The world is facing phenomenal challenges, some re-growing in intensity and complexity, quickly taking us all to a very dangerous point of no return. Some of these challenges were addressed by the recent G7 Summit, but, definitely, not all, and may I say so, not the most perilous ones. In many ways, the multifaceted risks that we face are sometimes too intricate to fully understand. This makes them an even more pressing threat to peace, stability, and security, precisely because they don’t seem to be as urgent as they really are.
The absence of open conflict, generalised war, and the fact that terrorism is concentrated in certain regions of the planet have erroneously created a public sensation of safety because of what wrongly appears to be a drop in the intensity of the terrorist threat. All of this has made us lose perspective of what can happen if we don’t act immediately, as many of these challenges can spiral out of control, pushing the world into different types and intensities of chaos on different scales, in different regions and sectors.
The list of menaces is long, but, by the urgency and immediacy of the threats, let me underline some of the most dangerous ones.
Populism, political extremism and its most violent manifestations: These phenomena are prevalent across the world, especially unleashed by some regimes that have become not only wildly oppressive against their own people, but a menace to world peace and stability. Political and so-called religious extremism (actually a brand of political radicalism) has its most violent expression in terrorism which has been intermittently giving some people a misguided and overconfident sensation of false security.
Terrorism has a high capacity of disruption and cannot be taken lightly. Lately, terrorism has been dismissed as an existential threat to the United States and this opinion seems to be taking root among some leading opinion makers. This is a grave mistake. This position ignores that cyber terrorism, and biological, chemical or nuclear terror, can have a devastating domino effect on any country, even those that are consolidated democracies, sending destructive shockwaves across the world. However, even conventional terrorism has a disruptive capacity that can’t be ignored.
Unresolved conflicts that have become cystic continue to be a very powerful source of violence and conflict — for instance, the Arab-Israel conflict. Plus, there exist so many other conflicts that are decades old and nowhere near a solution. Besides, the older they are and the more stagnated they become, the less urgent they end up being in the list of priorities of world leaders.
There is the fear of the nefarious consequences of a new world economic meltdown. There is no time to waste. World leaders, business captains, media and opinion makers have to open their eyes to what is surely one of the most precarious moment in the last 30 or 40 years.
Political uncertainty and instability seems to be lurching into almost every political system having an immediate economic effect that adds volatility to markets that already fear a new and vicious economic recession. It is not only populism which is growing and taking positions of power, but its political unpredictability is also shaking the foundations of some of the most important western democracies.
Take the example of Italy and two populist forces on the rise, the Five Star Movement of indefinable Leftwing tendencies, and the xenophobic extreme Rightwing Lega Nord of Mateo Salvini. In Spain, there have been four elections in four years. Minority governments have been weakened by the uprising of hard Right and extreme Leftwing parties, with a disproportionate political weight of radical separatist movements. All of this has slowed down Spain’s economy threatening a recession even before it hits the rest of the world.
The political crisis in the UK is unprecedented. Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended Parliament to prevent the depository of legitimacy and British sovereignty to control the actions of his government, determined to leave the EU without a deal. This could very well kick-start the recession that is already hovering over our heads, in Europe, and in the rest of the world. Even in Germany, the political scene is becoming disturbingly shaky. The regional elections in Brandenburg and Saxony have confirmed the alarming rise of the extremist and deeply xenophobic AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), that could very well be a prelude of what can happen at a federal level in the next general elections.
Political leadership requires balance, responsibility and sensible leadership to create an atmosphere of predictability and security. The contrary, no matter how able the leaders, is a recipe for disaster. In too many countries, that is precisely what we have.
This brings us to the shaky world economy that is walking on the very thin ice of a precarious economic recovery of a devastating recession, the likes of which has not been seen in decades since the 1973 oil crisis, or the Great Depression of 1929. When the world started coming out of the 2008 meltdown, it did so on a very weak basis. GDP and employment are far from the levels of 2007. And the world has not yet fully recovered from the scars and consequences of the long and deep recession.
If a new depression hits a weakened world economy, the effects will be even more devastating than that of 2008. Unfortunately, that is exactly where we are headed.
The world is facing several forms of crises that are coinciding in a very short period of time. This concentration of disruptive power has not been seriously measured. Some will be the trigger, while others will be the catalysts and accelerators of its devastating effects spawning a new and even deeper recession.
Among these causes-triggers-catalysts are the US-China trade war, a hard Brexit without a EU-UK deal, the successive and growing immigrants’ crises in Europe, the reigniting of terrorism (as is foreseen by well-informed analysts), instability and mayhem in the Middle East, including the enduring Arab-Israel conflict, the wars in Syria and instability in Iraq, the tensions between Iran and its neighbours, and the failure of the Iranian nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA.
If a new depression hits a weakened world economy, the effects will be even more devastating that in 2008. Unfortunately, that is exactly where we are headed.
These are all immediate causes or triggers. Indeed, the other causes or long-term catalysts of what can become a deeply rooted matter of global despair are climate change (a clear danger unlike what irresponsible skeptics affirm), political crises and the lack of a quality global leadership. All of this coupled with every single problem that riddles humanity on a daily basis will trigger a big crisis. This spells a great deal of potential turmoil that is brewing a corrosive and poisonous broth of a new economic meltdown and geopolitical insecurity.
World leaders in the recent G7 Summit partially addressed some of these issues. Not all of them were addressed seriously and urgently, and surely not with the depth and vision required due to the magnitude of the threat and its consequences. A summit that meets only once a year should have been much more strategic in its thought and more integrated in its conclusions.
The leaders highlighted their divisions; the most exclusive club of the richest industrial powers that share democratic principles was only able to boast division and rift. To further underline this, there was no ‘final communiqué’ as is the norm in these summits, simply because of the profound disagreements not only between President Donald Trump and the rest of the leaders, but also between all of them on some of the most important matters discussed. This includes not just Iran, but Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula, Libya, Hong Kong, Syria and the Middle-East. Climate change remained a crucial issue which too was not discussed with the urgency it deserved.
There was hope as the foreign minister of Iran was invited to the sidelines of the summit by French President Emmanuel Macron in a move considered as audacious and surprising. This was an attempt to engage Iran after serious tensions threatened to escalate out of control. The move was finally deprived of any transcendence because of the complete absence of positive results.
We are now waiting for the negotiations between the US and China so as to break the gridlock and extinguish one of the most potentially deadly wildfires of the present geopolitical situation. The contest between the first and second economies of the world has distressed the global economy, bringing shakiness and uncertainty in the markets all around. Even the staunchest conservative economic commentators of Fox News have expressed their concern.
There is the fear of the nefarious consequences of a new world economic meltdown thrusted by all of the above-mentioned triggers and catalysts. There is no time to waste. World leaders, business captains, media and opinion makers have to open their eyes to what is surely one of the most precarious moment in the last 30 or 40 years.
There are no simple recipes (that is exactly what populists sell, simplistic solutions for complex problems) to prevent what seems to be inevitable for so many analysts. Political instability is a stirring deep and destructive economic crisis that in turn will feed geopolitical turbulence, spinning into a hazardous vicious circle that can last several years to come.
The author is a former Spanish ambassador to India.