Western Asia in 2020s: risk of major war or opportunity of Regional Integration?

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The biggest opportunity in this decade for Western Asia (WA), the crucial area for the stability of the world, is a great bargain between Shia crescent and the Sunni world, for a WA integration based on a Collective Security Community and a Free Trade Integration. The region has homogeneity in religion even if heterogeneity in ethnicity, but also Europe has the same characteristics. The area has also a history of wars, mostly proxy wars recently, and great power influence and invasions (again similarly to Europe). Finally, this part of the world is economically similar with natural resources, first of all oil, and economic stable growth. Therefore is not unthinkable that Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the rest of Arab States in the region (with the presence of Israel as a pivot state) might decide for a gradual regional integration, like Europe, but also Africa, Americas and Southeast Asia decided to do in the past.

There are two issues and two possible inputs for this path. The two issues are:

-In the last two decades the regional powers (first of all Iran, but also Turkey and Saudi Arabia) supported by global ones, competed for influence over the region, creating constant violence and instability, and there seems no to be a new strategic vision for a great bargain at the horizon.

-This great bargain can be possible only with an Iranian regime change (as no Ayatollah regime will accept Israel and a regional system without Israel, even if with a special status, will not be sustainable) and this could take more than one decade to happen.

The possible inputs toward this path are:

-An Israeli-Palestinian settlement (but the recent one proposed by US and Israel has not been accepted and the solution could be postponed for long time, until “facts on the ground” are reached)

-A EU/NATO[1] support after the Iraqi/Syrian proxy wars (but the recent Middle East Strategic Alliance, an “Arab NATO”, didn’t work out and EU and NATO will be busy crafting their new relationship this decade)

The biggest risk, on the opposite, is a great war during this decade between Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon on one side and Israel and the Arab world on the other (Turkey will try to stay out,  because of NATO alliance and Iranian border, but if will enter could probably stay with the Sunni side). This risk is high in this decade, given the increased elements that point towards an escalation, and the acceleration because of three more urgent threats at global level that should be treated soon (nuclear, climate and technological). These are the 4 crucial factors that support this risk:

-End of Iranian Nuclear Deal with the real concrete possibility that Iran gets nuclear power in the next couple of years. The Iran nuclear crisis of the early 2000s will be back, pushing military urgency.

-US Peace Plan for Israel-Palestine (rejected by Palestine, Iran but also Arab league) with consequent Israeli annexation of occupied territories inside West Bank after March elections.

-Recent escalation in violence between Iran and US, with the killing of Suleimani and the prospect of more hybrid[2] warfare against Al-Quds and other Iranian militias.

-West Asia never ending proxy wars (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, may be later also Lebanon) with interventions from Iran and Russia on one side and US and allies on the other, and Turkey moving between the two, with no sign to end soon this decade.

The two possibilities don’t exclude each other, actually a major war could precede the regional integration (as it has been in the past for Europe) and the current trends seem to show a path that points towards this risk. The role of US and Russia will be also determinant to push towards one of these paths, without excluding the Chinese alignments. As a recent Stratfor report argues, the 2020s will be a Multipolar decade, with shifting and fluid alliances. So, we’ll see what happens, as Trump always says.

[1] NATO should close its Mediterranean Dialogue after 26 years and create two new partnerships: North African Dialogue (with Maghreb region) and West Asia dialogue (with Levant region). NATO Istanbul Cooperation Initiative should be expanded to all countries of GCC.

[2] Hybrid warfare blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare (among state and non-state actors with proxies, militias etc.) and cyberwarfare with other methods, at economic level (with embargos) political level (with diplomatic tools, like proposing peace plans take it or leave it) and social level (with informational warfare, lawfare etc.)

 

 

Iran and the US grand strategy: weakening engagement following maximum pressure

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Obama’s priority for Middle East was supporting US Allies, first of all Israel and Saudi Arabia, while doing “constructing engagement”[1] with Iran, which terminated with the famous nuclear deal. Trump instead, while maintaining and reinforcing the strategic partnership with US Allies, since 2019 started to weaken its eternal rival, with the “maximum pressure policy”, leaving the JCPOA agreement that gave temporary advantage to Iran, reinstating the sanctions to rebalance the power.

