The concept of a system is not a simple or unique one. There are many different kinds of systems, and different systems may be organized and operated in different ways. As individuals we all belong to some social system, we participate in an economic system, we are the product of several educational systems, and we are members of one or more family systems. In a similar fashion, the equipment of which physical systems are made may be members of many other systems, such as electrical, mechanical, sensing, actuating, energy, materials, and/or information systems. One of the challenges to the person who engineers a system is to find the many alternative ways in which the function, the operation, and/or the equipment of concern and interest may be considered, understood, and made to perform most effectively.” - Harold Chesnut

This week includes a number of links focusing on the changes in Middle East and China, which both reflect deeper shifts in our geopolitical world.

95 years after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the artificial creation of countries, the modern Middle East is unraveling at an unexpected speed, inflating and conflating religion, ethnic and nationalists sentiments, while producing  ambiguous conflicts and unlikely alliances between far allies and near enemies. The sheer complexity leaves outsiders with a very confused (and sometimes contradictory) understanding of the situation.

Yet this confusion arises from ‘black & white’ models developed during the Cold War, when the world was dominated by 2 (and then 1) superpowers. But our world is rapidly evolving into a more equivocal place where simplistic models will no longer allow us to reach the goals which we will define for ourselves. A real life example would be Syria, where President Al Assad appears the most realistic choice among several evils, and as highlighted in articles below, the press coverage is much less aggressive toward President Al Assad since IS’ mediatic rise.

China is also finding a new breed of commentators who recently ‘discovered’ the various challenges China is facing, and over the last 2 years market sentiment has wildly fluctuated to reach a much more nuanced consensus about the country’s prospects. Stephen Roach, a renowned China watcher, argues that the ‘New Normal’ everyone talks about, from companies to government officials, is actually only the start of a very long and difficult process: China is far from successfully rebalancing.

This line of thought can be extrapolated to other part of the world: those dependent on China (mostly commodity exporting countries) and those on which China depends (the USA and Europe). Among the these countries trying to cope with the aftermath of the crisis, Europe stands out with the size of its problems (including massive -and partly bank inherited- debt, and botched currency union) which weight as significant uncertainties in the near future.

Simultaneous and uncoordinated rebalancing around the world is creating an unstable world in which the variety of factors greatly hamper the capacity of various countries to define a clear and sustainable geopolitical strategy. Old paradigms are no longer appropriate to assess and address our current challenges. Our world is changing rapidly. We need to update our thinking framework accordingly.

Science, General Knowledge & Environment

The Easter story, the resurrection and the gospel truth – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – “For while Christianity is sometimes spoken of as one of the “religions of the book” — the other two being Judaism and Islam — it would be more accurate to call the Christian Bible the “book of the people”. Christianity, although it treasures the scriptures of the Bible, has always been an organic faith, growing from innumerable personal experiences of Christ, and passed from individual to individual.

History & Geopolitics

Plutocracy The First Time Around – “Those confronted by the iniquities and inequities that ran rampant in the first Gilded Age stood up to exploitation and oppression by reaching into their varied pasts. There they were able to find the moral, intellectual, and even organizational wherewithal to defy the prevailing capitalist order of things.

Conversation: Greece and Germany Seek a Deal – [Video] – “Stratfor Vice President of Global Analysis Reva Bhalla and Europe Analyst Adriano Bosoni discuss how the Greek government is trying to balance domestic concerns with pleasing its German lenders.

Where George W. Bush was right – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – “Repressive, secular regimes — backed by the West — become illegitimate. Over time they become more repressive to survive and the opposition becomes more extreme and violent. The space for compromise, pluralism and democracy vanishes. The insurgents and jihadists have mostly local grievances but, because Washington supports the dictator, their goals become increasingly anti-American.

The Middle Eastern Balance of Power Matures – “The American role, like the British role before it, would not be directly waging war in the region but providing aid designed to stabilize the balance of power. That can be seen in Yemen or Iraq. It is extremely complex and not suited for simplistic or ideological analysis.

U.S. policies on the Middle East are inconsistent but wise – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – “This seems to be the case in Yemen, where the U.S. goal, surely, is to strengthen neither the Iranian-backed Houthis nor al-Qaeda. It is difficult to see how decisive intervention on either side would serve our national interest or make us safer. And it is easy to imagine how we could unintentionally make the situation much worse.

In the Iran Talks, Does a Missed Deadline Matter? – “This deadline over an interim agreement did not mean much to Iran in the first place. Progress, however uneven, is being made in the nuclear negotiations, and a U.S.-Iranian understanding is already having reverberations across the region.

The nightmare of a Korean cold war thaw – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – “The gap in per-capita income between North and South Korea could now be 40:1, compared with about 3:1 between East and West Germany at the time of reunification.

China’s New Normal and America’s Old Habits – “In short, China’s government is confusing a path with the final destination – a point that I stressed in my remarks to the CDF, in which I argued that China is in the early stages of rebalancing its economy toward services and consumption. In fact, China is far from settling in to a new normal.

Born Red – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – Must read on President Xi – “How Xi Jinping, an unremarkable provincial administrator, became China’s most authoritarian leader since Mao.

Finance & Economics

The real eurozone problems are hidden under the bonnet – “Without adjustment, there is no alternative to joint economic governance of a kind that allows transfers from taxpayers in strong countries to citizens of weaker ones. In a monetary union without adjustment — and lacking those transfers — tensions gradually build until they become too much to bear. Greece is close to that point.

Picture of the day: Globe photos of the month, March 2015

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About Carlito Riego

"Great perfection may appear imperfect, but its usefulness is inexhaustible. Great abundance may appear empty, but its usefulness cannot be exhausted. Great correctness may appear twisted, great skills appear crude, great eloquence appear awkward. Activity conquers cold; inactivity conquers heat. Clear serenity governs the world." - Lao Zi