2016: Looking back and ahead

Spearhead Analysis – 29.12.2016

This year proved to be a particularly interesting one on the geopolitical stage. The Stratfor team put aside some time to reflect back on this past year. Below are their top five picks for the events that shaped 2016:

  1. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The vote came as a surprise, even to some who voted for the Brexit. Elections next year in Italy, France and Germany will help underscore or combat the rising tide of populism and shape the fate of Europe.
  2. America chose Donald J. Trump as its next president. A Trump presidency is arguably one of known unknowns, but certain foreign policy implications are already clear.  From his call with Taiwan to the U.S. Navy drone kerfuffle with China, there’s a lot to look forward to.
  3. Russia flexed its muscles in an effort to look strong. Economic sanctions, crashing oil prices and sinking foreign investments are hurting the Russian economy. Putin’s response? To act more aggressively, both at home and abroad.
  4. A faction within the Turkish military tried to overthrow the Erdogan regime. The attempted coup underscored the country’s inescapable identity crisis. As Turkey seeks to mute domestic discord, it also looks to expand its role on the international stage while managing tense relationships with Russia, Iran and the United States.
  5. Technology shaped geopolitics more than ever before. Major advances in automated vehicles, robotics, additive manufacturing, precision agriculture and genetic engineering are changing how the world and its inhabitants work and live. From government-sponsored hacking to populist backlashes against globalization, the power to change the world belongs to technology.

The Spearhead Research team also looked back on the past year as well as the year ahead. Here are their major comments;

China is bracing to face the uncertainties that the Trump administration might bring. It has asserted itself in the South China Sea and made its resolve clear. It has also sent the message that as far as Hong Kong is concerned Beijing is in charge. It is pushing ahead with its One Belt One Road strategy with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a priority. In the year ahead India and Afghanistan will have to decide on their stance towards CPEC especially as connectivity projects with the CAS get off the ground.

Events like the Trump win, Brexit and EU integration issues—all point to global uncertainties in the future. The tragic chaos in the Middle East, the plight of the Kashmiris in Indian Occupied Kashmir and the ongoing violence in Afghanistan—all indicate the limitations of the US and the international system in restraining conflict. The emphasis in the coming year should shift to bilateral relationships and this is particularly important in the context of India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

US policy for South Asia should aim at balance and stability even if it puts India first. The policy should aim at reducing divergences with Pakistan and increasing convergence on issues like Afghanistan and the India-Pakistan relationship. The degradation of relationships last year should lead to a rethink in all quarters for a positive change in 2017. Russia and China have already signaled their intent to push for stability in Afghanistan and South Asia.

The terrorist attacks in Europe and in Quetta, Pakistan and elsewhere if seen in the context of the nationalist sentiment against an established order that has led to the increase in unemployment, a widening of the rich-poor gap and stagnant wage levels leads to the conclusion that besides successful counter terror operations the focus should be on policies that sideline extremism and intolerance. Pakistan looks to consolidating gains made in its military operations by mainstreaming marginally governed areas, rehabilitating displaced persons, return of Afghan refugees and continuing internal security and economic stability.

The agitation politics during the last year in Pakistan have led to the realization that the focus should be on parliament and not the street. Political parties are gearing up for elections in 2018. This should lead to increasing political stability and improved governance in the future.

Civil-military relations have moved progressively towards stability in spite of minor hiccups. This trend is set to continue with policy makers asserting themselves in all domains especially foreign affairs. The military will remain a  dynamic bulwark against all threats but as it has signaled recently (by inviting India to join CPEC) it will not hamper any bilateral relationships.

Judging from the evolutionary process in 2016 the terrorist threat will remain and may grow stronger if IS disperses spatially—especially in Afghanistan or if there is an IS-Al Qaeda merger. This will warrant extreme vigilance to deny spaces especially ungoverned spaces and to improve governance and security.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)