The world to come

(To Gino Lanzara)
13/01/23

One of the most compelling Disney stories in recent years is the one entitled The world to come; read it, it's worth it. What it will come, comics or not, is the most attractive aspect and one that feeds a palmistry market that ago GDP. So let's read geopolitics, taking into account the variables that, even in cartoons, complicate every adventure.

What year will it be for the economy? At the moment the only certainty is that of unpredictability; after all, the various governments, supposedly post-pandemic, did not think of further difficulties triggered by a conflict on European soil. Inflation, energy crisis, new fossil fuel routes, rising interest rates, depressed consumption, production precariously balanced between costs and profits, signs of recession for 1/3 of the global economy: cork the bubbly, here's to you on 2023.

What are the balances? How will central banks achieve their anti-inflation targets? How will Europe avoid further energy hysteresis without Russian supplies? What levels will Sino-American rivalry translate into tariffs and protectionism reach? It is necessary to accept the ineluctability of new economic wars which will see the succumb of those who have not been able or willing to be ready for unprecedented geopolitical realities which aim at hoarding resources. While moderate optimism blows on Wall Street, in China and from China, Covid fills the sails with deep worries; deaths and infections knock out the Dragon, the economic recovery is struggling; while Chinese economic indexes are in the red, in Hong Kong the detectors rise by more than 2% thanks to technology and real estate companies1. The increase in Covid cases in China reserves cin any case planetary repercussions, taking into account that the spread of the virus seems unstoppable enough to reduce the workforce2 and induce the very cautious WHO to invite Beijing not to underestimate the data of a disease3 fear-inducing and drug hoarding. Taking into account that Beijing is the main world trading hub, a Chinese backlash will lead to a consequent Western backlash with the damage of the most important supply chain global.

The Dragon, despite the easing of restrictions and affected by the preventive measures taken by some countries towards its expatriate citizens, is grappling with financial problems to the attention of investors, who are looking at the possibility of Belt and Road Initiative alternative4. If no obstacles should arise, European competition for the BRI should already start at the beginning of 2023 with new alternative infrastructure plans to the Chinese ones held back by the economic slowdown. The uncertainty of the markets makes China a single immense unknown that opens the door to stagflation, with increasingly high prices and slowing growth. Inflation was initially expected to be transitory, with a European recovery more dynamic than the American one and with China projected to sustained growth; but then inflation fluctuated in line with the evolution of Ukrainian events.

Despite the attempt to control prices by raising rates, the ECB forecasts inflation at 6%; the more prices rise, the more pressure on rising bank rates will grow, while with the cost of money rising, demand will fall: here is the recession5, the global economic slowdown.

In the USA, the profits of private companies have given a respite to American stocks in difficulty due to the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve which, in 2022, has already reduced its balance sheet by 381 billion dollars, draining liquidity from the financial system according to a policy of quantitative tightening aimed at supporting the impact of anti-inflation interest rate increases. The politics of zero rate it's over now6; be careful, because the reduction of money will lead to the drainage of the liquidity produced for the quantitative easing7, the memory of which will make many ears ring.

European industry will also suffer, affected by the energy crisis and by the gap with the American production system, more powerful in terms of energy and which can lead to a relocation of EU companies8.

The prices of food, together with those of petroleum products, by increasing social tensions, have put government budgets in crisis, unable to support the most vulnerable social groups. To consider the Black Sea Grain Initiative which, by ensuring the export of cereals from Ukraine, will cause continuous shocks as a function of Russian interventions. The reduction in global supplies of wheat and corn will raise prices by 10% within a year, accompanied by energy hikes that have already raised fuel and fertilizer costs. To contain the rise in prices it is essential that trade remains free, and that internal food production is increased, avoiding the accumulation of stocks and using reserves.

In all of that I am tumble cryptocurrencies, whose market value has collapsed also thanks to the fall of Bitcoin: losses and turbulence have unmasked such fragility as to prevent the recovery of their value9 but not a possible future alternative use.

