Just International

Review Of Global Trends In 2015 And Prospects For 2016

By Jon Kofas


Top events in 2015 that shaped the world and are very likely to continue doing so include the economic slowdown not just in China and India, but in most of the world outside the US. Globalization under the neoliberal model of development continued to devastate the middle class in 2015 as it has in the last three decades, especially in countries where monetarist austerity combined with neoliberal policies took effect. Combined with a fiscal structure that favors corporations and the wealthy, monetarism and neoliberal policies had the effect on a world scale of slowing consumption spending owing to downward pressure on wages, forcing some governments to increase capital spending, especially in the defense sector, to stimulate growth.

Capital goods spending trend will continue in 2016 in a number of developed countries trying to keep GDP growth steady against pressures of a declining world GDP in 2016. At the same time, because of monetarism (austerity) and economic stagnation in less advanced countries, the transfer of capital from the less advanced countries will continue toward the G-7, especially US, China, and Germany. Sociopolitical volatility as a result of downward socioeconomic mobilization in much of the world will entail more uprisings than in 2015, more “terrorist” activity, and greater tendency on the part of popular masses to look for political solutions in the extreme right wing political groups.

2015 started with the Charlie Hebdo attack by Yemen al-Qaeda-affiliated individuals, the same al-Qaeda that US-NATO ally had been supporting al-Qaeda in Yemen against pro-Iranian Houthis. The year ended with the Paris bombing by ISIL-affiliated individuals in Paris, the same ISIL group also backed by US-EU allies that include Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This policy contradiction on the part of the US and its allies selectively backing terrorists while fighting to destroy them means that the war on terror will continue because the goal is to destabilize the Middle East so that it is easier to control it. Meanwhile, the war on terror, which Muslims believe is a war against by the crusading Judeo-Christian West against their religion, will only intensify because it is the political leverage the West, especially the US has to keep citizens under sociopolitical conformity and distracted from economic and social problems at home.

Asia, Latin America, and Africa

The biggest development in Asia in 2015, especially China and India, was the economic slowdown that has global impact. Although spending in capital goods is expected to halt some of the stagnation, government efforts to bring public debt under control entail IMF-style monetarist policies that transfer income from the low and middle income groups to the upper while the state as a conduit of economic development applies the breaks on stimulating the economy; this in traditionally quasi-statist countries that rely on public spending for economic stimulus. The neoliberal model that the IMF, banks and corporations are promoting is taking its toll during Asia’s downward cyclical period that will continue in 2016. The Chinese currency joining the world’s reserve currencies after the IMF gave its blessing is a major development in so far as it signals tough decisions for the US in its attempt to manage the burgeoning public deficit and balance of payments deficit. In 2016, China will continue to play the role of trying to engender stability around the world because it has the most to gain as the rising economic power expanding its role, especially in the less developed countries. This is in sharp contrast with the US and its NATO allies that will continue to pursue destabilization policies using overt and covert military means precisely because their global economic influence in relationship to China is dwindling.

The rapid deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan where China looks like would emerge as the beneficiary from US-NATO intervention was another major development in 2015. While the security situation in Afghanistan will only deteriorate in 2016, China will continue making progress toward overtaking the US not only as the world’s largest economy in PPP terms as it is now, but also measured in nominal values as well. This will mean that Japan will have to grow its public debt to grow the economy by spending on defense, as it already has been doing, using China as the pretext for stronger national security. India will also follow Japan’s lead, relying on closer cooperation with Russia while the intense competition for foreign investment will slow its economy against the background of falling commodity prices that will impact all commodity-dependent countries across Asia and the world in 2016.

Besides the economy, Asia was also in the news because of the climate issue. China’s pollution is well-known, but it was India taking a leading role at the Paris climate conference. That anything will be accomplished to bring climate change under better control remains to be seen given the history of such summit meetings that have not changed much in the last three decades. Moreover, the climate change issue is really one that corporations with investments in solar technology, pollution cleanup, renewable energy, etc. are pushing because there are huge government subsidies involved. In short, climate change is just another means of corporate welfare, although one that people can feel good about.

