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Beyond the End of Globalisation – From the Brexit to U.S. President Trump

The world has entered a period where uncertainty rules and where surprises abound.

Focusing on 2016, the two major surprises usually singled out are the Brexit or the vote leading to the exit of the U.K. from the European Union, then the election of U.S. President Trump against favourite Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Even though a short-term focus could let us believe that the turmoil only or mainly hits “the West”, political and geopolitical surprises and uncertainties have multiplied worldwide, starting at least with the shock of the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008 and responses to it (see end note for some major instances*).

What is thus happening? How are we to tackle the uncertainty? Are these surprises related or discrete independent events that it would be wrong to link or try to understand together?

We shall start here with the 2016 surprises and related ongoing uncertainty, i.e. the Brexit and the U.S. Trump Presidency, and focus more particularly on the contradictions and questions that arise when we compare the two phenomena. We shall seek a framework for and elements of understanding, which can then be used in the development of scenarios for the future.

After having outlined the explanatory frameworks most used to describe the two surprises, we shall focus here on the first of them, globalisation. We shall look at populism, the second explanation with the next article.

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In this article, after having specified and defined globalisation, we shall explore the reactions of economic and financial actors. We shall point out that these reactions to the two events were often unexpected considering the anti-globalisation narrative, while also sometimes differing in each case. Using these unexpected results as indications and leads for further questions and research, we shall suggest that a new model of production might be emerging, a “nationalised globalisation”, leading potentially also to further geopolitical uncertainty. We shall then turn to the financial industry, start explaining the different behaviour in each case and envision possible tensions ahead, including political and geopolitical ones. Finally, we shall turn to the behaviour of the high-tech corporate actors, and suggest an explanation for their difference in each of the two cases, which goes beyond the classical anti-globalisation narrative.

Globalisation as an explanatory framework?

The Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President are most often lumped together and seen as similar. They are portrayed as anti-globalization reactions, and as exemplifying the rise of populism or nationalism, as evidenced by the following headlines and reports (among many others): Larry Elliott, “Globalisation backlash enters new phase with Trump win“, The Guardian, 9 Nov 2016; Anatole Kaletsky, Economist at Project Syndicate “Trump’s rise and Brexit vote are more an outcome of culture than economics” [populism and anti-globalisation], The Guardian, 9 Nov 2016; John Rennie Short, Prof. Political Geography, “The new globalization: Brexit and Donald Trump represent a different backlash to free trade“, Salon, 30 Nov 2016; Ronald F. Inglehart and Pippa Norris, “Trump, Brexit, and the rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash“, Faculty Research Working Paper Series, Harvard Kennedy School, 29 July 2016; Justin Sink et al. “Obama Says Brexit and Trump Powered by Globalization Fears“, Bloomberg, 15 Nov 2016;  Will Martin, “These charts show all the trade deals the anti-globalisation movement could destroy“, Business Insider UK, 15 Nov 2016, also quoting Deutsche Bank strategist George Saravelos: “If 2008 marked the trigger, this year is likely to be remembered for signaling the persistence of a new mega-trend: the peak, and likely unwind of globalisation”; Washington’s blog, “You’ll Only Understand Trump and Brexit If You Understand the Failure of Globalization“, 13 Nov 2016; etc.

Globalisation is difficult to define as various scholars provide different definitions, often shedding light upon different aspects of a complex and multi-dimensional dynamics, while understanding of the word changes outside social science. From a social science points of view, a general definition has nonetheless emerged:

“Globalization refers to fundamental changes in the spatial and temporal contours of social existence, according to which the significance of space or territory undergoes shifts in the face of a no less dramatic acceleration in the temporal structure of crucial forms of human activity…. [the related] alterations in humanity’s experiences of space and time are working to undermine the importance of local and even national boundaries in many arenas of human endeavor. ” (“Globalization“, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, First published Jun 21, 2002; substantive revision Jun 10, 2014).

The globalisation of free-trade and deregulation – what many outside social science implicitly mean by globalisation – is one aspect of this more fundamental definition of globalisation. It takes place through the factors of “deterritorialization”, “interconnectedness” and “velocity of social activity” (Stanford, ibid – the two remaining characteristics being long-term and multi-pronged process). That expression of globalisation is aptly described by Short (Ibid.) as rooted in the Washington Consensus and the willingness to promote open market and free trade, including because it was meant to be more conducive of peace, as claimed by the liberal and neo-liberal schools of international relations.

The anti-globalisation narrative let us expect that those responsible for the two surprises – i.e. those who support the Brexit and voted for it and those who support Trump and voted for him – did so because, mainly, they were against the free-trade and deregulation globalisation, or more exactly because they belonged to those people left aside by globalisation. Then, according to this narrative, the implementation of the Brexit by U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on the one hand, the governance of the Trump administration, on the other, would mean the end of globalisation as we knew it: i.e. the end of open market and free trade, notably in its multilateral component, the end of deregulation, while the state would find back a stronger role and the citizens would be better protected from the nefarious impacts of this economic globalisation.

Cadbury’s factory in Somerdale was closed in 2010 after take over by Kraft (BBC News, “Cadbury factory closure by Kraft ‘despicable‘”, 10 Feb 2010). Another 250 jobs were destroyed in Birmingham in 2015, Kraft having become Kraft-Heinz, bought in 2013 by U.S. Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffet) – and U.S. Brazilian 3G (Julia Kollewe, “Cadbury cuts 250 jobs in Birmingham“, The Guardian). Photo by Rwendland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

Towards a nationalised globalisation?

Contradictions and questions

At first glance, we would thus expect the corporate sector, notably multinational companies (as well as very wealthy individuals), which are the main beneficiary of this very globalisation and thus may be expected to want to see it last, first to have supported neither the Brexit nor Donald Trump’s candidacy. We would then expect the same corporate sector to react negatively and strongly once the policies following the elections start being implemented, or to do their utmost to oppose and derail these policies.

Yet, both New York Stock and London Stock exchanges have never been so buoyant, the U.S . Dow Jones being over 20.000 and the U.K. FTSE 100 above 7200, as shown on the two 5-year graphs Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario, Dow Jones, stock exchange Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario, stock exchange, FTSE(Google Finance). Thus, as a whole, it would seem that the corporate sector is not that opposed to or concerned by this so-called anti-globalisation surprises, on the contrary. In the case of the U.S., tax reform certainly plays its part whilst corrections are foreseen by experts (e.g. Patti Domm, “Dow pulls off a stunt it hasn’t done in 30 years“, 23 Feb 16, CNBC), but the market has nonetheless so far been optimistic following the election and should it have been truly that overwhelmingly worried about anti-globalisation, tax reforms expectations may not have been sufficient to offset a fundamentally negative outlook.

Are we thus truly facing the end or a change of the free-trade and deregulation globalisation or, alternatively, is the corporate sector actually not hostile to a changed in globalisation?

If we look now at exchange rates, a first difference appears between the U.K. and U.S. situations. In the first case, the British Pound has taken a serious hit against the U.S. Dollar and, in a lesser way, against the Euro with the Brexit and has not recovered:

Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario, Pound rate

On the contrary, the U.S. Dollar has not stopped rising against the Euro and been mostly rising against the Japanese Yen:

Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario, USD rate

Hence, we may deduce that the U.K. and the U.S. surprises deserve to be treated differently and cannot be understood by a single anti-globalisation narrative.

If we start looking more specifically at the two phenomena and at some of the reactions not of the corporate sector in general, but of some of its actors, we also notice apparently puzzling behaviours.

In the case of the U.K., financial companies and banks, relayed by the media, almost every day, make declarations against the Brexit and how they may move part of their operations to continental Europe: e.g. “Goldman piles pressure on May to protect City post-Brexit” (Martin Arnold and Patrick Jenkins, for Financial Times, 30 Jan 17, CNBC), “Lloyds Bank closes in on Berlin as post-Brexit EU hub: sources” (Andrew MacAskill and Lawrence White, 13 Feb 17, Reuters), “City banks warn of Brexit job moves” (18 Jan 17, BBC News), etc.

In the U.S., President Trump has created a strategic and policy forum, which gathers powerful and experimented corporate and financial actors, from BlackRock and its USD 5.1 trillion in assets under management to Tesla and SpaceX or General Motors, as shown on the mapping below (The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “Remarks by President Trump in Strategy and Policy Forum“, 3 Feb 17; Jacob Pramuk, “Trump to meet ‘frequently’ with Blackstone’s Schwarzman, other business titans to discuss policy“, 2 Dec 16, CNBC).

strategic and policy forum, Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario

It will be useful, to have a better idea of the power and weight of BlackRock alone, everything being equal, to note that the Gross World Product is estimated by the IMF at $75.21 trillion for 2016, thus only 15 times more than the value of the assets managed by BlackRock. BlackRock revenue was USD 11155 million (11.1 bn) for 2016 (Quarterly Earnings Release). For the sake of comparison, even though industries are different, Lloyds Banking Group reported for 2016 total income reaching £ 17.5 bn (BBC News, “Lloyds reports highest profit in decade“, 22 Feb 17). Each has thus a total income higher than the GDP of the countries ranking below 114 (LLoyds) and 129  (BlackRock) in size of GDP, out of 190 countries, i.e. respectively 77 and 62 countries. BlackRock’s net income was in 2016 USD 3.2 bn and Lloyds reported a £ 4.24 bn pre-tax profit, the highest in a decade  (ibid.).

