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The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly – 22 December 2016

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals…
Each section focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics); economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; technology and weapons; energy and environment. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

Read the 22 December 2016 scan


The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilising problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: Antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two companion galaxies to our own Milky Way galaxy, can be seen as bright smudges in the night sky, in the centre of the photograph. This photograph was produced by European Southern Observatory (ESO), ESO/C. Malin [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 3.2 A Nationalist Libya

This article focuses on the second of the scenarios depicting a total victory for one Libyan faction, where the nationalist coalition – loyal to a non-Islamist and nationalist government – is victorious and guides Libya towards a secular and nationalist state where Sharia is not a source of governance. In our previous scenario we detailed the scenario of an Islamist victory where the new government gradually, with different paths according to speed, implements Sharia law and puts Libya on the path towards an Islamic state.

Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.

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Sub-scenario 3.2 A Nationalist Libya

In this scenario, a “real victory” refers to the cessation of major hostilities resulting from a belligerents military domination of the other. Once a belligerent militarily defeats the other, it will be in a position to rebuild Libya as either an Islamist or secular state.

By achieving a real victory against the Islamist-dominated coalition and government, the nationalist coalition sets up its non-Islamist government and endeavours to organize the new Libyan state. This new government projects a secular-nationalist rule of law, and firmly opposes the use of Sharia law as a basis for legislation.

The nationalist government is determined to first secure the porous southern border. It knows it has two major options. Either it makes a deal with the Tuareg and Toubou to increase their representation in government and promises to address their other grievances if they secure the southern province to prevent jihadists from entering the country and assist in stabilization efforts throughout the Fezzan. Or, it exclusively pre-occupies itself with post-civil war affairs in the north and begins to ignore the Tuareg and Toubou. Both minority tribes in the south thus feel abandoned – the Toubou are angry that their alliance with the nationalist coalition did not result in a seat at the power table, or even a request for meaningful post-war assistance, while the Tuareg are afraid that they especially will be left out, considering their opposition to the nationalists during the war. In this case, the odds to see them deciding to split away from the Libyan state in protest and form their own tribal states, or to hold southern Libyan oil resources as collateral for political concessions – thus forcing the government to address the minority tribes increase. Considering both the value of past war alliances and the risks entailed by not doing so, the nationalist government finally chooses the first option.

The nationalist leaders start implementing a strict anti-Islamist agenda. Not wanting to include former adversaries that promoted a system alien to their beliefs and challenged their legitimacy, the new government takes measures to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party. In an effort to completely dismantle Islamist movements in Libya, the government arrests, charges, and prosecutes prominent Islamist politicians and militia leaders. It then welcomes those affiliated with Qaddafi’s regime to be involved in the new state, partly as a means to increase domestic legitimacy among the Qaddafists, but also as a means to consolidate power. This announcement draws much support from former Qaddafi officials and particularly Qaddafi’s tribe – the Qadhadhfa – who felt marginalized after the revolution and whose men and also some elders became a recruiting pool for the Islamic State in Sirte. Seeing this as an opportunity to restore some of their influence in the government, as well as seeing that the Islamist defeat leaves only the Salafist groups left to be targeted (to which many Qadhadhfa fighters belong), the pro-Qaddafi tribes that didn’t originally ally with the nationalists now shift their support to the new government.

Bolstered by the new government’s actions to ignore Sharia law, the Salafist groups denounce Libya as a kafir state and state their intention to destroy it. However, as far as the Islamic State is concerned, they are weakened by the loss of the pro-Qaddafi tribes, which spurs a renewed propaganda push to attract more foreign jihadists. Salafist groups that experience a surge of foreign jihadist recruits renew their insurgency against the Libyan government. Those which do not succeed in either attracting enough foreign recruits or local ones grow weaker and unable to hold territory as they did during the civil war. Thus, they shift from a more centralized semi-state with territory and governance to a decentralized underground terrorist organization that avoids conventional warfare, causes mass civilian casualties through terrorist attacks, and specifically targets security personnel, secular judges, and political and military leaders under the nationalist government. However, this renewed insurgency and its outcome would require new scenarios to fully understand its depth.

Meanwhile, the nationalist coalition and government struggles at first to gain international legitimacy. The Western powers tread lightly in regard to signaling open support for the new government – mostly to see the initial actions made by the new government that signify its national and international intentions. With the migrant crisis still a serious problem for the EU, it opens diplomatic relations with the nationalist government to work out a solution that would stem the flow of migrants from Libya’s shores. In a unilateral move that is the result of unsatisfactory solutions put forth by the EU, the United Kingdom offers assistance to Libya in an effort to counter the human-trafficking networks that significantly contribute to the migrant routes through Libya. (In an alternative sub-scenario, where the migrant crisis is already abated, the EU stands alongside the U.S. as they wait to see how the government sets the tone for stabilization and rebuilding). Meanwhile, Russia expands its ties with the nationalists and quickly negotiates arms deals with the government – knowing that the new Libyan military will need to be outfitted, while it allows Russia to further gaining influence with a new power in the Middle East/North Africa region.

