Friday, 19 October 2007

The Sick Old Man Of Europe Gets Well Again

Ever since joining NATO in 1952, Turkey has been the southern cornerstone of the Atlantic alliance. First, as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the Black sea, and then as a beacon of what a Westernised Islamic democracy could be, Turkey has been held in special regard for a number of decades. This settled position is now starting to change.

Relations between Turkey and the EU have blown hot and cold over the years. Many in the EU see the importance of Turkey in terms of geopolitics and many look enviously at the demographics of the country. Turkey, in some quarters within the EU, is seen as a potential bulwark against the spread of a fundamentalist variety of Islam and as a potential source of millions of young workers. However, not everyone in the EU sees it in this way. The potential influx of millions of Turkish workers into the EU is seen by many as a threat rather than an opportunity, whilst one EU state – Cyprus – has declared that it will veto Turkish membership to the EU.

While the EU blows hot and cold over Turkish membership, the Turks have always been able to rely on the support of the US. This element is changing. Relations between the US and Turkey have cooled noticeably in recent weeks. In an interesting article in The Economist (see article), the recent Congressional vote on the Armenian massacres in 1915 is seen as a backwards step. The Turks now feel that, as they do not have the goodwill of the US, they need not be so restrained in using the military option to deal with Kurdish terrorism originating in northern Iraq.

In an interesting paper for the Centre for European Reform (see paper), Charles Grant considers the options for Turkey. Spurned by the EU, alienated by the US, Turkey is too small a nation to be able to function without friends. It would be natural for the Turks to be pushed into the arms of the Russians, whose diplomacy is less likely to alienate the Turks than that of the EU and the US. This is a theme that The Economist dealt with a few weeks back (see article), which suggests that a new alignment between Russia, Turkey, and Iran is developing.

This is in accordance with much of our research. Our studies suggest that, if Turkey does not join the EU, then further geographical expansion of the EU eastwards would be very difficult to achieve and the EU would be overly dependent upon Russian energy for the next fifteen years or so. Equally, our studies suggest that the solution to the American impasse in Iraq lies in Tehran. If the US does not find an accommodation with Iran, then extrication from Iraq will be fraught with unfortunate consequences.

For those interested in the geopolitics of the near future, if Turkey does realign away from the EU and the US and towards Russia and Iran, then we shall see a significant shift in the global balance of power. This is possibly more evidence of the relative decline of the US and the resurgence of Russia.

Perhaps we are getting closer to oil at $200 a barrel?

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Would Better Transport Links To London Add To The Suffolk Brain Drain?

A Meeting Organised By EUFO

The Ipswich Institute
10th October 2007


STEPHEN AGUILAR-MILLAN, European Futures Observatory

Recently, the County Council hosted a forum on transport within Suffolk in the Twenty-First Century (see link). In this discussion, it was presumed that improved transport links with London would assist the development of the local economy in Suffolk. However, this may not necessarily be the case. Improved transport links make it easier for talent to flow out of the county as well as for opportunities to flow into the county. The purpose of the discussion was to examine some of these contentions.

The current position is that talent flows out of Suffolk. The more talented youngsters tend to leave the county - mainly for higher education and better career prospects – never to return. As a relatively under-developed economy, Suffolk lacks the inherent career opportunities to attract bright graduates into the county. It is argued by some, such as the Suffolk Development Agency, that improved transport links to London would assist the commercial development of Suffolk, thus improving the career paths within the Suffolk economy. As a starting point for the discussion, we assumed that, by magic, those improved transport links would be made overnight. In which case, would that be enough to stem the brain drain?

The statistics about business location proved to be interesting. When asked why they located in Suffolk, 46.5% of the respondents to the EUFO survey stated that it was because Suffolk is a nice place in which to live. This suggests to us that about half of the small business community is located in Suffolk precisely because it is relatively unspoilt and relatively under-developed. If Suffolk were to be made more accessible through better transport links to London, one wonders whether or not this cultural and environmental advantage would be sacrificed. Would Ipswich turn into a northern Croydon? I am afraid that this is a question that we were unable to answer. However, we could express our hopes and our fears for the future.

READ the full report.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Wanted - 9 New Planets

The recent postal disruption in the UK has served to change our habits – in the short term at least. One of the consequences of the postal disruption is that magazine subscriptions have not been delivered at their usual time. For me, whilst waiting for newer editions, I have been reading the editions that I have more fully. And what a world it has opened up for me!