Meanwhile, deep divisions among G20 countries meant that not all participated in sanctions against the Kremlin; only mature economies agreed to sanctions process, while emerging economies except South Korea bypassed entanglements10. While the fate of the 300 billion dollars of the Central Bank of Moscow, tied up by the G7 nations and the EU, is being discussed, in December the price cap on Russian oil exports, which was followed by a fluctuating trend in both the price per barrel and that of gas per m3 potentially even more destabilizable by the Kremlin's decisions regarding possible production cuts.

To remember the opposition of OPEC+ to the American request to increase mining activity to control prices, which allowed the Saudi energy minister to state that, in the face of a global economic weakening, it is necessary to cut to avoid collapses of the market, also because the drop in production was lower than expected. In the USA, hydrocarbon consumption has been particularly low, so much so that it has not yet reached pre-Covid levels.

Last but not least, about 60% of low-income countries are at risk of default; if this were to happen, it is conceivable that the IMF would be unable to dispose of resources useful for the disbursement of the loans necessary to allow the survival of the debtors. together withmoney, here are the power projections, which see the Sino-Russian-US nuclear tripolarity11, although the current state of conventional war efficiency of Moscow should be considered12. The USA is therefore examining new theories on nuclear deterrence, aimed at facing two antagonists with different and contemporary techniques, and which take into account the evolution of the principle of mutual assured destruction, which ensured 75 years of peace, at least until the threats uttered by the Russian president, who could not rule out the use of reduced warheads in a more limited theater on specific targets, avoiding extended thermonuclearities.

The War in Ukraine had to demonstrate how far Russia today was from the Soviets of 1991, by imposing the political and economic presence of Bear and Dragon in a new multipolar order; unpredictably the Kiev trident resisted, and of the Russian army, devoid of organization and strategy, only the memory of the parades in the Red Pizza remained. This while President Zelensky, away from Ukraine for the first time since the beginning of the invasion, is tightening his relations with the USA, ready to disburse new aid for no less than 45 billion dollars, together with missile equipment.

While Zelensky was speaking to a US Congress close to changing its political colour, methods of support and control over aid granted, China called for moderation and the use of diplomatic political instruments. State visits in a moment of operational stalemate are always useful to try to find support and help. Where Russian propaganda sees unlimited friendships akin to embarrassing economic-political capitulations, as made evident in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Beijing is calling for a dialogue that will require compromises based on who has to give what and destined to leave indelible historical marks. Given also the vertical of Russian power, subject to lethal vertigo from the 2nd floor upwards, the doubt remains about a possible presidential successor in the event of a regime change which would present much worse hypotheses (Prigozhin? Kadyrov, who has dared criticize the military top?), maybe aiming for a war of attrition. Attention why dead Stalin makes another one.

Finally, the possibility of a confrontation with NATO brings with it the hope that the political game can close in advance inside the halls of the Kremlin by repeating the events of the end of World War I, also because we cannot forget the Ukrainian successes and their timing.

Be careful though; a hypothetical Russian defeat, despite the immediate benefits, would bring with it both a wave of chaos that would be difficult for Brussels and the USA to manage, with repercussions in Asia, Europe and the Middle East (ME), and the certainty for many neighboring countries that they would not have to undergo political influences and possible military interventions13.

Putin's bellicose posture is setting the stage for a post-modern escalation against the West, seeking to exploit its asymmetrical advantages as a rogue state. If Russia were to retrace the same path as in 1991, the problem of controlling nuclear weapons would arise again: a Cold War without atomic equilibrium. Putin's fall would result in civil war, with state control fragmented and personalities emerging either from the security services or from elite of economically prostrate regions rich in ethnic minorities. If Russia disintegrates and loses influence in Eurasia, China would advance into Central Asia with Turkey, and South Caucasus and EM would be within its expansion range.

Right now, the Ukrainian presidential trip has made it clear to public opinion that Western support is not about to wane despite the extent and severity of the Russian attacks. The differences between Europe and the USA are considerable; while the United States elaborated a socio-political division internally, Europe began to experience a state of constant fragmentation fueled by the fact that the consequences of the war affected the economic and industrial systems of the single States in different ways.

Three elements could lead Europe to take action to move towards a more defined geopolitical posture: Russian aggression, Chinese assertiveness, the possible return of Donald Trump in 2024.

