Conference: Geopolitical scenario in the 21st century
On Friday, June 26th, INCIPE hosted a conference in Madrid titled The Geopolitical Scenario of the 21st Century. The event broadly centered on a discussion of the current global geopolitical situation and the steps international organizations are taking to address conflict and instability. The event benefited from the participation of representatives from several institutions, including Mr. Jonathan Parish, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General, Defense Policy and Planning Division.
The conference opened with some words of welcome from Mr. José Pedro Sebastián de Erice, Secretary-General of INCIPE and Secretary-General of Técnicas Reunidas Internacional, followed by Mr. Alejandro Enrique Alvargonzález, Secretary-General of Defense Policy at the Spanish Ministry of Defense. Mr. Alvargonzález elaborated on the instability in the current geopolitical landscape, including Islamic fundamentalism, hybrid warfare, and globalization. Mr. Alvargonzález was in turn followed by the first panel discussion, entitled “Current Geopolitical Keys,” moderated by Mr. Darió Valcárcel, CEO of Estudios de Política Exterior S.A. and Vice-President of INCIPE, and featuring comments from Col. Pedro Méndez de Vigo, Mr. Andrés Ortega, and Mr. Florentino Portero.
The first discourse provided an overview of the geopolitical realities in the United States, the Middle East, and Europe. The US was recognized as the pre-eminent geopolitical power, although its influence is receding. This change was described as an effective “withdrawal,” with the US pulling back resources and shifting its focus to Asia. Additionally, the US’s tiring and costly legacy of “hyper-leadership” was cited as cause for American retrenchment.
The Middle East was described as a massive jigsaw puzzle, with pieces such as oil, Israel, and geo-strategy playing a major role. Sunni-Shia relations, in particular the place of Iran, were highlighted, with the influence of the United States, the Arab Spring, and the growth of the Islamic State also factoring into the geopolitics of the region. Lastly, in terms of Europe, the continent is faced with serious exterior threats from Russia and North Africa, in addition to interior demographic weakness, with Germany alone remaining amongst the world’s largest countries in terms of population.
The second discourse shifted the discussion’s focus towards adapting political structures to the 21st century and the differing strategies in the current geopolitical situation. Today, many political structures from the Cold War continue to operate, above all the NATO alliance. The structure and intent of the alliance is unprecedented in history, but it suffers from a lack of clear vision or common perception of global threats. As a result, NATO has no common strategy.
The EU shares this strategic weakness, as there is no cohesive strategy supported by the bloc. The US suffers this problem as well and is aware of it, demonstrated by the policies of President Obama. China, however, does have a strategic vision with a committed society and elites, and thus it will continue to advance in the world. Russia likewise, although it is in many ways a “disaster”, has a committed strategy that has allowed it to outfox the more powerful, but politically fractured European Union. Today, unlike the past, strategy will be determined by peoples that cooperate to form a common vision and goals, not directed only by elites.
The final discourse of the first panel discussion dealt with the themes of geography, territory, military force, and history that lie at the heart of geopolitics. These themes touch every global conflict, from Ukraine, to the Islamic State, to nuclear proliferation. With this in mind, cohesion and cooperation is essential, which makes a potential “Brexit” or “Grexit” a dangerous proposition for Europe. The world is also certainly faced with new threats. Such threats are not existential, but in particular, the problems posed by a declining global middle class, will increase instability and inequality worldwide. In the face of these issues, the West is retrenching, while powers like China are ambitious and growing. Unless Europe and the US find the will to change, the international order constructed by the West will be supplanted by new institutions and international organizations, and the centers of global power will undergo a major global shift.
The first panel was followed by an open question and answer period. Topics raised during this session included the following: the role of multinational corporations and the lack of European “unicorn” start-ups, Europe’s military relevance, the lack of coherent EU strategy, the difficulty of ratifying accords that have been signed, political inertia in Europe, the specific external problems facing Spain, and the future of Iran’s leadership and its role in the Middle East.
The second panel, moderated by INCIPE Director Vicente Garrido, and entitled “European Security and the Role of International Organizations,” dealt with the current European security situation, followed by NATO and Spain’s current and future objectives. The second panel discussion benefited from comments by Mr. Jonathan Parish, Col. Ignacio Fuentes Cobo, and Ms. Elena Gomez Castro.
Panel two’s first discourse highlighted NATO’s current and future responses to today’s security challenges. The biggest threats come from the Ukrainian crisis in the east, as well as the multiple conflicts taking place in the Middle East and North Africa. To combat these issues, NATO has increased its adaptability. This new posture has been evident in the revamped NATO rapid response task force in Europe that if necessary could mobilize up to 40,000 troops within 60 days. NATO has also upgraded its planning and training measures, instituted a “graduated response plan,” and streamlined political decision making processes. In the future, NATO plans to pursue reforms to further increase military, institutional, and political adaptation. Among the necessary measures will be better military capacity and command structures, a more efficient organization, and delivering stability through more partnership programs.
The second discourse took into consideration the security challenges facing Europe from the east and the south. In general, the US has either pulled forces back to the United States, or redirected resources to the Asia-Pacific Theater. This change has left Europe to provide for more of its own security needs, with NATO being a significant part of this effort. In the east, Russia’s hybrid warfare tactics have been very successful, although NATO policy, especially its rapid reaction forces along Europe’s eastern fringe, has done well to push back against the Russians. Additionally, Europe faces a serious challenge from the south, in North Africa and the Middle East, to which neither NATO nor the EU has mounted an effective response.
The third and final discourse of panel two dealt specifically with Spain’s role in international organizations and its future role for providing global security. Per Spain’s National Security Strategy, it is committed to working closely with international organization to achieve peace and stability in accordance with European values. This includes a commitment both to EU and NATO operations. In order to continue to provide security, Spain and its international partners must push for greater military capacity and funding, a comprehensive approach to security, and a stronger domestic defense industry.
Amongst European nations, Spain has achieved the highest level of commitment and cooperation, and helped organizations such as NATO to achieve success. In the face of security threats Spain has reinforced its allies in Turkey and Ukraine with military and financial assistance, respectively. As NATO expands its adaptation measures, Spain has signed on to be a lead nation, and will receive a new mission command next year. The last discourse ended by honoring Spain’s solidarity with its allies, and thanking the members of Spain’s armed forces for their commitment to protecting the values that Spain, and Europe, holds dear.
The second panel, and the conference, closed with another question and answer period. Topics brought before the panel included: obligations NATO may have to Ukraine over Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament, the role of multinational corporations, the task of keeping small conflicts from becoming large ones, NATO’s response to threats from the south, comparisons between Russia under Yeltsin and Russia under Putin, and the need to improve communication between NATO, the EU, and the public.