A recent Foreign Affairs article argues that “Tump’s Iran imbroglio undermines US priorities everywhere else”, calling out the cost of an incoherent foreign policy, as Trump seemed to go from pulling out from Middle East to engagement, with “expanded American aims across the Middle East—focusing above all on Iran…with a policy of economic strangulation—known as “maximum pressure”—with no objective on which his administration could agree.” But is Trump foreign policy towards Iran and Middle East in general really incoherent, or is showing instead real coherence for a better grand strategy to win the Cold War with Iran finally after almost 40 years, with an implosion of the Ayatollah regime similarly to what happened with Soviet Union?

The Middle East (or better West Asia, given the fact that “Middle East” is a Eurocentric concept) has always been the pivotal region to “command the Heartland” as Halford Mackinder, one of the founding fathers of geopolitics and geostrategy, said.  The Obama’s pivot or “rebalancing” to Asia has never been very convincing, and after the post-Arab Spring chaos, the birth of ISIS, and the proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the US have been pulled back to the region, even if not anymore with an old style increased presence on the battle ground but with more modern complex hybrid warfare. The fact is that West Asia is the pivotal area for geographical reasons, with three regions converging on the contested space the “Fertile Crescent” (the Syria-Iraq region, called today also the “Shia Crescent”) but even for historical ones: not only the cradle of civilizations and of the Abrahamitic religions, but the area where Turkish, Iranians and Arabs clashed (with the Kurds in the middle, always repressed or excluded) and where Shia and Sunni also fought. Iran, like Turkey, in its history has been always defiant and proud of its civilizations and empires, trying often to dominate the “wild” Arabs. So, to speak about Iran is to speak not only of the current “revolutionary regime” of Ayatollah and the Islamic Republic, but of an ancient nation, with sophisticated people and history, besides economic power and geopolitical crucial position. This should be taken into consideration when we talk about grand strategy for Iran and West Asia.

The US should have a comprehensive long-term strategy and not a fragmented or changing one if wants to win also this Cold War, that’s true. But this doesn’t mean that Trump actions reveal an incoherent strategy. On the opposite. At the end of the day the coherent strategy of Containment lasted 4 decades, before to be successful, and required different regional wars and global actions. To contain Iran too US tried with regional wars (Afghanistan-Iraq) and a Western embargo, but then the birth of proxy wars and the diplomatic cooperative approach of Obama presidency changed the situation, giving Iran more power. Trump administration started with the strategy of “maximum pressure” that is actually giving its own results. The US should therefore keep and increase this pressure, like is doing now, transforming it in a “weakening engagement”, close in some way to the “containment” strategy, but balanced with a more offensive policy, similar to the “roll back” that US didn’t really use towards Soviet influence across Europe and Asia (but that was another rival). This will really help US to do a better deal with Iran, not with the Ayatollah but with a new regime, when the moment of regime change will arrive (from inside the country as always must be in order to be sustainable). When people will be fed up of the regime propaganda and repression, the citizens themselves will topple the dictatorship masked by “Supreme Guide”, in Iran as anywhere else.

The clearest demonstration that this weakening engagement is the best strategy is the fact that when the US arrived to a deal with Iran after 36 years of division, Iran was not weakened but reinforced. Instead, the art of the deal, Trump docet, require that deals must be done from a superior position, otherwise they will be good for the other part not for us. The weakening engagement has shown to be working very well already, as after the assassination of Suleiman Iran practically only reaction was an own goal: killing Iranians on the Ukrainian flight. Showing not only the unwillingness to really revenge with a full attack against US military bases, to avoid an escalation that Iranian regime could not win, but also the inability to use the most advance weapons, like the missiles that shoot down the airplane. Therefore, the weakening of the regime is already very evident, besides the protest that are going on in the country.