In an obscure part of The Spectator of two weeks ago (the last issue to make it to me), is an article about soybeans (See Article). Actually, the article is about Biofuels, but the part about soybeans caught my attention. Apparently, if we wanted to produce enough ethanol to meet 10% of all present global energy demands, we would have to double the world’s farmland and plant it with soybeans. If we were to rely on soybeans to meet our present energy demands, we would need to find another 9 planets, as well as this one, and devote them to the production of soybeans.

This article points to three things. First, it demonstrates just how reliant we are upon oil-based fuels for transportation. Even if demand for transportation fuels were to remain constant, we would be unable to replace oil-based fuel for bio-fuels because there isn’t enough land on the planet to grow fuel (even if there would be enough water, sunlight, and so on). Of course, demand isn’t likely to remain static in the foreseeable future. The growth of China and India are already adding to the pace at which the demand for fossil fuels is growing.

This leads to our second point, which is that the article highlights the case for energy conservation. Conservation would allow the increasing demand for fuel in the developing economies to be offset – ideally, perfectly offset – by a reduced demand in the developed economies. However, this presumes that Europeans and Americans would get out of their cars and onto public transport to allow Chinese and Indians to use their cars. It is unlikely that such a switch will be seen without a major political effort to make it happen.

And that leads us to our third point – that the political leadership to make this happen doesn’t exist in Europe and North America. One way of enforcing such a change of behaviour would be to implement a Pigovian Tax on fossil fuels. The political will is not there to do so because we are so reliant upon fossil fuels.

This means that when politicians in Europe and North America make bold statements about the future use of bio-fuels, we can discount the statements as wishful thinking. For example, President Bush assured us in 2006 that the US will replace Middle East oil imports by biofuels by 75% by 2025. Even if there is enough land and enough water in the US to do this, one has to be sceptical about such a claim because we do not live in a world where everything else is equal. If there isn’t enough land and water in the US to deliver this promise, then is President Bush simply suggesting that the US exchanges its Middle East oil dependency with, say, a Brazilian corn dependency?

It seems that, in more ways than one, we are simply making a fragile system even more fragile.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Are We Ready For This?

I plead guilty to watching rubbish on You Tube.

However every now and then an interesting idea emerges. Have a look at this (Link to You Tube) - although you may find it disturbing.I'm not going to argue whether or not this is a correct view - it's fairly extreme. However, it does reflect a widely held sentiment outside of the US, even if that view is exaggerated.

For this reason, US leadership in the world is rather badly damaged. In it's place, we feel that Europe is now providing the diplomatic leadership, and China is on the verge of providing the commercial leadership in the world.

This may well become a dominant force in the near future. More so if the US is unable to find an alternative to Middle Eastern oil and petro-dollar financing.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

The Return Of The Millenarians

The year 2000 came and went without the end of the world. All of the forecasts of impending global catastrophe, even those of Y2K computer meltdown, proved to be nothing more than unduly pessimistic speculation. As it happens, history has a number of examples of Millenarian movements around the Years 500 AD, 1000 AD, and 1500 AD. If one thing were predictable, it would be that a group of Millenarians would predict the end of the world in the Year 2000.

And so, in the Year 2007, we would have thought that we could lay the Millenarians to rest for another 493 years. We will need to think again. Apparently, there is an ‘ancient Mayan calendar’ that predicts that the world will end on 21st December 2012. This prediction has been taken up by the Millenarians and given an air of respectability. For example, in ‘The Mystery Of 2012’ (see book), a collection of researchers examine the basis of the prediction. It has also spawned a large collection of videos on You Tube (see example) that are, frankly, of little value at all.

In ‘The Chaos Point’, Ervin Laszlo examined how the 2012 prophecy might come about. If it were to be true, what would be the sequence of events that would lead up to it (see entry)? The analysis examined the theme of the potential impact of the Singularity, if that were to occur. It was this analysis that caught my attention as a futurist.

If we lay aside the more extreme of the Millenarian views, ought we not to contemplate the possibility of a major disruptive force in the world? That disruption may not come in 2012. It may be a single event that has already happened (e.g. 9/11). It may be a process that has, by and large, already happened (e.g. the creation of the Internet). Or it may be a process that we are currently experiencing (e.g. the decline of the US). It is at this point that the Millenarians may have a case.

It is comfortable to think that the future will simply be an extension of the past. However, if this is not true today, why should it be true in the future?

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Child Abuse In Second Life

This is an interesting variation on a theme. A report from the BBC (see report) tells us that the German authorities are investigating Second Life (Linden Labs) over an alleged trade in under age sex on Second Life. Under European law, the directors of Linden Labs would be responsible for the conveyance of illegal pornographic images, even if they were unaware that these images were being traded from their servers. Looking ahead, if it proves to be the case that Second Life is becoming a harbour of criminality, I wonder how long it will be before it is closed?