“In Iran. there has been a social revolution going on beneath the surface. There is a young population, well-educated women in particular, who do not correspond to the rural, conservative power structure that runs the country. It’s headed toward some kind of explosion and I’m not sure of the outcome, but it is not a stable situation.”
His warning came during a sobering speech that highlighted many of the challenges facing government and policy-makers, from the weakness of international institutions to the threat of cyber and biological warfare, and the rise of “strongman” leaders in many parts of the world.
Fukuyama said that recent disturbances in Iran were partly because of climate change factors such as drought and water shortage, which often caused violence and cut across all the other risk factors.
“A lot of the recent unrest in Iran had environmental causes. Ground water sources were being overused, leading to drought. A lot of violence in the world is due to climate change,” he said.
There were some positives in an otherwise gloomy analysis of global affairs. In conversation with Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of foreign affairs, he said that the Gulf states had shown that it was possible to establish credible economic and political models without the influence of Western liberal democratic institutions.
“The Gulf has got the ‘liberal’ part well. It has security and the rule of law and property rights. Maybe the democratic aspect has been shown to be not that necessary.
“The Gulf is showing the rest of the Arab world how to do it. The problem with the Arab world has been not being able to establish stable states. Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen are all failed states to some degree or other,” he said.
Fukuyama said that Tunisia, where he has traveled recently, was the only democracy to come out of the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011. “But they are not delivering economic growth. The country will not collapse but it is hanging by a thread.”
He agreed that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the precursor to American disentanglement from the region, and that there was now a serious risk of “big power” confrontation in Syria. The dominance of the US from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the global financial crisis was an anomaly. There has never been a period when one state had so much power. Now the US is not reacting well because it’s used to being in charge.
Fukuyama said that the US was being “displaced” by China, which already has a bigger economy by some measurements. “The global financial crisis discredited the economic systems of the USA and the European Union. The ‘one belt, one road’ policy of China is hugely ambitious, shifting the entire global center of gravity to central Asia with the aim of moving China to a new stage of their national development.”
He said that financial markets were underrating the risk of serious military conflict in Korea. “It could be a replay of the Korean War of the 1950s,” he said.
But he said that the most serious threat to the global liberal order came from within Western countries, where populism, anti-globalization and anti-migration sentiment had led to the rise of a class of “strongman” leaders who were undermining the institutions of their countries.
He said that the “old poles” of capitalism versus communism were dead, but were giving way to “identity politics” — clashes between ethnicities and religions, where compromise was harder to achieve. He said that Islamic terrorism was an example of identity politics.