Towards a new manufacturing model?

The participation of the CEOs to the U.S. forum, which is advisory, does not mean full support to President Trump’s policy, but indicates to the least that there is no confrontational behaviour. On the contrary, there is discussion and dialogue, as well as most probably attempts at making sure policy will suit these companies’ interests.

For example, if we briefly look at BlackRock, its CEO Larry Fink expressed both hope and concern over President Trump agenda: “We have high expectations with … [the] Trump administration [on] tax policy or infrastructure. It always take longer,” he said. “If the rollout of some of these growth initiative programs by President-elect Trump are slower, if they are less ambitious, then I think the market is ahead of itself” (interview (CNBC, 13 jan 2017).  Worries stem notably from uncertainty and forthcoming tensions between the President and the Federal Reserves (during Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit 8 Feb 2017, Sam Ro, “Watch: Larry Fink’s full interview at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit” 9 Feb 17, Yahoo Finance).

However, Fink’s disquiet is also about the widespread short-termism within the corporate world he combats, and the “growing backlash against the impact globalisation and technological change … “, an impact he recognises as adverse for many, even though he still asserts to believe in the overall benefits of globalisation (Myles Udland, “Larry Fink: I see a lot of ‘dark shadows’ in the market right now“, 8 Feb 17, Yahoo Finance; Matt Turner, “Here’s the memo Larry Fink, the head of the world’s largest investor, just sent to staff on these ‘uneasy’ times“,  2 Feb 2017, Business Insider UK).

In a nutshell, the desired strategy Fink stresses is to act locally as a global company, emphasising “commitment to long-termism” and respecting diversity (“Here is the memo…”, ibid.). If we consider the examples Fink gives – “we also need to be German in Germany, Japanese in Japan and Mexican in Mexico” (Ibid.) – then it seems that by local Fink actually means national, or a recognition of the nation. Interestingly such a move towards a “nationalisation of globalisation” is also how Prime Minister May’s policy can be described (James Forsyth, Theresa May’s new third way“, 25 February 2017, The Spectator).

As noted by Washington’s Blog (ibid), referring to a 2015 article by The Washington Post explaining “that the giant multinational corporations themselves are losing interest in globalization” (Jeffrey Rothfeder, “The great unraveling of globalization“), Fink’s vision could be part of a larger movement away from the previous phase of economic globalisation. This new model would include next-shoring (manufacturing in the proximity of both demand and innovation as suggested by McKinsey in 2014) and reshoring (relocalising in original country – Wikipedia). Assuming this hypothesis is correct, then the anti-globalisation narrative must be revised not as something pitting people, state and government against the corporate sector, but as the start of the search for a new production model.

Thus, to answer to our previous question, it is not that large multinationals and many among the corporate sector are unconcerned about the Brexit and the Presidency of Donald Trump, but that they may be seeing them also as an opportunity to move towards a more adequate system in the making. This system would likely involve a measure of nationalisation or recognition of the nation as major unit.

Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario, liberalism, free tradeShould next-shoring and reshoring develop, then trade flows in value could diminish or become less important.

In that case, those entities and actors depending on the older classical “free trade and deregulation” globalisation, if they do not accompany the movement for change, could react adversely as it is not only their beliefs but also their survival, power and wealth that are at stake. The European Union, as well as China, come to mind here and scenarios considering such developments would deserve further research. Political and geopolitical crises would likely be expected.

As far as the U.S. strategic and policy forum is concerned, we shall also note the absence of any representative of the military-industrial complex (who can be present elsewhere), which should be further investigated considering its importance within the American system and for the U.S. Foreign and Defence Policy, and as a result for the world (Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961; among many, Andrew J. Bacevich, “The Tyranny of Defense Inc.“, Jan/Feb 2011, The Atlantic).

The “puzzle” of the financial industry

If we now compare the attitude of the financial companies, notably banks in the U.S., to what is happening in the U.K. then we are faced with completely different behaviour, most probably because the interests, challenges and stakes are different in the two cases.

In the Brexit case, the issue it to keep access to the European banking needs, as well as financial business related to the Euro, such as, for example, euro denominated clearing (Huw Jones, “BoE’s Cunliffe says euro-denominated clearing Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario, liberalism, free tradeshould not be forced into euro zone“, 22 Feb 17, Reuters). Fascinatingly, in a complete reversal of ideological accusations, it led the Bank of England’s deputy governor to accuse Brussels of “currency nationalism” because of the attempt of the EU to reclaim euro denominated clearing (Ibid, Tim Wallace, “EU’s ‘currency nationalism’ could splinter world’s financial system, warns Bank of England deputy“, 22 Feb 2017, The Telegraph).

These potential losses of business worry not only British banks, but most if not all banks operating from London, including U.S. Banks. All will try getting a deal that is the best for them, including through expressing disapproval and acting accordingly.

U.S. banks, in their country, do not have to face at all this challenge and thus may behave in a totally different way, according to the issues specific to American banking, including those related to the still dominant position of the U.S. dollar in the world.

Moreover, a monetary policy continuing to support a strong U.S. dollar, as seems to be finally favoured by the new Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, a former Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario, liberalism, free tradeGoldman Sachs banker (e.g. Saleha Mohsin “Mnuchin Secures Senate Confirmation as Treasury Secretary” 14 Feb 2017 and “Inside the Mind of Mnuchin: Too-Strong Dollar May Hurt Economy“, 24 Jan 17, Bloomberg) is also favourable to investments abroad, including buying foreign companies. Should the hypothesis of a nationalised globalisation be increasingly likely, then a strong U.S. Dollar could help actualizing it not only abroad, but also domestically: import of raw materials would be cheaper and favour manufacturing domestically, the resulting products being then sold on the domestic market. The potential loss in terms of exports because of the strength of the U.S. Dollar would be offset by the fact that U.S. companies would need less to export, as they would be directly implanted in foreign markets.

This assumes, of course, that other countries allow it, which thus demands that we fully consider the beliefs, will and power of political authorities, besides other factors, including corporate culture. For example, Prime Minister May’s government “ordered officials to scrutinise the bid for the UK’s third-largest listed company, following high-level, separate talks between Number 10 and the two sides” to protect Anglo-Dutch Unilever, and its employees, when it faced and rejected the “surprise offer” of merger by U.S. Kraft-Heinz, backed by its main shareholders U.S. Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffet) – and U.S. Brazilian 3G (

Further in-depth research will be necessary to deal fully with the financial part of the Brexit and of the U.S. Trump Presidency, considering the specificity of each situation, the interactions with the fundamentals of globalisation, including claims regarding potential “currency nationalism”. It will also be crucial to consider the consequences on the supremacy of the U.S. dollar, and related geopolitical impacts as well as potential tensions pitting the political authorities of one country and the companies they protect against a similar political-business nexus of another country, without forgetting the new regulations that will need to be designed, voted and enacted.

The high-tech sector, the Brexit and the Trump administration

The high-tech or large web-based companies behave completely differently with regard to the U.K. and the Brexit compared with the U.S. and the Trump administration.

Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario, liberalism, free tradeApple, Google and Amazon have all asserted commitment to the U.K., even though the Brexit is taking place. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, declared he was optimistic about the post Brexit UK, after having announced plans to build new headquarters in London, however warning they will pay attention to new regulations (Rhiannon Bury, “Apple to create new UK headquarters at London’s Battersea Power Station“, The Telegraph, 28 Sept 2016; BBC News, “Apple ‘optimistic’ about post-Brexit UK“, 9 February 2017). Meanwhile, business being business, the prices of apps in the Apple Store will be raised on the basis of a parity between the Pound and the Dollar, to reflect the drop of the British currency (Alex Hern, “Apple increases App Store prices by 25% following Brexit vote“, The Guardian, 17 Jan 2017), which is unlikely to hurt much consumers considering the still very low prices of these apps, e.g. from £0.79 to £0.99, as well as their non-essential character.