General Haftar represents a strong anti-Islamist ideology in Libya, which appeals to Egypt and the UAE.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates continue to support the nationalist government as it takes action to exclude Islamists from power and crack down on Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated supporters throughout Libya. Libya’s other neighbors also recognize the legitimacy of the new state and begin working with the government to make sure no insecure borders could lead to renewed insurgency. Having backed the Islamist government – whom they considered the legitimate government – and seeing the new government’s efforts to crack down on Islamist groups, Qatar and Turkey denounce the nationalist government.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 3.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The government’s level of priority to include minority tribes in the state. Once it begins functioning as the country’s sole political authority, the new government will take measures to first stabilize war-torn Libya, and then begin the rebuilding process. Depending on a variety of factors and agendas, the government could potentially prioritize other issues over the political inclusion of minority tribes; issues such as eliminating terrorist groups, ramping up oil production and exports, developing a new and united military, finding a solution to the massive migration problem, securing financial assets, and mitigating any existing financial crises.
  2. The tribes’ willingness to break away from the state in a partition. If the new government begins passing important legislation or drafts a new constitution without their full representation and blatantly ignores their political grievances, then the tribes could take action to form their own autonomous tribal states. A past indication occurred when the Amazigh tribe refused to recognize a Libyan constitution drafted by a constitutional assembly that lacked sufficient tribal representation because “we do not recognize those who do not recognize us,” (Nationalia, February 21, 2014). The Amazigh Council then announced its intention to create an Amazigh-only Parliament (Ibid.). A similar indication occurred when Toubou and Tuareg militia leaders “threatened to pursue regional autonomy for Fezzan” when one of the former Libyan transitional governments cancelled “fake” ID cards held by the Tuareg and Toubou (Lacher, Security Assessment in North Africa, February 2014).
  3. The tribes’ willingness to hold oil resources as collateral to gain full representation in the new government. An alternative to tribal partition in response to the lack of political inclusion or civil rights could take place in the form of holding resources as collateral. Considering oil production would be a priority for the new government, the takeover of oilfields, pipelines, or production facilities by tribes would impair the government’s ability to control its own resources needed to rebuild the country. The Libya Herald points out that the Amazigh, Toubou, and Tuareg are all “within striking distance from one sort of oil facility or another” (Zaptia, Libya Herald, July 27, 2016), making this action a real possibility for any of the minority tribes. Past indications occurred in October 2013 when armed Toubou tribesmen blockaded the Sharara oilfield (Lacher, Security Assessment in North Africa, February 2014); in late October 2013 when an Amazigh group occupied the Mellitah terminal and threatened to cut the gas flow to Italy if the Amazigh representation in the constitutional drafting committee was not increased (Pack and Cook, Majalla, December 9, 2013); a day later when a Tuareg group shut down the southern Sharara oilfield demanding “greater access to citizenship registration, development of local areas, and the reinstatement of local council members rejected by the central government,” (Pack and Cook, Majalla, December 9, 2013); and in December 2013 and January 2014 when the Toubou occupied the Sarir power station to “demand greater representation in Kufra’s municipal government,” (McGregor, The Jamestown Foundation, January 23, 2014).
  4. The existence of belief systems on the nationalist side that vary from fiercely nationalist to a milder version of the nationalist ideology, as well as the relative strength of their supporting groups. Once the nationalists achieve a real victory, there may be various levels of beliefs that impact the reach of the government’s anti-Islamist agenda. There are certainly those that are fiercely nationalist, like General Haftar, but there may also be factions of the nationalist coalition that see a risk in completely excluding the Islamists from a post-war Libya or view such actions as indicative of a dictatorship. Haftar’s Libyan National Army and Libya’s actual military forces appear to fall under Haftar’s fiercely nationalist ideology. Armed factions from Zintan are strong opponents of both the General National Congress and Islamists in general (Al Jazeera, June 2, 2014), so they too would probably rank closer to the side that wants to rid Libya of Islamist groups altogether. The other end of the spectrum – which fought in the nationalist coalition during the war but exhibits less willingness to embrace the nationalist ideology – is the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), led by Ibrahim Jadhran. In 2014, the government announced its agreement with the Council of Representatives “to work together and defeat Islamist terror,” (CIPPE, September 4, 2014). Two years later, Jadhran – who considers himself a moderate Muslim – has taken a middle ground. “We stood by the government, but at the time the National Congress started to lean toward the Islamists and the parliament [Council of Representatives] leaned towards the militarization of the state and the return of a dictatorship. So we saw that we were the only ones standing in the middle,” (Nathan, Politico, August 25, 2016). If the nationalist coalition defeats the Islamists, the Petroleum Facilities Guard would still exist. Since the PFG protects most of the country’s oil industry, it would probably be coerced into supporting the new government – even though the PFG provides little to no support for the strong nationalist ideology. The PFG has over 20,000 men in its ranks, which does not compare to the combined strength of the stronger nationalist factions (see Mitchell, Nationalist Forces I and II), but does have the potential to force a strong nationalist government to consider a less-extreme stance on an Islamist crackdown – especially considering that the PFG protects Libya’s most important source of income.
  5. Willingness of the new government to go beyond dissolving Islamist parties and crack down on prominent Islamist political and militia leaders. If leaders of the nationalist government are driven by a strict anti-Islamist agenda, they will be more willing to crack down on Islamists – in the same way that Egypt cracked down on Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood (Al Jazeera, December 29, 2013). A past indication highlighting a means of justification occurred when the nationalist government labeled Libya Dawn (the Islamist-dominated armed coalition supporting the General National Congress) as a terrorist group on the same level as Ansar al-Sharia (Wehrey and Lacher, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 6, 2014; St. John, Libya: Continuity and Change, May 15, 2015); which is identical to incidents when Egyptian authorities claimed that Islamists were arrested on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization (Al Jazeera, December 29, 2013).
  6. The level of inclusion of former Qaddafi officials. Contrary to an Islamist victory where the government would ban former Qaddafi officials from power, the nationalist government would likely allow Qaddafi officials to participate. During the civil war, the Council of Representatives took legislative action to allow former Qaddafi officials to be involved in politics, and made no effort to purge its military forces of Qaddafi military officers. Past indications occurred when the Council of Representatives revoked the 2013 Political Isolation Law that banned Qaddafi officials from participating in government (BBC News, February 2, 2015); when the nationalist coalition included “elements of the Qaddafi-era armed forces” (Watanabe, Center for Security Studies, June 21, 2016); and when the political advisor of the head of the Council of Representatives, Abdallah Atamna, confirmed that “some officers inside the army led by General Khalifa Haftar are supporters of Qaddafi” and that the Council of Representatives itself included “members and workers who are Qaddafi supporters,” (Libya Prospect, October 26, 2016).
  7. The willingness of pro-Qaddafi tribes to change their allegiance to the nationalist government. If Salafist groups – particularly the Islamic State – are being progressively defeated by the nationalist forces, and if the nationalist government announces its inclusion of former Qaddafi allies, the pro-Qaddafi tribes that had ties to Salafist groups will likely be more willing to shift their allegiance to the government. If the desire to regain political influence in the sole Libyan government (like these tribes had under Qaddafi’s regime) is strong, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  8. The ability of Salafist groups to reinforce their ranks. By denouncing the new nationalist government, the Salafists can launch a new propaganda campaign calling for jihadists to come to Libya and overthrow the kafir government in hopes of establishing a true Islamic state. Especially if the pro-Qaddafi tribes shift their support to the government, Salafist groups will face a shortage in fighters and may be forced to heavily recruit from outside the country. The ability to increase its ranks of fighters will allow Salafist groups to renew the insurgency.
  9. The level of territorial defeat that cause the Salafists to change strategy. Libya’s complex civil war has fostered an environment where Salafist groups can hold territory and govern the inhabitants as Islamic semi-states (notably Derna and Sirte). However, once the nationalist forces defeat the Islamists, the Salafist groups will be the last remaining opponents that hinder the reconstruction of Libya. If nationalist forces – possibly with the military support of external actors – launch military operations to reclaim Salafist-held areas and begin to make significant progress, there is the possibility that these groups could shift to a more decentralized, state-less strategy driven by assassinations and deadly attacks on civilian populations. Ryan and Johnston discuss the Islamic State’s progressive loss of territory and a similar strategic shift beginning to take shape (War on the Rocks, October 18, 2016). In their report on jihadist strategy and centralized vs. decentralized strategies (War on the Rocks, November 10, 2016), Clarke and Gartenstein-Ross discuss the strategy shift faced by ISIS leaders that Libyan Salafist groups would also face in the midst of territorial loss.
  10. Ability of the new government to integrate militias into the new military. If the new government continues to rely on a mix of military units and militias without integrating the latter under the same chain of command (the militias that were loyal to Operation Dignity) to fulfill the role of the military, the government risks losing the cohesion of its coalition, and therefore will not be able to sufficiently address the Salafist insurgency.
  11. Ability of the government to eliminate, or at least contain, the Salafist groups. In order to contain and eliminate this insurgency, the government will need a strong, centralized military and external assistance. A capable fighting force also needs a leader that can successfully destroy Salafist strongholds. A past indication occurred when General Haftar and his coalition successfully defeated and repelled Salafist groups from areas in eastern Libya, although at the alleged expense of excessive collateral damage (Chorin, Forbes, September 16, 2016).
  12. The level of support offered by external actors to help stabilize Libya. The United States and European Union will likely offer various types of support, particularly to address the massive migration problem stemming from Libya’s shores. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates will also likely assist the new nationalist government as part of their regional interest to undermine and ultimately prevent political Islamic movements from coming to power. The likelihood of a successful nationalist Libya increases as the level of support offered to the new government by the international community increases. However, countries like Turkey and Qatar – who are pro-Islamist and backed the Islamist coalition – will likely denounce the new government as illegitimate when it takes action to ban Islamist movements.
  13. The severity of the migration crisis. Europe’s migrant crisis will play a key role in how quickly the European Union recognizes the government’s legitimacy and offers support. If the number of refugees heading towards Europe significantly decreases by the time the nationalist government takes power, the EU may not be as quick to grant recognition without first seeing what type of government lies just across the Mediterranean (especially focused on the incorporation of democratic values). However, if the migrant flow remains steady or increases, Europe may forsake caution in order to gain the nationalist government’s assistance in mitigating the migrant flow from Libya.
  14. The UK’s willingness to act unilaterally to mitigate the migrant crisis. If the European Union is still experiencing a migrant crisis and has no viable solutions, the United Kingdom may act unilaterally to drastically reduce the number of migrants coming from Libya’s shores. A past indication occurred when the UK offered drones and warships to combat the human smuggling networks in Libya that facilitate the migrant flow (RT, May 18, 2015).
  15. The level of Russia’s desire to be involved in a post-war Libya led by a nationalist government. There are several incentives that could convince Moscow to play a large role in Libya after the nationalists achieve military victory. First, the new Libyan military would need to be rebuilt from the ground up, meaning significant arms deals and military training by foreign advisers. Second, Libya will need new technology to boost its oil production. Third, a friendly Libyan government may offer Russia the chance to expand its oil interests in the country. Fourth, Libya will need help rebuilding its entire country, which could offer Russia the chance to gain influence and acquire a key ally in the region. This could also gain Moscow the use of key Libyan ports in the Mediterranean. Past indications that support Russian incentives occurred when Russian companies had significant investments in Libya’s oil and gas sectors just prior to the 2011 revolution (which highlights the fact that Russia indeed has energy interests there) (Deutsche Welle, August 31, 2011); when Libyan oil producers set a meeting in Moscow with Russian companies to discuss Libya’s need for Russian technology in the oil industry (Sputnik, May 19, 2016); when Russia was the only country that was willing to print currency for the central bank branch under the nationalist government – despite the fact that a unity government already existed (Lewis, Reuters, June 3, 2016); when General Haftar made an official request to the Russian government to supply his military forces with weapons and military equipment (which highlights the serious potential for Russia to be the military supplier of a nationalist government) (Libyan Express, September 28, 2016); and when Russian military advisers allegedly arrived in eastern Libya to support Haftar’s nationalist forces – which may indicate Russia’s preference for General Haftar and the nationalist coalition (The Libya Observer, November 8, 2016).

