The Happy Arab News Service

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come

Last updated: September 13, 2008

September 11, 2008

Reduced Dominance

An intelligence report for the next American president, or at least some parts of it already finished, was previewed a few days ago by the US top analyst Thomas Fingar. Among the highlights of the future report is a continuing erosion in the US standing as the world's leading power.

"The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished," Fingar said, according to a transcript of the Thursday speech. He saw U.S. leadership eroding "at an accelerating pace" in "political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas."

In the words of a recent book on the same subject, "the shift is not about the "decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else." Rising regional powers such as China, India, Russia and Brazil will gradually translate their growing economic power into a political and military one.

Yet, the report, as it seems, does not envision a new multipolar and multilateral world order but rather a disintegration of order in general.

In the new intelligence forecast, it is not just the United States that loses clout. Fingar predicts plummeting influence for the United Nations, the World Bank and a host of other international organizations that have helped maintain political and economic stability since World War II. It is unclear what new institutions can fill the void, he said.

In the years ahead, Washington will no longer be in a position to dictate what new global structures will look like. Nor will any other country, Fingar said.

Climate change and dramatic demographic shifts are predicted to redraw political maps and redress the balance of power. According to Fingar, the intelligence agencies are largely in agreement with the prevalent scientific view of anthropogenic climate change. And while global warming has come to be seen as a major security threat in the coming decades, the consensus is that it's too late to avert its devastating impact over the next two decades.

The predicted shift toward a less U.S.-centric world will come at a time when the planet is facing a growing environmental crisis, caused largely by climate change, Fingar said. By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

For poorer countries, climate change "could be the straw that breaks the camel's back," Fingar said, while the United States will face "Dust Bowl" conditions in the parched Southwest.

The devastation produced by global warming will set in motion massive migration flows on one hand, and will coincide, on the other, with steadily deteriorating dependency ratios in Europe, Japan and China, where the proportion of population past the working age will continue increasing.

On the bright side for the US, the report foresees a favorable demographic situation in the US, in particular when compared to Europe/Japan, where what the reports terms "chauvinism" (!!! NB) will prevent the use of immigration as a cure to the growing demographic woes of the two.

"We are just about alone in terms of the highly developed countries that will continue to have demographic growth sufficient to ensure continued economic growth," Fingar said.


September 12, 2008

. . . By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

For poorer countries, climate change "could be the straw that breaks the camel's back," Fingar said . . .

The STRAW and the Camels

Global warming will be producing not only losers but winners as well. Some are already readying themselves for becoming Kuwaits and Saudi Arabias of the North. Nothing out of ordinary is happening. Humanity has been through this and not once in the past. The last time it happened, some civilizations were greatly prospering thanks to a warmer climate... Others have got wiped off the face of the earth. The main impact of the unfolding climatic shift is yet to be felt across the globe, but the straw has already starting landing on the back of some camels. It's a weird coincidence that the first to have been hit are indeed sharing their habitat with real camels.

Across the Middle East and North Africa droughts have been laying waste to crops for a few consecutive years running amidst an escalating water crisis. Syria is one of the most affected countries due to its being one of the few significant exporters of agricultural produce left. Two years of an uninterrupted drought have destroyed crops at a time when the country is at the point of turning into a net importer of oil at any moment. The declining oil production has forced the government to put the population through a particularly painful round of cutting energy subsidies and hiking prices just a few months ago, but the current collapse of agricultural production prompted some officials to hint that the food subsidies has become unsupportable and should go too.

In Egypt the reformist government of technocrats, appointed by Mubarak (probably following an advice from his Western educated son), seems to have started dropping its macroeconomic targets because of the ballooning food and fuel subsidies. Foreign debt ratio and budget deficit are all expected to grow as the government is pouring money into subsidy programs in a bid to stem what's threatening to wipe out any social achievements produced by the impressive economic growth of the last years. The rise of global food prices and global slowdown could not have happened at the worst time as even before the analysts were worrying about the possibility of public finances going out of control at the first sign of a cyclical downturn.

The impact global warming is having in the region is exacerbated by the fact that, long before any warming, large chunks of the region have been already at danger of collapsing under the weight of their swollen populations. All around the region absolutely everything from water to cultivable land is becoming scarce. In half a dozen of nations even oil is running out. Much of the region is already overpopulated with no space left for even a modest population growth. In fact, under current conditions, without a major technological breakthrough, some nations can no longer hope to survive unless annual quotes are established for selectively shooting off an expendable part of the population.