Google also announced plans to build large headquarters in London, raising the number of staff employed in the U.K. from 4000 to 7000 (Eric Pfanner and , “Google to Expand London Campus Despite Brexit Questions“, Bloomberg, 15 Nov 16). Meanwhile, Amazon will hire 5000 employees in the UK, which represents one-third of its expansion in (geographical) Europe, and open a new head office in London (Euronews, “Amazon to add 15,000 jobs across Europe, 5,000 in Britain“, 20 Feb 17; Alanna Petroff , “Amazon hiring 5,000 workers in U.K. despite Brexit fears“, CNN Money, 20 Feb 17; Sam Shead, “Amazon shrugs off Brexit with plans to hire 5,000 more staff in the UK“, Business Insider UK, 20 Feb 17). Similarly, Facebook, Expedia and Snapchat hired staff, confirmed London as headquarters, opened or enlarged offices (Ibid.).

Trump, Brexit, globalisation, nationalism, populism, strategic foresight, scenario, liberalism, free trade. high tech, googleOn the contrary, in the U.S., the tension between the Trump government and high-tech firms flared over the immigration executive order  (Matt Drange, “Facebook, Google, Apple Lead U.S. Business Charge Against Trump Travel Ban“, Forbes, 3 Feb 2017). Actually, the relationships between the two sides are murky and cover much more than a temporary immigration ban, with issues related for example to encryption, anti-trust legislation or net neutrality (for an explanation on net neutrality: Investopedia,What Is Google’s Stance On Net Neutrality?“, June 2, 2015) (Melinda Biancuzzo and Jonathan Meyer, “Tech and Trump: What the Next Four Years Might Bring“, 8 Feb 17, Entrepreneur).

We are here in very different settings and dealing with very different objectives. On the one hand, as far as the U.K. is concerned, U.S. high-tech companies invest in a foreign country to develop their operations and platforms, which maybe seen as a direct application of the “nationalisation of globalisation” hypothesis identified above. Meanwhile, they take advantage of the low Pound and also develop a weight that they may use in the future to try influencing the U.K. government in their favour, including to boost globalisation, this time understood first through its social science meaning. This could have potential impacts on all aspects of globalisation, according to the way the British government and state respond, and anticipate.

On the other, in the American case, high-tech companies fight in their country, the U.S., for their interest. The impact on globalisation is inherent because of the very nature of these companies… which are all Americans. It does not seem indeed that any of them threatened to leave the U.S.. In both cases, we are here at a deeper level of complexity and understanding than expected from the initial free-trade and deregulation globalisation narrative, while the geopolitics of a technological globalisation, potentially in the new nationalised guise, largely led by high-tech U.S. companies, must be considered.

Diving deeper into the globalisation and anti-globalisation narrative regarding the Brexit and President Trump’s government allowed us to identify real and apparent contradictions, which led to sometimes unexpected questions and thus to new elements of understanding. As a result, uncertainty starts being reduced as we are developing the building blocks upon which to build a mapping of the issue at hand, which will then be used to develop scenarios.

We need now to turn to the other major explanation given for the Brexit and President Trump election, populism, as we shall see in the next (forthcoming) article.


*To name only some major instances of political and geopolitical surprises, we have the 2010 – 2011 Arab Spring, enmeshed with the start of the Libyan and Syrian wars, the latter favouring the renewed rise from 2013 onwards of the Islamic State, the spread of non-violent opposition movements such as the 2011 Spanish Take the Square / Read Democracy Now followed by Occupy, the 2013-2014 Ukrainian Maidan revolution that led to the 2014 Crimea incorporation within the Russian federation, war in Donbass, polarized and tense relationships between “the West” and Russia (see), while Russia turned further East and worldwide, the planned, yet surprising for many, fall of oil prices starting in July 2014, with some difficulties so far to make it rise again substantially and its string of impacts, the potential rise of a new type of order in Eastern Asia involving a probably increasingly dwindling American power, etc (see Portals to a new opposition nexus; war in Ukraine; war in Libya; war in Syria; the war against the Islamic State; Helene Lavoix, “Lessons from the conflict in Ukraine” – (3) and (4), “An Isolated Russia? Think Again!“, 15 September 2014, The Red (Team) Analysis Society; Barbara Kollmeyer, “Oil prices push higher, lifted by decline in Saudi exports“, Marketwatch, 20 Feb 17; Jean-Michel Valantin, “Oil Flood? The Kingdom is Back“, 15 Dec 14 and among others The Warming Russian Arctic: Where Russian and Asian Business and Strategies Converge?, 23 Nov 16, The Red (Team) Analysis Society).

Featured image: Geralt via Pixabay, Public Domain.

About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.

How to Read a Large Amount of Information

The first part of this article can be accessed as open access (rules of attribution nonetheless apply), the second part is exclusively for members and registered participants to our courses.

The incredible and growing amount of information available nowadays presents us with specific challenges we need to overcome first, if we want to be able to understand, foresee, warn about, and finally adequately answer accumulating dangers, threats, risks or more broadly changes and uncertainties. Our information age is indeed characterised by what Martin Hilbert called the “global information explosion” (“Digital Technology & Social Change” University of California Course, 2015), when we constantly face “information overload” (among many others, Bertram Gross, The Managing of Organizations, 1964; Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, 1970; also Stanley Milgram, “The experience of living in cities“, Science, 167, 1461-1468, 1970).

Google estimated in 2010 that 129,864,880 books had then been published (Leonid Taycher, “Books of the world, stand up and be counted! All 129,864,880 of you.” 5 Aug 2010). Wikipedia estimates that “approximately 2,200,000” books were published each year across the world. Meanwhile, it is almost frightening to look live at the constantly growing number of internet website: 1,080,387,230+ on 15 Sept 2016 (internet live stats). 

Those are general figures, but they are also representative of what we must face when we work on a specific topic, because we have to Continue reading How to Read a Large Amount of Information

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
Click to access larger image

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.


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


The Libyan War Spills Over to Egypt, Algeria, Niger and Europe – Scenarios for the Future of Libya

This article is the second of our series focusing on scenarios depicting the range of spillover that could stem from the Libyan war. In our previous article, we detailed two scenarios of spillover that initiate a renewed war encompassing more than just Libya. We discussed a case of spillover in one direction – where Europe is drawn into this renewed war, as well as spillover in two directions, where Algeria and Niger are also drawn into the war. In this article, we shall conclude the spillover scenarios with a contagion taking place in all directions (west towards Algeria, south towards Niger, east towards Egypt, and north towards Europe).

It is important to note our choices for spillover sub-scenarios. There are many combinations that could occur under spillover conditions, but we have chosen three examples that maybe considered as ideal-types with particular country cases for the sake of brevity: spillover in only one direction (north towards Europe), spillover in two directions (Algeria/Niger), and spillover in all directions (Algeria/Niger/Egypt/Europe). Spillover in all directions, of course, is not limited to just Algeria, Niger, Egypt, and Europe – it can also include Tunisia and Chad. For the sake of brevity, we chose one country in each direction for this scenario. Furthermore, the intensity of and response to spillover plays a key role in these sub-scenarios. The renewed war – now encompassing new actors outside of Libya – is altered significantly as intensity and response levels rise. However, we shall only briefly outline these scenarios, as they are fundamentally new conflicts and would require new scenarios to fully understand their depth.

Migrant/Refugee: For the purposes of the spillover scenarios, we have chosen to use the BBC’s use of the term migrant, which refers to people migrating to other countries that have not yet received asylum (BBC News, March 4, 2016). However, we use the term refugee when referring to Libyans fleeing the discussed conflict.

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.

Click to access larger image

Sub-scenario 2.2.3 Conflict Spills Over in All Directions (Algeria, Niger, Egypt, and Europe)

Smuggling operations crossing the Libyan-Algerian border expand as conflict continue to rage. Islamist militants also utilize the smuggling routes to infiltrate Libya from Algeria and join Salafist groups there. As Algeria increases the security of its border region with Libya, Islamist militants turn to join extremist groups already operating in Algeria, while spreading to other now easier routes, both north, using the sea and boats and south to Niger. Furthermore, conflict between the Toubou and Tuareg tribes over the lucrative smuggling routes causes their kinsmen from Algeria, Niger, and Chad to cross into Libya, while Salafists move even more freely to and from Libya – thus turning the Southern Libya conflict into a regional conflict between tribal forces. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Algeria that has already been discussed.

Niger begins to experience spillover from the Libyan conflict as Toubou and Tuareg cross from Niger into Southern Libya. The severity of tribal conflict in Southern Libya determines whether or not conflict breaks out between the Tuareg and Toubou within Niger’s borders. Facing significant pressure in Libya, as well as the threat of international intervention, jihadists begin relocating their operations to Niger. Considering Niger’s instability and already existing threat of Boko Haram, which leads wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyyiah for the Islamic State (see Lavoix, “At War Against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War,” updated June 20, 2016) and operated initially essentially in southern Niger – notably in Diffa and Bosso (see June attacks – UN News Centre, June 6, 2016; Donovan, UNHCR, June 7, 2016), the increase of jihadists arriving from Libya prompts a serious military response and increased operations near the Niger-Libyan border. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Niger that has already been discussed. Nonetheless, the Salafist fighters coming from Libya and those controlling the South increasingly connect.

