president in shaping the republic’s future.
February 10, 2016
Most investors know what an emerging market is. Some might even be able to offer a pretty good definition of what puts the “emerge” into emerging markets. But ask about the Middle East, and no one really knows what it is.
February 1, 2016
The Italian banking crisis has moved to its next inevitable stage. European institutions have started to struggle with the question of whether and how to protect deposits in Italian banks. Italy adopted new EU-mandated policies regarding bail-ins in January. The rules for these bail-ins require a bank’s shareholders and debt holders to absorb losses before taxpayer money can be used to assist a bank. Deposits of more than 100,000 euros ($109,000) could be affected, but those containing less...
January 25, 2016
There is an old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In geopolitics, this is especially so, but the pictures in this case are actually maps. Many people think of maps in terms of their basic purpose, showing a country’s geography and topography. But maps can speak to all dimensions—political, military, and economic—and are an elemental place to start thinking about a country’s strategy… revealing factors that are otherwise not obvious. Sometimes a single map can reveal the most...
January 18, 2016
International sanctions on Iran were lifted on Saturday. It was determined that Iran had carried out its obligations under its agreement with the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany to stop pursuing the development of an atomic bomb. At Geopolitical Futures, we expected sanctions to be lifted and Iran to agree to halt these activities. However, our forecast was not based on the issue of nuclear weapons. Rather, it was based on our model, which indicated there would be...
January 11, 2016
The Chinese stock market fell dramatically last week. That sounds significant but it actually isn’t. First, the Chinese stock market doesn’t serve the same function as Western markets. The equities that are sold there do not allow shareholders to control companies, nor are the underlying values of these companies correlated to the price of the stocks in any way. Second, the percentage of China’s wealth that flows through the markets is relatively small compared to the size of China’s economy....
January 4, 2016
The sharp decline in Chinese stock markets on Monday is a reminder of two things. The first is the continued fragility of the Chinese market. The second is that any economic dysfunction has political implications, both in Chinese domestic and foreign policy. This, in turn, will affect Chinese economic performance. It is essential, therefore, to understand Chinese national strategy.
December 28, 2015
Two things are necessary to understand a nation’s strategy. The first is to view the world through the eyes of that nation… to know what it hopes for and fears. The second is to understand that the nation’s leader is far from a free agent. He (or she) became the leader by making endless political and financial deals along the way, and he remains the leader only to the extent that he satisfies others. There are also constraints and imperatives surrounding the leader that shape his actions. Some...
December 22, 2015
[Editor’s note: This is the first edition of our new weekly letter by George Friedman. If you are not interested in receiving this letter, please click here and we’ll remove you from future sends. Thanks!]
Last week, the South Korean president called for the development of an economic contingency plan to brace for a possible crisis. There was much internal politics behind the announcement, but at the root, the South Koreans are worried. Their fundamental problem is that they are enormously...