In the last two decades demographic indicators of the region have improved tremendously and the total fertility rate for the Middle East and North Africa is currently estimated at about 3 children per woman. Even in such a deeply fundamentalist country as Saudi Arabia the TFR has dropped to below 4 from 6 over the span of barely two decades. Nevertheless, however impressive the demographic achievements of the Middle East have been lately, they too all belong to the category of "Too little, too late". Despite the rapid decline of the Arab fertility in the Middle East, that went in parallel with similar processes in Iran/Turkey, in many parts of the region the population growth is still proceeding at rates that can be hardly considered reasonable (never mention that many parts of the region can take no more population growth whatsoever). While in Iran and a large part of North Africa population growth has slowed down to 1% and less, demographic explosions are still going strong in Syria and elsewhere due to the population momentum accumulated through the past decades of record high fertility rates. Taking into account that people don't start marrying and searching for work until they are about 20 years old, this means that in many parts of the region the worst is yet to come. The pressure on already depleted and exhausted resources will continue increasing at a time when a big part of these resources is set to be destroyed by climate change and overexploitation.

The situation may turn even uglier if amidst the worsening social conditions and simmering discontent the dictators start losing control over their populations setting on the loose sectarian, fundamentalist and other beasts that are loudly begging to be released into the wild. The sectarian beast was recently on the loose in Iraq and Sudan and the extreme violence that followed, and the elevated number of casualties as well, should make some to miss a few heartbeats at the mere thought of this possibility. Yemen will be the first to go and its imminent collapse should send waves of refugees and may even initiate a chain reaction across the region as a last rehearsal before the main event.

In the present situation of the global overpopulation meeting a massive climate change, the world's best hope is, ironically, that very Russia now at loggerheads with the West all over the place. The amount of land that Russia can commit to agriculture is hardly imaginable and it can grow even more as global warming raises temperatures over Russia's northern regions. However, Russia is facing the danger of depopulation itself, and its rural populations seem to have been reduced to the state of China's coastal provinces at the time of the Opium wars due to the unending epidemic of chronic alcoholism. The attempts at reforms based on encouraging private farming have largely failed, at least Russia is so massively underperforming in terms of agriculture compared to its potential, that at the current rate it will fail to rise to the challenge. To become the Saudi Arabia of agriculture Russia needs industrial scale agriculture driven by huge corporations and based on a massive import of workforce from abroad. Given that Russians are slow learners who don't get the point until falling into the same pitfall for at least three times, the rescue team should not be expected to arrive any time soon and even when it does, it won't work for free.

Under such conditions, Israel and its leaders should keep in mind that the place may be soon swamped with hundreds of thousands and millions of refugees. The infamous concept of open borders of Shimon Peres won't do for sure, but even closed borders may fail to stem the tide. The fucking borders should be closed, closed and closed !!!


For those interested here is a report presented by Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's chief foreign policy coordinator and the European commissioner for external relations, to the European Council in 2008.

Those parts of the populations that already suffer from poor health conditions, unemployment or social exclusion are rendered more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which could amplify or trigger migration within and between countries. The UN predicts that there will be millions of "environmental" migrants by 2020 with climate change as one of the major drivers of this phenomenon. Some countries that are extremely vulnerable to climate change are already calling for international recognition of such environmentally-induced migration. Such migration may increase conflicts in transit and destination areas. Europe must expect substantially increased migratory pressure.

Source: Climate change and international security

September 13, 2008

"We are just about alone in terms of the highly developed countries that will continue to have demographic growth sufficient to ensure continued economic growth," Fingar said.

Just about alone

The demographic outlook for the US is generally considered to be brighter than for the rest of the Western world. By 2050 The US population, driven by a reasonably stable birth rate and immigration, may swell to represent 50% of what's today considered the West. The shift will be not only quantitative, but qualitative as well, as the US population will feature a much more balanced age structure compared to other Western countries, some of which are at risk of turning into huge nursing houses in which inter generational social wars will be fought between an ever expanding mass of native pensioners and hordes of disenchanted youths of immigrant descent from banlieus.

However, a few factors should be mentioned that can make the eventual scenario much less dramatic. First of all, there are signs of recovery in Northern Europe. It's hard to tell how much of this feeble recovery owes to the same immigrants and how much of it is genuine, but it's claimed that most of it is native. Of course, as it looks now, most of this recovery should be classified under the label of "Too little, too late", but nevertheless it's happening.