Bibliography

Feature Photo: Posted on the Council of Representatives Facebook page, May 30, 2016

Adam Nathan, “Militiaman who became Libya’s oil kingpin,” Politico, August 25, 2016

Aidan Lewis, “Separate banknotes symbols of Libyan disunity, financial disarray,” Reuters, June 3, 2016

“Amazigh Supreme Council boycotts Libyan Constitutional Assembly election,” Nationalia, February 21, 2014

Andrew McGregor, “Tripoli Battles Shadowy Qaddafists While Tribal Rivals Fight Over Southern Libya,” The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Monitor, January 23, 2014

Colin Clarke and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “How Will Jihadist Strategy Evolve as the Islamic State Declines?” War on the Rocks, November 10, 2016

“Egypt widens crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood,” Al Jazeera, December 29, 2013

Ethan Chorin, “A ‘Rogue’ General is Breaking Libya’s Stalemate,” Forbes, September 16, 2016

Frederic Wehrey and Wolfram Lacher, “Libya’s Legitimacy Crisis,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 6, 2014

“Gaddafi supporters and Haftar” Libya Prospect, October 26, 2016

“Haftar asks Russia to lift arms embargo and to apply the Syrian scenario in Libya,” Libyan Express, September 28, 2016

Jason Pack and Haley Cook, “Breaking the Libyan Oil Blockade,” Majalla, December 9, 2013

“Libya Needs Russian Technology to Return Country’s Oil Industry to Normal,” Sputnik, May 19, 2016

“Libya revokes bill which banned Gaddafi-era officials from office,” BBC News, February 2, 2015

“Libya’s former rebels to keep oil flowing amid Islamist surge,” CIPPE, September 4, 2014

Lisa Watanabe, “Libya – in the Eye of the Storm,” Center for Security Studies, June 2016

“Mapping Libya’s armed groups,” Al Jazeera, June 2, 2014

“Migrant crisis: UK offers drones, warships to help tackle human traffickers in Libya,” RT, August 26, 2015

Patrick Ryan and Patrick B. Johnston, “After the Battle for Mosul, Get Ready for the Islamic State to go Underground,” War on the Rocks, October 18, 2016

Ronald Bruce St. John, Libya: Continuity and Change, Routledge, May 15, 2015

“Russian experts are supporting Haftar’s forces via Egyptian-Emirati assistance,” The Libya Observer, November 8, 2016

“Russian business interests are casualty of Libyan conflict,” Deutsche Welle, August 31, 2011

Sami Zaptia, “A wider political settlement is a prerequisite to increased Libyan oil production? Analysis,” Libya Herald, July 27, 2016

Wolfram Lacher, “Libya’s Fractious South and Regional Instability,” Security Assessment in North Africa, February 2014

Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2.3 Libya’s Partition

In our previous article, we detailed a spillover scenario where conflict spills over in all directions, including Europe, Algeria, Niger, and Egypt. This article is focusing on possible scenarios depicting Libya’s partition that could stem from the Libyan war. In the first scenario, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes move from ideas of autonomy to outright declaring independence and breaking away from the Libyan state as a result of marginalization and lack of security. In the second scenario, Libyans begin declaring independence and breaking away from the rest of Libya along provincial lines. In the last scenario, Libya splits apart along a north-south axis located through or close to Sirte – essentially East Libya and West Libya – with the Islamists, Misratans, Amazigh, and Tuareg in the west, and the nationalist forces, federalists, and Toubou in the east.

Provincial: Provincial refers to Libya’s three provinces – Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan

Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.