The Russian invasion, among the various consequences, had that of pushing Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership, a move which has widened the front at risk for Russia to the north-west, already cracked by the entry of the Baltic countries. Russia will hardly be able to deploy new and above all efficient units in Karelia in the short term.

Meanwhile, Beijing continues its advance in the South China Sea, over 80% claimed on the basis of the Nine Dash Line, where you notice more and more the string of pearls of artificial islands. It is a constant penetration and below the threshold of a possible conflict. The principles of hybrid war they provide, as for the fleet of armed fishing boats sent near the waters of other countries, a sort of legal denial in case of reaction from the coastal countries.

Meanwhile, Xi lays the foundations for strengthen relationships with the Gulf countries. Rich in resources, the Middle East region plays a crucial role in ensuring the energy supply of China, committed to redesigning a sustainable and alternative global order in the wake of Belt and Road Initiative which, however, from a security point of view, will not currently introduce alternatives to the USA. After all, it is not easy to move in ME; Xi himself had to take note of the cross rivalries that emerged immediately after his visit to Saudi Arabia and the relations maintained with the Gulf Cooperation Council, capable of unleashing the resentment of Tehran, a strategic Chinese ally, which cannot tolerate its Saudi rival . It is no coincidence that President Raisi has asked Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua for some sort of compensation14: it matters little that the Beijing diplomats reiterated that Xi visited Riyadh to help give stability to the region. In fact, the Sino-Iranian dispute shows how difficult it is for China to carry out geopolitical exercises by virtue of local rivalries. Looking ahead, according to the Iranian reaction, the Chinese approach could prove unworkable.

Can Iran, in light of internal turmoil, afford this aggressive policy? And Europe? The last remnant of a horrible year like few others, in addition to the image of a bankrupt financial entity, has returned the portrait of an institution in deep political and moral crisis that certainly could not miss an exotic Qatargate. The flow of business between the Gulf countries and Europe, which has not been affected by any stance on the state of human rights, has actually run parallel to illicit practices that have cast more than one shadow on political ethics Brussels. The soft power sports, aimed at achieving geopolitical results, proved to be a small thing, also given the Koranic penetration in the Balkans and the injection of liquidity both on the English market15 both on the German one (so much for the little protesting hands on the lips of the German footballers16), and on the French one17. If 2022 saw France and Germany criticizing Qatar, 2023 brought attention back to the extent of Qatari-European investments which suggest a foregone conclusion to the tangential scandal: individuals burned, institutions saved. In Qatargate, the money arrives directly from one or more states, attesting to an underestimated MEP relevance that is sensitive to certain solicitations.

Now Washington. The changes underway require strategies that better safeguard US security by paying greater attention to diplomatic, economic and technical assistance as well as military assistance, which must look even further east: it is in the American interest to maintain an Iraqi balance in an anti-Iranian key .

What about the Arab Spring? Tunisia and Libya are struggling in crises that offer no openings, with the current American policy forced to seek quick, effective and counter-trend solutions. Remained in sleep until 2019, the springs have demonstrated a vitality indicative of a process that has not yet concluded since it is moved by unchanged socio-economic motivations.

While it is true that the Ukrainian invasion offers resource-rich countries the opportunity to shore up starving economies, it is nevertheless true that the very idea of rentier state it is no longer sustainable.

In addition to the war, the pandemic has further sapped pathologically weak economies with the loss of thousands of jobs. To complicate the situation, in addition to the lack of any transition between generations, problems related to the availability of water will arise. In the light of Agreements of Abraham, the Biden administration should support Turkish-Israeli relations by encouraging partners and allies to assume roles of responsibility.

Can the US Give Up Deterrent Israeli Support? No. Israel is still in the breach in the fight against Iran, against terrorism and Islamic radicalism, and the American neo-demons are still making losses with Saudi Arabia while the right-wing government in Jerusalem questions the achievement of military agreements regional desired by the spirit of the Abraham Accords. Considering the interests that both countries have for each other, it can be assumed that their relations will be painstakingly preserved, also in light of the fact that Israel has never needed American soldiers to fight its wars.