Neither the report takes into account possible advances in medicine. In the coming decades, and this may happen sooner than many think, new drugs may find their way to markets capable of slowing down or even reversing the process of aging. The whole concept of the working age may have to be revised with people capable of remaining agile and alert for far longer than it was originally envisioned by the mother nature. While the cost of such treatments is sure to happen to be prohibitively expensive, highly developed nations may be able to afford it. In such a case the expected massive shrinking of the working age population in Europe and elsewhere and the resultant economic downturn may fail to materialize.

Second, much of the projections regarding the demographic future of the US is based on very high expectations from the Latino immigration with some polls predicting the Latinos and other minorities breeding themselves into majority in the US. In reality there is absolutely no reason to believe that the current rate of Latino immigration will succeed to maintain itself even for the next 5 years. The same goes about Latino demographics within the US. Within the next decade most of Latin America will go sub replacement in demographic terms and many countries may fall behind the US in terms of fertility rates and even crude birth rates. The population growth is already below 1% in some countries and it will be only falling. In fact, the major countries of the continent - Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are already all at replacement and sub replacement levels of fertility, which on one hand ensures a decline in the number of potential immigrants in a very near future and on the other an improved economic outlook for the continent which, again, should lead to more of the first.

In Europe the native Latino factor has failed miserably in demographic terms as it's precisely such countries of Southern Europe as Italy, Span and Portugal that suffer from the most atrociously low fertility even by the European standards. Given the cultural background, this is one more reason to believe that the declining Latino fertility in the US and in Latin America itself will not stabilize soon at levels comparable to the current one, but will continue sliding down for a long time to come. If anything, the conservative right and Christian evangelicals are a much safer bet if one is looking for a demographic horse to put his money on. A similar situation seems to be developing in the third world, the same Latin America and elsewhere, where Evangelicals and other Pentecostal Christian groups have been steadily making inroads recently against the background of the global slide into sub replacement fertility spreading into developing nations.

In economic terms too, there are increasing signs that Latin America has turned the corner and its current economic ascent is neither temporary nor a coincidence. Even in Brazil, run by leaders of what was once considered an incurably populist leftist movement, the government has surprised outside observers by its impressive commitment to stable and sound macroeconomic policies. This means that despite occasional bouts of Chavismo/Moralismo there is a conversion across a wide political spectrum in terms of economic policies. Such a continuity of policies, that can now be expected to pass uninterrupted through elections, should guarantee stable economic growth in much of the continent. The expanding global demand for mineral resources and agricultural products driven by the rapid industrialization of India/China and some other developing nations seems to favor the continent as well. Across Latin America industrial scale agriculture oriented on Asian markets is transforming the countryside and remote provinces.

The rising Middle-class and falling inequality in Brazil

Source: The Economist

While the current economic growth in Latin America is not sky high, it's nevertheless stable and robust enough and, taking into account the gradually decelerating population growth, one can be reasonably sure that even without double digit economic growth rates the continent will continue experiencing a steadily growing prosperity in the coming decades. The combination of these factors makes the, much feared in some quarters and eagerly awaited in some others, Latino takeover of the US very unlikely (never mind that the next generation of the US Latinos will be rather heavily Americanized and assimilated). On the other hand, it also means reduced chances of the US population ballooning to half a billion by the middle of the century. Of course, if nevertheless it does happen, then by the middle of the century the US will be transformed into a huge nation supported by one of the most powerful, and probably still the most powerful, economies of the world. In any case, given the relative ease with which the US absorbs new immigrations and its stable fertility rates, one thing is clear - there is little chance of the US coming even close to the demographic mess now worsening in Japan and across large swaths of Europe.

September 13, 2008

"The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished," Fingar said, according to a transcript of the Thursday speech. He saw U.S. leadership eroding "at an accelerating pace" in "political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas."

The Art of being an Empire

Grozny, 1995

The rise of regional powers will challenge the US supremacy in different parts of the world, but it does not necessarily mean that the US will be soon facing a global rival. The comparison often made today between the old Soviet Union and modern Russia is missing the point. Russia may be the world's top second oil producer, and it may even stage an impressive economic comeback at some point in the future using its vast natural resources, huge expanses of cultivable land and relatively well educated workforce, but the driving force behind the Soviet expansion was ideological in its essence. And its huge global impact was based on the powerful attraction that ideology had for millions of people around the globe. Russia possesses nothing of this kind today. Neither does China for this matter.