So how this coherent strategy should be maintained in this decade? The weakening engagement strategy should be maintained first of all with economic tools, as economic crisis is always the first reason of protests against a regime. The economic embargo is already giving its fruits (Iran economy is expected to shrink almost 9% in 2019/2020 according to World Bank). The second threat to the regime will be the democratic and modernization desire of the youth. And here will be important to support the demonstrations as usual but also to engage with the soft power of Iranian people, their culture and history, showing to the world that Iran is much more than a Theocratic regime. The third threat to the regime will be the imperial overstretching, with regional influence not able to be held anymore with economic shrinking. Imperial overstretch and economic stagnation are a tremendous cocktail against the survival of a regime, as Roman empire learned almost two millennia ago and Soviet Union more recently. And the Syrian, Iraqi and Yemeni wars, together with Hezbollah support in Lebanon, already made Iran starting to suffer from the regional engagement, making the Quds Forces on the first line of efforts. The final important thing for this strategy to work is to continue with the escalation, to make Iranian regime weaker and weaker.

So, what will be the main drivers of escalation for Iranian foreign security policy in this decade with the US? The first will the efficacy of the US maximum pressure campaign/weakening engagement strategy itself. If there is high level efficacy Iran will have to follow up with more escalation. Then there are the political factors in Iran, which are based on religious ideology, military strategy and elites’ power. If Iranian hawks will remain in power, then the escalation will continue (Iran will have also crucial parliamentary elections in February that will affect all this) creating more division in the internal power struggle with elites. Finally, is important to see the Iranian regional gains: if Iran perceives that is gaining in the region that will make escalate more. But the end of the day a proxy militia is an “active resistance” militia for Iran, so ideology is the real final driver for Iran.

In the meantime that the weakening engagement works, it is fundamental to maintain the alliance with US traditional allies in the region, obviously the Sunni powers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, which represent Washington’s comparative advantage towards Iran who has no allies, apart a strategic relationships with Russia (but not and ideological alliance based on values and historical bonds). The most important US relationship to make the strategy work is the one with Israel. The relationship with Iran is strictly connected to the existence of Israel and to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as Iran consider Israel the main enemy, illegitimate occupier of Palestinian land that will have to disappear. The irony is that with this stance the Ayatollah declares their own end, as there cannot be coexistence between Iranian Ayatollah regime and Israel, and obviously Israel will never disappear from the maps. Today Trump will reveal its Middle East plan, even if we know already that Palestinian Authority will not accept it as a Palestinian PM already said that Trump plan will “finish off Palestinian cause”. Kushner last year presented the economic part of the plan, with 50bn$ investment to drastically improve the Palestinian economy, but the political plan doesn’t satisfy Palestinians, nor the Iranians, as it doesn’t support the two-state solution.

Iran prefers to avoid a major war, that’s why it maintains unconventional forces and proxies, instead of engaging in a total war with stronger powers, as Iran never won a war, and a war with US and Israel would obviously be the end of Iranian regime. But in the long run with the weakening engagement proxy wars will not be enough to maintain Iranian sphere of influence in the Shia Crescent. And even if Iran will not do the first strike, with increased assassinations (the first one will be probably the new chief of Quds Forces as US envoy recently said), clandestine operations, cyber warfare, unmanned vehicles attacks, etc. a major military engagement could be forced during the decade. The issue is to see if this will be accepted by a hungered and angry population. That will be the moment of truth of the Iranian regime. If not, the internal “rift” that will be created by the weakening engagement will do.

[1] Similar to the Reagan “constructive engagement” for South Africa

For a West Asia future integration: regional powers strategy and European support

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The human suffering caused by proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya will be probably remembered as the biggest failure of the international community to defend civilians in civil wars, worst than the Balkans or Rwanda at the end of 20th century. But sooner or later also these wars will have to end, like it happened in the past long wars of Europe, with peace negotiations among major regional powers, local factions and international community. And it is in time of despair that we need stronger and longer visions: the Middle East (or better West Asia, as West Asia is a European construction) will not be the same anymore, the post-Ottoman order have arrived to an end after one century, and a new regional order has to rise.

The regional powers will have to think strategically on how to build a new regional order based not on an unstable balance of power but on a gradual future integration. The powers with vocation of global actors, in particular Turkey and Iran, will have to understand that only together will be able to play a role in the future complex world. As it has been for Europe last century, also West Asia, if it wants to abandon the past of violence and underdevelopment, will need some type of grand bargain among the regional powers. An economic, political but also security integration, like it has been for the CEE and NATO, as development and security go hand in hand.

