The geopolitical backdrop post 2017: a risk management question?

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The ‘Trump-Brexit’ (2016/2017) impact occupies a lot of media space, not surprising as it is an easy way of expressing what we worry about most: uncertainty. The foundation of much risk management thinking.

Among the many words already written is it possible to make any predictions or useful assessments on the likely developments in geopolitics for the immediate future, post-2017? It all depends on where you are standing. What is sure, context always matters!

The UK may have made a fundamental economic mistake in leaving the EU, but those in power will reassure themselves that they have the reins of power to combat any economic downturn and their ultimate weapon: it was the fault of the referendum and the electorate’s own choice. Those in power also have the reins of power in the other game of identity politics: namely nationalism.But will this be enough in the contemporary context?

The seeming mind-numbness (political dilemmas)  of the UK plans for Brexit – a demand for EU access without payment for fundamental political cooperation – is not the substantive matter but the wider world geopolitics which is at play. It is the overall geopolitical relationship within a European geography which dictates to all the relevant states and that is what is being re-questioned.

The EU may be rid of an awkward state but without its own political union and a strong political identity, its fate hangs in balance. And that, most of all, depends on profound political and economic change for Germany, Italy and France, which, so far, has proved elusive – security, immigration, euro stability and dispersion of wealth, practical defence and a foreign policy strategy all show weaknesses at present.

If a workable security and political identity remain difficult for the main EU member states, let alone the others, the project of integration will founder or need to alter.

Put another way. The geography of security and neighbourhood collectivity is the only game worth an effort, but to succeed demands solidarity and relying on German economic strength and leadership is not enough.

What we see are tectonic geopolitical plates on the move: global, sectoral urbanisation pushing against community sectional interests.

The result: disturbance and disruption. All summed up in confusion, icon-like. For example, by a bewildering, conflicting amount of Twitter-led policies coming from Trump’s election as USA President, and the mishandled Brexit process.

Conclusion: the present geopolitical scene is like emerging volcanic activity. We can measure the impact of volcanoes by looking at the past for sure, from Pompei (79AD) in Italy to St. Pierre (AD1902) in Martinique or even the latest in Iceland (AD2014). What we can’t be sure of is when they are going to erupt and by how much. But at least some preparation is better than no preparedness.

In European terms, this may mean working toward a new restructured EU with a new mandate, and one which will encourage the UK to return as a full member. But this seems a faint hope as Europe heads for another set of national elections.

However, the trouble with volcanic activity, as with sudden shifts in politics, the damage is often done first before we can think of rebuilding. That is in the ‘nature’ of such forces.

Berlin attack December 2016


It is with the deepest of regret that we must note again another atrocity targeted at a European country.

The stoicism and grace that the Germans have shown to the refugee crisis must not be pushed aside because of such acts. The brutality is hard and difficult but so far Germany, the EU and its partners, have steadfastly worked together to avoid wherever we can such incidents. This they must continue.

No matter the inter-state quarrels in the EU and the wider European environment, the decent minded know that solidarity and partnership are the way forward.

Of course, the politics and the geo-politics will interfere. It is in this setting that the External Action Service, the EU institutions, and its trading partners must set the stage for the future as they have already started to do.

They will need to continue to assert their active defence in a world threatened by terrorism. As state on state violence diminishes these new threats need a collective response.

It is time that certain states, those who encourage terrorism, become aware of the damage they do, and not least ultimately to themselves. European foreign and security policy in the widest sense needs to reflect this.

These are some of the serious issues that need approaching in 2017 and beyond, in a post Trump, post-truth, multi-polar world!

Brexit = 51.9% vs 48.1% (June 2016) + 469 vs 89 (December 2016) = shared sovereignty is corralled, an isolated pontoon on the lake?


With a few simple figures, the Brexit referendum of June and the UK parliamentary reaction of December on the issue, the fundamentals are laid bare. The EU principle of ‘shared sovereignty’ has been challenged and the underpinning of practical, integrated, converging international law damaged.

Where the populace have narrowly divided over the issue (the % figures) , the politicians in the UK parliament have overwhelmingly voted (the voting of MPs in Parliament in actual numbers) to accept their own sovereignty (power) over UK subjects whilst potentially removing EU rights as EU citizens from the British. Perhaps no surprise in the topsy-turvey world of Brexit but worrying in principle let alone in practice.

Beyond our borders, the sense of international law is, at a stroke, diminished in importance, whereas the political power of the national political parties shall operate even more strongly within the UK. This does not bode well politically, as the ‘nationalist’ cause is not supported to the degree that the parliamentarians believe. The figures prove it.

Put another way, cosmopolitanism is dead, long live nationalism is the cry. It is a cry that the EU must learn from.

Until the European Parliament is more neatly linked to the cross-national constituents of the various national party systems, and until the Commission does more to police the existing arrangements with equity, under the banner of shared sovereignty, the EU will stagger forward into its future.