Sub-scenario 2.3 Libya’s Partition

Tribalism, lack of faith in a unity government, the lack of security, economic insecurity, opposition to groups in power, and exclusion from or grievances with the political sphere are the primary factors that contribute to Libya’s partition. It is important to note that tribal independence may also occur after a partition along provincial lines or along a north-south axis located through Sirte.

scenarios, Libyan scenario, Libyan war, Libya's partition, strategic foresight, warning, early warning, geopolitics, uncertainty, geopolitical risk, risk management
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Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of exhaustion from years of conflict. The longer the conflict continues, the more likely the involved actors succumb to exhaustion. Higher levels of exhaustion from conflict increase the likelihood of the competing sides to settle for partition, rather than full victory.
  2. Level of faith in a unity government. If the rival factions distrust or have no faith in a unity government, they will lean towards full victory or outright partition in order to maintain their own type of governance. A past indication occurred when the Council of Representatives passed a vote of no confidence in the UN-backed unity government (“Libyan parliament scuppers UN-backed unity government,” Deutsche Welle, August 22, 2016).
  3. The level of security throughout the country. One of the primary functions of a state is to maintain stability and defend its citizens. With a civil war raging and security forces lacking or non-existent, the rival factions and tribes provide for their own security. The lack of proper security increases the likelihood of the rival groups pushing for independent states. Furthermore, the lack of security heavily contributes to the weakening of the state, which in turn weakens the nation. The more weakened the nation, the higher the likelihood of partition.
  4. Increased influence of tribalism throughout Libya. As civil war drags on and conditions deteriorate, it’s likely that tribalism will increase. Increased tribalism will increase the likelihood of partition, particularly a partition along tribal lines.
  5. Level of political inclusion for minority tribes. If minority tribes continue to be excluded or underrepresented at the state level, they will more likely push for an independent state with a tribal government.
  6. Willingness to partition Libya into independent states, rather than unite as one people. If the rival governments are more willing to partition the country and Libyan people rather than unite for the sake of Libya’s future, the likelihood of this scenario increases.

Sub-scenario 2.3.1 Partition Along Tribal Lines

As the conflict continues, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes increasingly see that their involvement is helping preserve a Libyan state that fails to include them – involvement that is taking a toll on their people. This mentality increases as the war drags on, which soon causes the tribes to think that their people would be better off in an independent state where tribalism is the belief-system behind the state.

scenarios, Libyan scenario, Libyan war, Libya's partition, strategic foresight, warning, early warning, geopolitics, uncertainty, geopolitical risk, risk managementWith previous rhetoric for autonomy coming to the forefront and progressively escalating, the tribes confer with their tribal leaders and councils to come to an official decision. The lack of security, lack of economic development and inclusion by the state, marginalization and outright aggression by Arab tribes, and opposition to foreign “intervention” (assuming that foreign soldiers and government personnel are operating in tandem with the Libyan government(s)) push these tribes to forego autonomy and outright declare full independence from the Libyan state and establish their own tribal state ruled by tribal councils and courts. As all three minority tribes declare independence – and it is possible that a declaration of full independence by one tribe will influence the others to do the same – much of southern Libya is essentially partitioned from the rest of the country, with a small autonomous Amazigh state in the north. A partition along tribal lines significantly limits the power of the national government in Libya, or the fighting between contending national governments, and threatens to influence additional secessionist movements.

Furthermore, the whole strategic and geopolitical outlook of the region is fundamentally altered. The primary issue stems from international recognition. Some states may support independent Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou states, while others do not – of which these differing positions may cause further political or military conflict.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. Level of tribal resentment towards the competing governments. If the minority tribes continue to feel excluded from power – despite allying with the rival governments – they will be more likely to push for independent tribal states.
  2. The level of marginalization and aggression by Arab tribes towards the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou. If Arab tribes continue to fight with the minority tribes for territory and influence, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou may push for independent states in order to legitimize their territorial claims.
  3. Level of opposition to foreign involvement in Libya. Considering foreign intervention’s effect on Libya’s minority tribes throughout history (see Mitchell, Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I, II, and III), the tribes will be more willing to oppose the rival governments and declare independence for themselves if foreign forces are operating alongside the Islamists or nationalists.
  4. The progression of rhetoric from autonomy to full independence. If tribes begin moving from the autonomy rhetoric to independence rhetoric, the likelihood of this scenario significantly increases (see Lavoix, PhD Thesis, 2005, for how this occurred in Cambodia). Furthermore, if one tribe begins a move for independence, it may cause the other two minority tribes to change their rhetoric as well.
  5. Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 also act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.3.2 Partition Along Provincial Lines

After a long period of conflict, the Islamists, Misratans, nationalists, and tribes reach a military stalemate. Exhausted by continuous fighting, but not wanting to submit to a government dominated by the enemy, the Islamists, nationalists, and even the tribes, look for an alternative. Fuelled by their own abilities to provide security, governance, and social services in their own territory, as well as by enmity against the enemy, the competing sides push for independence and acceptance of partition. The Toubou and Tuareg tribes in the southern province of Fezzan are already on the verge of independence, and the primary coalitions in northern Libya are essentially divided on provincial lines. Having abandoned the hope that a unity government representing them is possible, the opposing coalitions partition Libya along the country’s historical provincial lines and declare self-governing entities. In this way, each new government can perform the functions needed for each new country (printing money, overseeing oil exports, foreign relations, etc.). In each ex-province now a state, Libyans can elect strong leadership and accomplish state functions on that level.

The Islamists and Misrata primarily become the leading force for the new Tripolitania, the nationalists for the new Cyrenaica – which is also the heart of Libya’s federalist movement, and the Tuareg and Toubou tribes share the power in the southern province of Fezzan.

scenarios, Libyan scenario, Libyan war, Libya's partition, strategic foresight, warning, early warning, geopolitics, uncertainty, geopolitical risk, risk management
Historical provinces of Libya

Similar to sub-scenario 2.3.1, the whole strategic and geopolitical outlook of the region is fundamentally altered. The primary issue stems from international recognition. We could imagine that countries like Turkey and Qatar immediately recognize the Islamist-dominated Tripolitania, while countries like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates immediately grant recognition to Cyrenaica, which is dominated by the nationalists – led by people like General Haftar. Recognition for the Tuareg and Toubou state of Fezzan may also be mixed. The international community’s differing positions on legitimacy and recognition have the serious potential to cause further political or military conflict in Libya, and the whole region.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. Willingness to partition the country along provincial lines. If all the powerful factions agree to split the country along provincial lines, the likelihood significantly increases. The trouble lies in the rival governments conceding to partition along these provincial borders despite territorial gains made during the war. Furthermore, the Toubou and Tuareg would have to agree to share power in the province of Fezzan (see indicator below).
  2. Toubou and Tuareg’s willingness to share power in the southern province. In order for Libya to partition along tribal lines, the Toubou and Tuareg tribes in Fezzan province have to agree to share power. They will have to come to a lasting agreement on territorial control – particularly over vital trade routes (see Mitchell, Tribal Dynamics and Civil War II and III). If the two tribes come to a territorial agreement and are willing to share power in Fezzan, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  3. Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 also act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.3.3 Partition Along North-South Axis (Islamists vs. Nationalists)

scenarios, Libyan scenario, Libyan war, Libya's partition, strategic foresight, warning, early warning, geopolitics, uncertainty, geopolitical risk, risk managementSimilar to sub-scenario 2.3.2, the various sides are exhausted by civil war, but are unwilling to unite under one government. Driven by exhaustion from conflict, ego, and belief in their abilities to fulfill state functions better than their opponents, the opposing sides split Libya along a north-south axis with the Islamists, Misratans, Amazigh, and Tuareg in the west, and the nationalists and Toubou in the East. Considering Sirte’s strategic location between east and west Libya (Fasanotti, The Atlantic, August 27, 2016), the axis begins there – or very close to the city – and goes south. With territorial control more or less established, the rival governments declare independence for their respective portion of the Libyan state. As a result, both governments compete for international legitimacy, and begin structuring their own political system, military and police forces, social services, currency, and oil ministries. Given Libya’s geographic climate and location of natural resources, there is naturally some additional conflict over water and oil resources that can determine the survival of these now independent “states”.