Let's go back to Mickey Mouse. In the world to come, hybrid conflicts fluctuating in the gray area on the border between peace and war will regain strength, the space in which attack and defense are above cooperation and below an appreciable threshold of armed conflict; hybridization depends on which perspective the facts are observed: the gross is found quickly, but the diaphragm that separates good e bad it is very labile18.

For the USA the specific priorities in gray area they frame the broader strategic goal of preventing and responding to hybrid Chinese and Russian threats; however, it will be necessary to pay attention to how hybrid conflicts differ: Russia combines military and non-military tactics to generate chaos; the Chinese approach is more pervasive, resorting to constant non-military activity to compensate for its inferiority with the US.

It will be necessary to adapt to the evolution of information involving economic and institutional policies, as technological advances are transforming both hybrid threats and the means to counter them.

Economic strategy participates in strategic competition together with industrial policy, debt financing and sovereign debt policy, policies adopted by China and Russia for strategic purposes, to which the response must be delegated to civil and commercial partnerships with the strengthening of the private sector .

It is very likely that, in 2023, Iran will pass the point of no return and become a de facto nuclear-armed state. While a diplomatic breakthrough appears to be extremely unlikely, various American administrations have declared that the use of force is an option of last resort but not for this reason not viable. However, it is unlikely that Iran will test a nuclear device in 2023 and that it will be years before it installs warheads on ballistic missiles; however, once ready game over.

In the meantime, the USA is losing the political support of Colombia, the only major South American economy not compromised with China and, with it, Latin America.

2023 could then become the year of fragmentation and control of the internet, with the emergence of fully controllable online computing environments. In addition to Russia, China is building the basis of an unfree Internet, just as India and Turkey are doing without the United States proposing an alternative strategy. In Europe, the crisis and fragmentation already operating are the energy shocks, the economic contraction and the internal dynamics of the various countries. The risk that the elections in Poland, Greece, Estonia, Finland and Spain will lead the Eurosceptics to the crest of the wave is well founded. While the Jihad from the Red Sea aims for the Atlantic, with the instabilities of Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin and Côte d'Ivoire, thus guaranteeing access to drug trafficking routes from South America, the Taiwanese front remains in the balance, although China's internal situation does not permit rash projections of power.

More than the third world war, a stalemate is to be expected for Taiwan that will test Sino-American determination.

A more immediate and dangerous crisis concerns the possibility that several countries move away from the dollar, although there are no short-term alternatives, also given the crisis involving cryptocurrencies.

Strong momentum for US withdrawal could build in EM. In Riyadh, relations with Washington are increasingly strained; the most right-wing government in the country's history took office in Jerusalem, while in Tehran the regime continues its repression, leaving internal elements to vie for the succession of the supreme leader.

Will the West and the EM still recognize the strategic need to prevent US withdrawal from the US? Meanwhile, the economic recession is knocking on the doors of all countries, bringing with it default. With lower demand and a lower price for non-energy exports from weaker countries, with rising costs of energy and food, developing countries are close to collapse as they earn less on what they sell and pay more for what they buy. Meanwhile, interest rates are rising and lenders are not willing to take risks in their dealings with weaker countries.

Societies everywhere are divided with political institutions in pain; Brazil saw the return of Lula, Israel that of Netanyahu, the United Kingdom the third prime minister in a short time; in Europe it will soon be necessary to choose between the Chinese and the US market.

Meanwhile, SE Ukraine wins the war, a remote hypothesis but less so than last March, joining the EU and NATO would contribute to raising the American potential, which has proven to be indispensable.

In 2023 the issues related to the security of the Black Sea will increase in importance, facilitating the Turkish military-political rise, influenced by the (foregone) outcome of the next elections. A Turkish role as a counterweight to Russia both in the Black Sea and in Central Asia cannot be overlooked.

The American commitment in the negotiations on the economic framework of the Indo Pacific would demonstrate that the US administration intends to regain its role of regional economic mediator supported by doses of political realism, that realism which is leading to review the position of Maduro's Venezuelan oil company. Presumably the US will support allies with supplies and training, rather than directly engage; while Washington thus tries to maintain its global role, it will be up to Europe to redefine itself or collapse by continuing to rely on an unsustainable free trade structure too tied to export fluctuations.