In 2015, Brazil’s economic and political problems led the top stories along with Argentina returning to neo-liberalism along with other republics to follow. Brazil’s economic miracle is turning into an economic stagflation nightmare for the majority of the people. Venezuela and Argentina are abandoning the remnants of economic nationalism and plunging into neo-liberalism. This means much closer integration with the US and EU, thus strengthening foreign capital to the detriment of national capitalism; this at a time that foreign- led economic growth in Brazil had inspired other countries looking forward to emulating its development model. Like its sister republics dependent on commodity exports that include energy and minerals whose prices have dropped sharply, Brazil’s prospects are very dim until the regional economies begin to grow above 4%. Not that the world economies will soon perform as they did before the recession of 2008, but the IMF and World Bank forecasts paint a dim picture for 2016, especially if we exclude the United States.

The economic slowdown across Africa, but especially in South Africa along with the problems Nigeria faced fighting Boko Haram rebels top the stories in sub-Sahara Africa. Although Nigeria hardly receives the coverage that France does when it comes to jihadist activities, Boko Haram-related deaths number in the thousands (more than 3,500 according to Amnesty International) in 2015. Because the West has no interest in this issue unless it impacts the Western oil interests in Nigeria, there is very little media coverage and hardly the outrage that one finds when whites are the target of jihadists.

Meanwhile, in Muslim northern Africa, Libya remained in total tribal-political chaos that is the legacy of US-NATO military intervention in the name of regime change (2011). The fragmentation of Libya and the rise of jihadists is also characteristic of other Islamic countries where foreign intervention was prominent, especially Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Of course, the US and the Europeans blame the people, their leaders and religious, tribal and ethnic rivalries, just as European colonialists did in the 19th century. The US and its northwest European allies deny any responsibility for the chaos and instability that the West created in order to deny spheres of influence to a regional power like Iran or a global one like Russia, while gaining political, economic and strategic influence. This trend will continue in 2016 but it will hardly benefit the US and its northwest EU allies, considering the impasse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria demonstrated that military solutions do not work and in fact they backfire on the interventionists.

ISIL, the West and Russia

The Islamic State ISIL was a top global story in 2015 as it was in 2015 and will be again in 2015. Especially significant for 2015 because of the Paris bombing in November and the flood of refugees that caused political and economic problems for all of Europe, essentially triggering resurgent Western nationalism, xenophobia and racism at much higher levels than we have seen recently. Because of the apparent East-West cooperation after the Paris bombing to devise a strategy to defeat ISIL, the West and Russia story becomes more promising because it could potentially point to renewed US-Russia rapprochement to solve other regional conflicts; at least in areas where military solutions simply have no prospects.

There were many interesting ISIL-related developments in 2015, among them the Western quest to fight ISIL while indirectly supporting it and facilitating its operations in Syria against the Assad regime and in Iraq as a counterweight to Iran and pro-Iran Shiite elements inside Iraq. Directly related to ISIL was the massive refugee issue for the EU in which Turkey played both sides, managing to receive several billions from the Europeans not to send refugees while at the same time facilitating ISIL operations and continuing to send refugees to the continent.

The bombing that took place in Paris with many casualties was a human tragedy and a political disaster for Western anti-terrorism policy, although this is not how the Western media portrayed the issue. A day before the suicide bombs in Paris, the bombing in Beirut demonstrated the ease with which jihadists fighting against the Assad regime are able to operate. Three bombings – Paris, Lebanon, Russian plane in Egypt – within a remarkably short span of time demonstrate the reach of an organization that was once backed by US allies in the Middle East, and by the US indirectly in the war that the US started to bring down the Assad regime, all in the name of freedom and democracy, just as the US has been delivering freedom and democracy in Libya among other North African countries.

The quest to destabilize and ultimately overthrow Syria’s President Assad has failed in the last four years and made matters worse for all regional powers but also for the EU and US that believe the only option is a military one until it proves a resounding failure. The US and its European and regional allies have managed to create a new force that has some appeal at least with the radicalized Sunni Muslims not just in Syria and Iraq but across the Middle East and wherever there are Muslims who feel that the Judeo-Christian West has sided with the state of Israel and has been trying to destroy Islam under the pretext of terrorism. Now that US secretary of State John Kerry has been in talks with Russia about how to stabilize Syria there are hopes on limited spheres of influence for imperialists dividing the spoils. While this may temporarily contain the threat of ISIL, the Western crusade against Islam will produce more jihadist groups in the future that target not just the West, but also Russia with a considerable Muslim population in many of the former Soviet republics of Eurasian region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstrated once again in 2015 that he is indeed an authoritarian nationalist leader with Tsarist imperialist tendencies, but one who respects the traditional global balance of power and prefers diplomatic settlement of conflicts because Russia is much weaker than the combined force of NATO. This does not mean Putin is shy about using force, as clearly shown by his aggressive policy to prevent NATO-Western encirclement or containment policy as the US-EU intervention in Ukraine has demonstrated in the last four years, while maintaining a foothold as a regional player in the Middle East as Russian support for the Syrian government against ISIL has also shown.