Therefore the question that rise for the future of West Asia in comparison to the European past is: could Iran be what Germany has been for Europe, a strong engine, Turkey what France has been, a democratic light, and Saudi Arabia what Italy has been, an understanding bridge? And could the EU help to facilitate this process like the US did in Europe with the Marshall Plan and NATO? Comparison are always a risk, as every region and history is different, but lesson learned, principles and best practices can be adapted to new times and different spaces. Especially if we look at long term trends in this decade of 2020s.

Iran was back in the international community since the nuclear deal was signed, but it is now in a much different situation. Nevertheless, it will always have the potential to become the economic cornerstone of a future “West Asian Economic Community”, at least when the Ayatollah regime will disappear, or will be radically transformed to accept the existence of Israel and the presence of US military bases in West Asia. Turkey neither is today in a cooperative attitude, with its desire to cast its influence in the Levant and the Mediterranean. But Turkey, besides being the connector between Europe and the West Asia, has the potential to be the “light on the hill” for the region, with its history of multiculturalism in the Ottoman times and democratic growth in the Republican ones. Turkey represented the most trusted country in the West Asia for long time: the country to who the Muslim world would look up to.  Governments and regimes pass but countries’ history and identity remain, so Turkey will have to rediscover the good elements of both the Ottoman times, with its history of cohabitation, and the good ones of its Republican history, with its roots in secular democracy. It will have to make a great bargain not only with the Shia power but also with the Arab world, from where the revolution against the Ottoman empire came. Finally, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries sooner or later will have to see that their role is the bridge between the Maghreb and the Southwest Asia: the region to which they belong historically, geographically and ontologically is the space between the Levant, the North Africa and the Indian Ocean. And they are the custody of the Muslim holy cities, so they can be humble enough to understand the different perspectives of the other Muslim brothers and sisters. It is there that they have to find a new Renaissance with a new approach between religion and politics, instead of keep trying to fight an impossible battle with the Shia crescent, either in the Levant or in the Arabic Peninsula. Egypt, like the other North African countries, being Muslim Arabs and so similar for religion and ethnicity to the Arab part of West Asia, could support Saudi Arabia but from an external point, as all North Africa is part of Africa and should re-learn the pan-Africanism that will be important for the future greater integration of African Union.

Another similarity with European history is that Iran and Saudi Arabia sectarian division is not so different from the Catholic-Protestant division in Europe, which started with a 30 years religious war and ended centuries after with two world wars, before France and Germany finally agreed to integrate in an economic union. A similar religious war is actually happening with proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, supported by their global partners, but to avoid a major armed conflict, regional powers in West Asia will have to be enough visionary to understand that they can have more benefit if they collaborate than if they compete, in particular in globalized times. If Iran, S. Arabia and Turkey will understand that cooperating with each other for economic development and mutual security will be more beneficial than competing for sphere of influences, as Germany, Italy and France finally understood, this will create the leadership that the West Asia desperately need since at least one century. And most importantly, the Muslim world will have the leadership needed to live in peace with Jews and Christians, recreating that harmony of faiths that recognize Abraham as their first prophet.

All this is a long process, but long paths have to start somewhere and like the Treaty of Rome followed the Ventotene Manifesto on Europe, also the West Asia needs some new “Manifesto”. The intellectual and political figures of West Asia need to come out with a visionary role that may take the lead to trace the road. The Islamic intelligentsia should start to reflect and talk about the future regional order, and international organizations like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation should play a role in this too. Concepts like the Islamic banking and finance, based on similar political or economic values, could be an important starting point to make the regional powers see that they share more than what they differ.

The integration of West Asia cannot happen though without also the inclusion of Israel. Israel is the compass of the region, it is the only state with a stable democracy in West Asia, even if with its flaws in the discrimination towards Arab citizens and the Palestinian state (actually like US has been for centuries: a new great democracy in the world, but not towards the Indians and the black slaves). Therefore there will not be integration of the West Asia without inclusiveness of Israel and with that process Israel will finally get the legitimacy to be recognized as a partner by the leaders of the West Asian Muslim world but will have to democratize for all its citizens, including Arabs, not having second class ones.