The difference between this scenario and scenario 2.3.2 is that the Tuareg, Toubou, and Amazigh tribes are more involved with the competing governments, and go along with an east-west split, rather than forming their own independent tribal states.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of tribal inclusion with the Islamist and nationalist governments. In order for Libya to be partitioned along a north-south axis, the Amazigh, Toubou and Tuareg will have to agree to be part of the partition and submit to the rule of their respective governments. If the Islamist and nationalist governments better include these tribes, as well as address their other grievances, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  2. Willingness of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou to be included in these two new states, rather than form their own independent tribal states. Building upon the first indicator above, if the minority tribes are better included in government and have their grievances addressed, they will likely be more willing to be included in one of the two new states, rather than form their own independent mini-states – which increases the likelihood of this scenario.
  3. Ability of the competing governments to agree on a dividing border. The competing governments must agree on a fixed border in order for this scenario to occur. If one side holds more territory, they will likely not be as willing to scale back their territory in order to abide by a border. However, if both governments are able to reach a binding agreement on a fixed border along a north-south axis, the likelihood of this scenario significantly increases.
  4. Indicators 1, 2, 3, and 5 of sub-scenario 2.3 also act here in a similar way.

Bibliography

Featured Photo: Council of Representatives Government posted on the Council of Representatives Facebook Page, 1 September 2016

Federica Saini Fasanotti, “Why Partitioning Libya Might Be the Only Way to Save It,” The Atlantic, August 27, 2016

Helene Lavoix, “’Nationalism’ and ‘Genocide’: The Construction of Nation-ness, Authority, and Opposition, The Case of Cambodia (1861-1979),” PhD Thesis, University of London – School of Oriental and African Studies, 2005

Jon Mitchell, “The Libyan War Spills Over to Egypt, Algeria, Niger and Europe – Scenarios for the Future of Libya,” The Red Team Analysis Society, July 11, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 13, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 20, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (3),” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 11, 2015

“Libyan parliament scuppers UN-backed unity government,” Deutsche Welle, August 22, 2016

 

Energy Geopolitics and Climate Politics: a Complicated Relationship

The geopolitical landscape at the end of the year 2015 is especially strange. In effect, it is both dominated by the enormous gathering of heads of states and governments in Paris for the “COP 21”, which aims to make possible an international treaty on climate change, and by the war against the Islamic State, as the French president works to make possible a new cooperation between the U.S.-led coalition and Russia against the common foe (Yves Bourdillon, “Hollande, Poutine et Obama se liguent contre Daech”, Les Echos, 17/11/2015) after the terrible attacks on Paris on 13 November, following the downing of the Russian Plane on 31 October, the attack in Lebanon on 12 November and the bombing in Tunis on 24 November.

One must keep in mind that the extremely rapid and powerful current climate change is the consequence of the continuous injection of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution around 1750, due to the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas, which are powering our societies (IPCC, fifth report, 2014). The yearly rounds of international negotiations on climate change aim at curbing down the greenhouse gas emissions.

240px-Christiana_Figueres_2011

In the same time, the world economy is shaken by the effects of the abundance of cheap oil on the energy market (Tyler Durden, “Presenting BofA’s “Number One Black Swan Event For The Global Oil Market In 2016“, 11/20/2015, Zero Hedge). This abundance is created by the economic competition between Saudi Arabia and other producers, especially the U.S. shale oil and gas industry, which takes the form of high production and low barrel prices (Valantin, “The Kingdom is back”, The Red Team Analysis Society, December 15, 2014).

In other terms, the energy geopolitics is going through a deep transformation, driven by the very complex interactions between the energy and resources geopolitics, which are contributing to organize the international relations since the 19th century (William Engdahl, A Century of war, Anglo-american oil politics and the new world order, 2004), and what we call here “climate politics”, which are the politics that aim at regulating the interactions between the modern uses of energy and the global climate.

Thus, we need to investigate how these politics are both in contradiction with each other, while combining, and thus transforming each other, while participating in the emergence of an international system that integrates the new forms of necessary cooperation induced by the mitigation and adaptation to the lasting consequences of climate change.

The great contradiction: energy geopolitics and climate change

Energy and resource geopolitics seems to be in total contradiction with climate change. In effect, the current industrial and consumerist worldwide civilization depends on the continuous production of oil, its refining and distribution and selling of oil products all around the world (Michael Klare, Rising powers, shrinking planet, 2008).

Traffic_Logger_jam_in_MubaiThis dependence is an extremely powerful principle of organisation for national and international politics. In effect, the world economy and the daily life of 7 billions human beings is powered by the daily consumption of 98 millions barrels of oil (“Oil”, International energy agency).

For example, since 1944 a large part of the foreign, defence and security policy of the United States is organised around the necessity to guarantee oil imports from the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, (Michael Klare, Blood and Oil, 2005).

The importance of the oil flow from the Middle East to the U.S. has evolved in conjunction with a massive U.S. military built-up in the region. It has been exem320px-Disabled_Iraqi_T-54A,_T-55,_Type_59_or_Type_69_tank_and_burning_Kuwaiti_oil_fieldplified by the building of permanent bases all around the Persian Gulf, for example in Qatar, and by, among other factors, the direct involvement of the U.S. military against Iraq during the Gulf war in 1990-1991, as well as by the U.S.-led massive operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 (Gordon and Trainor, The Endgame: the inside story of the struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, 2012).

The coordination of U.S. forces in the Middle East and in Central Asia is assured by the US Central command. Furthermore, U.S. sea power is committed to ensure American energy security in this region with the fifth and the sixth fleet (Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, 2004).

320px-US_Navy_040703-N-4374S-006_USS_John_F._Kennedy_CV_67_transits_the_Suez_Canal_while_transferring_from_Sixth_Fleet_to_Fifth_Fleet_areas_of_operationThe area of responsibility, as assigned by the US Navy, of the fifth fleet is the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, where it patrols and intervenes in the region dominated by Saudi Arabia, the Arab United emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, i.e. major oil and natural gas producers, in order to maintain and secure the US national interests (ibid.). The U.S. sixth fleet patrols the Mediterranean side of the Middle East (ibid.).

Another example of the deep intricacy between energy policy and geopolitics is the world-scale Chinese strategy named “the New Silk Road” (Valantin, “China, the New Silk Road and resource security”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 18 may 2015).

Парад_в_честь_70-летия_Великой_Победы_-_05

“The New Silk Road”, or “One Road, One Belt” initiative, seeks to both expand the influence of China and attract the resources necessary to answer the huge Chinese needs and thus demand in energy, commodities and products necessary to a developing society and economy of one billion and four hundred million people, in an immense country with limited natural resources (Craig Simon, The Devouring Dragon, 2013). For example, China imports daily 7,4 million barrels of oil, thus more than the U.S., which imports 7,2 million barrels of oil a day (“Pétrole : la Chine importe plus que les USA”, Le Figaro avec Reuters, 11/05/2015).

