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Is the U.S. ‘Too Big’ for the Group of Seven?

by John Brian Shannon

Q: Are the concerns of a superpower relevant to the other G7 members? A: Not really.

Maybe it’s time for a superpower group of the U.S., China, the EU, Russia, and The Commonwealth of Nations to form up, instead of the G7 group that has worked very well until now.

Even the sage Moses who lived 3400-years ago, suggested, “Thou shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together” and the reason is quite clear to every farmer. Being so dissimilar in size and power, both the ox and the donkey will be miserable the entire time they try to plow forward together and the farmer will spend most of his time ‘arbitrating’ disputes between the two and the plowing enterprise will get little actual plowing done.

It’s unfair to the U.S., it’s unfair to the smaller or weaker members of the G7 club and it’s unfair — even to near-superpowers like Japan and Germany which have far different challenges and causes to ‘plow’ than those of the superpowers.


Shall I list the ways?

If so, this would become a very long blog post indeed!

For just three examples:

  1. Which of the G7 partners have a negative balance of trade of $862.8 billion for 2017? The entire G7 combined doesn’t have a negative balance of trade anywhere approaching that of the United States.
  2. Which of the other G7 members have an inventory of nuclear warheads like the United States which includes 6450 nuclear warheads; 1750 that are retired and awaiting dismantlement, and 3800 that remain part of the U.S. stockpile?
  3. If we’re talking GDP, the U.S. represents 52.8% of the Group of Seven’s GDP, while the next largest country in the group (Japan) represents 13.3% of GDP, with only Germany at 10% remaining as the only other double-digit GDP member of the G7.

Population figures and economic growth indicators may be even more telling than the above indicators of superpower status.


Should the U.S. Join It’s Own 1-Member Club?

That may be a tempting thought for President Donald Trump and certain members of his administration, but there are common concerns among superpowers that only apply to superpowers (and there’s no doubt the U.S. remains the Number One superpower by a significant margin) and it’s those superpowers that must work together to deliver solutions for their large populations.


If we look at a superpower club of 5 members: The United States, China, the EU, The Commonwealth of Nations and Russia, we’re looking at a group that is roughly comparable to each other and have similar challenges.

Let’s look at our three main indicators, just to be certain:

GDP

Big 5 (Nominal) GDP
U.S.A. --------- $20.3 trillion (USD) (Focuseconomics.com)
China ---------- $13.0 trillion (USD) (Focuseconomics.com)
EU ------------- $19.7 trillion (USD) (IMF)
Commonwealth --- $10.4 trillion (USD) (Commonwealth.org)
Russia --------- $1.72 trillion (USD) (IMF/StatisticsTimes.com)

Although there are some disparities in nominal GDP among the five countries, we must remember that China is on an exponential growth curve while The Commonwealth of Nations statistic (provided by commonwealth.org) is from 2017 and their economic group is also growing at a rapid rate ($13 trillion by 2020). Russia is the outlier in this group, however, as we shall see, that country has other (huge) chips on the table when it comes to retaining its superpower status.

Top 10 Countries as ranked by GDP includes G7 countries. Image courtesy of FocusEconomics.com

Top 10 Countries as ranked by GDP — includes G7 countries. Image courtesy of FocusEconomics.com


Nuclear Warheads

Big 5 Nuclear Warheads
U.S.A. --------- 6450 (Federation of American Scientists)
China ----------  270 (Federation of American Scientists)
EU -------------  300 (Federation of American Scientists)
Commonwealth ---  485 (Federation of American Scientists)
Russia --------- 6850 (Federation of American Scientists)

Although nuclear stockpiles vary, the U.S. and Russia were the main protagonists of the Cold War which lasted from 1950 through 1990 which is why they own far more nuclear weapons than all other countries combined. The only EU country to publish their ownership of nuclear weapons is France, with 300 warheads. The Commonwealth of Nations countries that publish ownership of nuclear weapons include the UK, Pakistan and India.

