East Asia, Europe, India, Middle East, North America, South America, South Asia

Political Dynasties and their Discontents


Political dynasties have always been a big part of human civilization, and today is no exception.

In the United States, the rise of Donald Trump was at least partially a reaction to the dynastic, Clinton-vs-Bush election that only last year most Americans were expecting to get.

It was, after all, Jeb Bush’s candidacy that split the Republican establishment in two, preventing it from coalescing around a politician like Marco Rubio early on and thus leaving an opening for Trump to force his way into. Hillary Clinton’s high disapproval rating, similarly, could even leave the door open for Trump to become president, however unlikely and unappealing that may be.



Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau wave at supporters at the University of Toronto, February 15, 2015 (William Pitcher)

North of the border, Canada has just elected Justin Trudeau as its Prime Minister, the son of Pierre Trudeau who was prime minister for fifteen years during the late 1960s, 1970s, and first half of the 1980s. One of Trudeau’s two opponents in the election had been NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, whose ancestors include the first and ninth Premiers of the province of Quebec.



Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate for Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, waves to supporters in the city of Torreón, June 18, 2012 (Flickr)

South of the border, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto,who came to power in 2013, “is the nephew of two former governors of the State of México (the state in which Mexico City is located): on his mother’s side, Arturo Montiel, on his father’s, Alfredo del Mazo González“, according to Wikipedia.

East Asia


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping (right)

In China, the current General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is now thought to have amassed more personal power than any Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, is the first to come from the “princeling” class. He is the son of a prominent political figure, Xi Zhongxun, from the first generation of the Communist Party leadership. This distinguishes him from the other General Secretaries in the Communist era, including Mao Tse-Tung, whose parents were not prominent politicians and in some cases were actually quite poor.

Other top members of the current Chinese leadership are also “princelings”, most notably Yu Zhengsheng, who is the fourth-ranked politician on the 7-man Politburo Standing Committee (which is generally considered to be China’s top political body), and Wang Qishan, who is ranked sixth on the Politburo Standing Committee and may be one of the most powerful figures in China at the moment as he has been leading Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign . Wang is a princeling by marriage only: his wife is the daughter of Yao Yilin, who was a former Politburo Standing Committee member in the Communist Party.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is arguably the most powerful politician the country has seen in at least a generation as well. He too comes from a political dynasty. According to Wikipedia, “his grandfather, Kan Abe, and father, Shintaro Abe, were both politicians… Abe’s mother, Yoko Kishi,[3] is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, prime minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960. Kishi had been a member of the Tōjō Cabinet during the Second World War”.

Meanwhile the President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, is the daughter of South Korea’s third president, Park Chung-hee. (Update: Park has since been impeached). (And in North Korea, of course, the Kim family’s rule is now into its third generation). In Singapore, the prime minister since 2004 has been Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Singapore’s modern founding father Lee Kuan Yew who served from 1959 all the way to 1990.



Hillary Clinton, then America’s secretary of state, poses for a picture with Indian Congress Party leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi, July 19, 2009 (State Department)

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his often fanatically right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP party became in 2014 the first party in over three decades to win a majority government in a national election. Modi is not from a political dynasty himself, rather he is the reaction to the modern world’s most prominent political family of all: the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

The Guardian wrote in 2007 that “the Nehru-Gandhi brand has no peer in the world — a member of the family has been in charge of India for 40 of the 60 years since independence.” The dynasty (which by the way is not related to the Gandhi) began with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first post-British prime minister from 1947-1964. Nehru was himself the son and nephew of significant political figures in pre-independence India. Nehru’s dynasty then continued with his only daughter Indira Gandhi (née Nehru), who was India’s prime minister from 1966-1977 and from 1980-1984, but was assassinated in 1984 by two of her own Sikh bodyguards in the wake of Operation Blue Star.