This task will not be possible without some external supporters, to facilitate the diplomatic efforts and the security environment needed for an economic and political integration (like the US has been for Europe with NATO). This can be done if external powers enter in the scene as mediators and guarantors, not as invader like in the past, and the first of this actor should be the EU. The EU could do for the future “West Asian Union” what the US did for the birth of the EU, including security and economic support. This could represent an occasion also for the EU to recover from the economic, social and cultural crisis that is living right now. But the EU should first of all change its foreign policy towards the region and start using a “constructive engagement”. “Constructive engagement” was a term used by the Reagan administration during the 1990s, as an alternative to the economic sanctions to South Africa during Apartheid. A constructive engagement could be possible also in the West Asia, using incentives as a means of encouraging diplomatic tools and regional integration. The demonstration that this strategy can work is the fact that the US and the EU were able to arrive to a deal with Iran after a long “cold war”, and at the same time didn’t lose the alliance with their main allies in the region. This therefore is the time in which the Western powers can amend from the past actions in the West Asia and to paraphrase the famous book of David Fromkin, help to build a real “peace to end all wars.”

Diplomacy requires time and patience, and ability to find a balance among the parts. It is not an easy game but is needed to extend the “shadow of the future”, to think about the long term in order to open prospective for convergence. It seems a far stretch right now to think about a West Asian integration but the European Coal and Steel Community also seemed impossible during the worst times and it started only in the 1957 in order, as Schuman said, “to make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”. The same could happen in the ME in the long run, putting in common the energy resources, and the regional powers will have to take the lead during this century. And better sooner than later, first for the people of the West Asia, that are always the victims, and second for all humankind, that will need to solve quickly these ancient tribal problems, before to think to its own survival with global solutions for global threats of climate change, nuclear war and technology disruption, as the famous scholar Harari argues.

It is in time of suffering that we need clear strategies and long visions. It is in time of war that we need political will and new ideas. It is in times of chaos that we need the realism of the mind and the optimism of the heart.

 

2020s: showdown of IRAN-US Cold War?

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The die is cast. There will be a before and after 1/3/2020 for Iran, US, and the Middle East, like before and after 9/11/2001 or before and after 12/18/2010, when the Arab Spring started in Tunisia (and didn’t end yet). The killing of Soileimani started the showdown ofthe cold war between Iran and the US/West, but also between the Shia crescent and the Arab world, and in general between a vision of a radical Political Islam, with religious law primacy on the public system, which born with Iranian Revolution, and a more moderate Political Islam, which sees Islam as a source of inspiration for public policies like in some Arab countries. As ancient Latin said: 2020s will probably be the decade of Redde Rationem. The end of the other Cold War happened nonviolently, after 40 years, but for this one is not sure that will end without violence.

In this decade Iraq, after being the playground for world powers, the place of birth of a criminal state like ISIS, and the land for militias fighting in a new proxy war, could be transformed in the place for the hot war between the Ayatollah Regime and Arab/Sunni world. Since its first human civilizations in Mesopotamia to today, Iraq continue to be the center of the change for Mankind. Iran instead, the country that is the only theocracy in the world right now (apart from the Vatican) and the country that created a new idea of democracy, the “guided democracy” (because people by themselves would not be capable of producing the best outcomes through a “western-style democracy” based on “one man one vote”) became at odds with modernity more and more decade by decade. In different areas of human rights, religion role in public sphere, women role in society, and anti-liberal religious regulations, Iran started two generations ago its ‘global vocation’ to bring the ‘Islamic verb’ to the region and later to the world, and there was no way that this was not going to clash with the rest of the world, in particular the West, the cradle of individual freedom. China and Russia also came to modernity riding the horse of the West, from global markets to modern technologies, grew economically and politically in their sphere of influence through the West, but don’t want to take responsibility today defend modernity as it’s much easier to be Free Riders than to take leadership. So, what will be the future?

Much will depend on what regional powers will do, in particular Israel, Saudi Arabia with its Arab brothers, and Turkey, and what Europe will do, if end finally the “bad deal” or wait to give Iran another chance. 2020 could be start of the escalation with Iran, as a recent Stratfor report argues, or the year of the start of a great bargain to build finally also in West Asia, a security system as in other homogenous regions, like the EU, ASEAN or AU. Only the future will say.