G7 comparison: Estimated Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2018. Federation of American Scientists

Estimated Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2018. Federation of American Scientists


Balance of Trade Issues

Big 5 Balance of Trade (in U.S. Dollars)
U.S.A. --------- $-862.8 billion (2017) (Handlesblatt/IMF/WTO)
China ---------- $+98.46 billion (2017) (TradingEconomics.com)
EU ------------- $+44.45 billion (2016) (Statista.com)
Commonwealth --- $-187.5 billion (2015) (Commonwealth.org)
Russia --------- $+115.3 billion (2017) (Statista.com)

GDP and Balance of Trade among the G7 countries in 2017

While balance of trade issues vary wildly between the United States, China, the EU, The Commonwealth of Nations and Russia, very few countries can play in the triple-digit or even high double-digit space occupied by those nations. Especially when analyzed using their (Nominal) and (Purchasing Power Parity) GDP numbers, these are exceptional nations and groupings of nations, which put them in a different category than other countries.


The Big 5 (B5) A Better ‘Fit’ for the United States, China, the EU, The Commonwealth and Russia

There is nothing wrong with small countries and there is nothing wrong with big countries. But small countries have far different challenges than large countries, and everything happens on a truly massive scale for the bigger countries and in country groupings like the EU and The Commonwealth of Nations.

And those differences cause irritations.

Instead of heads of government trying to plow forward with their challenges and issues while ‘yoked’ to dissimilar and dissimilar-sized partners, why not make it easier on everyone and ‘put like with like’ to gain a more comfortable fit?

It’s so obvious this should be done and the latest G7 meeting proves that the problems in that organization are systemic problems and are the sole cause of divisions between the oddly mismatched countries of that group.


The ‘Big 5’ followed by the ‘Next 20’

Every country stuck in a trade or political grouping that doesn’t match it’s particular talents will suffer. Therefore, the Big 5 must form into a group of their own, and the G20 (minus the by-then departed ‘Big 5’ members) must attract ‘the Next 20 nations’ to their refashioned N20 organization.


Helping Every Country and Individual to Become All That They Can and Should Be

In that way, the top 25 countries in the world can finally become all that they can and should be instead of being held back by arbitrary, mismatched, or outdated groupings.

And, isn’t that what it’s really all about?

!!!

 

The Iran Nuclear Deal: Obligation or Opportunity?

by John Brian Shannon

It’s always helpful to look at a country’s actions over the past 200 years to help understand what its intentions may be here and now, and in the future.

The burgeoning but relatively isolated country of Iran hasn’t militarily attacked another country for over 200 years, and it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that militarily attacked Iran in September 1980 — a conflict that finally ended in August 1988 with 1 million casualties and an economic cost of $680 million to $1 trillion dollars — with no clear winner and no benefit to either country.

After all that blood and treasure, no benefit to either country(!) although via the UN-sponsored peace accord and as a penalty to Iraq for starting the war, Iran gained access to the Shatt al-Arab waterway which runs into the Persian Gulf.

Since 2000, Iran has purportedly financed organizations (some listed as terrorist organizations, and others not) throughout the Middle East and most recently in Syria, Iraq, and perhaps Lebanon, in an attempt to exert some control on the various forces operating around their region. (Every country uses various methods to control what happens in its own region, so no news there)

But nothing captures the world’s attention like the Iran nuclear deal.

U.S. President Donald Trump says the deal is a bad one for the West and shouldn’t have been signed and wants to walk away from the deal, reserving the right to act unilaterally if he feels the country is a danger to the U.S.A. or its Middle East allies.

Last week, France’s President Emmanuel Macron flew to Washington to meet with the U.S. President to convince him to stay in the deal or to embrace a ‘third way’ which means renegotiating some of the agreement to better suit U.S. concerns.

Iran barely signed the previous agreement… so it will be interesting to see how the U.S. can get everything it wants from a renegotiated deal while still obtaining Iran’s signature to a new agreement. A deal isn’t a deal unless both sides sign on the dotted line.


