World State at Trump Inauguration

A description of world geopolitics at Trump’s inauguration since it’s an interesting point in history where the world was finally becoming multipolar again, when several old alliances and balances of power were being tested, and where geopolitics has become considerably more complex across the world (Middle East, Afghanistan-Pak-India axis, South China Sea, Koreas, India’s foreign alliances). I want to keep this article as a record of how things were.

Take North Korea. Nuclear capable NK has China as the only supporting ally. China is annexing territory in the South China Sea. US needs to balance pressuring China with Chinese support on North Korea. Regarding SC sea expansion, how will Philippines balance growing closeness with China and anti-US sentiment with China’s aggressiveness. And how will Vietnam, Indonesia etc ally and posture regarding the expansion.  How much of a role will the neighboring spectators of Japan and India play in supporting these countries against China?

In South Asia, the US will use India to counterbalance China, yet Pakistan is old ally. They need Pakistan to supply and support Afghanistan. Further, Afghanistan and India are allies while both are hostile to Afghanistan. Further, India is lucrative defense market for the US too. So how will the US balancing act between the South Asian countries play out?

Russia’s moves in Ukraine, Crimea, Syria signal assertiveness to occupy the vacuum left by the US, especially as Trump policy signals withdrawal. Will the US continue to create a vacuum that Russia continues to fill? Or will the US push back. How will the Russia-US proxy war between the Kurds and Assad’s regime play out? Will the EU grow its military in response to Russia and become more assertive? And can Erdogan/Turkey leverage its strategic position to achieve aims against the Kurds and deflect Western criticism of Erdogan’s governance?

If Russia fills vacuum, will India and Russia conflict? They’re old Cold-War allies. Yet India has been moving closer to the US and the Indian diaspora creates strong ties. India is also moving closer to Israel. And under Modi, India is more assertive. The Indian sphere of influence thus far is limited to the proximal Indian Ocean. Yet to see how that changes.

China is using Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan to counter India in the string-of-pearls strategy. Unsure how this will play out. How will India seek out allies (Afghanistan? Japan?) to counter China. Also unclear how stable Pakistan will remain. Important question due to Pakistani nuclear assets and since Pakistan is the supply route to Afghanistan. That India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed does not bode well.

Regarding Iraq and Syria, the region’s geopolitics are a mess. The main regional players are the Saudis and Iran, who are Sunni and Shia respectively. Iraq’s government is Shia which allies with Iran and Syria. However, Iraq is allied with the US too and the US is only frenemies with Iran. Further, US and SA are close allies. Regarding ISIS, ISIS is Sunni militia attacking Shiite Iraqi government. So SA cannot support ISIS anymore even though they’re both Sunni. But SA doesn’t want Iran to lead the fight against ISIS. US has to balance fighting ISIS with keeping SA happy. Not to mention the Kurds which are several groups fighting together. The Turks want to fight the Kurds under the smokescreen of fighting ISIS. While Russia wants to Assad to continue because he lets them us their base at Tartus. Essentially, the great game repeats.

Europe appears to be weakest. Falling defense spending for years. Limited force projection. Unable to effectively support Ukraine. Essentially failed expansion into Greece. Troubled economies in some countries. Falling birthrates. Far-right parties rising. Difficulties assimilating immigrants. Dealing with increasingly-authoritarian Turkey as their buffer that runs counter to their democratic principles. Plus the election of Trump whose values have much less in common with than Obama.

Canada is brightest spot. But it’s not a military power. Nor does it seem to want to fill vacuum that US might leave.

Central and South America do not seem to have any major upheaveals, unlike the rest of the world. Except Venezuela, where the situation is gradually deteriorating since the state budget assumed high oil prices and the prices crashed. Remains to see if US-Cuba relations will warm under Trump. Brazil has corruption/graft problems. Rousseff impeached. I do not know about Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina. The seem to be doing find and Argentina has kept clear of bad news of late.

Africa is probably the part of the world that gets the most incorrect press (no surprise). After India and China rise, this will probably be Africa’s century. They have demographics on their side. Southern African countries are generally stable. Will be interesting to see how their economies grow and diversify. From my limited knowledge, watch Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Namibia, Bostwana, Mozambique, and obviously South Africa. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe is in his 90s. Watch succession.

Overall, interesting to see power dynamics as world goes from one superpower to many competing powers. Who will fill the US power vacuum? Ultimately, it’s an economic question, and here the unknowns are oil prices and India/China economic growth. If oil prices increase, then in the short-term it’ll help Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia etc. Long-term, it’ll drive the shift to electric motors and renewables but that will probably take decades so we needn’t consider that now. Regarding India and China, will India’s “demographic dividend” and improved economic policies under Modi help it overtake China? Or will China dominate this century? How will Chinese influence in Africa play out? Can Japan and India adequately counterbalance China as the US leaves a vacuum. Further, how will Russia maneuver depending on oil revenue accrual, Western weakness, and Turkish relations. Will they crush the Kurds and restore Assad? Who will win in the factious Middle-East — Iran or the Saudis? How assertive will Israel be and how much opposition will they get given Trump’s hawkishess?

Disclaimer: My knowledge of geopolitics is limited so they are probably many errors and omissions.

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