Posted on the Official Page for the Military Spokesman of the Armed Forces Facebook page, 30 May 2016

Meanwhile, considering the presence of Islamic State groups already in the Sinai, the spillover from Libya causes greater instability throughout Egypt. Smugglers utilize routes through the Libyan-Egyptian border to covertly transfer drugs, migrants, militants and weapons – all of which undermine Egypt’s stability. The porous border between the two countries allows Salafist groups to move fighters and weapons between strongholds in Libya and the Sinai. General Haftar increasingly uses Egypt’s assistance to train his forces and to receive weapons. As a result, Islamic State militants target remaining Egyptian migrant workers in Libya. Meanwhile, their Salafist brothers in the Sinai begin to increasingly attack Egyptian targets in retaliation for Egypt’s assistance to Haftar’s forces. Wanting to expand their operations and keep pressure on rivals, al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya escalate their attacks on Haftar’s forces in the east, as well as Egyptian forces along the border. Attacks by Salafist groups forces Egypt to militarily strike back in Libya in a series of operations – effectively opening up a second front in its fight against terrorism (Libya to the west, and the Sinai to the east). The target proves however elusive as it now moves increasingly easily also to the south. To retain Egypt’s support, Haftar’s forces exert additional pressure on Salafist groups as punishment. As the nationalists put intense pressure on these Salafist groups, militants are smuggled into the Sinai region to bulk up their group’s capabilities against Cairo. Wilayat Sinai makes a general call to their global supporters to join their war in Egypt, with tremendous impact on an already dwindling tourism.

If Egypt successfully closes its border and prevents weapons and militants from infiltrating, there is the risk that Salafist groups already in Egypt will launch increased attacks against border security targets in order to disrupt their efforts. However, if Egypt is unsuccessful in closing the border, Salafist groups in Libya and the Sinai will be able to reinforce each other with fighters and weapons – depending on the need in each country. Regardless of success or failure to close the border, spillover from the Libyan conflict permeates Egypt, which increases its instability and draws Egypt into the renewed war.

The migrant flow from Libya into Europe increases as Libyan actors forsake some state functions – such as border security – in order to bolster their frontline forces. Salafist groups utilize the migrant flows to smuggle jihadists into Europe to carry out attacks. These jihadist cells originating in Libya begin targeting European populations as an alternative to fighting mounting pressure in Libya. Two new routes to Europe are now opened, one from Algeria and one from Egypt, taxing European capabilities to deal with the rising threat. Furthermore, the deployment of European advisers and Special Forces in support of Libyan actors against Salafist threats also results in jihadists attacking European targets. If Europe is unsuccessful in stopping the migrant flow, it continues to experience terrorist attacks emanating from Libya. If successful, Europe changes the conflict in Libya. With less opportunity to infiltrate European countries, jihadists begin to increasingly target the government and military officials of the other Libyan actors. This, in turn, forces the Islamists and nationalists to focus more on the Salafist groups. With the migrant flow stopped, the refugees and migrants stuck in Libya cause further instability in the coastal regions, join armed groups as an alternative, or head to neighboring countries – all of which affect spillover and the war in Libya. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Europe that has already been discussed.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.2.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability of militants to use smuggling routes to infiltrate Egypt. The likelihood of this scenario increases if militants are able to infiltrate Egypt through smuggling routes. With civil war in Libya to the west and Egypt dealing with a Sinai problem to the east, militants are more easily able to utilize established drug, migrant, and weapons trafficking routes to infiltrate Egypt (AhramOnline, October 2, 2015).
  2. The ability of Egypt to effectively patrol its border. With Libya not able to secure its side of the border, the responsibility falls to Egypt to secure the entire border. Already having to deal with jihadists in the Sinai, Egypt will likely not be able to secure the entire Libyan-Egyptian border, which allows smuggling rings to profit by moving drugs, weapons, migrants, and militants to and from Libya. A previous indication of Egypt’s attempt to secure the border occurred when it increased its ground and air presence on the border, as well as reached an agreement with the U.S. in 2015 on a “Border Security Mobile Surveillance Sensor Security System” along the Egyptian-Libyan border (Nkala, DefenseNews, July 26, 2015; Muhlberger, AhramOnline, January 27, 2016).
  3. The stability of Egypt. Egypt’s internal stability determines how much it will be affected by spillover from Libya. The level of economic and political stability, as well as terrorism in the Sinai region, all affect Egypt’s overall stability. Past indications affecting its stability occurred when Egypt’s economy faced currency depreciation and a decrease in tourism and investment (Karuri, Africa News, July 4, 2016); as well jihadist groups continuing an insurgency from the Sinai region (STRATFOR, June 29, 2016).
  4. The level of pressure on Salafist groups to migrate operations towards Egypt. If the Islamists, Misratans, and nationalists put enough pressure on Salafist groups to the point of destroying them completely, the jihadists will likely be more willing to shift their operations to Egypt, which increases the likelihood of this spillover scenario. Geographically, the Salafist hotbed of Derna is very close to the Egyptian border and will most likely be the origin of jihadists fleeing into Egypt if this indication occurs.
  5. The willingness of Egypt to support Haftar and his forces. Egypt’s level of willingness to support Haftar and provide military assistance to his forces will play a role in the Salafists’ level of retaliation. The likelihood of this scenario increases the more Egypt directly supports Haftar. Past indications occurred when Egyptian President El-Sisi called on international support for General Haftar and his National Army (Middle East Monitor, March 18, 2016); when Egypt armed Haftar and the Libyan National Army (Dettmer, Voice of America, May 17, 2016; Toaldo and Fitzgerald, European Council on Foreign Relations, June 15, 2016); and when Egypt offered military training and intelligence assistance in 2014 to the forces under the Tobruk government – which included Haftar and his forces (Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2),” December 1, 2014).
  6. The Salafists’ level of retaliation towards Egypt. The level of Salafists’ retaliation towards Egypt is rooted in Egypt’s assistance for the hated General Haftar. The more Egypt supports Haftar’s forces, the higher the level of retaliation. In Libya, Salafists will likely target Egyptian migrants or Egyptian security personnel on the border. Salafist groups operating in the Sinai will likely carry out attacks within Egypt as retaliation for events in Libya.
  7. The willingness of al-Qaeda to intensify its presence in Libya and Egypt. If al-Qaeda begins to lose influence as a result of pressure from other Libyan actors, it may try to intensify its presence in Libya. Furthermore, if instability continues to increase in Egypt, and if Islamic State groups in the Sinai are seeing greater success, al-Qaeda may attempt to increase its presence their as well. In either case, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  8. Indicators 1-8 of sub-scenario 2.2.1 also act here in a similar way.
  9. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 also act here in a similar way.


Featured Photo: Still from “New ISIS Video Shows Recruits Training in Sinai Peninsula, Egypt,” April 4, 2016

“Assessing the Jihadist Threat in Egypt: The Sinai Peninsula,” STRATFOR, June 29, 2016

“Attacks by Boko Haram continue in Niger’s Diffa region, forcing more people to flee – UN,” UN News Centre, June 6, 2016

“Egypt’s army sometimes operates beyond border to ‘chase smuggler’: Libyan FM,” Ahram Online, October 2, 2015

Helene Lavoix, “At War Against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War,” The Red Team Analysis Society, November 23, 2015

Jamie Dettmer, “Will Arming Libya’s ‘Unity’ Government Escalate Conflict?” Voice of America, May 17, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, December 1, 2014

Ken Karuri, “Egyptian pound facing another devaluation as dollar shortage persists,” Africa News, July 4, 2016

Louise Donovan, “Thousands flee Boko Haram attack on Niger town,” UNHCR, June 7, 2016

Mattia Toaldo and Mary Fitzgerald, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, June 15, 2016

“Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts,” BBC News, March 4, 2016

Oscar Nkala, “Tunisia, Egypt Boost Libyan Border Security,” DefenseNews, July 26, 2015

“Sisi calls for support for Libya’s Haftar,” Middle East Monitor, March 18, 2016

Wolfgang Muhlberger, “A Thorny Dossier: Egypt’s Libya Policy,” Ahram Online, January 27, 2016

The UAE Grand Strategy for the Future – from Earth to Space

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is devising a grand strategy to ensure its global security during the 21st century.

In 2010, the UAE’s government published the “UAE Vision 2021”, establishing the will “to ensure a sustainable development”. In 2011, the UAE’s political authorities created a national marine environment research centre. In 2014, they created the UAE space agency, which goals and mission are explicitly integrated to the goals of the Vision 2021 (UAE Space Agency).