Why Would the U.S. Care About Iran? (and Syria, for that matter)

From a strategic perspective, there isn’t a country in the world that could be less important to the security of the United States than Iran, and the same goes for Syria.

Neither country has the kind of military that could threaten America, nor could they project their power anywhere near the North American continent.

Unless the United States is actively working for Israel — a country which has an irrational fear of Iran (again, Iran hasn’t invaded any other country for over 200 years) and is willing to spend billions or even another trillion dollars to wage another Iraq War-style conflict against Iran, there’s no reason for the U.S. to have any dealings with Iran whatsoever.

Iran is a regional power at best, and will remain so for approximately the next 30-years as it hasn’t the capacity to be anything else.

If the United States is actively working for Saudi Arabia — a country that views Iran as an unwelcome competitor in the race to dominate the region, the same advice applies. Why should the U.S. spend multi-billions and sacrifice thousands of young soldiers to satisfy the Saudi ambition to be the local hegemon?

It’s not like Iran is withholding oil deliveries. On the contrary, Iranian oil is easily obtainable with a phone call — the country is highly motivated to sell every drop of oil due to high spending on social programmes by the Iranian government that are funded by oil revenue.

And Iran’s crude oil is rated either #2 (sweet) or #3 (semi-sweet) which means it’s in high demand around the world. Global oil producers have already pumped all of their #2 sweet crude out of the ground years ago; only Iran and Venezuela have significant reserves of sweet crude in the 21st-century.

As for oil refineries, they need Iran’s (or Venezuela’s) #2 sweet crude oil to blend with the oil supplied by their producers which is almost always #4 (sour) or #4.75 (very sour) like the Canadian oil sands product.

Most refineries won’t accept sour crude oil unless there is plenty of #2 or #3 sweet crude blended into the sour crude. It’s just too toxic to refine ‘sour’ as it requires a much more stringent maintenance protocol, meaning the refinery needs to shut down and go into ‘maintenance mode’ more often. That downtime represents a significant loss of revenue for oil refineries.

Therefore, as long as Iran continues to ship huge quantities of sweet crude, the United States should be facilitating that oil business instead of trying to curtail it.


The EU View of Iran is a Mature View

Say what you want about the Europeans, but they don’t allow themselves to be used by countries like Israel that have an irrational fear of Iran and want to use the United States and the EU to keep the Iranians ‘down’ and in their ‘proper’ place and thereby become the regional superpower, or countries like Saudi Arabia that want to use the United States and the EU to keep the Iranians ‘down’ and in their ‘proper’ place and thereby become the regional superpower.

To oversimplify the EU view; As long as Iran’s sweet crude continues to flow (it is) and as long as Iran isn’t actively invading any other country (it isn’t) then there’s no reason to use some imagined breach of the Iranian nuclear deal to launch another trillion dollar war in the Middle East. And, as always, the EU continues to refuse to allow itself to be used by regional powers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In the final analysis, the EU’s position on the Iranian nuclear deal is the most enlightened of all and it is the view the United States should support.

Europe: New Challenges, New Directions

by John Brian Shannon | August 30, 2016

Europe is at a crossroads and it’s time to make some decisions

Very conveniently, however, there are really only 3 problems with Europe.

Map of Europe includes the EU and non-EU nations.

Map of Europe includes the EU and non-EU nations. EU nations that aren’t part of the Eurozone (the euro) are light blue. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

I: The trickle-up economy continues to move trillions of dollars out of the bottom 4 quintiles and place it into the hands of the top quintile. This remains a recipe for failure, and the longer it continues the more draconian the solutions will need to be.

In 2016, half the world’s wealth is concentrated into the hands of the 1% — but by 2030, three-quarters of the world’s wealth will be concentrated into the hands of the 1%.

That’s wholly unsustainable. And nobody is even talking about it.

Unless addressed, Record Inequality will become Social Breakdown. And that will be the end of Europe as we know it.

