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Page added on February 11, 2017

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Entropy in Geopolitics

Public Policy

A hundred and fifty years ago, a German physicist derived the concept of “entropy” from the second law of thermodynamics.  Since then, entropy has stood for the idea that everything in the universe eventually moves from order to disorder, from structure to formlessness, and from predictability to uncertainty.  Entropy is the measurement of that change.  It is also the most fitting description of current trends in geopolitics and geoeconomics.

The strategic stabilities of the old order are all in various stages of decay.  Some in my country and abroad had come to view the United States as the next best thing to a world government and global policeman.  But, even before tweets replaced policy papers in Washington, this conception had become preposterous.  The established presumptions no longer operate.

Washington led the way in creating global institutions after World War II.  It fathered the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the G-7, among others.  But these institutions have ceased to rise effectively to the challenges before them.  The world increasingly ignores them, bypasses them, or seeks to replace them with new deals struck at the sub-global or regional level.  New organizations, banks, and coalitions are emerging to address new needs.

Think of the New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the various Silk Road funds, China’s initiative to connect everything on and adjacent to the Eurasian landmass,  the proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, the G-20, and the Pacific Alliance.  More often than not, institutional  innovation has been taking place despite the United States, which has diminished credibility and seems to have run out of ideas for global governance, the money to fund it, and the will to lead it.  President Trump’s bilateral and transactional approach to foreign policy is dealing a final, fatal blow to the United States as the global rule-maker.

The European Union, whose coalescence was a major contributor to world order, is now shrinking rather than expanding.  According to President Trump, it could even disappear.  Britain has set itself adrift.  Turkey and Russia have ended centuries of effort to redefine themselves as “European.”  Turkey has given up on the EU accession process and is affirming a non-European, authoritarian, and Islamist identity. Russia now emphasizes its civilizational distinctiveness.  Ukraine continues to wobble in place.  War in Europe is no longer unthinkable.

Ankara and Moscow have begun to work together with Tehran to pick up the pieces of a Middle Eastern order shattered by ill-conceived U.S. interventions and their aftermath.  The region is further shaken by Saudi-Iranian rivalry.  (Iran appears to be coming out ahead.)  Former US client states (Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) are only somewhat less estranged from the United States than Iran has been.  The Middle East is less pivotal to a global economy in which concerns about peak demand –not peak oil — predominate.  But the rise and spread of transnational Islamist terrorism has put the region at the center of worldwide anxiety about homeland security.

After a few bad centuries, Asia is back as the global center of economic gravity.  It is home to three of the world’s great economic powers – China, India, and Japan – as well as formidably competitive societies like south Korea and a flourishing group of Southeast Asian countries.  It is also full of intensifying rivalries and potentially explosive confrontations, including some that pit China against the United States.  China is fast becoming a technology leader.  India is now the largest destination in the world for foreign direct investment.  Despite its amazing earlier success, Japan remains economically becalmed.  Korea is in political distress.  The Association of Southeast Nations is increasingly divided.  The sound of jet engines and gas turbines in the East and South China Seas foretells the possibility of catastrophic armed conflict between major powers that could erase decades of socioeconomic progress.

Meanwhile, Africa is on the rise.  It has some of the world’s fastest growing economies.  What it blessedly does not yet have is a direct role in the escalating rivalry between the great powers of America, Asia, and Europe.

This brings me to where I stand – en México, una ciudad , una cultura, y un país que llegué a admirar hace más de medio siglo, cuando estudié aquí en la UNAM.  This is a city, a culture, and a country for which I have had special regard since I studied here at the national university fifty-six years ago.  No nation matters more to the United States than this one, and none is so sadly misunderstood or neglected.  México está a punto de descubrir que tiene muchos más amigos y simpatizantes en el extranjero de lo que sabía.  ¡Afortunado México!  Tan cerca de los dioses del comercio y tan lejos del pantano en Washington.

Like the president of this country, I do not believe in walls.  As a great poet from Vermont once urged:

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

“Antes de levantarlo, yo quisiera
saber a quién incluyo, a quién excluyo
a quién, quizás, ofendo con el muro.
Algo hay que no es amigo de los muros,
que quiere derrumbarlos.”

But some sort of wall on the border is the opening gambit of the Deal-maker-in-Chief who has just taken up residence in the White House.  This should be treated as a proposal for more effective border control.  That is something that is in the interest of both Mexico and the United States.  In diplomacy, the best answer to an unwelcome proposition is to reframe it so that both sides can gain.  There is a bargain to be struck, perhaps including commitments from the United States to finally do something about the uncontrolled demand for illegal narcotics and traffic in guns that have been so  disastrous for domestic tranquility in Mexico.

There are, of course, broader questions raised by the surge of  populist, protectionist politics in the United States and some other industrialized democracies.  Mexico is not alone in its concern about the implications of these policies for trade, investment, and the global energy economy.  Neither the United States nor the world can afford to dismantle global supply chains.  There is a limit to how many trade wars any country can manage at once.  If the United States takes on the world, the world is likely to unite in pushing back.  Mexico will have many allies.

