Strategic forecasting – Stratfor
Stratfor https://www.stratfor.com/ is a most influential publisher.
“ Stratfor’s vision is to be the most respected provider of predictive intelligence services. Our core philosophy centers on the understanding that transformative world events are not random and are, indeed, predictable.
Building on nearly 20 years of experience as the world’s premier geopolitical intelligence firm, Stratfor develops constraint-based narratives for key trends around the globe — placing today’s events in context and forecasting tomorrow’s new developments well before they appear in the headlines.”
I have subscribed to Stratfor’s news items and analyses for more than fifteen years. It is often referred to as a ‘shadow CIA’ – but is entirely independent of the USA’s government. Its founder and owner is George Friedman, whose success in establishing his organisation as a major supplier of ideas and information into the US corporate and private sectors is not a fluke. He and the colleagues, who have joined him, are highly intelligent, very articulate and exceptionally well-informed.
“We study the way in which geography and other forces constrain and shape people and nations. By analyzing the forces that affect world leaders, we can understand and often predict their actions and behaviors, which are far more limited than they might otherwise appear. While the media concentrates on the subjective desires of leaders voiced at press conferences, Stratfor concentrates on the various constraints upon their behavior — geographical, political, economic — that are concrete but never admitted to publicly. Geopolitics allows us to place an event or action within a larger framework so that we can determine its potential significance, as well as identify connections among seemingly disparate trends.”
However, beneath the dispassionate and social-scientific methodology of relating all events in international relations to the dictatorship of geographical location and inescapable circumstance, there is no doubt that Stratfor does have its own political agenda.
George is firstly an American citizen and secondly a Jew, or vice versa. As such, he sees the world through those particular spectacles. He is an enthusiastic American patriot and Zionist, but he doesn’t shove his prejudices down his readers’ throats. It is only after much reading of his work that the unavoidable bias of his world-view becomes apparent.
Every five years Stratfor issues a “Decade forecast.” Here we have insight, not into Stratfor’s usually excellent analysis of past and current events, but an anticipatory exposition on future events, which, given the authors’ humanity, cannot help but be coloured by their wishful thinking.
The fifth in the series of five-yearly decade-long forecasts, covering the period 2015-2025, was released this February. Knowing the authors’ world-view, one cannot help wondering the extent to which this is an attempt to deliver prophesies in the hope that some of them at least, may be taken up by the American foreign policy establishment and thus prove to have the capacity to self-fulfill. Perhaps, what I am trying to say, is that the forecast reads far too much like a Neo-con wish-list to be totally credible.
Here follows the forecast outlines:
- Increasing protectionism between EU member states and increased nationalism will speed up the decline of the Union.
- Germany will suffer severe economic reversals and Poland will increase its regional power as a result.
- The Ukrainian crisis will continue for several years but the Russian Federation in its current form, will cease to exist within the decade. This will be due to economic decline resulting in an inability to retain the adherence of the peripheries and a consequent fragmentation.
- The security of Russia’s nuclear arsenal will become ‘a prime concern.’
- The Middle East states will continue their slide into sectarian chaos. Turkey will be drawn into the conflict and, by the end of the decade, become the pre-eminent regional power and in increasing competition with Iran. From time to time, the USA will involve itself from the air on an ad hoc basis.
- China has completed its high-growth phase of industrialisation and the slower growth will require a stronger dictatorship to contain resultant discontent. It will remain economically strong but the growth engine of the global economy will become sixteen or so developing nations in SE Asia, East Africa and Latin America, who will be taking over mass production of low technology products.
- China will not be militarily assertive.
- The dominant role in Asia will be taken on by Japan due to its geographic position and dependence on imports.
- The USA will continue to dominate the world economically, politically and militarily but has learnt its lesson that military interventions are expensive and painful. Being self-sufficient in energy and not-reliant on exports, it will realise it no longer needs to play the role of ‘first responder’ to international crises. The world will continue to be disorderly but the one constant will be the growth in American power – though it will be less visible in its exercise than it has been in the past.
The review then goes on to take a much more detailed look at each region by turn: Europe; Russia; Middle East and North Africa; East Asia; Post-China manufacturing hubs; the USA.
Stratfor divides the region into four blocs which it claims are rapidly acquiring separate identities: Scandinavia & UK; Mediterranean Europe; the central bloc that Cheney famously called ‘Old’ Europe, when France and Germany refused to join Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and Cheney’s ‘new’ (good,obedient) Europe, the Eastern bloc countries, which the USA’s triumph in the Cold War liberated from the Soviet yoke.