II: Globalization is a truly wonderful thing. It continues to bring cheap goods to consumers since the Arab Oil Embargo in 1974, which caused millions of Americans to buy cheaper, more fuel efficient cars. That was the beginning of it, but the flood of electronics, textiles, and other goods soon followed.

For one such example of this; Each iPhone would retail for over $2000. with some sources asserting each iPhone would cost $3000. if manufactured in the United States.

But globalization has piggy-backed on Record Inequality to the detriment of workers and families in the West and it looks like (however fairly or unfairly) ‘The People’ are sick of globalization.

Declining living standards due to Inequality and Globalization have ‘The People’ thinking that change is necessary.

And change will come. The People always get their way. Maybe not with Perestroika and Glasnost, but the will of the people eventually becomes reality.

III: “You are leaving the American Sector”

We all remember those signs in postwar Europe. But what is actually happening is that America is leaving the American Sector in Europe.

Yes, America has realized that 58% (and growing) of all global trade is happening in the Pacific and the Americans are lowering their commitment to Europe and the Middle East.

Europe should be all grown-up by now, and the Middle East is a rambunctious, late-teenage, regional power. You should try to get along.

Prior to the Brexit referendum, the normal course of events would have been for the U.S. to become the Pacific Power and for the EU to become the Atlantic Power.

However, for that to happen, the EU needed Britain (which is by definition) the world’s seafaring nation and Britain is leaving the EU.

Consequently, history is still happening as the logical course of action post-referendum is for the UK to become the dedicated Atlantic Power, while the EU becomes the dedicated Mediterranean Power.

And that means strong (and fair) linkages with MENA nations and it means a strong invite to join the EU for every single southern European nation.

As 97.1% of Crimeans voted to rejoin Russia, it also means ‘Hands-Off Crimea’ but either Turkey or Ukraine (sans-Crimea) will eventually join the EU. But not both.

Russia won’t allow the EU to have both, so choose the option you prefer and get it done with as little upset as possible. The EU already has too much on its plate — troubles with Russia is the last thing the EU needs — especially in view of decreased American commitment to Europe.

The next 10 years will be a vulnerable time for the EU; Meaning, this is not the time for the EU to go shooting itself in the foot with a Russian gun.

Summary

Europe has only three problems. The ways I’ve outlined are not the only ways to solve them. However, they align with what is already happening.

What I’m saying, is that instead of governments being steered by events European leaders need to steer the thing even if it means continuing on with what was already going to take place anyhow.

Which is:

a) Friendly divorce with Britain.
b) EU lowers Atlantic commitments and ramps up linkages and commitments in the Med and MENA.
c) All southern European nations join the EU.
d) Choose either Ukraine (sans-Crimea) or Turkey and make one of them an EU nation, ASAP.
e) Friendly relations with Russia are imperative — if the present leadership can’t get it done, Fire Them and get new leaders — it’s that important.
f) Friendly relations with the Middle East (stop bombing your neighbours)
g) Address Inequality in no uncertain terms.
h) Stop using the word globalization and seek Win-Win bilateral trade agreements exclusively, where that trade actually benefits both sides — instead of just dumping your goods in other countries and getting the loot. You need (true) Interdependence instead of Globalization.
i) Harmonize EU economic policies around the best existing model in Europe (Norway) where deficits are limited to 4% of GDP, plan for a 3% unemployment rate, free university education for residents, low crime rate, high productivity, very high SPI and UN Happiness Index scores (and those two metrics drive all other positive stats) revenue surpluses directed to a sovereign wealth fund, and so much more.

These are not big challenges compared to the challenges faced by WWI and WWII leaders, and by leaders in the immediate postwar era. These are tiny challenges.

But these challenges will require persistence by leaders who can keep the main objectives in the forefront of their mind, even as (seemingly) everyone else wants to go in different directions.

The question is not; “Does the EU have good leaders?” (Of course it most certainly does or the EU wouldn’t have ever existed, nor would it still remain)

The question is: “Does the EU have the leaders it needs to actually accomplish the remaining goals?”

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