During the same period, Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, carried out the building of Masdar City, an urban development elaborated to be an “in vivo” experiment in urban sustainability and renewable energy (Patrick Kingsley, “Masdar: the shifting goalposts of Abu Dhabi’s ambitious eco-city”, Wired, 17 December 2013, and Jean-Michel Valantin, « The United Arab Emirates : The Rise of a Sustainable Industrial Empire?“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, June 13 2016…).

In 2015, the International Renewable Energy Agency installed its headquarters in Masdar City, in a complex dubbed “the greenest office building in the UAE”, while, in the same time, launching the building of a first nuclear plant.

Those different initiatives by the UAE are revealing a common preoccupation about the future. Their implementation is integrated into a united vision, which is thus turned into a coherent strategy. This happens thanks to the development of capabilities necessary to overcome the currently deploying energy, climate and natural resources planetary crisis.

We have seen in former articles how climate change and the planetary environmental changes are going to be major threats for the UAE during this century, and how the country is devising an industrial grand strategy to attain sustainability and to become a global provider and financer of renewable energy (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Antarctic versus Dubai” and “Alberta mega Wild Fires and the United Arab Emirates Security”, “The Planetary Crisis Rules, Part 1”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 4 January, May 2 and 23 May 2016).

This grand strategy is based on a profound reflexion on the meaning of “sustainability” between now and the middle of this century and on the way to attain it, while, considering the severe threats currently emerging.

We shall see how the UAE political authorities have not only developed the ability to perceive the emergence of threats but also the capability to turn them into opportunities.

Understanding threat and preparing for the future

The sense of strategic threat and of the necessity to prepare for the future can be identified as being at the very origin the UAE.

In effect, the UAE has its origins in the negotiations launched in 1968 by Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi and by Dubai’s Sheikh Rashid for the creation of a Federation with their neighbours. This initiative was based on the deep worries created by the decision of the British Government to withdraw its troops from the Persian Gulf, thus ending the British military protection of the Emirates (Jonathan Gornall, “Sun sets on the British empire as the UAE raises its flag”, The National, 2 December 2011).

The context was a period of great tensions because of the massive and violent geopolitical shift taking place in the region, combined with the discovery of massive oil reserves and the development of oil production throughout the whole area, including the Abu Dhabi Emirate, during the 1960s (Georges Corm, Le Proche Orient éclaté, 2012).


Several massive political and military tensions had shaken the region between 1956 and 1968, from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Iran to Bahrain, Iraq and Kuwait (Henry Laurens, Paix et Guerre au Moyen Orient, 2005). In order to maintain the sovereignty of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed looked for the strategic security that a Federation could bring. Being of the same mind, the Sheiks of seven Emirates decided to end centuries of distrust by creating the UAE in 1971 (Gornall, ibid).

By doing so, the political authorities of the UAE gave themselves the political, economic and strategic means necessary to prevent the combined effects of the geopolitical destabilization of the Persian Gulf and the potential “resource curse” generated by oil, which could be both fatal to their very existence as legitimate rulers of sovereign Emirates.

So, instead of going through a regressive process of denial of the crisis and of withdrawal on their political habits, as often happens in times of crisis (Michel Dobry, Sociologie des crises politiques, 1986), they reacted to the perceived threat by a move of political and strategic innovation and created the United Arab Emirates. That surprise move lessened considerably the potential of threat (Clausewitz, On War, 1832).

So, it appears that the combination of threat happenstance and of its analysis with the willingness to shape the future instead of being its victim lies at the very political origin of the UAE.

Nation-building and answering the depletion threat

Nowadays, this political capability to perceive the potential of threat lying in the future and to turn it into a support for a power project is more developed than ever.

It has allowed the UAE’s political authorities to perceive the formidable emerging threat composed of the different depletion dynamics of the economic and vital resources, which have begun at the planetary scale as well as at the regional level (Dennis and Donnella Meadow, The Limits to growth – the 30 years update, 2004, Michael Klare, Rising powers, shrinking planet, 2008, and The Race for What’s left, the global scramble for the World’s last resources, 2012).


These dynamics of depletion go with the rapid and dangerous contradiction emerging between the economic and demographic growth of the UAE, on the one hand, and, on the other, its water and energy nexus. Indeed, if the population of the UAE counted almost 558 000 people in 1975, it reaches almost 8 million inhabitants today, and the population keeps growing (“UAE Demographics”, Wikipedia). In the same time, the living standard of the Emirates has grown to modern levels. This twin development goes with a high consumption of water (Nick Carter, “ Even as we generate more in the UAE, we must protect our water and power supplies”, The National, August 3, 2014). Only in Abu Dhabi, the water consumption of the city’s population has reached 1.1 billion cubic meters in 2013 and could reach 1.5 bcm in 2030 (Vesela Todorova, “Warning on high water and energy use”, The National, August 2, 2014).


This level of water consumption is made possible thanks to the growing electricity consumption: the city drinking water is produced by co-generation plants, which are producing electricity with natural gas and using the produced heat to desalinate sea water (Carter, ibid). This process is absolutely necessary to maintain such levels of drinking water in such an arid region.

In the meantime, electricity consumption rises with the use of air conditioning by the growing population (Todorova, ibid), which raises harsh questions about the industrial, financial and social affordability of electricity in the decades to come, considering the coming intensification of climate change in Middle East (Damian Carrington, “Extreme Heatwaves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance, study shows”, The Guardian, 26 October 2015).

Moreover, the co-generation plants are propelled by natural gas, and their consumption is growing with the rate of their electricity and drinking water production. The problem is that this over-consumption is now overtaking the national gas production. (United Arab Emirates Oil, Gas sector business and investment opportunities Yearbook, Volume 1, strategic information and basic regulations, 2016).

These contradictory water and energy dynamics are a risk for the very status of the UAE as an oil exporter. In effect, the peak oil production of the Federation risks happening around 2050. This means a major multi-layered risk is building up in the very development of the UAE: to develop, the country depends on a growing use of oil, gas and water reserves in an intensive way, which also means depleting and over-consuming the very resources and energy needed to keep on developing.

The perception of this threat is expressed, for example, in the speech of Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed:

“In 50 years, when we might have the last barrel of oil, the question is: when it is shipped abroad, will we be sad? … If we are investing today in the right sectors, I can tell you we will celebrate at that moment.” (“Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed inspirational view of a post-oil UAE”, The National, February 10, 2015).”

As we have seen in “The United Arab Emirates, The Rise of an industrial sustainable industrial empire?” (Jean-Michel Valantin, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, June 13 2016), the industrial response to the coming UAE’s peak oil is the development of an industrial and financial renewable energy sector and an urban efficiency energy branch, at the national and international level.

To further their energy security, the UAE political authorities have gone much further to guarantee the continuity of their energy production, for example when deciding in 2012 to build the Barakah nuclear four reactors nuclear plant. The plant is built by the UAE Energy Corporation, through a contract with the Korea Electric Power Corporation. This operation is financed by a 32 billion dollars budget, and from 2017 onwards, the nuclear plant should be able to produce 25% of the electricity production of the country (Naser El Wasmi, “UAE Barakah nuclear plant reaches construction milestoneThe National, September 2, 2015 and “Nuclear power in the United Arab Emirates”, World Nuclear Association, Updated April 2016).


The work in progress is closely overlooked by the UAE Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation and by the International Agency for Atomic Energy, as well by numerous Arab countries, very interested in nuclear energy. In 2015, a deal has been signed between the UAE and the Russian Rosatom to import the enriched uranium necessary to the nuclear reactors. The deal goes with the treatment of the nuclear wastes by the exporter (Caline Malek, “UAE and Russia sign deal for enriched uranium”, The National, October 15, 2015).

Thus, the UAE is transitioning from the oil and gas energy model and its limits to an energy mix of carbon, renewable and nuclear. In other terms, the UAE redefines its energy model by devising a strategy that guarantees its own energy supply during the next fifty years, despite the emergence of peak oil.

From oil wells to the Moon … and beyond

This long-term vision and policy aims at keeping the UAE sustainable, whatever happens during the 21st century.

This strategic philosophy is underlying the creation of the UAE space agency in 2014. In effect, the agency is focused on giving the UAE the industrial and legal capability to launch space missions (Adam Schreck, “United Arab Emirates launches space agency strategy”, Phys.org, 25 May 2015). Those could be dedicated to Earth observation, space communication as well as Moon, Mars and asteroids missions (Thamer El Subaihi, “Arab world’s first space mission will launch from Japan in 2020”, The National, March 22, 2016).


To make space commercial mining technically and legally possible, the agency studies both the evolution of international space law and the possibility for projecting capabilities, possibly robots, on the Moon and on the asteroids, in order to mine them for commercial use (Rob Davies, “Asteroid mining could be space’s new frontier: the problem is doing it legally”, The Guardian, 6 February 2016).

