The new year always brings the promise of new things being just on the horizon. The world is a volatile place today, with shifting economies, the continued presence of Islamist terrorism around the world, and the Great Game of competition between nations seeking diplomatic, strategic, and economic advantages around the globe.
Everyone is a prognosticator and soothsayer in the new year, so we are going to jump into the deep end on this as well. Looking at the world we see considerable economic challenges and security issues but we don’t think the world will explode into war either. Here are some predictions we are willing to make for the year 2022.
The political climate in this country remains deeply divided and contentious. We believe that Republicans will regain the House and Senate in 2022. This would effectively render President Biden a “Lame Duck” for the last two years of his term. Legislative and budget priorities will be set by Republican majorities, while Biden retains veto power over new legislation. This will require both parties to work together on the things they can agree on. In doing so, the House and Senate would be able to pass legislation with veto-proof majorities
The spread of COVID-19 and varients will continue in 2022, what may change is the way we deal with these new variants. Prior to the vaccine the strategy employed was one of containment and prevention. With the introduction of vaccines and now new drugs that can effectively eliminate the risks of hospitalization and death, the government has been slow in moving to a strategy of testing and treatment of COVID cases. Currently, the CDC is still focused on just new cases rather than the much more important metric of hospitalizations and deaths which reflect on our ability to treat the sick after infection.
We also think it’s dawning on the government, finally, that mitigation measures proposed by the CDC aimed towards stopping the spread of the virus ignored the second and third-order effect these policies had on society and our economy overall. In ways both large and small these myopic policies not only failed to prevent 800,000 Americans from dying from COVID but did serious harm to the economy and the mental, physical and economic wellbeing of the population.
Economically, the United States has once again shown itself to be incredibly resilient to market chain disruptions, inflation, rising interest rates, and increased competition globally. Supply chain shortages will slow economic growth but not trigger a recession here. The concern is whether prevention measures again COVID in other countries will trigger recessions in their economies that will be felt here. We do not believe a recession will happen here in 2022 but is possible in 2023,
Getting this country back to work requires employees to return to their jobs. About one-third of workers have not yet been vaccinated. state and federal mandates requiring workers to be vaccinated will be in the way of full economic recovery and we predict they will be dropped under pressure from businesses trying to get their employees back. As the number of COVID variants increase(even as they decrease in lethality) it will prove impossible for the government to endlessly require new vaccinations and boosters for employees to stay on their jobs.
A significant demographic shift is going on in this country right now, as people relocate to other states. Their destinations tend to be those states with a low tax, business-friendly environment that have sensible COVID restrictions in place. Upwards of one million people moved to Texas, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia in 2021. As they say, “People vote with their feet.” This will continue. The people who moved first tended to be those with the cash in the bank to buy a new home immediately, those that will follow this year will be those who need more time to find a new job and sell their current home. The increasing ability to work from home will also help drive this demographic shift to the South and Western states like Arizona and Nevada.
Around The World
We think that both NATO and Russia will reach an agreement on not allowing Ukraine to join NATO. The United States and NATO are not interested in fighting a war with Russia over Ukraine joining NATO and an invasion of Ukraine in winter with an understrength army would likely fail. If Vladamir Putin does not want a NATO country on his border, invading Ukraine to annex it entirely would now give him four NATO countries with borders on Ukraine, giving him the exact opposite of the foreign policy aims he states he is after.
We think there is a better than 50/50 chance that hostilities will break out between Serbia and its neighbors in Bosnia and Kosovo. Serbia has been vastly increasing its defense spending and acquiring new offensive weaponry from Russia, China, France, and even Israel. While there have been attempts to explain away these purchases as Serbia just replacing its old Soviet Union-era equipment, it ignores the vast expansion of Serbian offensive capabilities along with the re-emergence of the Serbian Nationalism that set off a brutal war in the 1990s.
In a war lasting from 1992-1995, Serbia aimed to create a Greater Serbia by a systematic process of ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs by means of forced relocation and genocide.
The Dayton Peace Accords signed in December 1995 ended the conflict but divided Bosnia into two parts, a Bosnian-Croat Federation and a Serb-led Republika Srpska.
