2016 in Geopolitical Review

American president Barack Obama listens to a briefing in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington DC, March 23, 2012
American president Barack Obama listens to a briefing in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington DC, March 23, 2012 (White House/Pete Souza)

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who liked 2016. Just about every safe assumption about the future was challenged. To top the year off, the United States even abstained from a veto on the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements, rewriting at the last moment the relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv. It has been a roller coaster, but what has it all meant? Read more

Season of Discontent: Parallels Between Brexit and Trump

A woman holds an umbrella in front of St Paul's Cathedral, London, England, March 23, 2013
A woman holds an umbrella in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, England, March 23, 2013 (Raffi Youredjian)

The winter of 1978-79 is remembered in Britain as the Winter of Discontent. There were mass strikes and inflation spiraled out of control. The situation led to the election of Margaret Thatcher that spring and the rise of neoliberal policies.

Could the summer and autumn of this year one day be remembered in a similar way?

In both Britain and the United States, there have been revolts against the establishment and the status quo, leading to calls for radical change. Read more

Let’s Stop with the Referendums

Greeks demonstrate outside parliament in Athens, June 29, 2015
Greeks demonstrate outside parliament in Athens, June 29, 2015 (Jan Wellmann)

Britain’s accidental withdrawal from the European Union should give other countries pause before consulting their own voters directly in a referendum again.

The problem with referendums is that complicated political questions don’t usually lend simple “yes” or “no” answers.

The whole point of parliamentary democracy is that we can elect people to make such choices for us; to weigh the costs and benefits, to think through the long-term consequences, to make sure one group isn’t disproportionately affected over another. Most voters don’t have the time nor the interest to be part-time politicians themselves. Read more

How We Got to Brexit

The United Kingdom on a globe
The United Kingdom on a globe (Ali Wade)

So they went ahead and did it.

They were warned; boy, were they warned. Economist after economist, leaders both near and far, even their own prime minister, all with the same line: to leave is to suffer. Upon the eve of the vote, even the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) did not fully believe Britons would do such a thing.

But they did and clearly so. 52 to 48 percent, a democratic majority if ever there was one, with high turnout and nary a voting irregularity.

I argued last week that Brexit or not, the world curves toward union: the costs of isolation, of high walls, of strict migrant controls far outweigh the supposed benefits. The markets seem to agree, as the pound slumps, the United Kingdom heads for recession and two of the three major political parties endure various levels of meltdown.

Even in geopolitics, punishment like that rarely comes so swiftly. Read more

British Exit “Wakeup Call” for Europe: Dutch

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands speaks with his British counterpart, David Cameron, at Chequers, England, February 21, 2014
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands speaks with his British counterpart, David Cameron, at Chequers, England, February 21, 2014 (Rijksoverheid)

Parties in the Netherlands regret Britain’s decision to leave the European Union but are also motivated to press ahead with their own plans to reform the bloc.

Halbe Zijlstra, the parliamentary leader of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party, said on Monday that he understands the British were dissatisfied with the “European express train that keeps thundering on.”

“This sentiment lives in the Netherlands as well,” he said.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, another liberal party member and the defense minister, told the European Parliament the next day the vote in the United Kingdom should come as a “wake-up call to us all.” Read more

Young Britons Sulk After Country Takes Them Out of Europe

Two supporters of Britain's European Union membership look out over the Thames in London, England, June 15
Two supporters of Britain’s European Union membership look out over the Thames in London, England, June 15 (Garry Knight)

Much has been written in recent days about what the vote to leave the European Union has managed to bring upon the United Kingdom: a rudderless government, a Labour Party in crisis and threats of Scottish independence.

What about the everyday? Obviously the world did not implode on Thursday and life is going on, people commuting to and from work. Yet there is a palpable sense of loss, uncertainty, perhaps even shock — especially among the young.

The referendum revealed stark divisions, not just between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom but within England itself and between generations. It is these divisions that have led to the current somber atmosphere. Read more

Shock of EU Exit Reverberates Through British Politics

The Houses of Parliament in London, England, February 19, 2013
The Houses of Parliament in London, England, February 19, 2013 (Martin Robson)