These are but two examples of the way energy geopolitics is structured by the world energy market and national energy necessities, because, on the five continents, urban and rural life, political authorities, culture, and social cohesion from the local to the national scale, depend, among other factors, for its material and immaterial continuity on the combustion of hydrocarbons and coal (Andrew Nikiforuk, The Energy of slaves, Oil and the new servitude, 2012).

In other words, modern energy geopolitics is a system that seeks to guarantee the continuous flow of oil, natural gas and coal, knowing that each and every territorial political entity needs this flow, without which it is not possible to produce electricity, to power transports, to produce food, to process water, to develop services, etc. (Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy, Political power in the age of oil, 2013). Energy geopolitics with its political contradictions, and its immense potential for violence, is a fundamental dimension of the current human life on Earth.

In the same time, energy geopolitics has a totally unintended global consequence, which is the “securing” of the constant growth of greenhouse emissions, to the point that it has almost reached the very dangerous level of 400 parties per million in the atmosphere (NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory). Hatfield_Marine_Science_Center,_EPA_aerialThis trajectory, if is not curbed, will mean a global planetary warming of more than 2° from now to 2100, which will entail a global destruction of the life conditions upon which humanity and all the current animal and vegetal species depend (IPCC, ibid).

Thus, the great contradiction is in the way the current use of energy is aimed at maintaining the modern civilisation, while endangering it through its consequences on the climate of our planet.

The great hybridation: energy geopolitics meets climate change

From a political perspective, the current global climate change is the driver of a deploying gigantic strategic crisis, on a scale unknown in human history, except maybe in the 12th century B.C., when the civilisations of the Mediterranean world were destroyed by the connection of calamities that affected these interdependent societies (Erick H. Cline, 1177 B.C, the year civilization collapsed, 2014).

In effect, the climate is the behaviour of the atmosphere (John Mc Neill, Something new under the sun, an environmental History of the twentieth century, 2000). As such, it interacts with the totality of the ocean, of the water cycle, of the land, of the biosphere, and human life conditions and activities (Tim Flannery, Here on Earth, a twin history of the Planet Earth and of the human race, 2011.

A rapid climate change induces a rapid change of the basic human life conditions, i.e. access to water, food production, social cohesion, the integrity of infrastructures, and other basic life conditions. The permanence of these conditions is at the core of the social contract and of the legitimacy of political authorities (Norbert Elias, The civilizing process, vol.II, State formation and civilization, 1982).

320px-Forestfire2However, climate change is hammering these basics of the modern human life, endangering societies, governments and international stability (Valantin, “Environment, climate change, war and state”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 16, 2015).

For example, the Syrian civil war turned international has been “prepared” by a long drought going from 2006 to 2010, which destroyed crops, turned 60% of the country into a very arid place, killing the livestock and triggering the rural exodus of dozens of thousands of families into unprepared cities (“Syria: Drought driving farmers to the cities“, IRIN, 2 September 2009). The numerous hardships that awaited these refugees, as well as urban-dwellers, created deep tensions that pre-existed and were invested into the civil war, started in 2011 (Werrell and Femia, The Arab Spring and Climate Change, 2013.

320px-An_Aerial_View_of_the_Za'atri_Refugee_CampThe Syrian case thus reveals how extreme climate events and geopolitics have started to interact and how the former can reinforce social unrest and political violence.

Furthermore, as in the Arctic, climate change can also fuel energy geopolitics. Due to specific atmospheric conditions that concentrate the greenhouse gas in the region, the Arctic warms faster than the rest of the planet (Charles Emmerson, The future history of the Arctic, 2010). During the summer, Arctic sea ice increasingly melts. Consequently, a larger portion of the ocean is ice-free, and absorbs a larger quantity of solar heat. In return, the melting is more powerful, and the freezing season starts later. The whole process is sustained by what some climatologists and glaciologists call the “Arctic death spiral” (Joe Romm, “Arctic Death Spiral: Sea Ice Extent Hits Record Winter Low As Thickness Collapses », Climate progress, Mars 26, 2015).

As shown by Joe Romm (ibid.), if, in 1978, the ice sea surface at the end of summer was covering 7.2 millions km2, it sharply declined since then. Its surface was of only 5.3 millions of km2 in 2005, 4.9 in 2007, and 3.6 in 2012 (NASA: climate change and warming). The process is not linear, and shows ups and downs, but the trend is clear: in summer, Arctic sea ice melts quickly, on a massive scale, and the phenomenon accelerates (US National Snow and ice data centre).

240px-Summer_Storm_Spins_Over_Arctic_-_Flickr_-_NASA_Goddard_Photo_and_Video

This geophysical transformation of the Arctic region turns it into a geopolitical attractor in the context of the current global competition for energy and resources, because the Arctic deposits could represent 30% of natural gas reserves and almost 13% of undiscovered oil deposits, not mentioning precious metals such as platinum (Michael Klare, The Race for what’s left, 2012).

Russia is working at quickly militarizing its economic exclusive zone there, and at starting the development of Arctic natural gas deposits (Emmerson, ibid). Meanwhile, it develops the Siberian sea route going from the Bering Strait to Northern Europe, and multiplies joint efforts with China in this endeavor (Valantin, “Arctic Fusion: Russian and Chinese convergent strategies”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 23 June 2014).

In that case, climate change opens the possibility for new access to hydrocarbons, which development and use will only further the intensity … of climate change. One could say that the dynamics of energy geopolitics are reinforced by the climate change that they fuel.

Towards the “Anthropocene security”?

The link between the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas, the emissions of greenhouse gas and the current global climate change is a scientific epic that 160px-James_Hansen_Oslo_2010started at the end of the 19th century. At the start of the 1980s, numerous researchers, and among them James Hansen (James Hansen, Storms of my Grand children, the truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity, 2009), demonstrated that climate change was accelerating, due to the modern uses of energy, and that it could become dangerous at a global level. In 1988, the United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on climate change (IPCC), in charge of a quadrennial assessment of the phenomenon.

In 1992, it was decided, at the first Earth Summit, that climate change had to be put under control. This led to the launch of yearly international negotiations aiming at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions, and thus to “climate politics”, i.e. politics aiming at regulating the changes in the atmospheres through diplomacy (Spencer R. Weart, The discovery of global warming, 2003). Furthermore, these climate negotiations are meant to emulate national politics. In other words, the international negotiations on climate have been the emerging conditions of climate politics.

However, if climate politics is a tool to try to control climate change, energy geopolitics has as impact to nurture it. 

Beyond the contradictions between energy geopolitics and the climate politics that aim at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions, it appears that the negotiations in Paris will be about finding innovative ways to “domesticate” the new reality created by the carbon-induced development. This new reality is created by the interactions between the type of development adopted since the beginning of the industrial revolution and its globalisation, and the effects it has on the planetary life conditions.

This new reality is qualified as the “Anthropocene era”, i.e. the contemporary geological era that a growing number of geophysicists and biologists define as the current new geological and biological era. It is labelled as such because scientists identify the human species as, now, the principal source of pressure on the planetary environment (ZalasiewiczAnthropocene: a new epoch of geological time ?, 2011).

