TSG IntelBrief: Geopolitics: Six Days in May: A Confluence of Geopolitical Events
Bottom Line Up Front:
• After years of stop-and-start progress, four issues of vital geopolitical importance ? the global economy, the future of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan, the presidential election in Egypt, and negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program ? will reach a strategic inflection point over the span of six days in May.
• Policy-makers will be confronted with the inescapable reality that these four issues ? with very different political and geographic interests ? are fundamentally interrelated to the degree that success (or failure) in one issue will intractably affect the others.
As of late April 2012, there appears to be a unique confluence of four distinct, but arguably interrelated events that will unfold over a period of six days in May 2012. Agreements reached at these events will, in no small measure, substantially influence regional stability across the Middle East, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan; determine the ability of both Europe and the United States to fulfill foreign military and financial commitments going forward while addressing domestic economic concerns; and materially impact presidential races in Egypt, France, and even the United States. These four events include:
• The May 18-19 G8 summit at Camp David
• The May 20-21 NATO meeting in Chicago
• The May 23 presidential election in Egypt
• The May 23 Iranian nuclear negotiations in Baghdad
Separately, each of these events has consumed vast resources in terms of time, attention, money, and policy maneuvering among dozens of nations. Although disconnected by geography and seemingly by focus, these major events are intractably connected by time and the realities of modern globalization. In addition, as few events at this level occur in a geopolitical vacuum, what happens in one event will almost certainly affect the others, leaving policy-makers on all sides ? and on all issues ? facing the troublesome juxtaposition of clear goals and uncertain outcomes.
At the G8 summit to be held at Camp David on May 18 and 19, the participants (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Russia, and Italy, along with a representative of the EU) will need to address both the deteriorating economic situation in Europe and the continued slow-growth recovery of the United States while also preparing for a NATO summit a day later. The challenges they face involve not only the daunting agenda of confronting both new and old issues, but they will also need to so by embracing a degree of collaboration within a membership that features both new and old faces.
Former and now-future Russian president Vladimir Putin will attend after his May 7 inauguration. It is also very possible that another member of the G8 will have a new leader if Francois Hollande wins the French presidential run-off on May 6. If this proves to be the case, Hollande’s anti-austerity stances, though increasingly popular in some EU countries, will run into stiff German opposition, resulting in possibly months of uncertainty and inaction at a critical junction for the continent. In the end, what happens at Camp David will not only influence events in Europe and impact the global economy over the coming months and years, but also will what happen a day later in Chicago.
On May 20, and 650 miles to the west, the long-anticipated two-day NATO-Afghanistan summit will take place in Chicago to design the post-2014 future of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan and, to a considerable degree, determine the future of Afghanistan. The U.S and Afghanistan have just signed an agreement for post-2014 assistance, but this agreement was short on critical details as to the nature and extent of any assistance, details that are supposed to be ironed out at the Chicago summit. Yet, as noted before, one old face and perhaps one new face will greatly impact what happens in Chicago. Russian officials have suggested Putin will not attend the NATO meeting because of disagreement over NATO’s missile shield program as well as Russia’s attendance at all ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) meetings in Chicago. Resolving this dispute is vital given the fact that ISAF and NATO will depend heavily on Russian logistical support during the massive troop and equipment withdrawal in 2014. Given this inescapable reality, any summit without Russian participation will be less than conclusive.
As noted above, there is a chance that Francois Hollande could win the French presidency and make good on his pledge to withdraw all of France’s 3600 troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a full year ahead of the timetable set by current French president Sarkozy. The French contingent, while small compared to the U.S troop presence, still plays a vital role in supporting operations in a critical province just south of Kabul as well as the western province of Faryab, near the Iranian border. Their unanticipated withdrawal would create a strategic void that would have to somehow be filled. Additionally, the U.S is expected to ask for increased NATO funding for any post-2014 joint commitments, something increasingly improbable given the political and economic struggles facing member nations. As with the G8 summit, what transpires in Chicago will have huge ramifications in the years to come, to include how the West manages its priorities not only in Central Asia, but also in the Middle East.