In 2016, there are likely to be resolutions on several fronts between Russia and the West, revolving around the Middle East but also Ukraine whose population has been struggling economically since the Russia-Western confrontation over this country rich in natural resources but very corrupt political leadership divided between Russia and the West. This means that resolution is most likely in the Ukraine because it is simply too costly for the West to finance a right-wing pro-Western regime that is essentially as corrupt and oligarchic in composition as the previous pro-Moscow one. We are also likely to see the end of the Syrian conflict. This has been very costly for the imperialists of the East and West, indirectly benefiting China and Iran while draining and dividing Europe owing to the refugee question.

We may also see some resolution to the conflicts in Libya and Yemen along the lines of the Syrian model, although both Yemen and Libya present greater challenges than Syria because of much deeper tribal/ethnic divisions. Much will depend on the Palestinian situation where the Israeli apartheid state will become much more aggressive toward the Palestinians. This is largely because the Palestinians have no leverage other than the anemic international boycott movement against companies doing business with Israel.

The US government has already been cracking down on any entity trying to boycott Israel, making it difficult to carry out. The policy of the US toward the Middle East will remain one of blind devotion to apartheid in Israel, while divide and conquer the Arab countries, instigating as much tribal/religious/ethnic/political division as possible to weaken national unity. Meanwhile, US government, media and pundits will blame the victims for the consequences of external intervention, just as they blame the Palestinians who are victims of Israeli racist apartheid policies. Although it defies logic and common sense to blame the victim, it is the logic of the imperialist that we find commonly used in the 19th century by Europeans to justify their colonial exploitation of the non-Western world.

Iran as the de facto Hegemonic Power in the Middle East

In 2015, finally there was a US-Iran deal, despite massive rightwing opposition in the US allied with Israel. The reason was that powerful US-based and EU-based corporations wanted a market share in Iran, but also because the more the US tried military solutions in regional conflicts it instigated in the Middle East, the more powerful Iran was becoming with Russia and China behind it. Does the US-Iran agreement (14 June 2015) that calls for Iran to abandon nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for lifting of Western sanctions mean a new era in relations between the US and the Middle East? Syria, Turkey, and Egypt publicly praised the deal as a step forward because it would mean greater regional stability and greater economic integration that would benefit all the economies.

There are those who applaud the US for ignoring Israel and its extreme right-wing allies in the US that have done everything in their power to sabotage the negotiations between Iran and the West. Naturally, there are the pro-defense industry elements that regret these developments as much as those hiding behind a right wing ideology to justify animosity of any kind of rapprochement between the West and Iran, an Islamic republic that has been openly anti-West since 1979. Others see this deal as an opportunity to contain Israel from pursuing military adventures, as well as Saudi Arabia funding jihadists while claiming to support the struggle of the Palestinians but all along siding with Israel on its opposition to Iran as the major power that has a dominant voice to determine the regional balance of power.

The Iran nuclear deal may collapse at any time, if the US deems it is in its interest to derail it. However, the only beneficiaries from the Iranian economic integration were Russia and China, and it is unlikely Western corporations like General Electric are going to walk away from multi-billion dollar opportunities. In short, globalization has taken precedence over a sanctions policy that had failed in Iran, just as it failed to bring Russia to its knees for annexing the Crimea. Iran is the undisputed Middle East power and will remain so for a long time, at least as long as Russia and China are skeptical about US regional hegemonic intentions.