Poland will emerge as an alternative central power, waiting to see, by 2045, how and to what extent Russia will fragment and how China will react to the onset of its regionalisms, observed by a rearming Japan.

The future is unstable, uncertain, unpredictable. If Kissinger is once again right, the end of the Ukrainian war will provide a more precise framework within which to understand how to proceed with an effective rewriting of the global order, between the Chinese-led Brics and SCO, and the American-led Quad and Aukus.

The world of Artemis19 it's getting faster and aims for the Lunar Gateway before 2030; a volatile and realistic world without idealisms. After all, as she would have said Spy Poet of mickey, who wants to be a happy spy, of tomorrow there is no certainty.

1 The Central Bank of China said it would support financial institutions in real estate mergers/acquisitions by improving the financial condition of high-end developers.

2 The new Chinese policy has facilitated coexistence with the virus, allowing workers with mild forms to continue working.

3 In the first 20 days of December, about 18% of the population of the Asian giant (about 250 million subjects) were infected.

4 See the USA with Building Back Better (B3W); Japan with the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP), India with the Indian Silk Road, which was unsuccessful; the EU with the Global Gateway, i.e a new strategy to promote smart, clean and safe connections in the digital, energy and transport sectors and to strengthen health, education and research systems worldwide”, with investments of 300 billion euros up to 2027. Furthermore, the Global Gateway, also paying attention to act on good governance and transparency, proposes itself as an alternative not only economic but also ideological to the BRI.

5 According to Bloomberg, China is attempting to deal with 1 million infected and 5.000 deaths a day from the virus, tackling what is expected to be the largest Covid outbreak ever to appear

6 See the measures of the Bank of Japan, the Fed, the Bank of England, the Australian Reserve Bank, the Bank of Canada, the Swiss Bank and the ECB from 2023

7 See State debt

8 In the short term, the steel sector will not have alternative sources to gas, with a loss of competitiveness. With prices still very high even for 2023, some sectors will not be able to replace gas, and will be forced to close their businesses or emigrate.

9 Sixty countries have reached an advanced stage of central bank digital currency (CBDC) enhancement. With the risks of cryptocurrencies and stablecoins, attention may turn to central banks. 

10 2022 has produced one of the toughest sanctions programs ever conceived, both in terms of the scale of the economies where the sanctions have been imposed, and in terms of their speed and thoroughness. 

11 China is expected to increase its nuclear arsenal to 1.500 warheads by 2035

12 At the moment no country really supports Moscow in the use of nuclear weapons; Xi himself made this clear after meeting with German Chancellor Scholz. For Russia, threatening to use nuclear weapons is more useful than actually doing it. However, Xi said he was willing to mediate between the two contenders

13 See Kazakhstan, Georgia, Transnistria

14 According to the South China Morning Post Xi and the Arab leaders agreed to both draw assurances about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program and that the UAE negotiate the territorial dispute with Iran over the islands of Abu Musa and Big and Lesser Tunb in the Strait of Hormuz.

15 See purchase of 20% of the London Stock Exchange, Canary Wharf, Harrods; 22% of Sainsburys, 6% of Barclays bank, 20% of Heathrow Airport Holdings and 25% of International Airlines Group.

16 Germany has signed an agreement with Qatar Energy, which agreed to send Germany two million tons of liquefied natural gas a year, starting in 2026 and for the next 15 years. Al Thani family controls 17% of Volkswagen, 10% of Porsche, more than 6% of Deutsche Bank

17 Paris is Qatar's second largest investment destination, and is where the emirate can count on assets of over $26 billion with the creation of 72.000 jobs.

18 The American national defense strategy of 2022, which requires greater attention to information and influence for a more decisive deterrence, only places the approaches of the competition as part of the gray area, while referring to completely comparable US and allied methods. 

19 The Artemis program is a manned spaceflight program of NASA, supported by US commercial spaceflight companies, and with international partners

Photo: US Air Force

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