Maybe the British (but not necessarily the Scottish or even Londoners) are now corralled into their own parliamentary straight jacket, or left like a pontoon in the middle of its own lake, but this does not mean that the EU meanwhile cannot shift its position in the future.

Reform of the EU is inevitable and it is the democratic foundation of shared sovereignty which needs attention. The Italian referendum result and the rhetoric of the election campaigns in the Netherlands, France, even Germany, let alone arguments such as in other countries, for example, Poland and Hungary, illustrate the battles ahead.

The first signs are not encouraging though. But hope springs eternal, doesn’t it?

European Defence reformulated?


November 14, 2016 could be the moment when, at last, the Europeans constructed a working agenda to formulate a practical defence strategy. But the devil is in the detail, first, and more importantly, secondly, in its applicability.

Issued after the 28 member states and other participants met in Brussels, its targeting of specfic threats and security issues significantly shifts the security debate into a co-related mix of both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ matters. In their own words:

“Protecting the Union ….the EU (as well as creating an outward-facing Common Security and Defence Policy CSDP) … can contribute from a security and defence perspective to strengthening the protection and resilience of its networks and critical infrastructure; the security of its external borders as well as building partners’ capacities to manage their borders; civil protection and disaster response; ensuring stable access to and use of the global commons, including the high seas and space; countering hybrid threats; cyber security; preventing and countering terrorism and radicalisation; combatting people smuggling and trafficking; building capacities to manage irregular migration flows; promoting compliance with non-proliferation regimes and countering arms trafficking and organised crime.” (Implementation Plan, 2016)

The Plan reasserts the importance of NATO partnerships and the complementarity of purpose with these new European initiatives.

But in security issues context matters and not merely military or policing competence. It is the political context that overarches everything.

The nature of the risks and threats pounding on the doors of the EU institutions and its member states are dangerous. It is logical to point out the multi-faceted nature of internal and external security but without political purpose, no matter the ambitions of policy-making, it will fail at the implementation level.

Political security should always have been at the heart of the European project but decades of global politics put paid to its full creation. European defence rested heavily on USA led NATO defence strategies. Consequently, and perhaps alternatively, the EU moved to enhance its economic credentials through the Single Market.

Noting again in passing that  the euro remains fragile and still in need of greater support.

But context waits for no man, and the Middle East, the Digital age, Brexit, Russian postures, the growth of fractured ‘Populist’ political movements, Migration and immigration issues, global organised crime, the changing nature of war and conflict and the Trump elect presidency of the USA, press hard on bold European security ambitions.

European security demands a parallel approach to defence and policing, of course with the single market in mind, but it should not be dependent upon it as seems to be the political thinking uppermost in too many European politicians’ minds.

The time to act for internal and external security is now. That the EU should have a mutually actionable, supportive, defence pact for all its members – EU and EEA –  including those who wish to join the EU, a joint partnership with NATO,  with the necessary finance but also with an independence of competence, is clearly obvious. But will it happen? Let’s hope the reality steps beyond the ‘spin’!

Liberty Bell updated.


As the US voters headed for the final countdown in what must be one of the unseemliest elections in decades, it was time for the Liberty Bell to sound again.

Not for unbridled nationalism, racism, division, sexism, disunity, inequality and conflict. No, but a call for independence of action, safety in cosmopolitanism and tolerance, and a means to provide for collective means of peace-making between citizens. As aptly written on the Philadelphia bell:

Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof Lev. XXV. v X.

This promulgation, written into the iconography of American constitutional politics and now a tourist attraction, remains a stunning reminder of what divides those who prefer authoritarianism over liberty in our era; be that in Indo-China, Eurasia, Europe of the European Union, the Americas and dare one say everywhere, namely ‘Globally’.

We are set and beset by rising nationalism and an increase in authoritarian rule which as seductive, populist it may seem for some, could be collective madness for the rest of us. USA beware!

May that Liberty Bell ring again for all of us and not the few. It should represent the political tone of our era. It rings out as ideologically important in its complexity as it always did.

The tolling of this idea allows for difference and peaceful resolution of opposing views. Those who  use ‘historical’ national simplicity as an answer  lead us nowhere but to inevitable strife. The global supply chain is not about to collapse but is a constant ‘tug-of-war’ (Khanna, 2016) and we need to work together to use its ultimate value.

Of course, it is to be remembered that the original Liberty Bell was made of inferior steel and cracked as soon as it was sounded. Let us hope that a Trump presidency is neither cracked nor as dangerous as his campaign rhetoric!

Borders 6: new boundaries being created?


The refugee crisis as depicted by most media is disturbing politicians and public alike and the headlines, even serious ones, are hyper ventilating, blaming religious or terrorist groups in a battle of an existential kind, where fear and emotions are too often taking hold.

This is most evident in the closing of the borders – representative of an anti-Schengen, anti-Muslim, anti-foreigner, grab-easy politics to be found in many parts of the present arrangements in Europe.