The dynasty was then followed by Indira’s sons Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister from 1984-1989 before being assassinated by the Tamil Tigers in 1991, and Sanjay Gandhi, who was expected to become prime minister but was instead killed in a plane crash. Rajiv’s wife Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, is the leader of India’s powerful Congress Party and the mother of Rahul Gandhi, who lost to Modi’s BJP in 2014 but still finished with more parliamentary seats and far more votes than any other candidate in the election. Sonia likely would have run for prime minister herself, but cannot because she was born in Italy.

(Sanjay’s wife Maneka Gandhi, on the other hand, has jumped ship from the historically Gandhi-dominated Congress Party and joined the BJP instead; she is currently a cabinet minister in the BJP-led government. Maneka’s son Varun has also gone over to the BJP, serving as the youngest National Secretary in the history of the party and a member of the country’s parliament. However, Maneka and Varun both remain less prominent than the Congress side of the family, which is led by Maneka’s sister-in-law Sonia and Varun’s first cousin Rahul).

Arguably, frustration with the Gandhis directly paved the way for Modi, a man who was not even allowed to enter the United States prior to becoming president because he was allegedly involved in “severe violations of religious freedom” while serving as governor of the important Indian state of Gujarat.



President-elect Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines speaks with his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, in Davao City, March 6, 2013 (Malacañang Photo Bureau/Ryan Lim)

You may have also heard about the election of the Philippines ridiculous new president Rodrigo Duterte last week. Rodrigo’s father Vicente was a provincial governor of Davao province and a mayor of Cebu, one of the largest cities in the country. Rodrigo’s cousin was also a mayor of Cebu, in the 1980s.

The Duterte’s are hardly alone in their political dynasticism: according to Public Radio International, “in the Philippines, elections in 2016 will be dominated by dynasties. About two-thirds of the outgoing Congress are heirs of political families. The outgoing president is the son of Corazon Aquino, who led the uprising against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos after Marcos had her husband whacked for being a prominent political opponent. But the Marcos clan is back in the picture, with Ferdinand’s wife, son, daughter and nephew all running for different offices. Also running is the grandson of another president.”



Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra addresses the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, September 9, 2013 (UN/Jean-Marc Ferré)

In Thailand too there has been a political reaction against a political family, that of Thaksin Shinawatra (who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 before being exiled by a military coup) and his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra (who was prime minister from 2011 to 2014 before being removed by decree of the Constitutional Court during the Thai political crisis in 2013-2014). According to Wikipedia, the father of Thaksin and Yingluck “was a member of parliament for Chiang Mai. [The Shinawatras are] a descendant of a former monarch of Chiang Mai through her grandmother, Princess Chanthip na Chiangmai (Great-great-granddaughter of King Thammalangka of Chiang Mai).”



Prime Ministers Matteo Renzi of Italy and Mariano Rajoy of Spain speak during a European Council meeting in Brussels, June 25, 2015 (La Moncloa)

Europe, at least in contrast to Asia, does not have many political dynasties at the moment. This is, perhaps, in part because European political history was reset to a certain degree following the fall of the Soviet Union. Europe’s leading politicians, including Merkel, Putin, and Erdogan, do not come from political dynasties. Neither does Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (though his ancestors were extremely wealthy) or France’s President Francois Hollande. Italian Prime Minister Mattio Renzi’s was a municipal councillor, admittedly, but that does not really count. (Angela Merkel’s grandfather was, similarly, a local politician in Danzig). Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s family was fairly prominent, on the other hand.

That said, Europe is far from dynasty-free. According to the Economist, “in Europe family power is one reason why politics seems like a closed shop. Fifty-seven of the 650 members of the recently dissolved British Parliament are related to current or former MPs. François Hollande, France’s president, has four children with Ségolène Royal, who ran for the presidency in 2007. Three generations of Le Pens are squabbling over their insurgent party, the Front National (see article). Belgium’s prime minister is the son of a former foreign minister and European commissioner. The names Papandreou and Karamanlis still count for something in Greece.”

