Bill Collier- The swings in foreign policies set by elected leaders with a big ego are making geopolitical predictions more difficult, especially if normal state interests are considered to be the major factor in making such predictions.
There was a time when geopolitical predictions relied upon a dependable set of known factors, namely what one could refer to as normal state interests. For instance, Britain always resisted allowing any continental power from gaining hegemony in Europe lest it face an entire Europe united against its policies. This normal state interest was such that whenever a continental power seemed to be gaining predominence you could predict a policy or even military clash between it and Britain.
One of the factors in creating this predictability was that those in power were bound either by a strong tradition or some form of accountability to other political bodies and institutions to accommodate those normal state interests in their policies. There was real pressure to stay within certain parameters and this meant that, whoever was in power, each government behaved somehwat like its predessor. Policies may change over time, but the arc of events bent to the normal state interests.
In today's world, some powers, such as America, are experiencing a different kind of reality where leaders have more power, are not bound by tradition, and are not really accountable to other political bodies within the state. In these instances, the ideolology and personality of the leader come into the foregound in terms of predictable analysis, instead of being in the background. It cannot be said that each government follows the policies of its predecessor or even that traditional state interests outweigh all other factors over time.
This has always been an issue for some states at some times. But when the most powerful states, namely America and Russia, are dominated by strong personalities whose leadership is ideological and whose powers are less well controlled by anything other than their ideology and personality, then the ability to predict geopolitical outcomes is more difficult.
The psychiatrist, psychologist, and sociologist replace the doctors of economics and political science in the vanguard of predicting what certain states are likely to do. Long term predictions, however, will suffer as the next government or leader will not be bound by much of anything to which the previous government had committed.
Security professionals note that many states around the world look at the United States today as an unreliable ally or partner. The current US Administration did not keep the same security and foreign policy commitment of its predecessor, and in fact seems to be pursuing an ideological policy rooted in 20th century anticolonialism and internationalism, an ideology which held that a strong America and Europe were positive impediments to the development and progress of the rest of the world. Today, the United States is not pursuing its normal state interests- critics believe it is favorable to Iran, resistant to Israel, and it ignors dangers to US allies posed by Salafism, Iran, Russia, and China.
Russia is pursuing the wishes and ideological bent of one man- Vladimir Putin. Its land grabs are not bringing wealth, benefit, or security to the Russian state but are driven by Putin's belief in restoring the USSR's borders within a non-communist Russian Empire which he fancies has a Divine Right to rule over those lands and peoples. Its economic policies are as dominated by cronyism, keeping regime supporters happy and punishing its opponents, as by the economic interests of the Russian state and a central economic concept appears to be lacking.
Geopolitics is impacted by domestic policy as well. In the US, domestic policy is firmly in the hands of regulatory agencies. Neither the courts nor the legislature of the American state are active in setting and controlling the actual policies and rules that control so much of every citizen's daily life. A strong belief in "climate change impacted by human production of CO2" is not only affecting domestic policy, despite a lack of support by the public for such policies, but foreign policy as well. The US military and the State Department have made combatting "global warming" a higher priority than combatting Salafist-inspired terrorism or Russian revanchism. What is more, the goal behind such policies is not US security or welfare per se, but quite literally saving the whole world from "greenhouse gasses."
However one views such policies, as good or bad, it can be argued that normal state interests are not as important as the ideology and personality of the American President, and this is becoming more common in other states as well. Angela Merkel, of Germany, is using, it is argued, German control over the Euro to dominate not only the German economy, but all of Europe. She is above and beyond the reach of other political institutions in the EU or Germany. Ideology and personality will become bigger factors in major powers, especially since the current American President, building on the trends begun by his predecessor, appears to be succeeding in bypassing the public and other political institutions within the American state.
The work of one Cass Sunstein, who co-wrote a book called "Nudge", and which details how to use regulatory powers in creative ways to "nudge" society in chosen directions, was received with global acclaim. The man is a chief advisor to the American President and is a virtual apostle for his own theories, theories which would tend to favor a strong leader who is detached from either tradition or the limits imposed by other political institutions within the state. His theories are bound to gain adherents, especially among those leaders and the regulatory bodies they control.
Going back to concerns raised in global security forums and among global security experts, this means that lesser states can no longer predict whether their senior partners and allies will honor their commitments. Even if some future government comes into power and reverses course to favor its jilted allies, the fact is those same jilted allies can never be certain the very next government in power will continue the same policies. So then smaller states must shift for themselves and if the theories of progressive thinkers like Cass Sustein are accepted in their countries this will then introduce even more uncertainty.
It may be argued that in the very long term natural and normal state interests (dictated by population, culture, geography, natural resources, and that state's strength versus its neighbors) will win the day. But making geopolitical predictions based only on a 50 year span is dangerous- it presupposes that the state or states in question will survive the decisions of ideologues with big egos who are disconnected from normal state interests. If such states survive, will they be the SAME states in substance?
Geopolitical predictions will become more difficult because the ego of a few dominant and ideologically driven personalities will become more dominant in state policy than the normal interests of that state. We are seeing that in the US and Russia, and it is likely that this trend will continue. The temptation among the powerful to escape all controls, when it is fueled by such theoretical justifications as provided by the likes of Cass Sustein, and with the apparent success of the current American President in achieving such a powerful place at the center of the state, will become irresitable.