 

Regio-polarism: the new world order in the making

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Finally, twenty-five years after the end of the post-WWII international liberal order, a new world order is in the making. The transition was long, between unipolar moment, multipolar attempts and zero-polar results, but the natural trend of the world, besides the “competition among big powers”, is becoming the dynamics of conflict and integration inside “geopolitical regions”. Not UN, or a major war, but an outsider, a business negotiator, the president of the US, is responsible of redoing the world order, in part all by himself, with his bizarre but efficient technique at international diplomatic level, which use defection before cooperation, mostly with economic sanctions, and is based on the fundamental principle of capitalism, as well as of natural selection: free competition. The retreat of the US troops from Syria in the fall of 2019 will be probably remembered as the moment in which the Pax Americana finally ended, after 6 years of transition since the Obama red line: the US is not anymore the world hegemon, the international policemen that maintained the stability around the world.

The new world order, after the end of Pax Americana, will be most probably based not on a new “pax” with a global hegemon, but on a new international system that we could call “Regio-polarism”, in which every major region of the world will have a hegemon: America with the US, Africa with Europe and Asia with Russia, at least for the first half of this century (the second one Asia will be probably see the integration of its three main powers: Russia, China and India).

Regional hegemony, following the “Hegemonic Stability Theory” (Kindleberger 1973), see a hegemon bringing stability only to a region. Mearsheimer in his theory of “Offensive Realism” (The tragedy of great powers politics, 2001) sees the anarchic nature of the international system, and the uncertainty about other states’ intentions, making states trying to pursue regional hegemony. In the future global world, different regional hegemonies will not be necessarily a bad thing: on the contrary they could represent a new balance of power based on a “Regio-polar world”.

Russia will have to deal with West Asia, together with the regional powers of that area: Turkey and Iran. And this in the long run could represent an “imperial overstretching” making Russia weaker, because of the involvement in the Middle East quagmire, and finally failing as a state, and in this way accepting the democratic path and the European home. Or at least this is the intention of President Trump (as he said: “Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia. Because they went bankrupt”).

Europe instead will have to deal with Africa, wanting it or not, and Brexit will help to rebalance the EU focus in the South more than in the North, and also more on the European defense than on the Transatlantic one based on US support. Europe has to mature, 70 years after the end of its millennial wars is not a kid anymore needing the help of the US and instead should become the helper: four billion people in Africa by the end of the century will have to be supported by the EU, either in their continent or in Europe itself. African weak countries alone cannot deal with the biggest demographic (and environmental) change humankind ever experienced.

Finally, US retreating in the Western Hemisphere will concentrate on the integration with the rest of the Americas: not anymore cooperation with the rest of the world, at least not before some healthy competition and some sudden defection, otherwise the most competent powers will not be able to become regional hegemons. This will allow the US to concentrate mostly on internal growth, in particular at technological level, with the gigantic leap of AI, in order to be first as it has always been with technological steps, from nuclear power to space conquer, in the upgrading of the human species to a new species, as Harari says.

“Regio-polar world” will not be so bad, as the balance of power will be maintained, competition will make innovation growth and in the long run, probably next century, could create even a final world government, with a great bargain between the three main regions, in order to transform our species in a new planetary civilization, what the physicists call “type I civilization”, able to manage the entire energy and material resources of a planet, hopefully making the Planet Earth survive in the long run.

East-West competition: is it good for human species survival?

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The battle between East and West has always been a battle of ideas, meaning a battle between civilization’s values and cultures, of which socio-political-economic models are an expression. Sometimes this battle becomes a military one, like in the past, sometimes an economic-political one, like in the present. In the future could be a battle for just a competition. To end in a great bargain.

The 21st century, and may be next one if we have enough time, will probably be the crucial century for the survival of humankind: while the Sixth Extinction is ongoing (called also the Anthropocene one, as made by the Humans eating the Earth slowly like a cancer) the Homo Sapiens Sapiens could be part of this extinction too, either for self-implosion, with a nuclear holocaust, speciation, with cyborg-humans creation, or for an external agent, with a meteorite or another alien invasion.