In other words, the COP 21 will be about the regulation of climate change through an attempt at politically controlling its anthropogenic causes.

Thus, one can wonder if the COP 21 is not going to be a surprising political experience where climate politics and energy geopolitics are going to meet in order to find a way not to collide. In effect, given the conditions of life on the human-changed Earth, what must be found is ways to “domesticate” the Anthropocene, i.e. to re-invent the notion of international security, by transcending notably the geopolitical tensions related to energy with a common planetary challenge.

These talks are a decisive political, geopolitical and strategic step in human history.

Let’s welcome them.

Jean-Michel Valantin, (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

 

 

 

Oil Flood (2) – Oil and Politics in a (Real) Multipolar World

The world oil flood is quickly rising. As we have seen in “Oil Flood (1): The Kingdom is Back”, the decisions taken by OPEC members and Russia not to curb oil production, while Saudi Arabia is forcing prices down, are much more about power politics and strategies than about economics and the “invisible hand” of the logic of “supply and demand”. We shall now focus on what the evolution of the current oil market reveals about current and future geopolitics.

320px-Opec_Gebäude_Wien_Helferstorferstraße_17Since the end of November, especially since the 27 November OPEC meeting, prices have kept falling down, while the main producers, chiefly among them Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, and the private U.S. companies, have all decided, for reasons of their own, to maintain their level of production, or to even increase it. On 5 January, oil prices even passed under 50 USD, while global oil production knows record highs (AFP, “Le baril de pétrole passe sous la barre des 50 dollars”, Le Point, 05/01/2015).

A brief review of the different explanations for this pattern shows that there are three main categories of analytical frameworks. The first one, which emerged as early as September and October 2014 is organized around the idea that the Saudi decision was a positive response to a U.S. demand, given the will of Washington to “sanction” Russia and its President Vladimir Putin for the tensions in Ukraine (Michael Klare, “Washington wields the oil weapon”,  Tom Dispatch, 9 October 2014).

Another school of thought sees the slump in prices as the will of Saudi Arabia to “punish” Russia for its support of Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad and of Iran, both adversaries, if not enemies, of the Saudi kingdom, while targeting the U.S.shale oil and gas industry, in order to re-conquer market shares (Tyler Durden,  “A Look inside the secret deal with Saudi Arabia that unleashed the Syrian bombing”, Zero Hedge, 09/25/2014).

Xi_Jinping_meet_Russian_Duma

A third category identifies China’s imports of oil as a driver for the market price. China would thus benefit from the lowering prices and be “manipulating” Russia, in an environment of quasi saturation of the world oil market (Pepe Escobar,  “Blowback after blowback for the Empire of Chaos”, Gold Switzerland, the Matterhorn interview, 22 Dec. 2014).

Each of these approaches has very real merits. Nonetheless, it seems that these analyses are altered by a common blind spot: they fail to see that they describe the world of today, with concepts, ideas, systems of representations that come from yesterday, and are on their way to becoming obsolete. And so, they block our ability to understand what the current evolution of the oil market is revealing.

Taking pain

The current fall of the oil prices has a common effect on the different oil producers: it inflicts them pain, and a lot of it. The political authorities of Saudi Arabia, for example, are much more comfortable with high oil prices, given the fact that they need to heavily subsidize the fuel used by Saudi citizens, in order to support the social cohesion of a society knowing rising social, gender, religious, and political tensions (John Kemp, “Money to burn: OPEC’s wasteful energy subsidies”, Reuters, May 16, 2014).

The Saudi authorities are also trying to alleviate coming environmental factors of tensions due to the way the kingdom uses too much water considering its reserves. As a result, desalinating seawater is necessary, knowing that the industrial process so involved is extremely costly. In effect, the Saudi 36 desalination The_Main_Water_Reservoir,_Muzahimiyah_(2807216425)stations pump more than 3.3 million cubic meters of water. The cost corresponded to 300.000 oil barrels, when the price of the oil barrel was around 110 USD. The price paid by consumers is more or less 0.12 USD, while the production cost was 3.20 USD (at 110 USD per barrel).

Meanwhile, the consumption of water rises by 8.8% each year (Ubaid Al Usaymy, “Saudi Arabia: the desalination nation”, Asharq Al Awsat, 2 july, 2013). In other terms, the Saudi decision to curb the oil prices raises very serious domestic and social issues, as the numbers of barrels needed to produce a cubic meter of water will increase.

In Russia, the diminishing benefits of oil connect with the Ruble crisis, the international tensions due to the bad relations with the U.S. and the European Union regarding Ukraine, and the related sanctions that were decided by Western countries. Nevertheless, there are few signs of actual direct tensions between Russia and the Saudi Kingdom, and it could even be said that the two countries are working towards closer relationships (Maria Dubovikova, “Russian Saudi cooperation on the rise?”,  Al Arabya News, 24 Nov. 2014), even if Russia badly needs high oil prices in order to maintain the post 1990s economic and social recovery, as well as its development projects (Marin Katusa, The Colder War, 2014).

In other terms, the big producers are willing to “take the pain” of their oil decisions.

The “Muhammad Ali strategy”?

This approach to the oil market by historically great producers reveals something particularly significant regarding the way they want to steer the international distribution of power.

Muhammad_Ali_visits_WashingtonWe shall call it the “Muhammad Ali strategy”, because of the strategy Muhammad Ali used against George Foreman during the heavyweight championship match on 30 October 1974, in Zaire. In order to surprise and exhaust his more powerful and younger adversary, Ali had trained himself to be punched while leaning in the ropes. After five rounds of taking the pain while giving some right hand unexpected hard punch, Ali started to counter-attack fiercely an exhausted Foreman and knocked him out (Norman Mailer, The Fight, 1975).

The “Muhammad Ali strategy” tells us much regarding what is now happening in, and through, the oil market. Some very tough players are preparing themselves and the rest of the world to the fact that they have decided to enter a new era.

In these new times, oil is used as a political tool in new ways, Michael Klare would even say a weapon (Klare, ibid), to assert that the region defined by the relations between Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East countries, as well as by the new Latin-America oil players, is now dominated by new struggles. Those have the political function of being the support upon which rests the intent of these players to make themselves known as the new dominant ones.

These struggles have, at least, a twofold function. First, they are used by the players to define the new political identity of the countries involved in this “Very Great Game” as “poles” of the multipolar world, finally emerged (Zorawar Daulet Sinhg, “The benefits of a multipolar world”, The Hindu, September 13, 2014).

Second, these struggles define an international political space, where their crossed influence and power-plays are competing with the U.S. influence with more and more efficiency and brutality. That is shown and foretold by the “Muhamad Ali strategy”: “taking the pain” goes with the very intention to inflict more of it, and to replace the heavyweight champion … even if it takes time and sustainable and enduring  willpower.

The time issue

Another thing countries as radically different as Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, among others, have in common, is their relation to time and strategy.