This kind of endeavour appears as increasingly interesting in order to compensate the depletion of the Earth mineral deposits through worldwide over-exploitation (Dr Hélène Lavoix, “Beyond fear of near Earth objects: mining resources from space?”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, February 18, 2013). This space policy involves the development of partnerships with the U.S. NASA, the Japan Space Agency and the private agency Virgin Galactic.

Aiming at the Moon and the asteroids to find and “import” minerals goes with a profound renewal of the thinking about sustainability, through the understanding of the planetary “limits to growth” and their transfer to the solar system. The space program also helps the UAE to boost its research development, while politically and industrially sharing its success with its partners, especially in the Middle East (Lucy Barnard, “Mission to space can drive Middle east Northern Africa technology, says first Muslim in orbit”, The National, March 8, 2016). In the meantime, space policy gets the UAE access to this strategic “ultimate high ground” that orbital space and lunar space are (William Burrows, This New Ocean, 1998).

The first space mission should take place in 2021, for the fiftieth anniversary of the UAE. It is politically and strategically important to note that it could turn the UAE into a space power, which would be a very powerful symbol for the country, as well as for the Arab world.

Furthermore, it appears that the multi-layered policies and strategies of energy and environment security and strategy of the UAE are in themselves an extremely powerful support for the scientific, technological and industrial development of the Federation and for its Middle East and international partners.

In the same time, this sustainability and security grand strategy, based on the transition from oil and gas, on the development of a renewable and nuclear energy industrial basis and on a space strategy has become the axis of the UAE’s foreign policy.

The grand strategy thus allows the UAE to develop deals with South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States. In other terms, the environmental and energy security of the UAE is an impressively efficient political tool to turn the Federation into a pivotal state between the Middle East, Asia, Russia and North America as well as between the Earth and the solar system.

This means also that the UAE is becoming a main driver of the transformation of the very notion of the link between sustainability, security and geopolitics.

It now remains to be seen how this policy is going to interact with the Chinese multi continental strategy of the “new silk road” (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Iran, China and the New Silk Road”, The Red (Team) Analysis, January 4, 2016), closely followed by The Red (Team) Analysis.

To be (soon) continued.

Featured image: Dubai Police Agusta A-109K-2 in flight at sunset (bottom of original picture cropped to satisfy size constraints) by Mehdi Nazarinia [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons. The top of the building shown in the background is considered as subject to de minimis, and thus permitted by UAE copyright law.

About the author: Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) is the Director of Environment and Security Analysis at The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defence sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Scenarios for the Future of Libya within the Next Three to Five Years

Now that we have identified and understood the actors in Libya’s civil war (see State of Play), we may outline the various scenarios regarding Libya’s future within the next three to five years. A civil war with two rival governments, armed coalitions, jihadists, and various tribes creates a complex climate, and we have constructed initially four primary scenarios, which, with their sub-scenarios, could plausibly play out, and thus set the course for Libya’s future, while also, to the least, impacting the fate of the region.

Here we shall briefly present each main scenario and the first level of sub-scenarios and explain why they are plausible. Throughout the following posts, we shall develop scenarios and sub-scenarios through their narratives. The initial ordering of the scenario may change and/or be presented differently as our foresight analysis progresses. We shall assess the likelihood for each scenario as well as develop indicators to monitor the possibility of their occurrence, or more exactly, of the happenstance of a similar scenario, as a scenario is an ideal-type for a defined range of real-life situations. At the end of the process we shall present the whole definitive set of scenarios.

The initial scenarios for the future of Libya within the next five years are summarized in the following graph.

This chart shows the scenarios for Libya within the next three to five years. Click for larger chart. – (c) Jon Mitchell for The Red (Team) Analysis Society

By utilizing our methodology to identify scenarios in case of war (a specific instance of the overall way to build scenarios for international and national security issues – Lavoix, “Scenarios and War“, Red (Team) Analysis, December 30, 2013), we determine the main plausible scenarios that might come about, based on Libya’s current civil war status.

As explained there, this logical approach observes that war may only evolve in two possible ways: continued war and the end of war. If war continues, it can either continue with the same terms or with different terms, depending on dynamics. If war is to end, there are several ways to reach a conclusion, including a successful peace. In that case, the state can be conquered by an external player, the warring parties can exhaust their will to fight and peace ensue, one of the involved actors may achieve victory over the others – and thus takes control – or a peace agreement can be brokered by external forces, which can either result in failure, a fragile success, or a complete success and subsequent peace (for the possible evolution of war, see notably Luttwak, “Give War a Chance“, Foreign Affairs, 1999).

Our mutually exclusive scenarios build on these logical outcomes, adapted to the Libyan case.

Scenario 1: Towards Peace (All but the Salafi groups)

Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Bernardino Leon, talks to the press at a round of Libyan peace talks.

Libyas actors (excluding the Salafi groups) take the road towards peace. In a first case, they achieve an external brokered peace, as could happen with the current United Nations-led negotiations (Scenario 1.1).

Indeed, on the ground, although the armed coalitions of both governments still maintain military positions and launch attacks, the political leaders are pursuing the road towards peace by participating in UN-facilitated peace talks (UN News Centre, April 29, 2015).

In a second case, main actors reach a point of internal exhaustion from conflict (Scenario 1.2) – thus creating the opportunity for a more organic peace, which would most probably then be finally brokered through an international conference.

This latter scenario is all the more plausible – but we shall come back more in detail to the evaluation of likelihood in forthcoming posts – that an increasing number of Libyan leaders and politicians are calling for an end to the conflict and the creation of a unity government (Kirkpatrick, April 13, 2015), as a result of internal exhaustion from war.

The dynamics of the two sub-scenarios should be noted, as the second makes the first increasingly possible.

Scenario 2: Continuation of Civil War

Libyas civil war continues, either on the same terms or different terms – depending on actors and factors. We shall mainly focus on the evolution involving different terms for our scenarios (as continuation of the civil war with the same terms will evolve into peace – see above – victory, or conquest – see below)

Following the logic of our methodological “Scenarios and War” post, to see one actor achieve “objectives and interests” thus influencing the end of the war, the terms of Libya’s civil war must be changed. As we have analysed the various objectives of the actors throughout our previous series on the actors, we shall use this analysis to imagine how the terms of war could be changed to the advantage or disadvantage of this or that actor. The presentation and titles of the sub-scenarios below are only tentative and may change as we shall revise their organization in the course of the analysis, for example to consider various cases of interventions and spill over.

Scenario 2.1: Intervention

External forces intervene in Libya, and their aim is not conquest. In a first case, we have an international intervention accepted by the UN and thus representative of the current International Community. The crucial variable, here, is the degree of acceptance of the intervention by as many states as possible, i.e. not opening the way to retaliation or counter-intervention. In the second case, an ad-hoc coalition of states, according to interests, intervenes to support one side in the ongoing conflict.

The various types of interventions, with which alliance, will be detailed in the various sub-scenarios.

An Egyptian fighter jet leaves its hangar to launch air strikes against Islamic State militants in Libya.

There are indeed a host of plausible interventions considering the current actors and interests. For example, the existence of the new Joint Arab Force, although some analysts doubt its ability to actually be effective (see Wehrey comment in Yahoo News article, March 31, 2015), has enhanced the plausibility of an intervention in Libya, as suggested by Aaron Reese of the Institute for the Study of War. However, according to former deputy foreign minister and ambassador in Egypt Abdullah al-Ashaal, there are too many divisions between the nations involved in the Joint Arab Force to be able to form a united military force (Murdock, March 31, 2015). Even if the military force is united, “conflicting alliances could escalate the fighting,” – a possibility that could certainly play out in Libya, considering the divided backing of the General National Congress (GNC) and Council of Representatives (CoR) (Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia support CoR, while Qatar supports the GNC) (Ibid; Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces II,” December 1, 2014; Mitchell, “Potential International Intervention in Context,” February 16, 2015).

Meanwhile, NATO has taken note of the security risk on its southern flank in Libya, although it is not preparing for a military role in any future interventions, thus far, which would make such an intervention currently improbable (but not implausible; furthermore, over the next five years, the likelihood to see such an intervention happen will change). The organization is waiting on an improved “security situation in Libya” before it can approve any requests to “help train Libyan security forces” (Croft and Karadeniz, May 12, 2015). However, countries may also choose to act outside NATO, as, for example, France and Italy have expressed serious concern over security issues stemming from Libya’s instability – specifically the possibility of Islamic State militants posing as migrants and crossing the Mediterranean into Italy (Ross, February 18, 2015; AFP, February 21, 2015). The EU may then be or not be involved in a future intervention.

Meetings in Cairo are taking place to discuss intervention plans for Libya, with France and Italy possibly partnering with an Arab force (Mustafa, May 10, 2015; SputnikNews, May 11, 2015; Eurasia Security Watch, March 4, 2015).