Last July, the Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin, made statements that suggested that Serbia was returning to the Nationalism that led to the war in 1992,
“The task for this generation of politicians is to form a Serb world, that is to unite Serbs wherever they live,”
Vulin then went on to add, “For the ‘Serb world’ to form, Serbia needs to be economically successful, well-led and have an army that is able to protect Serbia and Serbs, wherever they live,”
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“wherever they live” is a reference to ethnic Serbs still living in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo.
These weapons purchases so far are falling within the limits of the Dayton Accords which limit the size of armies on all sides of the conflict. This prompts pundits to claim that there is nothing to be concerned about.
We disagree. Serbia is not claiming that its arms purchases are intended to simply modernize outdated equipment, instead, they are making statements about their intentions to unite the “Serb World.”
Chinese intervention in Myanmar is very possible. In 2021, the military seized control of the government in Myanmar, sparking civil unrest that the military has responded to violently, killing hundreds if not thousands of protesters. China has major economic investments in Myanmar and under the previous governments had signed an agreement called the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). This plan drew Myanmar and the Chinese economies more closely together with projects involving transportation, industry, finance, and communications. Now China faces having to complete these investments in an area of open conflict. Trade along the border is collapsing. The civilian population believes that China was behind the coup and an intense anti-Chinese sentiment has developed which has seen protests at the Communist Chinese embassy, attacks on Chinese-owned factories, and forced Chinese nationals living in Myanmar to return to China fearing for their personal safety. When Chinese officials visited the coup leaders they were met with a lecture by the generals all but accusing them of interfering in the lob-sided election victory of the ruling party that prompted the coup. The Communists being blamed by both sides puts Beijing in a rather difficult position, they can’t make a move that will satisfy either side. The most serious issue was in May when an off-station of the Myanmar-China oil and gas pipeline was attacked. This 770 km pipeline running along the border of these two countries is the primary feedline for energy to three of China’s southern provinces. If attacks on this pipeline continue and are successful in shutting it down, it will cripple the economies of these provinces. We think this is important enough for China to intervene in the conflict at some point with the aim of securing the pipeline with its own military forces.
Communist China and the Indo Pacific Region
China is a country trying to walk down two paths at the same time. On one path China seeks to expand its growing economy from just manufacturing goods for technologically advanced Western countries to being one of those technologically advanced countries itself. For the Communist Party in Beijing, prosperity for its people is tied to them remaining in power. The political exploitation of economic conditions in China in the 1940s was how the Communists attained power and they know they can lose it the exact same way.
Communist China today is a country with vast economic disparities of wealth among its people. Some of the wealthiest people on the planet are Chinese Communists engaging in a form of Crony-Capitalism where companies favored by the government with law and regulations expand at the expense of those not kowtowing to the Communist Party. Those disparities are being to be noticed by the Chinese people living inland and away from the prosperous coastal cities and the Party seems to understand the risk this puts them at. In Communist countries, no one is supposed to be better off than anyone else.
The richest man in Communist China, Zhong Shanshan with a net worth of over $60 Billion is also ranked 8th among the richest people on the planet. Shanshan owns a bottled water company in China which gives some sense of the consumer priorities in their market. In Communist China, the Party does not provide clean drinking water, a company operating under nominally capitalist principles does.
China’s continued economic expansion will rely on expanding its export market for goods,
China’s other road is one of Strategic dominance in the Pacific. The Communists under Party Secretary Xi Jinping are taking a belligerent posture in asserting claims to the South China Sea being in its territorial waters. Their aim is to exploit oil and natural gas resources on the seafloor. Communist China is the world’s largest importer of oil with an economy that is still fueled mostly by coal. China would rightly see this dependence on foreign oil as a serious liability to their national security aims. During WWII, Japan also had to import virtually all of its oil from the Far East and it proved disastrous to their effort to fight the Allies during the war. Attacks on their lines of supply left Japan unable to fuel its ships and planes and unable to keep its war material industry functioning.
On the path to expanding its domestic supply of energy by bullying and threats China is risking good relations with the very trade partners it needs to walk down the other path of trade and prosperity. It cannot do both at the same time indefinitely.
We do not believe China will invade or attempt to forcibly take Taiwan in 2022. As we have stated previously, China wants the $1 Trillion dollar economy of Taiwan intact, just as it wanted Hong Kongs economy back all in one piece. The Communists take the long view on these things, and they can afford to be patient.