The EU, German Hegemony under neo-liberal Policies, and Europe Southern and Eastern Periphery

Besides the Iran-US nuclear negotiations, Germany enjoyed center-stage in 2015 and Chancellor Angela Merkel was person of the year for a number of mass media journals. Although Germany has been at the center of downward socioeconomic mobilization across Europe, something the will continue in 2016, the neoliberals are delighted because the richest Europeans continue to concentrate wealth under monetarist policies that choke off growth. Germany’s leverage stems from its massive economic power within the EU and clearly as the dominant country it has the ability to stabilize or destabilize as it wishes. At the same time, Germany feels the pressure from the US and China, pressure it resents as we have seen over the disagreements on the Russia-Ukraine crisis. In its quest for global power status, Germany wants a freer hand in the EU that it considers its back yard, just like the US considers the Caribbean and Central America its back yard. With France politically and economically weak, the major obstacle to Germany is the persistence of anti-EU sentiment coming out of the UK. It is possible that the UK will have an even larger economy than Germany at some point before 2024, and this is something that Germans take into account when they position themselves for hegemony today. In short, the German-UK power struggle is important today, though hardly fierce enough for these two economic rivals to go to war as they did in 1914.

Greece was one of the biggest stories in 2015, but only because Germany made it so. Not just the mainstream media throughout the world, but the social media has been covering the drama unfolding in Greece, a drama that actually started in early 2010 when the creditors decided to make borrowing expensive for the Greek government. In May 2010, Greece opted for IMF-style austerity and massive cuts in public spending and public sector jobs, combined with higher indirect taxes, measures the EU and IMF promised would lower the public debt and stimulate higher growth rates on a sustainable basis. Promises notwithstanding, the result has been one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, negative GDP growth, accompanied by much higher debt.
In 2015 was whether the German-IMF led dogmatic neoliberals prevail or whether the reformers who believe that the German-imposed patron-client integration model in the EU is forcing Greece and the periphery members into neo-colonial status. Germany failed to conquer Europe by going to wars twice in the 20th century, but it is now trying to achieve the same result through the route of economic hegemony. However, it has very powerful allies in multinational banks and corporations of the entire Western World and this is why it is so powerful against those trying to maintain a bit of their national sovereignty in order to present the illusion of democracy to their citizens.

Beyond the very tragic issue of millions suffering lower living standards, and beyond the very real prospect of their continued suffering for a number of years under such conditions, there is the fear that other countries could also meet with a similar fate as Greece. The question for EU leaders must be to what degree is Greece and for matter all of the periphery (southern and eastern European countries) sovereign and to what degree do citizens have a voice in the illusion of a democratic process that really belongs to the banks and multinational corporations that the state represents?

Finally, Germany took the world’s spotlight because of one the largest corruption and fraud scandals in our time. The Volkswagen emissions scandal was only the tip of the iceberg and the very clear manifestation of the level of corruption in the private-public sector. It is not that VW was promoting itself as the “eco-friendly” corporation, but that it enjoyed the backing of its government that went along with the scandal until it broke. However, this is hardly the biggest scandal considering that Deutsche Bank which has a long history of corruption along with Siemens, have also been immersed in corruption, again with government complicity. Despite all of these corporate scandals linked to the Merkel government that at the very least failed to prevent them and at worst had a complicit role in them, the corporate media presented Merkel as the political hero of 2015! This is not to imply that corporate corruption that is estimated at more than $100 billion is limited to Germany, because it is actually an integral part of capitalism as many books and articles have shown. (c. h. Ferguson, Predator Nation, 2013; M. J. Lynch, Corporate Crime, Corporate Violence, 2015)

American Guns, Racism and Xenophobia

Throughout 2015, the headlines about domestic development in the US were about gun violence, racism and xenophobia that are an integral part of the institutional mainstream and not just Republican Party rhetoric intended to distract from low wages and downward pressures on income. In fact, the Washington Post revealed that the US government is planning to raid more than 100,000 illegal aliens, thus depriving the Republicans of a major issue in the presidential campaign in 2016. At the same time, the Obama administration has done absolutely nothing except to give speeches on the matter of gun violence and police shootings of black youth. If civil rights leaders from the 1950s and 1960s came back to life today, they would be enraged that racism remains an integral part of the culture and institutional mainstream,, with only a thin veil of political correctness to conceal its hypocrisy.

