Amal Al Mosharrafieh
Climate-fueled security risks will overwhelm the Middle East in 2019, while enmity and hostility rather than unity will characterize Europe; the U.S. will tumble in its war on terrorism, and an unsustainable future will daunt Russia. These are some of the global security challenges anticipated in a report entitled “Strategic Outlook 2019,” carrying the theme “Towards a Zero-Sum World.” The report was recently released by the Risk Advisory Group, an independent consultancy based in London. The report, directed to security and intelligence leaders in global businesses, governments and international organizations, conveys the joint assessments of regional thematic and intelligence analysts. It contains more than 260 forecasts on a range of issues relevant to security, crisis and geopolitical risk across every region. It also provides dozens of early warning indicators for ongoing monitoring through 2019. It forecasts that authoritarian, right-wing and nationalist governments and movements will grow in strength and influence. The global balance of ideas and power is changing. And with it, the longer-term prospects for states to jointly tackle challenges like climate change, environmental degradation and water scarcity are thinning when they most need attention. This situation perpetuates insecurity and instability, limits development and drives migration.

The report notes that the United States, as the most powerful actor in the international system and leader of the rules-based liberal international order, sits at the center of global risks. Its commitment to the rules, and the consistency of its actions and inactions, defines the international system’s stability and propensity for conflict. However, President Donald Trump has shown little interest in leading or safeguarding this order. Powers like China that wish to redefine the rules to suit their interests are calling its relevance into question, and building alternatives.

According to the report, in two years Trump has upended decades of U.S. foreign policy. Confidence is eroding in the U.S.’ commitment to treaties, allies and the institutions that have legitimized U.S. hegemony. In the near to medium term, they are likely to augment China’s rise and reduce America’s influence. In the Middle East, Asia and Africa, governments are weighing up which alliances and forms of government best serve their interests.

At the same time, Trump has also inspired or at least emboldened a wave of right-wing nationalism and nativism at home and abroad. This is opening and widening fault lines within and between Western countries. The report forecasts on security and stability in Europe focus on the rise of the far-right, the divisions such politics engender, and the risks they feed.

Each regional section highlights the themes and trends that the authors think will define and shape events in the year. These contain specific forecasts, but also aim to serve as a lens through which to interpret the causes and impacts of risks in 2019, based, according to the publishers, on collaborative work of thematic specialists, which emphasizes creative thinking.

A statement from a political or thought leader, considered to be representing the forecast of risk trends in each region, has been selected to introduce the findings of the nine regions covered in the report.

For the Middle East, climate change has been considered the major factor triggering security risks. The authors chose a quote from Najib Saab, secretary-general of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development, which strikes a positive note: “Despite the lack of real progress in several countries, mainly those which are facing political unrest and instability, others have made strides toward shifting to a more sustainable path, with major financial resources directed toward investments in environmental infrastructure.” The overall trend in the region is considered consistent. While strategic risk factors are expected to improve in Bahrain, Iraq, Palestine, Qatar and Syria, they will be consistent in Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and Oman, and worsening in Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, chosen to represent North Africa, has been quoted for the opening page as saying: “We won’t allow a water-shortage crisis to occur in Egypt. We not only have to keep our share of the Nile, but also use our share to the maximum.” While the report sees the prospect of new resources harnessed, it predicts the same risks to linger in 2019. The overall trend in North Africa is projected as consistent, with only Tunisia improving, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt and Morocco stable, whereas it worsens in Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Sudan.

The report predicts that the moves in North America to demilitarize the war on terrorism will not bring an easy win, especially with conflicts among the allies, triggered by Trump, who is quoted saying: “We have $151 billion in trade deficits with the EU. And on top of that, they kill us with NATO. They kill us.” To demonstrate the growing wave of populism in Europe itself, the report uses an anti-immigrant statement from Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister of Italy: “We need a mass cleansing, also in Italy. Street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood, square by square.”

The Eurasia section starts with a quote from Russian President Vladimir Putin: “As you know, espionage, like prostitution, is one of the ‘most important’ professions in the world.” It predicts that the region will steadily move toward an unsustainable future, with Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan improving, and Azerbaijan, Belarus, Mongolia, Russia and Ukraine unchanged. For South Asia, the report chose the title “Countering the Chinese March,” and the Asia-Pacific section opened with “democracy in balance,” and a controversial quote from Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: “Thai democracy will never die, because I’m a soldier with a democratic heart. I have taken over the power because I want democracy to live on.” Major challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean will be absorbing the crisis in Venezuela.

Najib Saab told The Daily Star that, while his published views, either in AFED reports or periodic columns, support the conclusion that climate change and water pose the major strategic risks for the Middle East and North Africa, he was not a part of the team of authors who prepared the “Strategic Outlook 2019” report, nor was he involved in the analysis. Saab expressed satisfaction that his assessment was considered to “candidly forecast future trends in the region.”

Amal al Mosharrafieh is press attache of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development.