I don’t want to take any more time from my fellow panelists.  I was asked to speak about geopolitics.  But, since this conference is about the transformation of oil and gas markets, let me offer a parting observation about energy in the new world disorder.  As is the case with many other issues these days, no one is in charge.  Saudi Arabia is now the swing producer for OPEC but not for the world.  The role of a global swing producer has fallen to US frackers, a motley group driven by market forces rather than policy.  They can and will rapidly increase or reduce production in response to shifts in demand.  Barring civil strife and terrorist attacks that prevent oil from coming to market, this heralds lessened price volatility in future.

To conclude:  Increased entropy in geopolitics means that the world will either return to respect for the UN Charter, international law, and the sovereignty of nations or anarchy will allow might to make right in world affairs.  In either case, middle-ranking powers, like Mexico, have no choice but to seek greater independence, to  maneuver internationally, to seek new allies, and to play a larger role in global and regional governance.  We are entering an era in which regional, not global balances will clearly be the dominant feature of the international state system.

The last century was claimed by the United States.  My country is voluntarily forfeiting its claim to this one.  The 21st century is now up for grabs.

LobeLog



56 Comments on "Entropy in Geopolitics"

  1. Cloggie on Sun, 12th Feb 2017 9:27 am 

    Bill Clinton made in 1995 the same sounds as Trump makes today:

    https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4351026/clinton-1995-immigration-sotu

  2. Davy on Sun, 12th Feb 2017 9:35 am 

    Joe, Trumps marshmallow nature is turning out to have more consistency than the previous leadership that is running for cover or whining like babies at being such bad losers. Bad losers in “failure” and bad losers in “can’t handle it”. Pretty obvious what your side is.

  3. Cloggie on Sun, 12th Feb 2017 9:47 am 

    Meryl Streep targets Trump again:

    http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/leute/meryl-streep-gegen-donald-trump-runde-2-a-1134191.html

    She was addressing a group of people who have problems putting the plug in the socket, a group also know as LGBTs.

    The good news: horseface reported that she feels she is the most attacked actress of her generation in the US (I believe her).

    Furthermore she produced the usual rant about “marginalized” groups like wimmin, heaumeau’s, blacks.

    (How about doubling efforts so white guys don’t have to do all the inventing, creating, constructing, huh?)

    But remarkably she ended in a somewhat conciliatory tone:

    If we survive this uncertain moment – if his destructive instinct to hit back won’t lead us in a nuclear winter, we will have to be very grateful to this president. He will have awakened us all and shown how fragile freedom really is.

    It is probably intended as an insult, but it sounds nice anyway.

  4. Cloggie on Sun, 12th Feb 2017 9:52 am 

    It is official: Germany is the “New Anchor of Hope”. Well, according to the freshly elected German president Frank Walter Steinmeier that is.

    http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/newsblog-zur-bundespraesidentenwahl-a-1134188.html

    It is not difficult to guess who, according to Steinmeier, the “Old Anchor of Hope” was

    (spoiler: Obama).

  5. Apneaman on Sun, 12th Feb 2017 11:45 am 

    Davy,”the previous leadership that is running for cover or whining like babies at being such bad losers. Bad losers in “failure” and bad losers in “can’t handle it”. Isn’t proof of anything …other than most Americans are assholes.No different than team listening to 8 years of team rights snivelling and moaning over stupid shit like birth certificates.

    The only changes -I see are ones that improve the bottom line of Cheeto’s globalist buddies. Oh and the carnage among the little guy, left, right, and normal, carries on unabated.

    No place like home: America’s eviction epidemic
    Soaring rents and low wages have hit the poorest families in the US hard. Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond introduces an extract from his heartbreaking book about the crisis

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/12/americas-eviction-epidemic-matthew-desmond-housing-crisis

    Davy, seeing’s how you married a full time nanny and thus have gobs of free time to fuck around on the internet (instead of being a father), why not investigate the names of the globalists who own shares in these corporate slumlord outfits and get back to us with the list of names.

    And pray you ain’t an insurance less victim of the next AGW jacked consequence – a double whammy.

    Wildfire victims found living in storage units, sheds

    http://www.wymt.com/content/news/Wildfire-victims-found-living-in-storage-units-sheds-413482983.html

    What’s the difference between Cheeto and his AGW denying cancer crew and the other globalists? Their words. Just look at their globalist portfolios. Look where they are invested and who they hire. That’ll tell you what they really believe in.

  6. Davy on Sun, 12th Feb 2017 12:42 pm 

    Ape, I have a life and family unlike you that takes care of mom waiting for her to kick the bucket then you can assist some money laundering China man by selling out mom’s house. You will then pocket your capital gains off your slum rental property and move to the hills with your ill-gotten gains. You are one of those closet liberal hypocrites parading as a nihilist on the internet 24/7. You have no reason to work because you live the bum’s life. You offer endless google news about climate change without any idea why it matters. You just want everyone to know they are screwed. Your Cheetos fits demonstrate you are little more than a typical liberal west coast asswipe pissed off because your elite privileges are being threatened. Few places on earth are worse than Vancouver for elite privilege combined with hypocritical asshole attitudes of “We badass”. You whine about social justice yet live in one of the most expensive cities in the world that is blood sucking off poor Chinese whose life savings is being drained to pay for rich Chinese hideaways that pump Vancouver with fake money for fake lives. LOL, so Ape, who is worse?

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