Civil War in Mexico, the Frankmark in Europe, white supremacist secession in the US Northwest, nuclear bombs in the Tergiz oil fields of Central Asia sending oil prices over US$100 a barrel - US President Christy Whitman has her hands full in the year 2013.
The new world order that many people expected with the end of the Cold War turned out to be vastly more complex and chaotic than the simple bipolar system that had endured for the previous half century. Starting in the 1990s, global economics and politics diverged. By 2010, the world was carved up into three rigid and distinct trading blocs, but political boundaries were more fragmented than ever, and ethnic conflicts raged out of control worldwide.
The most powerful trading bloc was the European Union, which, by 2012, included most of Eastern Europe and Russia. The trading bloc was almost entirely closed to the outside world; protecting jobs was the central tenet of European trade policy. Few Japanese cars or American computers were anywhere to be found. But the resources of Russia and the growing markets of Eastern Europe more than made up for the European Union's lack of access to the Asia Pacific Region. The EU had achieved a common, if not single, currency by 2005: the Frankmark was good anywhere within greater Europe. The entire region maintained tight border controls, staunching the flow of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, and protecting local jobs. Indeed, a steady stream of Muslims was expelled from France, the UK, and Germany on a variety of trumped-up political grounds. And just as the UK had done with Hong Kong, France refused to admit French passport holders from Algeria. When Algeria's military regime collapsed in 1997, fundamentalists began the systematic execution of anyone found with a European passport.
To the east, Russia surprised everyone by how quickly it recovered from the chaos of the mid-1990s. Boris Yeltsin's inept regime gave way to the 12-year rule of General Aleksandr Lebed, a strong nationalist leader who was democratic in his orientation, progressive with economic reform, and able to restore the confidence of the Russian people. With its close ties to Europe, Russia posed no threat to its Western neighbours. However, countries to the east and south - China and those in central Asia - remained wary. Although the Russian military had not recovered from its effective dissolution during the Yeltsin era, its massive nuclear arsenal still remained quite a powerful threat to their security.
The second major trading bloc, the Asia Pacific Region, included most of East Asia, China, North America, and much of Latin America. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation had slowly evolved into a trading bloc in response to the European Union, absorbinG NAFTA along the way. But internal political and economic realities made APEC much weaker than the EU. While China, Unified Korea, Southeast Asia, and most of Latin America grew rapidly, the more mature - some would say sclerotic - Japanese and US economies were barely growing. By 2010, the Chinese economy was almost the same size as the US's and much larger than Japan's. Nonetheless, the US continued to expend enormous amounts of political capital on gaining access to Japan's relatively small market, and it frittered away even more capital in attempts to convert the Chinese to a Western sense of human rights. It was a policy that backfired and cost the US its limited access to the Chinese market. Furthermore, Japan's failure to pay promised reparations for World War II only deepened China's enduring antipathy. These mounting differences eventually led to the expulsion of Japan and the United States from the Asia Pacific bloc in early 2013. The bloc's Latin members had to go along or be expelled, although Brazil's economy was too closely linked with North America's to be separated completely.
One of the big surprises of the time was how well Latin America was doing, despite the perpetual war in Central America. What began as US military support for Drug Enforcement Administration raids during the first Dole administration erupted into a Mexican civil war. The battle spread into Central America, eventually including every country but Costa Rica. Although Mexico's insurrection-wracked economy eventually collapsed (sending a flood of refugees across the US border), other countries to the south began to prosper. Brazil and Venezuela - like Argentina, Chile, and Peru - finally began to seek internal organisation, both socially and economically. The massive success of Brazil and Venezuela helped drive growth in Latin America, and the economic potential of the region began to be realised. Democracy prospered in most of these nations. But the region's political and economic orientation shifted away from North America and Europe, toward the Pacific. The exceptions, of course, were Colombia and Mexico - both consumed by the US drug war.
The third trading bloc developed around the Indian Ocean as a response to the first two blocs. Its key members were India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. The region's long history of trade and political relations, as well as an acute sense of exclusion from the West and Asia, served it well. India's growth and modernisation were the key drivers for the region. Although the active repression of minority conflict by India's Hindu leadership provided plenty of ammunition for Amnesty International, other south Asian countries - even Pakistan - muted their criticism so they could participate in the region's trade. Below the Indian subcontinent, most of central Africa continued to sink into the turmoil of war and disease, despite South Africa's attempts to help the nations just north of its border. But overall, the Indian Ocean region was doing remarkably well. Perhaps because of this, perhaps in spite of it, tensions continued to grow between the Indian Ocean bloc and the European and Pacific blocs. Occasionally, a ship disappeared on the Europe-Asia route. But no one was sure if the cause was piracy or an official warning from the nations of the Indian Ocean.