But this century will probably also see the final global hegemony and predominance of either the
“West” or the “East” of the planet, given the exponential technological grow, fast expansion of human activities and reduction of space and time on the terrestrial lives. The winner will almost surely be the social system that will master two main abilities: adaptability to change and collaboration in great numbers. These are the two factors that made our species evolve as Harari showed us, before winning against Neanderthal, and later empowering our brain development, teaching us to to cultivate, speak, write, and finally develop science and technology.

The problem we have today is that the East is more able to do the “collaboration in great numbers” side – the collective action problem solution is more an “Asian specialty”, with sustainable progress without internal interruptions – while the “adaptation/resilience/innovation” side is more a “West specialty”, with creativity and progress towards new futures and spaces (including a possible space conquer for the backup of humankind, making ours a “multiplanetary species”, coming mostly from the West mentality of scientific progress).

But as we need both to survive and make it to the future multiplanetary human civilization, why not to transform the competition in collaboration learning from each other? A great bargain for a great convergence, the “convergence of civilizations” (very different from the famous Clash one). It is not impossible. What we need is to imagine it, not because John Lennon said that, but because, as Harari again explains, imagination is what made our species to evolve with the two skills.

Currently this conflict, the so called “great powers competition”, see a slightly winning from the Asian cultures (Russian/Chinese) versus the West ones (European/American) because of economic pendulum going to the East (Esternization as someone says) and also because of the famous Sharp Power (of intrusion to destabilize, the divide et impera concept) taking advantage of the Western transparency and openness but also US/Western crisis, in particular of Soft Power (democracy appealing is reduced when there is no economic sustained growth). Nevertheless, this crisis too, as everyone, is a temporary one, waiting for the curve to go up again for a new Reinassance, that will come probably in less than a generation (as the crisis also arrived in last 20 years). The West has only to re-study the lessons learned of the past as recently Diamond argued.

First, the West will fight the “decline of its empire of ideas”, as Zakaria says, if it goes back to Classics (as we did in Florence to launch the Renaissance after Middle Age). What are the founding elements of our Western civilizations? Critical thinking, evidence-based science and individual empowerment based on liberation from tribal blocks and free experimentation. Putin involvement in Western populist movements competition (from Trump to Le Pen and Salvini) and the Jinping involvement in Western technological and infrastructural competition (from Wawei/Alibaba to BRI) is something that will not be eliminated until the West will recuperate its own “Transparent/Truthful Power”, that is Soft Power + science/facts based knowledge. This is the comparative advantage of the Western adaptation/resilience/innovation strength.

Second, the West will get another comparative advantage when will give individuals again the possibility to experiment what they want and are capable of. Meritocracy, based on the fight against corrupted bureaucrats and elites, and the moving of capitals among individuals will be the crucial elements. Following the American system, Europe should start cleaning its dirty public institutions, in particular political and academic ones, giving the new generations the possibility to grow based on their individual talents and not group belonging. Also, Europe should start a new credit system, again following the American one, with banks giving loans based on personal credit history and not family assets. Finally, Europe should bring back people to institutions, with inclusive participation coming from new movements and new technologies. The party system was good in the last centuries but now is blocking any change and make institutions slow as dinosaurs, in an age when things change very fast, with new communication and transportation possibilities (see Trump jumping from Japan to North Korea with a tweet).

This is what the West should do. And once the Renaissance arrived the West should have a long vision, not shortsighted, and launch the Great Bargain for the Planetary solution of our species survival. At that time also the South, meaning mostly the African continent, that by the end of the century will have almost 5 billions people – practically half of humankind – will be more developed and able to speak up about the future world solutions. It will probably represent the balance between East and West, being communitarian like the East but also creative like the West. It will be the glue between the East and West, helping them to master both the adaptation/innovation and the collaboration in big groups, for permanent solutions to climate change, peace and technological advancement. We must use this competition with also the “art of the deal”, that sometimes can be useful, for a final bargain to make the human experiment survive. We owe it to our ancestors, that brought us here, and our descendants, that could not exist without that bargain.