We also think the increasing buildup of U.S. and allied countries in the region will serve as a check to Communist aggression in the region. China is pushing against what it sees as a lack of resolve by the United States in the Pacific region, as that resolve is restated China will take a step back.
The world’s second-most populous country faces some challenging security issues in 2022. For decades, the country has tried to maintain a non-aligned position between the Western Allies and the Soviet block facing its own problems along its borders with China and Pakistan. With the collapse of the USSR, its non-aligned status may have become a moot point. India now faces pressure from Iran, Russia, China, and Pakistan which are aligning against them. Iran is pushing into the Gulf of Oman and China into the Indian ocean. India has significant border disputes with Pakistan and China that have previously exploded into armed conflict China is building permanent bases along its border with India which requires India to respond in kind. China’s economic output is nearly five times greater than India’s. In an arms race, India would lose badly. In an actual armed conflict with China, India could probably force a stalemate given that the battleground is mostly mountainous and at high altitudes and very much favors the defender.
We predict India will choose to move closer to the U.S., rather than make concessions to Iran, Russia, China, and Pakistan. India is a country of great strategic importance to the U.S. Its military forces are considerable in size if under-equipped and a strong Indian military presence on China’s South-Western border is a check to Communist aggression elsewhere. China could not fight a war on two fronts simultaneously against the U.S. and India. There are also signs of a slow disengagement of U.S. business interests in Communist China that India could exploit for its own economic gain.
India cannot maintain strict non-alignment while facing an alignment of Iran, China, Pakistan, and Russia combining against them.
Islamist terrorists very much want to establish bases and safe havens on the African continent. Niger, Mali, Algeria, and Mauritania are embroiled in a struggle against terrorist groups trying to gain territory and resources in Africa. In 2013, Mokhtar Belmokhtar merged his al-Mulathamun Battalion with Tawhid Wal Jihad in West Africa (TWJWA) forming al-Murabitun, which seeks to “unite all Muslims from the Nile to the Atlantic in jihad against Westerners.”
In the coming year we expect to see counter-terrorism efforts intensify in Africa using Special Forces in an advisory role and Western nations proving intelligence, targeting information, and in some cases direct military intervention in the form of drone strikes on specific targets.
This will move the war on terrorism into the shadows and off the front pages of American media as Africa is a notoriously dangerous place for western journalists to work.
We make no hard predictions on Afghanistan for 2022. The Taliban will be trying to consolidate their power in Kabul which will prove very difficult since they are Jihadists by trade and have zero technical ability and their default level of civil administration is public executions. The United States and the world will have a very hard time recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of the country legally and diplomatically. First, the toppled government in Kabul is still in a state of resistance against the Taliban and occupying the Panjshir valley which the Taliban can’t seem to take back. The anti-Taliban National Resistance Front (NRF) has opened an office in the United States and has registered with the State Department under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. The Taliban will have its own problems with the UN. The UN recognizes the ambassador of the deposed government as speaking for the country and snubbed a Taliban request in December to give credentials to their new representative. Many of the Taliban are known and wanted terrorists and the U.S. would face a considerable public backlash were it to grant diplomatic immunity to a Taliban UN Ambassador and Afghan embassy officials.
The War on Terrorism
The end of any military presence in Afghanistan and remaining U.S. troops in Iraq moving to an advisory role has combined with the Pentagon announcing that it will engage in a strategic pivot to the Pacific. They said back in April that it would reduce the number of SEAL platoons by 30% while increasing the size of the remaining platoons moving them away from counter-terrorism missions to their traditional role in maritime security and undersea threats. The Army has not any plans of its own along these lines. We think this signifies a major shift away from the military being at the front of the war on terrorism and intelligence agencies like the CIA partnering with allied agencies in a multinational approach going forward. In such a scenario, the Green Berets would play an important role in training count-terrorism forces in South America, Africa, and Asia.
So these are our predictions for 2022, continued economic recovery for the U.S. with a more balanced approach to dealing with COVID-19 and its variants, recession unlikely until next year. A continuation of ongoing conflicts in the war on terror and the U.S. coming around to dealing with Communist China as a security threat rather than a friendly trading partner. If you would like to add your own predictions to these, put them in the comments below.
From all of us at SOFREP, here’s to a safe and prosperous 2022.
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