How the world moved in Q3, 2021

Sundeep Waslekar offers a nuanced view of the push and pull that is shaping the world around us

Founding Fuel

We delve into the big shifts in geopolitics in the past few months of 2021, a continuation of our conversation since the masterclass in January 2021 and a quarterly podcast series (you can watch the masterclass here and the previous episodes here and here). Sundeep Waslekar, president of Strategic Foresight Group, takes stock of the most important global events that are shaping our world.

In this episode, Waslekar dwells on six important developments:

  1. The supply chain crisis
  2. Energy shortages 
  3. The US pullout from Afghanistan
  4. AUKUS—the trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and the US, announced on September 15
  5. Political shifts—the collapse of Lebanon; the elections in Germany, Canada, Brazil
  6. Radio signals from the closest star to our own Sun

Highlights from the conversation    

1. The supply chain crisis

The news

  • Biden announces measures at major ports to battle supply chain woes (NYT)
  • Supply chain crisis risks taking the global economy down with it (Bloomberg)

Waslekar's take

I saw this first hand during my recent journey to Europe—the logistics problem was visible with lost baggage at the airport and too many ground-level problems.

Though China, India and many other nations are affected, the crisis is most visible in the UK—with truck drivers on strike, empty shop shelves and talk that the UK won’t be able to buy Christmas gifts.

There’s labour shortage in the transport sector in Los Angeles and in the UK; and a shortage of chips that also impacts appliances and automobile manufacturers.

2. The energy shortage

The news

  • Natural gas prices have risen multifold in Europe; several factories in China have shut down due to power disruptions linked to the short supply of coal; the UK has witnessed many of its fuel pumps running dry and the country’s military has been called in to prevent any violence; India’s power plants are also running on critically low coal stocks. (The Hindu)

Waslekar's take

China has had to close factories causing shortage of ingredients/raw materials. Entrepreneurs are not able to manage demand-supply projections. 

There’s a big rush to move coal from mines and this goes against the plans for green energy and the whole response to climate change.

3. US pullout from Afghanistan

The news

  • US says it will resume talks with Taliban (The Defence Post)
  • Pakistan allows Indian aid to Afghanistan to pass through (The Hindu)
  • EU to aim for rapid deployment force without US help by 2025, document says (Reuters)

Waslekar's take

US Allies

There’s a lack of confidence in the US—in Europe and among America’s allies.

In the Nato summit in June there was no talk about Afghanistan; the US didn’t warn its allies about the manner in which it will pull out.

In Europe, there’s a thinking—out of anger—that they should build an independent European defence command.

India’s policy

India had invested more than a billion dollars in Afghanistan. We don’t know what will happen now. Even if the investment is protected by the Taliban, the return to India is zero.

The world is confused. It doesn’t know how to respond to the Taliban's rise. No one wants to recognise the Taliban government. Yet, if they don’t deal with the Taliban government, there will be a humanitarian crisis. Governments have given billions of dollars, but how do they ensure it goes to the intended beneficiaries?

India also does not know how to handle the Taliban. India has held talks with them on evacuations and wants to provide humanitarian support. And has nuanced its policy to engage.

4.  AUKUS—the trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and the US, announced on September 15 

The news

  • France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia over a new defense deal (Vox)
  • The sharp US pivot to Asia is throwing Europe off balance (NYT)

Waslekar’s take

France was to provide Australia with submarines. In the midst of this, the US and the UK—the Nato allies of France—made a separate nuclear deal with Australia without involving France.

There is anger in France against the US and a feeling they can’t be trusted.

For the US this deal was more important than any fear of offending France.

This will intensify the conflict between China and the West in the Pacific region; with Australia as an active partner in this hostility.   

This is the first manifestation of the US redeploying its military resources to counter China.

The US has leaked the news that they’ve been training Taiwan’s military for a year, as part of the psychological war between the US and China.

[As we’ve seen over the course of this year], the intensity of this cold war is increasing.

As for Australia’s motivations, they have a trade dispute with China, though China will remain an important trade partner—and this [deal] has implications for that. Though trade and economy tends to have a certain autonomy.

The supply chain issue in LA is also about trade with China. Despite conflict there are Chinese goods sitting in the ships.  

5. The Middle East 

The news

  • Lebanon is on the brink of a precipice (NYT)
  • Icy relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are thawing — and may lead to renewed bilateral ties (DW). And Iraq is emerging as the grand diplomatic mastermind of the Middle East 

Waslekar's take

In Lebanon, there is a collapse of the state. 

The port blast about a year ago created huge anger; the government resigned; and they’re unable to form a new government. There is also conflict between communities (Muslims and Christians). Lebanon was “the Paris of the Middle East” at one time; now it’s a case of internal collapse.

Meanwhile Iraq, another “failed” state, is playing an important diplomatic role as a mediator between Saudi Arabia and Iran, between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Saudi - Iran talks have gone through three rounds. If the talks succeed, it will change the Middle East.

6. Across the world, the political winds are shifting from the Far Right to the Centre or slightly Left of Centre

The news

  • Germany’s federal election on September 26th yielded a close finish. The centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) took the largest share of the vote and is the largest party in the new Bundestag. (The Economist)
  • Norway's left-wing opposition wins in a landslide, coalition talks next. (Reuters)
  • Canada's Trudeau ekes out narrow win in COVID-dominated election (Reuters)
  • Brazil's leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva remains ahead of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. (Reuters

Waslekar's take

In the elections in Germany, Norway and Canada, Right Wing parties either lost the elections or lost ground to the opposition.

Even in last November’s US election of Joe Biden as President, is a move away from Trumpism to the centre.

And there are very clear indications of loss of support to the Right Wing in the UK—with Boris Johnson losing support due to Brexit and supply chain constraints

In Brazil too Bolsonaro is losing popularity, [ahead of the 2022 elections].   

What to watch for in 2022

Climate change The COP26 conference is Glasgow—we have to see what comes out of it. In the 2015 Paris COP, there was a pledge to transfer $100 billion to developing countries for green tech. But only some $20 billion has been transferred so far.

Afghanistan will be an ongoing story. How will the world deal with the Taliban, even as there is no compromise from the Mullahs on how they want to treat women and children.

India’s borders with Pakistan and China. This on-off skirmish has become a way of life.

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