The Systemic Sources of Geopolitical Turmoil: Instability, Fragmentation, Resource Wars

The proximate trigger of instability is less important than we think.

It’s tempting to think that the resolution of various geopolitical crises would restore global stability: tempting, but wrong. Global turmoil may appear to have specific causes–Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, etc.–but the deeper reality is the instability is systemic.

The proximate trigger of instability is less important than we think. The often-cited analogy is a sand pile formed by a steady trickle of sand from a storage bin. The sand slowly accumulates into a seemingly stable pile. But the structure of the pile becomes increasingly unstable as the sides steepen and the height grows, and at some unpredictable point the pile suddenly collapses in cascades of sand.

Do we focus on the last grain of sand that triggered the collapse of apparent stability, or do we focus on the real cause, the rise in systemic instability?

Gordon Long and I discussed these systemic causes of global conflict inGeopolitical Turmoil: Instability, Fragmentation, Resource Wars:

We discuss five systemic sources of global instability:

1. Failed Governments/States, where failed means an inability to provide the citizenry with basic levels of security, civil liberties and basic necessities of life.

Failed states are characterized by:

  • Weak Institutions & Corruption
  • Failed Governance/Political Gridlock
  • Failure of Central Planning Model
  • Failure of Neo-Liberal Model of Capitalism

2. Fragmentation of nation-states assembled in the 20th century by the Great Powers.

3. Divided geopolitical loyalties of traditional states located on geopolitical faultlines.

4. Resource wars:

  • Transport of energy
  • Fewer resources (food, water, energy)
  • Shortages/rising prices of resources

5. Insolvency of nations/governments due to unpayable debts.

Thinking that putting out geopolitical fires is the solution to global instability is equivalent to thinking that the solution to forest fires is to douse every small fire before it spreads. What results is an entire forest piled high with so much deadwood that the next fire will necessarily explode into a raging, uncontrollable conflagration. 

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  • mmckinl

    Peak cheap oil is here … actual oil production actually peaked around 2005. The only reason oil prices haven’t skyrocketed is because of the worldwide “demand destruction” since the financial crisis. Oil usage just in the US is down over 15%.

    As oil goes up in price past $100 a barrel a world economy based on cheap oil stagnates and stalls … The whole reason behind the US intervention in Central Asia and MENA is demand destruction to keep oil demand in check so that the system declines gradually while the Oligarchy cleans up on cheap money.

    The German military and US military reports on oil supply …

    Review of Bundeswehr Report on peak oil: Section 2.2. Tipping Point (Nov. 2010)

    US military warns oil output may dip causing massive shortages by 2015

    Both reports warn of oil shocks beginning in 2015. The fact is that higher oil prices have caused food and fuel prices to increase dramatically since 2005 when the Hirsch Report was delivered to congress warning of the impending disaster …

    Wikipedia’s overview of the Hirsch Report …

    Higher oil prices and the attendant dramatically higher food and fuel prices have pushed the poor and the working poor over the edge while lowering tax receipts to governments to mitigate the crisis. The “powers that be” know all these facts but will resist while they use this opportunity to get even richer through central bank largesse.

    The “powers that be” have postponed the inevitable for some time now but even their command of the situation is slipping as the world unravels. They will never admit that peak oil is the problem because admitting to limits on growth means death to their Ponzi Banking monopoly.

  • Andrean Tantiono

    nice blog and nice info btw thankss