After all, the trade blocs did not act as security organisations - those security organisations that had once existed were mostly gone. The dissolution of NATO began with its failure to deal with Bosnia, exemplified by Germany's premature recognition of Serbian nationalism. Another blow to NATO was Turkey's unexpected withdrawal, triggered by Europe's failure to admit the country into the European Union (as had been promised in 1963). Increasingly, Turkey turned eastward and southward toward the Muslim world. Indeed, mounting pressure on central Asia from Turkey and its oil-producing allies from Turkic Iraq and Turkmenistan appeared to be driving the region toward a wider war.Any attempts to construct oil pipelines in these areas were disrupted by terrorism and local conflicts.
There were many causes for the thousands of conflicts that covered the globe. Explosive nationalism had come on the scene with the end of the Cold War and continued to thrive. Religious groups - Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others - fought on many fronts. Crime - from smuggling to piracy to drugs - was a central source of conflict as nations were unable to maintain any semblance of international policing capabilities. Environmental issues such as climate change, regional air quality, nuclear waste, and access to water were also sources of conflict with no mechanisms for resolution. After all, a problem's source often lay in a different country from the one in which it was experienced. In addition, the rampant spread of new plagues threatened to destroy the worldwide airline industry as nations sought to contain the virulent diseases.
Nor was ethnic conflict limited solely to Europe, Africa, and Asia. After the breakup of Canada, initiated by Quebec's withdrawal, the provinces of the far west sought - and were on the way toward receiving - admission to the United States. But the white supremacist Free Cascadia Movement - seeking independence for Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Western Canada - blew up the nuclear waste dumps at the Hanford site in southern Washington. The resulting fallout poisoned the Columbia River, making a significant portion of southern Washington uninhabitable. The growing number of brutal killings of Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics in the region added to the forced migration from the Northwest. It was the combined influx of these refugees and those from the Central American conflict that once again brought the tottering Californian economy to its knees.
Underlying the world's increasing political fragmentation was a historic change.By 2010, it was clear that Europe's 500-year domination of the world was coming to an end. The domination had begun in the 15th century with the great wave of exploration, before being consolidated by colonialism and the power of the industrial revolution. Nearly every part of the world had been dominated by European values, culture, institutions, and languages. But as Asia came to achieve economic equality in the first decade of the 21st century, followed by political equality, its values, culture, and languages began to rival thoseof Europe in global impact. Europe did not disappear from the stage, but its reign as the dominant cultural power was over. Lee Kuan Yew, the late prime minister of Singapore, made it clear that Asia's continuing success could not come from emulating the West. It would rise or fall on the basis of its own history and culture. The vita of the world was no longer Western history.
Perhaps no Western country reflected this decline in stature as much as the increasingly insular and marginal United States. At the turn of the century, the Republican Party's extreme right wing successfully forced a de facto withdrawal of the US from the United Nations. There was no US ambassador to the UN nor any dues paid after the year 2000, even though the UN continued to meet in New York. Indeed, US participation in many international bodies withered at the turn of the century. The US no longer participated in the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, the International Telecommunication Union, or the Organisation of American States.
All were seen as either a threat to American sovereignty or a waste of money. Failure to participate in negotiations about the regulation of service industries in 1995 led to the gradual exclusion of the US from the business of wiring the world. Nearly everyone outside of Africa was on the Net by 2010, via satellite or wire. But unfortunately, a technology that had begun in the states ended up benefiting few US companies. Emerging software standards were negotiated in international arenas that the United States avoided, leaving US companies in the dark.
The US, however, was eventually forced to participate in international events for a familiar reason: oil prices. OPEC was long gone from the scene, and the Persian Gulf oil producers (led by the Islamic nationalists in power in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran) had been unsuccessful in their occasional attempts to raise oil prices. New oil fields in Russia and central Asia kept adding to the world's oil supply, keeping oil prices down. But all that changed on January 30, 2013, when an anonymous enemy detonated a small nuclear weapon in the middle of the huge Tergiz oil fields on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan. Suddenly, the world's oil picture was of interest again, as prices headed steadily towards the long-expected US$100 per barrel.
In response, the US president initiated strict oil rationing and began to weigh the possibility of military intervention in central Asia to protect remaining oil supplies. There now appeared no way the US could avoid the war building in central Asia, where all the sources of conflict were coming together in a deadly brew. The problem was that in a world in which the US felt no sense of shared interest with any other nation, it couldn't decide who its enemies were, nor who its allies were.
Of course, US President Christy Whitman was not alone. Every world leader found themselves in a similar position of confusion as the world began to fragment around them.
Peter Schwartz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is co-founder and president of Global Business Network, a think tank and strategic consulting firm that has pioneered the use of scenario planning.