Scenario 2.2 Spill over

Here, we shall see the Libyan conflict extending and the theater of war reaching other countries, either currently peaceful, such as Tunisia, Niger, or further afield Italy, for example, or joining – as is already the case – with other ongoing wars, such as the war in Mesopotamia (Syria and Iraq). A best way to organize these scenarios will be sought.

Scenario 2.3: Partition

We broadly have two cases. First, Libya embraces federalism, with a possible division along provincial lines (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, Fezzan). In the second case, the country breaks up, most probably along tribal lines.

The two regional governments in Cyrenaica – the Transitional Council of Cyrenaica and the Political Bureau of Cyrenaica – have already initiated federalism in Libya by announcing Cyrenaica as a semi-autonomous region (see Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces I,” November 3, 2014). Federalism in Libya could gain support and possibly turn into an option, provided that Libya’s federalist leaders present a more cohesive political agenda (see Eljarh, September 4, 2014).

As far as the second case is concerned, tribal declarations threatening secession on the one hand (see Tribes II and III), the strong regional component observed throughout the conflict which might be seen as nothing else than division along various Arab tribes lines, make this scenario plausible.

Scenario 2.4 Spill over and partition

This scenario will be a mix of the two previous scenarios.

Scenario 3: A Real Victory in Libya by a Local Group of Actors?

Any of the main group of actors is considered as able, plausibly, to achieve victory. The narratives will examine the impacts, while the indicators compared with the situation in the ground will help determine the likelihood for each case.

Either the General National Congress (GNC), including its armed coalition – Dawn of Libya (Scenario 3.1) – or the Council of Representatives (CoR), including the Libyan military and Nationalist forces (Scenario 3.2), achieves victory. Then, in each case, either the victor succeeds in stabilizing the situation and peace follows, or finally fails and we are back to civil war.

The plausibility for these scenarios is created by the fact that some leaders have expressed their preference for military victory rather than negotiated peace. Both Abdulrahman Swehli, a Misratan politician, and General Haftar, the leader of Libya’s military and Operation Dignity, have stated their preference for a military solution that would permanently decide the victor (Kirkpatrick, April 13, 2015; Al Jazeera, April 15, 2015).

Scenario 4: Salafi Conquest

Although we previously noted that, currently, conquest was outlawed, the Islamic State is currently obeying different sets of norms (see H. Lavoix, “Worlds War,” “Ultimate War,” and “Monitoring the War against the Islamic State or against a Terrorist Group?“). Furthermore, its competition for preeminence with notably Al Qaeda also impacts what the latter could do (see “Worlds War“). As a result, conquest of a sort is back on the international agenda, even if it is engineered through local groups. Note that, in terms of timeline, this scenario and its sub-scenarios will follow from the continuation of war with different terms, and, possibly also lead to war, also with different terms.

We thus have two plausible scenarios here. First, Libya succumbs to conquest by Al Qaeda (Scenario 4.1), whilst, second, we witness an Islamic State conquest (Scenario 4.2).

Indeed, Al-Qaeda has an established presence in regions of Southern Libya, and also has affiliates in Northern Libya such as Ansar al-Sharia (see Mitchell, “Islamist Forces II,” January 26, 2015). If Al-Qaeda is to offset the expanding Islamic State influence in Libya, it will likely need to draw increased support from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, notably Al-Qaeda in Tunisia, while also defeating the other actors. It may need to assert its influence on the Libyan battlefield in its battle against the Islamic State and other actors.

The Islamic State is already present in Libya, as seen in our previous posts “The Islamic State Advance and its Impacts” (Mitchell) and “Towards Understanding the Islamic State – Structure and Wilayat” (Lavoix). Its presence is growing everyday, as recently seen with the conquest of Sirte airport (BBC News, 29 May 2015) and several suicide bombers attacks in Misrata (Reuters, 31 May 2015), t the point that the GNC in Tripoli called for a general mobilisation against the Islamic State (AFP, YahooNews, 1 June 2015).  Conquering Libya, or at least vital parts of it, would also provide the Islamic State as a “gateway” to Southern Europe (Sherlock and Freeman, February 17, 2015). Such a conquest will require a sizeable force, but if the Islamic State recruitment throughout Libya increases, in addition to the arrival of foreign fighters (Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi claims 5,000 jihadists have arrived to join Islamic State and Ansar al-Sharia – Moore, March 3, 2015), the possibility to see this scenario take place may increase. Meanwhile, the Islamic State’s forces in Libya will most probably continue expanding by allying with other extremist groups, as noted by Squires and Loveluck (February 18, 2015).

The next post will start detailing the scenarios.


Featured Image: “Rebels Heading for Tripoli” by Surian Soosay [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Adrian Croft and Tulay Karadeniz, “Focus on Islamic State and Libya as NATO foreign ministers meet,” Reuters, May 12, 2015

AFP, “French PM: Jihadists in Libya ‘direct threat’ to Europe,” The Times of Israel, February 21, 2015

Awad Mustafa, “Arab Chiefs To Meet on Libya Intervention,” Defense News, May 10, 2015

David D. Kirkpatrick, “As Libya Crumbles, Calls Grow for Feuding Factions to Meet Halfway,” The New York Times, April 13, 2015

Edward N. Luttwak, “Give War a Chance,” Foreign Affairs, July 1, 1999

Eurasia Security Watch – No. 333, March 4, 2015

“Experts caution reality check on joint Arab force,” Yahoo News, March 31, 2015

Heather Murdock, “Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge,” Voice of America, March 31, 2015

Helene Lavoix, “How to Analyze Future Security Threats (4): Scenarios and War,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, December 30, 2013

Helene Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Structure and Wilayat,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, May 4, 2015

Helene Lavoix, “The Islamic State PSYOPS – Ultimate War,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, February 9, 2015

Helene Lavoix, “The Islamic State PSYOPS – Worlds War,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, January 16, 2015

Helene Lavoix, “Monitoring the War Against the Islamic State or Against a Terrorist Group?” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, September 29, 2014

Jack Moore, “5,000 Foreign Fighters Flock to Libya as ISIS Call for Jihadists,” Newsweek, March 3, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “State of Play – Islamist Forces I,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, January 26, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “The Islamic State Advance and Impacts,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, March 9, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “State of Play – Nationalist Forces I,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, November 3, 2014

Jon Mitchell, “State of Play – Nationalist Forces II,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, December 1, 2014

Jon Mitchell, “Potential International Intervention in Context,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, February 16, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War II,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, April 20, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War III,” The Red (Team) Analysis Society, May 11, 2015

“Libya’s Haftar ‘betting on military solution’,” Al Jazeera, April 15, 2015

Mohamed Eljarh, “The Federalist Movement in a Deeply Divided Libya,” Atlantic Council, September 4, 2014

Nick Squires and Louisa Loveluck, “Italy warns Islamic State is allying with Libyan Islamist groups,” The Telegraph, February 18, 2015

Philip Ross, “ISIS Threat To Italy: Islamic State In Italy Sparks Fears In Europe, But Experts Caution Restraint,” International Business Times, February 18, 2015

Ruth Sherlock and Colin Freeman, “Islamic State ‘planning to use Libya as gateway to Europe’,” The Telegraph, February 17, 2015

“Top Arab Generals Plan Libyan Intervention; Will France & Italy Join?” Sputnik News, May 11, 2015

UN News Centre, “Draft political deal for Libyan parties is ‘work in progress,’ UN envoy tells Security Council,” April 29, 2015

Towards a New Paradigm?

Assessing if we are about to see a paradigm shift is twice crucial. First, and foremost, as human beings living within societies, if such a change happens, then we need to be ready for the upheavals that precede and accompany such deep revolutions, as stakes, both ideological and material, are at work to try blocking change. We also need to understand what is happening to take the right decisions in our lives, hopefully with the right timing, to mitigate adverse impacts and favour positive ones.

Belief systems: pradigm, systemic norms, religion and ideology, and models of socio-political organisationSecond, in terms of strategic foresight and warning analysis, the deepest layers of ideas organizing societies and their interactions are fundamental frameworks, within which any understanding must be located. If changes are in the making, then they will forcibly alter the future, while the present is most probably already being affected, giving rise to a feeling of unpredictability. Actually, it is not so much that there is a novel unpredictability settling in, but that the lenses through which the world is analysed and then acted upon are inadequate.

Paradigm: Modernity

Paradigms are encompassing thought patterns and related sets of practices, which “for a time provide model problems and solutions” (Kuhn, viii). The contemporary use of the word comes from Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (.pdf version), and thus hard science. We use here its application to history (and social science). From a European (and Western) point of view, for example, we would thus have the Middle Age, Modernity, something new still unnamed. Through the process of modernization, Modernity has reached most of the globe with varying timing, success, depth of impact and finally versions, and is thus a paradigm that is relevant globally.