Two days later, on May 23, and 6100 miles to the east, Egypt ? the largest of the Arab countries and one caught up in the still-unfolding revolutions that began in 2011 ? will hold its first presidential election since the overthrow of former president Mubarak. There have been countless twists and turns over the last few months in terms of which party will participate and which candidates will be ruled eligible to run by the Supreme Electoral Commission. The ensuing chaos has thrown the country, already reeling from political and economic pressures, into confusion and renewed demonstrations. Accusations and counter-accusations of conspiracy and back-room deals between the ruling military council, judges, and even members of the Muslim Brotherhood have somewhat obscured the sheer importance of what is at stake in this election. The most important question is whether or not the military will be able to maintain its decades-long grip on power after the fall of Mubarak and the parliamentary rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis? In a related issue, the significant financial and military assistance provided by the U.S may be significantly decreased if an Islamist wins the free elections? In addition, stability in the region will be deeply undermined if Egypt elects an Islamist who rejects the decades-old peace treaty with Israel? Finally, a win by a Muslim Brotherhood candidate has the potential to profoundly affect Jordan as well as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries such the United Arab Emirates, which is now faced with an emerging Muslim Brotherhood presence of its own.
On the same day, 800 miles to the east, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N Security Council plus Germany) and Iran will meet in Baghdad for the critical second round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. All sides recognize the importance of these talks in avoiding a military conflict that would destabilize not only the Middle East, but the global economy. The P5+1 will have to find a way to entice Iran to make real concessions in its pursuit of a nuclear capability ? and, many fear, a nuclear weapons capability ? that still enables Iran to save face with its own people, an exceedingly difficult proposition at best. It is worth noting that the aforementioned NATO missile shield is in part designed to counter any future ballistic threat from Iran. This critical issue is yet another example of the strategic interconnectivity of events that policy-makers must confront in that, by addressing a potential Iranian threat, NATO is causing certain tension with Russia.
There are indications the current sanctions against Iran are having the desired effect (with an Israeli general saying on April 25 that he believed Iran will not be able to build a nuclear weapon because of these sanctions), but there are also signs that Iran intends to make as much trouble as possible in the region in the lead-up to the late May talks with the aim of enhancing its leverage. An example of this campaign to orchestrate last-minute irritations for the West can be seen in the late April visit by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the disputed Abu Musa island near the straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, a visit that prompted a strong reaction not only from the UAE, but also from the GCC, precisely the scenario Iran intended.
After years of stop-and-start progress on these issues ? the G8 economies and priorities, the shape of post-2014 NATO commitments in Afghanistan, the election of only the third Egyptian president since Nasser, and the critical Iranian nuclear talks ? policy-makers now find themselves faced with six days in May that will fundamentally determine the shape of the geopolitical landscape on multiple planes: the EU and American economies and their priorities; NATO’s relations with Russia over the missile shield; the military, economic, and political stability of Afghanistan and its neighbors; the continuing fallout and ultimate meaning of the Arab Spring revolutions; and whether or not the West and Iran can avoid military conflict over the latter’s nuclear programs. France’s still-to-be-decided election in part hinges on what voters think of their economy and their role in Afghanistan, something American voters will soon be considering as well. While six days is an exceedingly brief span of time, these events ? and the decisions rendered at these events ? will inexorably influence political and economic stability literally across the globe for the foreseeable future.
• In the lead up to these four events, all parties will seek to solidify their positions ? G8 member nations will assess their economic priorities and abilities; NATO will work to positively portray events in Afghanistan; Egyptian candidates will navigate a campaign that will increasingly divide secular and Islamist factions now that no cabinet-level officials from the old regime are eligible; and Iran will seek to increase tensions in order to appear more reasonable in its more conservative rhetoric and actions as the talks resume.
• The G8 nations will move away from austerity measures in hopes of avoiding Spain’s fate; NATO will commit to a post-2014 presence in Afghanistan, but at a reduced level; Amr Moussa will narrowly win the Egyptian presidency; and Iran will seek compromise in order to avoid conflict as the impact of the sanctions deepen.
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