 

The crisis of Western democracies continues: Post-Democracy in Italy. How the political-economic elite tries to transform a Parliamentarian system in a de facto Presidential one

Populism

All institutions, being a product of human societies, have a birth, an evolution and a end: unless they reform themselves, they die. This include the nation states, that are passing through a transition from mono-ethnic to pluri-ethnic identities (see the new approach of the CDU in Germany to the concept of motherland, Heimat) and the democratic systems, being them based on Presidential or Parliamentarian institutions, that are passing today through a transition from representative to participatory democracy, still inside a Republican framework. As the transformation of nation states is happening mostly in the two countries that built them, France and Germany, the “reformation of democracy” is happening in the country that contributed to create it millennia ago: Italy (as Greece failed last year in his attempt).

Liberal Western democracies are in crisis since some decades already, because of the economic power dominating the political one, the inefficiency of the public institutions and the distance between establishment politicians and the people. But the recent migrations to Europe from the Mediterranean Sea and the economic crisis caused by the banks and the neoliberalism of the free markets, made it even worst. The Western elites, both in the economic sphere with the financial powers, and in the political one with the ruling powers, are trying to transform in de-facto oligarchies what were developed as democracies in the West. This is what a “post-democracy”, as Crouch defines it, is: elites taking the decisions and co-opting the democratic institutions for their interests. Last time that this happened, almost one century ago, and again with economic crisis and migrations, we went (as Plato foreseen in his system of 5 regimes) from democracy to tyranny, with the catastrophic consequences that we all know. Now we should have learned the lessons, but we don’t know yet what will happen. “We gave you a Republic, if you can keep it” as Benjamin Franklin said.

Many movements in the South of Europe, tried to push their Republics (or Constitutional Monarchies, like in Spain) to go from a representative to a more participatory democracy. All these processes have been defined often as “populism”, while should have been called more “classicism”, as all the new political forces are calling for going back to what were the ancient models of a more direct democracy (actually Renaissance of Arts and Politics in Florence happened because we went back to Classics, and so the same could happen for a Renaissance of Democracy today). The rebirth of democracy must come therefore from the reformation of its institutions, first the Parliament, an institution created in different moments in Europe, from the Senate of the Roman Republic two millennia and half ago to the Magna Charta in England 8 centuries ago, that should pass today from a mere representative to a more participatory one, using new tools like the internet and its e-democracy. But even if the people will try to control and counsel more their representatives, creating in this way a more “participatory democracy”, the oligarchies and elites will obviously not allow it easily.

The case of Italy is emblematic. What have been defined as “populist” forces, the political parties of 5SM and League, that in reality came from modern grassroots movements (based on Meetups or civil society meetings) came to power on the frustration of the people (who are also more informed and knowledgeable than in the last decades). They were able for the first time (differently from Greece, where they failed) to form a government that would have made interventions for the people against the elites, including re-discussing the European institutions that have been imposed on the people from top down. This not in order to destroy the united Europe, but to make it stronger, more felt by the European citizens as something in their hands, and not in the hand of the “Eurocrats” of Bruxelles. But the President of the Italian Republic, made it impossible, at least for now, not accepting the proposition for the Ministry of the Economy, who was on this position. This happened with the excuse of the fear of destroying the Euro, and so put Europe in crisis, with the new populist forces. In reality to ‘constitutionalize’ and ‘parlamentarize’ the so called “populists” would have been a way to moderate them, first of all obliging them to show if they were able to do something good and sustainable, as their campaign promises, or not. But to forbid them from creating a government can make people now even more angry and vote in stronger majority the populist parties next Fall. So, it is like a vicious circle: you try to avoid populism and, in this way, you make is stronger and more extreme. It is the error of the institutions and elites that cannot look outside their circle.

While Italy will go back to elections in Fall, “we’ll see what happens”, as someone on this side of the Atlantic constantly says, clearly showing the current inability of the leaderships in the Western democratic world to impact, or even to predict future trends and events (so differently from the Chinese, and other dictatorships’ visionary policies for the next decades). But one thing is certain, there is no going back: the representative democracy based on what became a corrupted party system in the West, slave of the economic and financial power, is dead. Now we need to create a new form of Res-Publica. And Italy is on the first line for this. But pay attention, as democracy can always degenerate in tyranny. That’s why in America someone in the past said, US is a Republic not a democracy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKI-PfCeCQ4

An unfamiliar political geography of a 'democratic and modern' world from the perspective of a Florentine man living in Virginia