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Geopolitical tensions expected to increase to 2050

BMI Research global political risk head Yoel Sano

BMI Research global political risk head Yoel Sano

11th August 2023

By: Darren Parker

Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

     

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Geopolitical tensions are likely to increase over the next few decades as countries reposition themselves, research firm BMI Research – a Fitch Solutions company – has warned.

Presenting research findings in a webinar titled ‘Towards 2050: Megatrends for Geopolitical Risk’, BMI Research global political risk head Yoel Sano forecast that the international system will become increasingly unstable over the next few decades, leading to increased international conflict risks as relations between great powers deteriorate.

“Many countries and territories will become subject to greater external proxy war risks. This will lead to a much more unstable world order and erode trust between nations, while obscure areas could suddenly gain global importance,” Sano said on August 10.

He said the faltering of arms control treaties and the development of cyber, artificial intelligence (AI) and hypersonic weapons further increase these risks.

Miscalculation rather than war by intent remains the bigger risk, he stated, adding that global risks would be greatly amplified by simultaneous regional conflicts taking place.

In his presentation, Sano delved into various potential shifts and developments that could reshape the global landscape over the next few decades, covering a spectrum of topics, from international relations and economic trends to environmental concerns and technological advancements.

In terms of geopolitical shifts likely to reshape global supply chains, Sano said major economies would seek to source essential products closer to home. The geopolitical reliability of trade partners would become more important as the years ticked by.

Additionally, he noted that nation-states could expect to see greater decentralisation pressures. He said the same type of periphery relations were likely to be a major fault line in many countries.

Nationalism and fiscal pressures, already boosting separatist sentiments worldwide, will contribute to this.

Sano noted that Covid-19 had raised tensions between central and regional or local governments. Large countries are likely to experience greater decentralisation tendencies. Most separatist movements are likely to settle for more autonomy, while the globalisation boost to nationalism did not preclude the formation of new regional blocs.

With regard to technological advancement and its role in bringing on new political risks globally, Sano noted that geopolitics and conflicts had long been drivers of technological advancement. He said that world powers would seek to dominate the next generation of technologies, such as semiconductors, quantum computing, AI and clean energy.

Such technological advancement will be key to national security, rather than just for economic prosperity and consumer benefits. As such, he expects the US and its allies to continue tightening export controls on key technologies to China and other perceived rival nations.

China will press ahead with attempts to achieve technological self-sufficiency, but Sano believes that the West will lag behind for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, risks exist that international systems will become fragmented along technological environments and that drone military forces – in the air, on the sea, on land, and even in space – will become more widespread.

Moreover, the use of AI in war planning and fighting could also become the norm, while the demand for rare earths could contribute to the emergence of more conflict zones.

Sano also noted that astropolitics would become a new area of rivalry between world powers. He said the world would see increased demand for low Earth orbit satellites. Other space-based infrastructure is also expected to emerge, with real research facilities and space-based solar power stations being among them.

Major powers are expected to seek to deploy space-based weapons in the near future. These weapons will include defense and offense satellites, along with other space-based infrastructure designed for attacking ground-based targets and ground-launched missiles.

The private sector is also expected to play a larger role in space development in the future. Sano noted that new disagreements were likely to emerge over defining rights over low Earth orbit slots, as well as future claims to the surface of the moon. Future claims to asteroids that could be used for mining purposes are also expected to arise as areas of contention, and there will likely be conflict over the extent to which space should be militarised.

In terms of urbanisation, Sano noted that urbanisation would lead to greater demand for infrastructure and public services, putting a greater strain on many weaker governments globally. Those governments that have failed to deliver can expect to face greater unrest and increased organised crime, which will further deter investment and tourism. Urbanisation could lead to more urban warfare, resulting in even greater destruction of infrastructure and populations, as has been seen in Syria and Ukraine, Sano said.

Meanwhile, larger cities will translate into larger governance challenges, as urban high-population density cities enable the rapid spread of future pandemics locally and globally. However, Sano said that urbanisation was not irreversible and that rising sea levels could force population movements away from coastal cities. Climate change will also increase international tensions, with water disputes likely to become much more common, particularly between upstream and downstream countries.

Sano noted that droughts and floods would exacerbate international food security concerns. He also said that there would be difficulties in agreeing on efforts to mitigate climate change amid tensions between world superpowers. Sano also predicted that there would be disputes over funding the reconstruction of climate change damage in poorer regions.

The flooding of strategically important islands and coastal regions could also lead to a search for new ports and bases. He said that future conflicts could be aimed at seizing control of water resources. Meanwhile, new international water trade could emerge to ease pressure on arid regions through the use of tankers and new infrastructure. Tensions could eventually emerge over the geoengineering of the atmosphere, which was another concern that Sano highlighted.

Sano highlighted the evolving dynamics between major powers and their geopolitical strategies. He pointed out that financial strains, coupled with mounting debts incurred by certain nations, could lead to substantial momentum shifts in international relations. Sano emphasised the pushback by the US and its allies, which could eventually dissolve, opening up new possibilities in global affairs.

He delved into the potential emergence of new alliances and initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region. As Japan and its allies promote rival schemes, a keen focus was placed on China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries and international organisations.

Despite rivalries, the BRI is projected to remain China's flagship endeavour for expanding international trade, especially targeting developing markets and forging new political alliances.

Sano also noted the rising significance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), representing ten of the world's largest armed forces and 40% of the global population. This formidable bloc has potential international influence, although challenges such as lack of formal defence alliance and economic bloc status exist. Nonetheless, the SCO could serve as a foundation for an Eastern or Global South alliance network.

Sano also noted multiple trade corridors and infrastructure developments, including the "middle corridor" connecting China through Central Asia to Turkey and Europe. As geopolitical tensions in strait corridors persist, efforts to enhance trade routes are anticipated. The International North-South Transport Corridor and land-based connections through North Korea were also discussed, outlining both potential and challenges.

Sano further underscored the growing competition for resources in the Arctic Circle owing to warming temperatures and melting ice. This area of great power competition primarily involves the US and Russia, but also draws interest from China, Japan, South Korea, and India. The changing Arctic landscape could lead to increased militarisation and geopolitical manoeuvring, he said.

The Global South's economic diversification was also noted in the presentation. Sano shed light on the economic goals of regions such as Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. He said that the focus in these regions lay in diversifying economies away from commodity resources through other activities such as tourism, finance, technology innovation, besides others. Moreover, rising regional integration and efforts to become less reliant on external powers were also highlighted as important.

Sano addressed climate change, a central concern, in the context of its impact on politics, economies, and societies. He touched on potential authoritarianism driven by the perceived need to tackle climate change, leading to strong, centralised governments. While challenges loom, technological breakthroughs, international cooperation, and integration within regions offered glimpses of positive potential, he noted.

Sano emphasised the inherent unpredictability of the future. Potential wildcard events, ranging from technological breakthroughs and ideological movements to conflicts and natural disasters, could reshape the global landscape. He said that, while forecasting was essential, the ability to adapt to unexpected changes remained crucial.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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