Germany lives by exporting 25% of its GDP to EU countries and another 25% elsewhere. The EU was set up to absorb those exports. If it refuses to, Germany will go into dramatic decline. “Germany’s economy is hostage to the economic well-being and competitive environment in which it operates. There are multiple forces working against Germany in this regard.” Germany’s extended economic decline “will lead to a domestic social and political crisis that will reduce Germany’s influence in Europe…”
According to Stratfor the new European growth engine in going to be Poland, which “will diversify its own trade relationships to emerge as the dominant power on the strategic Northern European Plain.” (How it will out-compete Germany in this respect is not explained.) Forming a coalition initially with Romania, but then to include Belarus, the Ukraine and the Baltic states, it will lead an anti-Russian coalition “that will play a major part in retrieving lost territories through informal and formal means.”
Furthermore, (despite Stratfor’s foreseeing the USA’s disengagement from global crisis points) Poland will have a strategic partnership with the USA “both to stabilize its society and to make it (and Romania) capable of building a military force.” The forecast goes on to anticipate that, by the end of the decade, this US supported and inspired Polish coalition will stretch from the Baltic to the Black and possibly, the Caspian seas.
The growing Polish military alliance will face, and seek to retake lost territories from a Russia in terminal decline. As Moscow’s ability to offer financial support to the peripheries declines “There will not be an uprising against Moscow, but Moscow’s withering ability to support and control the Russian Federation will leave a vacuum. What will exist in this vacuum will be the individual fragments of the Russian Federation.”
The greatest crisis of the coming decade will be over who controls the fragmenting Russian Federation’s massive nuclear arsenal. “Washington is the only power able to address the issue…it will either have to invent a military solution… or try to create a stable and economically viable government in the regions involved.”
The Middle East and North Africa.
Turkey, despite its internal fault line between secularist and Islamist parties, will grow in strength and in time feel forced to intervene in the internally conflicted Arab nations to its south and even in North Africa. It will expect American support in this endeavour (short of actual military intervention.) “The United States will oblige, but there will be a price: participation in the containment of Russia.” This containment will involve Turkey taking more control over the Black Sea and extending the ‘Polish Coalition’s’ ‘containment line’ to the East, through Georgia and Azerbaijan as far as the Caspian Sea.
China will see an increasingly centralised dictatorship as its economy slows and the government moves to contain civil unrest – which, in a worst case and improbable scenario, could result in civil war between the rich coastal regions and the more impoverished interior to which the central government is attempting to transfer wealth. Chinese nationalism will increase, but will be targeted more towards conflict with Japan as the two countries struggle over the spoils of a fragmenting Russia’s eastern maritime territories. In the light of the USA’s forecast declining involvement in external affairs, Japan will rapidly build up its own Navy in order to be able to contend with China.
Post-China Manufacturing Hubs.
China replaced Japan as the world’s leading edge low-wage – high growth region. Stratfor identifies sixteen countries, with a total population comparable to that of China, which are likely to replace China in this role. These are mainly scattered around Asia, East Africa and Latin America – with Mexico being mentioned as a particular beneficiary of this development.
The United States.
The USA currently makes up 22% of the world’s economy. It dominates the world’s oceans and has the only significant intercontinental military force. Since the 1880s, its expansion and growth has continued with hardly a blip. This trend will continue unabated in the coming decade. In contrast to Germany, only 5% of American exports are dependent on stability outside North America. The same applies to imports.
With its increasing autarchy, due to its burgeoning domestic oil and gas extraction, it is in a sweet place. This serendipity is increased by the inflows of capital in flight from the multiple crises overseas. ”There is nowhere else to invest money…the United States remains the stable heart of the international system.”
Despite the inexorable growth in its power “The United States will become more selective in assuming responsibilities politically in the next decade, and even more selective in military interventions.”
For the past century US foreign policy has worked to prevent an accommodation between Russia and Germany as only the combined resources of those two nations could threaten the USA’s global hegemony. “…the United State has a core policy imperative that is almost automatic: when a potential European hegemon arise, the United States will act early, as it did in the Cold War, in building alliances and deploying sufficient force in primarily defensive positions. This is happening now against Russia”
Just in case Russia does not oblige by fragmenting as forecast, the USA is currently taking all the steps in Eastern Europe anticipated in this forecast “to build an alliance system outside of NATO, from the Baltics to Bulgaria, encompassing as many nations as possible. It will try to involve Turkey in the alliance and have it reach to Azerbaijan. It will deploy forces, proportional to the threat, in those countries.”
Eastern Europe will be the USA’s primary focus in the first half of the decade. In the second half it will be to prevent fragmenting Russia’s nuclear weaponry getting into the wrong hands. It will not get involved in the EU’s problems. Its involvement in the Middle East will be minimal. It will not get into a war with China. It will continue to keep its hand in on global anti-terrorist operations without much hope of success.
However, “the Americans will have an emerging problem. The United States has 50-year cycles that end with significant economic or social problems.”
The current cycle ends in fifteen years’ time and the emergent problem is already becoming apparent. This is the decline of the middle class – in the USA, it is fast becoming impossible to live a middle-class life on a middle-class income. Not yet a political crisis, this will become one before the end of the decade. l
My next blog will make some observations regarding the probability, or otherwise, of the Stratfor forecasts coming to pass.