Erect new razor edges to the borders, close the Calais jungle, and somehow, some argue, we have created new social, cultural, administrative, religious, legal boundaries where national or even a sort-of European sovereignty will resume its course ‘as always’.

We need, as usual, a little more substantial comment beyond these political headlines no matter how popular they seem.

A helpful second argument, more organisational and up-to-date has been provided from a recent report from the EUISS entitled “The internal-external nexus: Re-bordering Europe” (October 2016):

The media may concentrate on the human ‘story’ of the refugee crisis, but there is an organisational and geo-political side to what is happening which journalists need to pick up on if their readers or viewers are to understand the bigger picture.

The report shows how the various agencies caught in the crisis of migration have links, policy supply chains they could be called, which merge into genuine effort if not complete effectiveness: from new arrangements in EU Frontex coastal border control, to OSCE to NATO overviews, from adapted Schengen procedures to European Maritime Safety Agency work, and many other responsible hard at work agencies and organisations.

Linking these organisations, dealing with the multifaceted layers of migration, and managing the risks through new inter-agency diplomacy and a smarter use of technology, the report indicates that a new geo-political shape is being created across Europe. Its conclusion is worthy of repeating and thinking through:

“A new map of Europe: The EU previously envisaged expanding its border free travel area to create a single space across its neighbouring regions. Now it is witnessing the  appearance of geopolitical blocs and zones: in the west, the Schengen Area, with its new impetus to provide European armies access to frontline border states; in the east, the Eurasian Economic Union, where Russia leverages its neighbours’ dependence on migrant remittances to bind them to it; and, in the South, a kind of ‘anti-Schengen’ – a de facto borderless and lawless zone stretching across North Africa and the Gulf in a negative mirror image of the EU’s own border-free space. And squeezed between these blocs there is a whole series of buffer zones like the Western Balkans or central Ukraine.

So, a quarter century after the fall of the Berlin wall, the stakes are high for EU border management –nothing less than recasting the soft and hard edges of the continent. (Roderick Parkes, EUISS p.4)”

The geo-political narrative “blowing in the wind.”


In the year that Bob Dylan has been awarded the Noble Prize for Literature it is perhaps fitting to use him in this comment on contemporary ‘geo-politics’. Dylan always understood the importance of language and the power of communication just as politicians do. This is very relevant today in geo-political terms because of the raging headlines, the outspoken political rhetoric commonplace across the global media, embellishing the dramatic over sensible commentary.

New and shifting allegiances especially in the Middle East but also Africa, have seen new hybrid- war security communication threats from various corridors of power which many sense are now becoming profound. The following view is typical: Russian dissembling on the world stage.

Are we in a new age of geo-politics buffeted by new types of storms? Probably not, it’s been seen before, but there are differences to the past. And we seem to sense it and not just from our media but also from our style of politics.

What actually is happening is neither simple nor plain nor is there a consensus on the nature of the risks ahead. Nor how to firefight the problems.The threats to the older orders of stability have apparently shifted a dimension and seem more menacing or at least the new means of communicating appears to illustrate.

Two aspects are crucial.

First: the role of the media is becoming more, not less, important. A constant ‘war of narratives’ of information, communication, disinformation, lies, and semi-truths. Where fact is replaced with enhanced, diverting, often wrong opinions which stride out between individuals, corporate organisations, states and even international institutions.

The public with its own social media outlets add to the cacophony. The narratives are left to their own devices and seem more like a reality-virtual TV script than a shared experience with insight.

Secondly, stripped of its fundamental former ideologies,  the style of politics has become darker and a force for chaos beyond the law. Actions by minorities against majorities (from terrorism to elites in society)  but also overpowering majorities in the name of nationalism bludgeoning minorities especially in international or trans-regional terms.

This is a  turning away from international courts and the rule of law. Brexit is a good example with its intention not to use the European Court of Justice even in trade terms – impossible! and its use of a ‘Royal Prerogative’ for decision-making to achieve this subverting parliament, all in the name of ‘sovereignty’. Bizarre!

These sorts of actions are not stand-alone as can be seen across many States in the EU, the USA,  let alone China, or the Russian Federation, the African Union to name a few). But Brexit is a question of the moment so let’s stick with it just a little longer:

For examples, look at the following type of arguments – broad and moral all in one breath:

Useful enough, but there’s better work than this out there if we are conscientious. In a detailed analysis of the procedures and processes of Article 50, ‘Brexit’, Andrew Duff (MEP) has clearly examined the options available that benefit both the EU and the UK, but who is taking any notice in the clamour for knock-out headlines and moral platitudes?

One ends up with a view that the more care we use in choosing our resources/sources the better the chances of agreement and understanding. But in an era of ‘press clamour’ , political wild card narratives, finding the nuggets of truth seem harder than ever.

Or as Dylan might have put it: ‘Distant ships sailing into the mist You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing  – Freedom just around the corner for you But with truth so far off, what good will it do.’ (Jokerman)