Modernity is defined by sociologist Anthony Giddens as

“associated with

(1) a certain set of attitudes towards the world, the idea of the world as an open transformation by human intervention;

(2) a complex of economic institutions, especially industrial production and a market economy;

(3) a certain range of political institutions, including the nation-state and mass democracy.

Largely as a result of these characteristics, modernity is vastly more dynamic than any previous type of social order. It is a society – more technically, a complex of institutions – which unlike any preceding cultures lives in the future rather than the past” Conversations with Anthony Giddens: Making Sense of Modernity 1998, p.94.

This is what a large part of the world has known for the last centuries, to the least for the main part of the twentieth century, and which may be about to disappear (Lavoix, 2005: 20).

Some examples of previous paradigm changes are, in Europe, the shift from pre-modern to modern time (the end of the Middle–age and the Renaissance), a similar shift taking place in the whole of Eurasia, as shown by Lieberman’s work, the Meiji Transformation in Japan, Iconoclasm in the May Fourth Era in China, to borrow Yü-sheng Lin’s title.

Signals of paradigm shift: Crisis

paradigm crisis, ideological stakesAccording to Kuhn, the paradigm switch itself is relatively sudden and unstructured. Before it happens, a crisis occurs, that is “brought about by the accumulation of anomalies under the previous paradigm.”  (Curd and Cover, 218). In science this means debates. In historical life, this is most likely to mean struggles and conflicts, while problems cannot find solutions anymore.

In our tentative application of Kuhn’s theory to history, we may either have the old and the new paradigms cohabitating with struggles between the two (and their “proponents”), or the old inefficient paradigm trying to survive attacks by those who see and understand it is not adequate anymore. The crisis would continue until a new efficient paradigm emerges and the shift (the complete adoption of the new paradigm) takes place. Upheavals are most likely to continue for a while as related human institutions are created and work at stabilising the situation.

As pointed out by Ertman in the case of the search for new adequate models of socio-political organisations, ideological and material stakes in the old paradigm, and in all institutions and layers of beliefs that are derived from the paradigm, block the full emergence of the new paradigm or the search for new solutions. The dynamics that are most likely to be at work have been presented in the Chronicles of Everstate, in a fictionalized way to ease understanding: Ideological Stakes in an Outdated Worldview and Material Stakes in an Outdated Worldview.

A paradigmatic crisis is probably progressive, with peaks but also accumulation of tension. Consciousness of the needed change probably occurs only slowly. When sufficient awareness has dawned, which, for us, may be now, then the emergence of the new paradigm, the shift itself, may not be far away; yet efforts at understanding and adapting are more than ever necessary, while the struggle to maintain the old paradigm and its advantages continues unabated and is even likely to strengthen.

The multiple crises (the environmental cliff to use the words of Jeremy Grantham, the sovereign debt crisis, the financial crisis, the global economic crisis, global water insecurity, resources depletion or insufficiency, international tensions, etc.) through which we are currently living could actually be much more than “just” the juxtaposition of unrelated crises. They could signal that we are in the midst of a paradigm crisis.

Leaving Modernity?

The shock of the heliocentric systemWe would thus be living close to a paradigm shift, which would see us leaving modernity. Such a transition would mean that our perceptions, world-views, understanding but also consequent sets of practices, change. They need to do so as they do not provide anymore for solutions, as shifts are demanded by the incapacity of the previous paradigm to help human societies making sense of the world and thus surviving. This does not imply that all previous beliefs and practices disappear, but that they may be perceived, used, interpreted otherwise, although some will also totally vanish.

Considering the huge potential impact a paradigm crisis and a shift would have, it is necessary to try monitoring if it is really happening and what is happening, to fully include the possibility of this paradigmatic change in our analyses and to be on the look out for elements of the new paradigm.

Using Giddens initial definition, we should be ready to see disappearing or considerably changing:

  1. The idea of the world as an open transformation by human intervention. For example, this questions the whole geo-engineering approach to climate change: Is geo-engineering an ultra modern approach, grounded fully in modernity and thus bound to disappear or is it, on the contrary, part of a new paradigm, besides human augmentation (the singularity approach), where the very definition of the living and its creation changes?
  2. A complex of economic institutions, especially industrial production and a market economy: Could approaches such as “do less be more” as suggested by Chris Thomson & Mike Jackson (p.20) as micro-level answer to the paradigm crisis, focusing on values and quality rather than quantity be part of the solution? Will the institutions of the Washington Consensus disappear? Will the liberal order leave place to something else that can handle the crisis?
  3. A certain range of political institutions, including the nation-state and mass democracy: Trying to make sense of the crisis in the domain of political authority and to foresee what could happen is the focus of the Chronicles of Everstate.

Before to close, I would like to quote Richard Tarnas, as he wrote a beautiful description of what a paradigm crisis and shift entailed, in the past:

“Yet it would be a deep misjudgment to perceive the emergence of the Renaissance as all light and splendor, for it arrived in the wake of a series of unmitigated disasters and thrived in the midst of continuous upheaval. Beginning in the mid-fourteenth century, the black plague swept through Europe and destroyed a third of the continent’s population, fatally undermining the balance of economic and cultural elements that had sustained the high medieval civilization. Many believed that the wrath of God had come upon the world. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France was an interminable ruinous conflict, while Italy was ravaged by repeated invasions and internecine struggles. Pirates, bandits and mercenaries were ubiquitous. Religious strife grew to international proportions. Severe economic depression was nearly universal for decades. The universities were sclerotic. New diseases entered Europe through its ports and took their toll. Black magic and devil worship flourished, as did group flagellation, the dance of death in cemeteries the black mass, the Inquisition, tortures and burnings at the stake. Ecclesiastical conspiracies were routine, and included such events as a papally backed assassination in front of the Florentine cathedral altar at High Mass on Easter Sunday. Murder, rape, and pillage were often daily realities, famine and pestilence annual perils. The Turkish hordes threatened to overwhelm Europe at any moment. Apocalyptic expectations abounded. And the Church itself, the West’s fundamental cultural institution, seemed to many the very center of decadent corruption, its structure and purpose devoid of spiritual integrity. It was against this backdrop of massive cultural decay, violence, and death that the “rebirth” of the Renaissance took place.” The Passion of the Western Mind, (Pimlico, 1996 [1991]), p.225.


Curd, Martin and Cover, J.A., “Commentary on Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolution” in Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues, ed. Curd and Cover, (New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 1998).

Ertman, Thomas. Birth of the Leviathan : Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Giddens, Anthony  and Christopher Pierson, Conversations with Anthony Giddens: Making Sense of Modernity, (Stanford University Press, 1998).

Grantham, Jeremy, “Be persuasive. Be brave. Be arrested (if necessary),” Nature 491, 303, 15 November 201, doi:10.1038/491303a.

Jackson, Mike, “Global Change of Paradigm,” Shaping Tomorrow, 20 June 2012.

Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, Volume 2, Number 2, (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1970 [1962]).

Lavoix, Helene, Indicateurs et méthodologies de prévision des crises et conflits: Evaluation, (Paris : AFD, December 2005).

Lieberman, Victor, B. “Local Integration and Eurasian Analogies: Structuring Southeast Asian History, c.1350-c.1830;” Modern Asian Studies 27, 3 (1993), pp 475 -572

Lieberman, Victor, B., Strange Parallels, Southeast Asia in Global Context, c.800-1830 Vol.1 Integration on the Mainland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Lin Yü-Sheng, The Crisis of Chinese Consciousness: Radical Antitraditionalism in the May Fourth Era, (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin press, 1979).

Tarnas, Richard, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View, (London: Pimlico, 1996 [1991]).

Thomson, Chris,  & Jackson,Mike  New Purpose, May 2012, Shaping Tomorrow.

The Red (team) Analysis Weekly No74, 15 November 2012

No74 – 15 November 2012

Patterns, battles and conflicts, ongoing, escalating or to come, emerge as articles are read in clusters, as a system: e.g. US as top oil producer with Peak oil theorists disagreeing, the battle for the Arctic, Chinese Energy thinking and 6C increase in temperatures.

Click on image to read on Paper.li or scroll down to access current issue below.Horizon Scanning for National Security

The Red (team) Analysis Weekly No73, 8 November 2012

No73 – 8 November 2012

Click on image to read on Paper.li or scroll down to access current issue below.

Horizon Scanning for National Security

The Red (team) Analysis Weekly No72, 1 November 2012

No72 – 1 November 2012

Some weak signals towards a change of paradigm, besides the usual tense hotspots and their aftermaths – which do contribute to the change of paradigm. Maybe an opening window of opportunity that might ease the escalation Israel-Iran… “maybe” because, there, signals are contradicting.

Click on image to read on Paper.li or scroll down to access current issue below.