The worn out Marxist cliches that dominate the thinking of large chunks of Western academy and media about economic interests as primary forces shaping history will never account for the fact that for decades Japan had all technological and economic resources to become the world number two and yet it did not happen. China may quietly sabotage all US and UN efforts to impose economic blockade on Sudan and Burma and basically it's just doing whatever it sees as beneficial for itself, yet no sane person would consider China imperialist. In fact, China seems to be so little interested in confrontations and so immersed in developing its economy and managing its mounting environmental problems, that it's very unlikely that the world will see the imperial navy hurrying fleets of aircraft carriers across oceans any time soon.

Having economic interests is simply not a good enough reason for striving to become a global superpower. At least, not in our days. The much written on struggle for control of oil resources, which is actually a misinterpretation of what's in reality a very prudent and reasonable policy of securing energy supplies (that benefits just about everybody and not only the US and big oil), does not require so much of global presence. Certainly, not for Russia. And, in any way, it may be rendered obsolete over the next one-two decades by a major breakthrough in alternative energies.

The senseless mumbling by GWB about freedom and democracy for every human being down to the last cannibal in Papua New Guinea makes it difficult for some people to recognize that among major world powers the US remains just about the only one both with resources of a super power and with something resembling an ideology and determination fitting this status. In fact, the irony of the present situation is that the US is gradually losing its global position in the world as a result of its being triumphant over rival ideologies it was fighting for decades. The gradual decline of its global status comes as a result of the US having achieved what used to be the primary objective of its foreign policy since the WW2. Russia, China and others owe most of their success to adopting the Western model of running society and economy, spreading which had been one of the cornerstones of the US policy for the last half of the past century.

This fact would have been even more obvious if the US continued to have that pragmatic and realistic approach that led it to support the regime of Pinochet and Iranian Shah during the cold war. Lately both the US and much of the West seem to have been badly afflicted by all sorts of politically correct lunacies and fantasies and the old way was forsaken. But in the good old days US administrations would have been thanking god every single day for bestowing on the world Putin and China's communist reformers.

Grozny, 2007

There may exist a certain difference, difficult to pinpoint precisely, between an empire and a global superpower. Russia may not be ready to trade a healthy doze of investment into its hi-tech or nano-tech industries for extravagant oversees adventures and in this sense another global cold war is unlikely. But when it comes to what Russians call their near abroad, Russia remains a regional power, or better an empire, whose determination to assert this role has been only growing in the last years.

These attitudes are bound to set Russia on a collision course with another regional block, the European Union, unless the West firmly decides to keep a safe distance from Russia. How big this distance should be can be negotiated but, at the minimum, it should be as wide as Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Caucasus together. The combined GDP and population of the members of the EU notwithstanding, the block is still badly failing to meet the requirements for making a global, and even a regional, power, never mention facing Russia on its own. And the shameful episodes of European soldiers surrendering at the first sign of Iranian patrol boats, whole nations caving in in the face of terror attacks and military alliances unraveling after the first dozen of plastic bags is sent home from Afghanistan or elsewhere, are only proving that far from becoming a counterweight to the American influence, as was expected by some, the EU may need America more than ever in a very near future.

The prerequisites for running an empire the Russian style, or becoming a global super power the American way, or just playing the role of a regional power, include not only technological and economic prowess. The power will fail to be projected beyond the borders, and even within them, unless there is somebody willing to project it. Whether to put out regional conflagrations in the Balkans, or to confront the increasingly more assertive Russia, Europe seems to be just hardly capable of managing this stuff on its own. Europeans have got more polite towards the US recently. That's a smart boy.

And when it comes to running real empires, it involves some really hardcore stuff. It involves the ability to densely pack the ground below one's feet with dead bodies. And it involves going out to collect bodies of one's soldiers by truckloads as well. In fact, being prepared to do the latter may well be the most important of them all. Over the last two decades Russia reportedly killed dozens of thousands, some claim hundreds of thousands, in the Caucasus, losing thousands of its own soldiers in the process and proving on the way that the new Russia is fully worthy of its old imperial legacy. The Euro-hippies in Brussels should better notice that Russians have been in the business of running empires for centuries and, unlike some, they are still preserving most of their imperial skills largely intact.

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