Last year, we made ten geopolitical predictions, which we thought would occur over the next decade. This year, we look back on what we believe are the ten most important events of the previous ten years, whose significance is such that they will shape profoundly the rest of the twenty-first century:
1. The collapse of Western hegemony accelerates
While the 2008 Financial Crisis and the rise of several non-Western powers throughout the past decade highlighted the decline of Western power, this geopolitical trend has deeper foundations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Westerners, and Europeans in particular, became strategically lazy and complacent as they basked in hegemony, subsequently losing their ‘will to power’. Consequentially, the post-war ‘baby-boomer’ generation, who rose to power during this period, slashed military spending and came to believe in all sorts of internationalist fantasies. The reduction of Western power over the last few years may therefore represent not only the most significant event of the past decade, but possibly of the last four centuries.
2. China’s national consolidation intensifies
Spearheaded by strong economic growth, China has, over the last decade, consolidated internally and adopted an increasingly assertive foreign policy. Chinese railway and motorway networks have been progressively extended to link more of the Chinese periphery with the densely populated and industrialised Chinese seaboard. The completion of the Qingzang Railway in 2006 is symbolic of the extension of Beijing’s sovereignty over its ‘Wild West’, as well as surrounding countries, particularly in South and Central Asia. In short, China’s national consolidation is leading rapidly to the emergence of an independent national power base (i.e. an integrated fighting unit), with the means to project itself across land and sea. To this end, Beijing’s increasingly assertive diplomacy (i.e. in the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia) and military build up (and that of the Chinese navy in particular) suggest that China is not content with the geopolitical status quo.
3. India confirms its maritime destiny
The completion and further expansion of the Karwar naval station – the biggest naval facility in South Asia – in 2005 and 2010 respectively, represents India’s long-term geopolitical intent: dominance over the Indian Ocean. The expansion of the Indian Navy and the consolidation of closer relations with the United States (and, to a lesser degree, France, the United Kingdom and Japan) emphasises this trend. The geopolitical rise of China is not the only game in town. India’s emergence as a major power means that the geopolitical situation in Eurasia is going to be highly dynamic during the twenty-first century.
4. The United States places the Pacific Ocean at the heart of its geostrategy
The attacks of the 11th September 2001 signified a substantial acceleration of Washington’s geostrategic reorientation – away from Western and Central Europe – and towards the Middle East and Central Asia. But this Middle Eastern focus will be short-lived; for in the late 2000s, the key American geostrategic development was the decision to spend multiple billions of dollars on upgrading naval, air and ground facilities in Guam. This, as well as the formation of closer alliances with its East Asian partners, is symbolic of the United States’ decision during the late 2000s to shift its power into the Pacific Ocean and East Asia to hedge against China.
5. The Korean Peninsula heats up
The Korean War seemed increasingly distant by 2000. What a difference a decade makes! In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear weapons test. And by November 2010, North Korean shells were raining down on Southern territory, and the two sides came perilously close to an all-out war. The Korean peninsula is a place to watch: the South is an increasingly powerful and affluent state with a first-rate industrial and manufacturing base. The collapse of the North could lead to reunification and – after adjustment – the emergence of an increasingly confident and powerful nation, which will undoubtedly further complicate the geopolitical situation in East Asia.
6. Japan re-emerges as a more ‘normal’ country
When analysts began to argue that Japan was undergoing a geostrategic transformation in the earlier part of the decade, some sniggered. But the trajectory is increasingly plain for all to see: the creation of a full-scale Ministry of Defence, large helicopter carriers, and naval modernisation, as well as an increasing assertiveness on Tokyo’s part to defend its interests against Chinese encroachments. In sum, Japan is returning as a more ‘normal’ country after several decades of quietism.
7. The old European order begins to break down
With the retreat of American power, Europeans have witnessed the resurfacing of older geopolitical divisions. Animated by Europe’s Eastern enlargement and the fading away of the apologetic post-war generation, Germany has began to assert itself again. As the financial crisis took hold in 2008, Berlin used its economic muscle and industrial might to refashion the European Union’s spendthrift states along German lines (and rightly so). German power has been further amplified by the Euro crisis. But the re-kindling of the ‘entente’ between France and the United Kingdom in 2010 places constraints on German power. Given the magnitude of their combined power, it is likely – if they play their cards right – that it will be Britain and France, and not Germany, who re-emerge as the European Union’s leaders, ushering in a new era of European integration based on military collaboration.
8. Russia becomes an American partner – and a European competitor
Ten years ago, the fear was of a new axis between Moscow and Berlin (and with Brussels more generally). But in recent years, German/European and Russian interests have started to collide, especially over the control of energy transmission pipelines and the diversification on the part of Germany and the European Union with regard to natural gas supplies. The Russian invasion of Georgia, meddling in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s progressively rougher treatment of political opponents has also raised European eyebrows. At the same time, the United States has started to see in Russia a potential ally in containing pariah states in the Middle East and, in the longer term, an ascendant China.
9. Turkey repositions itself in the Middle East
The victory of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey in 2002 accelerated Ankara’s shift away from a near-exclusive focus on the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance. The country has an increasingly multi-vector approach to foreign policy, looking east and south as well as west. With seventy-eight million people and a rapidly growing population, the last decade saw Turkey put in place the foundations on which to build up its power in the Middle East.
10. Iran pursues regional primacy
Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has continued throughout the last decade, making European and American policy-makers increasingly nervous. Iran has also grown bolder, capturing British military units in the Persian Gulf, before parading them on television and then letting them go. Will Iran submit to Western pressure, or will its nuclear ambitions suck in the great powers (i.e. France in Abu Dhabi), destabilise the Middle East and/or lead to war?