Sunday, January 1, 2017

Stratfor's Annual Forecast 2017 e.g. “European Union will eventually dissolve” (rincez et répétez)

Some years the forecasts seem almost as vague as a newspaper horoscope but this year's are a bit meatier, in particular the individual regional forecasts--follow the link..

From Stratfor, December 27, 2016:
2017 Annual Forecast
The convulsions to come in 2017 are the political manifestations of much deeper forces in play. In much of the developed world, the trend of aging demographics and declining productivity is layered with technological innovation and the labor displacement that comes with it. China's economic slowdown and its ongoing evolution compound this dynamic. At the same time the world is trying to cope with reduced Chinese demand after decades of record growth, China is also slowly but surely moving its own economy up the value chain to produce and assemble many of the inputs it once imported, with the intent of increasingly selling to itself. All these forces combined will have a dramatic and enduring impact on the global economy and ultimately on the shape of the international system for decades to come.

These long-arching trends tend to quietly build over decades and then noisily surface as the politics catch up. The longer economic pain persists, the stronger the political response. That loud banging at the door is the force of nationalism greeting the world's powers, particularly Europe and the United States, still the only superpower.

Only, the global superpower is not feeling all that super. In fact, it's tired. It was roused in 2001 by a devastating attack on its soil, it overextended itself in wars in the Islamic world, and it now wants to get back to repairing things at home. Indeed, the main theme of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's campaign was retrenchment, the idea that the United States will pull back from overseas obligations, get others to carry more of the weight of their own defense, and let the United States focus on boosting economic competitiveness.

Barack Obama already set this trend in motion, of course. Under his presidency, the United States exercised extreme restraint in the Middle East while trying to focus on longer-term challenges — a strategy that, at times, worked to Obama's detriment, as evidenced by the rise of the Islamic State. The main difference between the Obama doctrine and the beginnings of the Trump doctrine is that Obama still believed in collective security and trade as mechanisms to maintain global order; Trump believes the institutions that govern international relations are at best flawed and at worst constrictive of U.S. interests.

No matter the approach, retrenchment is easier said than done for a global superpower. As Woodrow Wilson said, "Americans are participants, like it or not, in the life of the world." The words of America's icon of idealism ring true even as realism is tightening its embrace on the world.
Revising trade relationships the way Washington intends to, for example, may have been feasible a couple decades ago. But that is no longer tenable in the current and evolving global order where technological advancements in manufacturing are proceeding apace and where economies, large and small, have been tightly interlocked in global supply chains. This means that the United States is not going to be able to make sweeping and sudden changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. In fact, even if the trade deal is renegotiated, North America will still have tighter trade relations in the long term.

The United States will, however, have more space to selectively impose trade barriers with China, particularly in the metals sector. And the risk of a rising trade spat with Beijing will reverberate far and wide. Washington's willingness to question the "One China" policy – something it did to extract trade concessions from China – will come at a cost: Beijing will pull its own trade and security levers that will inevitably draw the United States into the Pacific theater.

But the timing isn't right for a trade dispute. Trump would rather focus on matters at home, and Chinese President Xi Jinping would rather focus on consolidating political power ahead of the 19th Party Congress. And so economic stability will take priority over reform and restructuring. This means Beijing will expand credit and state-led investment, even if those tools are growing duller and raising China's corporate debt levels to dangerous heights.

This will be a critical year for Europe. Elections in the pillars of the European Union — France and Germany — as well as potential elections in the third largest eurozone economy — Italy — will affect one another and threaten the very existence of the eurozone. As we have been writing for years, the European Union will eventually dissolve. The question for 2017 is to what degree these elections expedite its dissolution. Whether moderates or extremists claim victory in 2017, Europe will still be hurtling toward a breakup into regional blocs.

European divisions will present a golden opportunity for the Russians. Russia will be able to crack European unity on sanctions in 2017 and will have more room to consolidate influence in its borderlands. The Trump administration may also be more amenable to easing sanctions and to some cooperation in Syria as it tries to de-escalate the conflict with Moscow. But there will be limits to the reconciliation. Russia will continue to bolster its defenses and create leverage in multiple theaters, from cyberspace to the Middle East. The United States, for its part, will continue to try to contain Russian expansion.

As part of that strategy, Russia will continue to play spoiler and peacemaker in the Middle East to bargain with the West. While a Syrian peace settlement will remain elusive, Russia will keep close to Tehran as U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate. The Iran nuclear deal will be challenged on a number of fronts as Iran enters an election year and as the incoming U.S. government takes a much more hard-line approach on Iran. Still, mutual interests will keep the framework of the deal in place and will discourage either side from clashing in places such as the Strait of Hormuz.

The competition between Iran and Turkey will meanwhile escalate in northern Syria and in northern Iraq. Turkey will focus on establishing its sphere of influence and containing Kurdish separatism while Iran tries to defend its own sphere of influence. As military operations degrade the Islamic State in 2017, the ensuing scramble for territory, resources and influence will intensify among the local and regional stakeholders. But as the Islamic State weakens militarily, it will employ insurgent and terrorist tactics and encourage resourceful grassroots attacks abroad....MUCH MORE
Last year's wasn't bad either, for comparison, here's our 2016 linkpost:

Stratfor's Annual Forecast 2016 
From Stratfor, Dec. 28, 2015:


With old geopolitical realities resurfacing across Eurasia and commodity prices stuck in a slump, 2016 is shaping up to be an unsettling year for much of the world.
A logical place to begin is the country that bridges Europe and Asia: Turkey. This is the year when Turkey, nervous but more politically coherent than it was last year, will likely make a military move into northern Syria while trying to enlarge its footprint in northern Iraq. Turkey will not only confront the Islamic State but will also keep Kurdish expansion in check as it raises the stakes in its confrontations with its old rivals, Russia and Iran.

The last thing Russia wants is a confrontation with Turkey, the gatekeeper to the Black and Mediterranean seas, but confrontation is something it cannot avoid. Russia risks mission creep this year as it increases its involvement on the Syrian battlefield. But the Islamic State will be only part of Moscow's focus in Syria; Russia will try to draw the United States toward a compromise that would slow a Western push into Russia's former Soviet space. The United States will be willing to negotiate on tactical issues, but it will deny Moscow the leverage it seeks by linking counterterrorism cooperation to a broader strategic discussion. The U.S. administration will work instead to shore up European allies on the front lines with Russia.

Regardless of the participants' secondary motives, an intensified military campaign against the Islamic State will surely damage the militant group's core. However, the fledgling caliphate will not be eradicated this year...MORE
Forecasts by Region
Europe With nationalist policies gaining traction throughout the continent, Europe will only fragment further in 2016.
Former Soviet Union The standoff between Russia and the West in Ukraine will persist in 2016, a year in which the Kremlin would probably rather focus on the economy.
Middle East and North Africa The Syrian battlefield will be the center of gravity for the Middle East in 2016 as several countries intensify their military campaign against the Islamic State.
East Asia In East Asia, a new year will bring economic and trade agreements to the fore, the urgency behind which will be driven by events in China.
Latin America The leaders of Latin America will not be able to maintain their populist policies during another year of low commodities prices.
South Asia Afghanistan will struggle to contain various insurgencies, but the main story will be India, which still boasts one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Sub-Saharan Africa 
2016 could be a year change, at least nominal change, in Africa as the tenures of several leaders and ruling parties potentially end. Energy development will meanwhile progress slowly