Political correctness as a veil of a racist and unjust society, the American culture of racism has been an integral part of the police force in American society, no matter the civil rights movements and laws on the books. Reinforcing the racist police culture is the “war on terror” and the culture of counter-terrorism since 9/11. The result is institutionalization of “collective psychopathology” to the degree that torturing people, violating their civil rights and their human rights is the now the norm that the media accepts as necessary, and often criticizes those who dare question the abuses of law enforcement in American cities and CIA torturers. The US Senate report on CIA torture revealed that the US looked to Israel as a model for justifying torture on the basis of preventing “imminent attack” in the future. That the US would use Israel, an apartheid society, as a model makes sense if one accepts that the US like Israel in a state of perpetual war with potential Muslim enemies.
Gun violence 2015

Total Number of Incidents 51,538
Number of Deaths13,094
Number of Injuries1 26,420
Number of Children (age 0-11) Killed/Injured678
Number of Teens (age 12-17) Killed/Injured2,623
Mass Shooting329
Officer Involved Incident 4,292
Home Invasion 2,265
Defensive Use 1,234
Accidental Shooting 1,876

According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was 350. In addition, we compiled all terrorism incidents inside the U.S. and found that between 2001 and 2013, there were 3,030 people killed in domestic acts of terrorism.* This brings the total to 3,380. According to the US government, a total of 406,496 people have been killed from 2001 to 2013, while during the same period, which includes 9/11, 3,380 people were killed on US soil and abroad as a result of what the State Department labels “terrorism”. Ironically, the issue for the media is terrorism and social violence, not institutionalism racism and xenophobia prompted by the reality of downward pressures on incomes, especially on minorities suffering high unemployment and much lower income levels than whites. As long as people believe there is an enemy to hate – domestic and foreign, a Nazi propaganda tactic that Hitler used in the 1930s -this covers up all other problems and distracts people from issues of their daily material lives.

America does not have a monopoly of racism, despite its history as a slave-owning society that first eliminated the native population in a quest for land grab. Nor does the US have a monopoly of xenophobia targeting Muslims and Latinos. However, the US is a world leader and its example is emulated in other predominantly white societies. The culture of racism and xenophobia along with gun violence will become much more pronounced as the socioeconomic conditions become difficult for the middle class in 2016 and beyond.


They are not taking out the champagne glasses at the Clinton campaign at the end of 2015, but they are at least dusting them to host their millionaire and billionaire financial contributors and their politically-correct liberal friends trying to mobilize popular support for the presumptive nominee of the Democrat Party in 2016. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article arguing that there is no way Hillary could win after eight years of a black Democrat president. I had no idea two years ago the Republicans would be divided into as many factions, with the populist (racist-xenophobic, pro-gun segment) prevailing over the traditional Rockefeller branch that has its roots on Wall Street and a handful of king-makers. When Jeb Bush sounds rational within the context of the other candidates, this is indicative of how far to the right the party has drifted. The mistake kingmakers made in 2015 was to bring in populists to widen the popular base because in so doing the party assumed many poles of political power now difficult to centralize under a consensus candidate that is acceptable both the financial elites and the disgruntled white Christian fundamentalist xenophobe through many parts of the US.

The presidential race has revealed that neo-Fascism is now very much acceptable as part of the Republican agenda, and just under the politically correct carpet for some conservative Democrats as well. For the Republicans to win the White House in 2016, Democrats would have to stay home in much larger numbers than ever before because the Latino and Black vote is decisive and highly unlikely it will go to the Republican nominee, even if Carson and/or Rubio is on the ticket as VP. In 2004, President G.W. Bush captured 44% of the Latino vote to win the White House, while in 2012, Mitt Romney received a mere 23% of same voting bloc and lost to Obama. This scenario assumes a Trump or Cruz victory with Bush dropping out. Things may change drastically and by some miracle a Rockefeller Republicans like Bush prevails during a divided Republican convention where chaos could prevail as it did for Democrats in 1968 or perhaps closer to 1980 when Ted Kennedy did not embrace Jimmy Carter.

Regardless of who wins the White House, America is a status quo nation unlikely to deviate very far from its current neoliberal path on economic policy and interventionism in foreign affairs. The idea that the presidential elections really means very much aside from gay marriage, abortion and lifestyle issues is absurd as history has shown. The differences between the political parties are stylistic and not substantive intended to project the image of “real choice” to voters. American voters are given two candidates paid for the financial elites and whose interests they will serve even if they have not received money from millionaires and billionaires. In the end, as history has shown, it makes little difference which one wins to the lives of the middle class and workers.

Jon Kofas is a retired university Professor from Indiana University.

29 June, 2015