All these countries, their people and political authorities are rooted in an ancient history, defined by very tough strategic plays (John Keegan, A History of Warfare, 1993). For example, after one millennium of harshness, Russia went through the extreme Mur_Moskiewskiego_Kremla_lato_2013hardships of the Bolshevik revolution, Stalin’s Great Terror, the Second World War, and, in twenty-five years, had lost 75 millions of people (Michel Heller, Histoire de la Russie et de son empire, 1997). Then came the end of the Soviet regime, followed by the terrible 1990s, during which the Russian average life expectancy went from 65 to 55 years, in less than ten years (Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, 2008).

In the same time line, from the fifties to the beginning of the 2000s, the Russian oil infrastructures went derelict (Katusa, ibid), with a disastrous impact on the very basis of the Russian economy. Reconstructing these, putting Russia back on top of the oil food chain, while becoming the main producer for China (Valantin, “Arctic Fusion: Russia and China convergent strategies”, The Red Team Analysis Society, June 23, 2014), involves a strategy devised for the long-term, and the capacity to take, and give, political pain through oil strategies. The same can be said of players like Iran, or Saudi Arabia.

In other words, what the world experiences through the sustained fall in oil prices is that the multipolar world is ready to struggle for a long time in order to find an exit from the “unipolar moment”. This one was defined by the dominant influence of the United States and their European allies, knowing that Western governments are much more worried by the domestic political and financial impacts of “oil pain” than the oil producer governments and their societies. In effect, those are forced to learn to live in tough economic and political contexts.

However, a new issue arises: it is now necessary to wonder if the unexpected meeting of climate change and new radical ideologies, all over the world is not going to disrupt oil politics.

To be (soon) continued.

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: Public Domain, This Image was released by the United States Marine Corps with the ID 100922-M-7110J-091: Staff Sgt. Francisco Martinez, a platoon sergeant with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, takes a punch to the face during a boxing match, Sept. 22. Martinez, a 27-year-old native of St. Paul, Minn., and fellow Marines joined together with the British 40 Commando, British Royal Marines, for some physical training. The boxing matches attracted crowds of U.S. and UK Marines cheering on the fighters. Martinez said he is a former golden glove boxer and has been boxing for 15 years. 22 September 2010

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 144, Geopolitics also matters for businesses

Editorial – Geopolitics also matters for businesses – Among the big changes that the “Ukraine and Crimea crisis” are bringing or catalyzing, we may be seeing the end of the hegemonic belief that economics, and “business” only matter. Now that the E.U., its European members and the U.S. could be moving towards sanctions against Russia – at least if they want to be true to what they have said –  the corporate world seems to be discovering the huge impact those sanctions may have on each of them, as, for example, they may not be able to honour contracts and deliver goods as in the case of German Rheinmetall and may have to reimburse payments and pay heavy penalties, as in the case of French shipyard STX. Profits will of course be lowered, corporate strategy impacted, while employment and growth at macroeconomic level will be impacted. That Reuters underlines in its title that “sanctions rhetoric shakes companies, investors” [my emphasis] indicates the level to which geopolitics and international matters had been thought secondary to the rest over the last twenty to thirty years. The wake up call could be brutal and go as far as signifying bankruptcy for smaller businesses depending directly or indirectly upon those contracts newly questioned by potential sanctions and Russian potential counter-attacks.

Yet, there was no fatality here. First, the separation between geopolitics, economy, finance, monetary policy, domestic political dynamics, etc. has never existed in the real world. It was at best a convenient way to study different complex disciplines and at worst a (dangerous) ideological statement. Second, businesses, even small ones, can, as much as governments, access and develop strategic foresight and warning analysis for geopolitical matters. I am not here talking about a political risk approach that would only look at elections, or sovereign default risk, with as only policy options “we invest or not”, nor at economic intelligence aka industrial espionage nor either at the hardcore security approach to tactically protect employees and investment. I am here talking about real strategic foresight and warning, which allows for the development of scenarios and thus for the consideration of a whole range of actions BEFORE it is too late, from lobbying, to hedging, to treasury and financial policy to weather correctly complicated times, to real communication and search for solutions with partners in countries where sanctions may apply (that could at least mitigate medium to long-term negative impact), to even relocation of subsidiaries, of course considering second, third and fourth level impacts on reputation, trust, respect from partners, staff and governments, etc.. to a process which, them, through warning, helps steer properly policy and strategy.

Will businesses embrace this new uncertain geopolitical world or will they choose to become its victim? From their choice, and how it develops collectively at country (or actor to remain more neutral) level, will also depend the evolution of norms we evoked with the two previous issues of the Weekly (here and here), and the shape of the emerging world order.

Check also the extremely important paper regarding the possibility to have more than one international currency, which could lead to mammoth developments internationally. Those developments could potentially be accelerated by U.S. and E.U. financial/banking sanctions against Russia.

Click on the image to access the Weeklyweak signals, warning, businesses, Ukraine, Crimea

How to Analyze Future Security Threats (4): Scenarios and War

This post is the fourth of a series looking for a methodology that would fulfill the challenging criteria demanded by our time. Having clarified with the last post the approach and mindset for the building of our scenarios, we shall now move to the practical part, how to do it, focusing here, in this post on scenarios for war, before moving to scenarios for situations qualified as non-violent crises with the next post. Continue reading How to Analyze Future Security Threats (4): Scenarios and War

How to Analyze Future Security Threats (3): Scenarios as an Organic Living System

scenarios, future threats, Red (Team) Analysis SocietyThis post is the third of a series looking for a methodology that would fulfill the challenging criteria demanded by our time. We shall now focus on scenarios, which are a way to simulate how the actors we defined and described during the previous step interact, not only among themselves but also with their environment, up until the end of the chosen timeframe. Using the precedent post’s game of chess analogy, with scenarios we imagine the various ways the game may “end”. Continue reading How to Analyze Future Security Threats (3): Scenarios as an Organic Living System

Methodology to Analyze Future Security Threats (2): a Game of Chess

This post is the second of a series looking for a methodology that would fulfill the challenging criteria demanded by our time. Previously, we saw that a single “story” initially told at a general level, the political dynamics that are at the core of a polity, could be used to build the very specific model needed to answer a strategic foresight and warning (national security) question or a political risk interrogation.

Very practically, how shall we do that? How are generic dynamics going to help us with our task? How can we proceed? This is what we shall see now. Continue reading Methodology to Analyze Future Security Threats (2): a Game of Chess

Towards an Operational Methodology to Analyze Future Security Threats and Political Risk (1)

In this day and age of speed, not to say haste, unequally shared resources and wish to relatively easily obtain answers to complex questions, we are faced in strategic foresight and warning analysis (or political risk analysis) with a very serious challenge. We must choose a methodology that:

  • allows for a “good enough” analysis (Fein, 1994), i.e. an analysis that will allow for proper decisions to be taken;
  • can be used relatively quickly (the one minute crystal ball prediction will however remain impossible);
  • can be used relatively easily, without scaring both analysts and officers;
  • can be used, for most actors, relatively cheaply;
  • keep the analyst in control (most of the time opaque software and tools are regarded with suspicion);
  • allows for team and collective efforts;
  • transmits a minimum of knowledge in political science and international relations, as sometimes – or often – people analyzing political and international issues and related risks come from diverse backgrounds.

Continue reading Towards an Operational Methodology to Analyze Future Security Threats and Political Risk (1)