Dubai – MENA Herald: William Hague, the UK’s former foreign secretary, presented to a full audience gathered at the 2015 Arab Strategy Forum, a set of quick fire predictions for 2016 that he said were meant to be provocative.
He started with Europe, a region he said he was confident to speak about and that has largely proved his predictions right. Citing his earlier prediction about Euro, which he had described as a “burning building with no exit”, he said his past forecasts on the state of the Euro has come true.
Hague next predicted that difficulties of the Eurozone will intensify in 2016. He said: “The deal with Greece is unsustainable and almost everybody knows that it is unsustainable.”
He added that the greater crisis that will emerge in Eurozone is not about liquidity but about competitiveness [among the countries] and large economic divergences will [lead to] political fragmentation.
He added that the migration crisis in Europe will intensify. Gently chiding Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, for opening up the country to a large number of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and other conflict ridden countries of Asia, Hague said the EU will struggle to implement solutions to the migrant crisis, threatening the EU and the Schengen visa countries. “It’s a year of profound challenges to EU,” he said to the attentive audience.
In his third prediction, he said the UK will stay in the EU. The referendum to be held in 2016 could move to 2017, and people will vote to remain in the EU even if 60% of the voters were unenthusiastic about it. “One of the factors that would influence voters to continue to remain within the UK is if they vote otherwise; Scotland is more likely to leave the UK.”
Fourthly, he believes the UK will raise its global role in 2016 and that will translate into increasing its defense spending.
Fifth, he said the next President of the US will have a much more assertive foreign policy. Ruling out the chances of Donald Trump succeeding to the White House, he said it could be a toss between Hilary Clinton, the Democratic Party contender or a mainstream Republican nominee. In the context of the US foreign policy in the Middle East, Hague observed that while George W. Bush ‘overreached’, the current President Barrack Obama had ‘undereached’. “The cycle will turn under the new President of the US.”
Sixth, Hague said he expects the easing of tension between the West and Russia, mainly on the basis of Europe finding it difficult to maintain its unity on the sanctions on Russia and fighting their common enemy ISIS or Daesh. He expects Daesh will try to find a new homeland as they are currently trying to push in Libya and will continue to attract more international recruits worldwide. “They [Daesh] will probably grow stronger before they get weaker.”
In his seventh prediction, the West and the Arab world will continue to find Iranian foreign policy frustrating and obstructive. Despite the nuclear deal, Hague said that the West and Iran will feel their way to a better relationship but deep political divisions within Iran will make that difficult on the Iranian side. On economic matters, he believes foreign investment will not flow as quickly into Iran as they might hope.
Eighth, in the absence of an agreement on a Syrian constitution, the former foreign secretary of the UK thinks government attention will shift on how to freeze the conflict and accept some kind of a de facto partition of Syria. “This is not something I advocate but it is natural for the discussion to turn in the absence of an agreement collectively on a future constitution for Syria.”
Ninth, tensions in East Asia are more likely to rise owing to skirmishes on the issue of territorial rights on South China Sea between China, Vietnam and Philippines. Chinese economy will take time to recover, but China will still remain the second largest economy in the world.
Tenth, prefacing his remarks on Central Banks saying he was an ex- politician veering into economics, he said it would be a difficult year for Central Banks. Hague strongly believes that it was vital for them to raise interest rates gradually, or else “excessive debt would build up that will be impossible to control later.”
Before ending his list, William Hague left the audience with two more predictions: one which is said would be a worrying one and the other an uplifting one. The worrying one in 2016, he predicts, to be a major cyberattack or breach that could lead a major corporation to ruin or near ruin. On the positive side, he expects in 2016 or in the years later a major scientific breakthrough, which will “herald the next stage of scientific revolution”.
Later, during his chat with CNN anchor Becky Anderson, the former secretary expanding on some of his predictions said that for the US to intervene in the region in a more assertive foreign policy, it has to be conducted in a more intelligent way – working with the local forces and using the political and diplomatic channels to make sure that the ISIS and their likes do not see it as western intervention in the Muslim world.
On Euro, Hague feels it is likely to get worse. The Euro, he added, will not work for Italy, for instance, a country facing economic stagnation. Finland, he pointed out, has the same concerns, whereas Ireland is witnessing a boom and needs to worry about growing too fast too quickly. “One size does not fit all” was Hague’s critique of Euro. “For the economic stagnation in much of Europe,” he said, “Euro is one of the causes.” EU will not collapse but will continue to be in a sad, stagnant situation.
Hague emphasized the importance of normalizing US relations with Russia, which he sees as a very important country.
“You have to reckon with Russia every day,” Hague said, giving instances of the country’s role in the UN, in the ongoing Syrian conflict, and in the Iranian nuclear agreement. He expects the foreign policy of Iran to change “very slowly” because of various internal divisions within the country. He expects Iran to continue to pursue proxy wars in the region.
When asked by a member of the audience about the Palestinian-Israel issue and the efforts of the West to resolve it, Hague said that the US Secretary of State John Kerry had “thrown everything” towards it, but unfortunately did not produce any results.
“[The fact] that it hasn’t produced a breakthrough is extremely concerning,” Hague said, adding that “there is no give” at the moment from the Israeli coalitions. That stance is going to cost Israel strategically in the long run, a feeling he has shared with their leaders.
On the latest development of the Islamic Military Alliance, announced at Riyadh on Monday night, Hague said he welcomed it. “The challenge is to make this alliance a reality,” he added. “We should welcome our friends working together militarily…if you are to work together like the NATO force; you have to decide to act together.” However, it will take time to be a functioning reality, he observed.