Syria and Egypt 


Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad and his family in the 1990s (Wikimedia Commons)

The Arab world remains full of political dynasties and reactions against dynasties, in contrast. In Syria both of these factors can be seen at the same time, as the civil war threatens to unseat Bashar al Assad, son of thirty-year ruler Hafez al Assad. (Bashar’s brother Bassel was initially supposed to take over from his father, but died in a car accident in 1994). In Egypt, meanwhile,the military government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is in some ways a response to the presumed attempt by an elderly Hosni Mubarak (diagnosed with stomach cancer in the same year he was deposed) to pass on power to his son Gamal, who had not served in the Egyptian military as Hosni Mubarak and previous rulers Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdul Nasser had done.

Saudi Arabia 


Prince Muhammad bin Nayef speaks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh while Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir looks on, January 27, 2015 (White House/Pete Souza)

In Saudi Arabia, which is by far the largest Arab economy, a half-shift from one Saudi political dynasty to another may just be getting under way. Thus far in the history of the modern Saudi state (beginning around 1930), the country has been ruled either by founder Abdulaziz ibn Saud or else by one of his 45 or so sons, six of whom have become king, most recently King Salman who took the throne in January of 2015.

Last year, however, Salman removed his half-brother Muqrin (another son of Abdulaziz) from the office of Crown Prince, replacing Muqrin with their nephew Mohammad bin Nayef,  who would become the first king in the next generation of Saudi royals if ever takes over. He might never take over, though: many people now believe that is Salman’s own son Mohammad bin Salman, who is the Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister, who is the likeliest to become the next king when Salman (who is 80 years old) steps down or passes away, even though Deputy Crown Prince is formally a lower-ranking position than Crown Prince – and even though Mohammad bin Salman is only 30 years old, which would be an extremely young age for a modern Saudi king.

If Mohammad bin Salman does become king over another prince like Mohammad bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia could in effect be moving from a dynasty of Abdulaziz to a dynasty of Salman. There are now fears that the political situation in the country could become quite messy if the other branches of the huge Saudi royal family try to avoid becoming sidelined from power as a result.



Iranian president Hassan Rouhani speaks as parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Chief Justice Sadeq Larijani and the chief of the supreme leader’s office, Mohammad Golpayegani, attend a ceremony in Tehran, October 3, 2015 (Reuters)

Across the Gulf, in Iran, dynasties are not too big a factor within the current religious government. Recently the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini even was blocked from participating in elections. One big exception to this, however, is the powerful Larijani family, made up of five brothers in key positions in the government. It includes Ali Larijani, who is the Speaker of the parliament and a former member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and Sadeq Larijania, Iran’s Chief Justice.



Labor party leader Isaac Herzog (left) and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (right)

A number of leaders in Israel hail from political families as well. Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who has now spent more time as prime minister (from 1996-1999 and now again since 2009) than any politician in Israel’s history apart from Israel’s founding  prime minister David Ben Gurion (who Netanyahu will soon overtake), is the son of Benzion Netanyahu. Benzion was a professor of history at Cornell University, an influential Zionist activist and magazine editor, and personal secretary to one of Israel’s most prominent founding fathers, Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Bibi is also the younger brother of Yonatan Netanyahu, who was the unit commander of and only person to be killed during the famous Operation Entebbe raid in 1976, when 100 or so Israeli commandos rescued 102 hostages of a Palestinian airplane hijacking (compared to 3 hostages killed) from where they were being held in Idi Amin-era Uganda more than 3000 km south of Israel, and returned them safely to their homes in Israel and France.

Israel’s Labour Party leader Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, meanwhile, who won more than twice as many votes as any other Jewish party apart from Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the most recent elections of 2015, is, according to Wikipedia, “the son of General Chaim Herzog, who was the Sixth President of Israel from 1983 to 1993, and the grandson of Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1922 to 1935 and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1936 to 1959″.

The next largest Jewish political party after Labour and Likud is the Yesh Atid Party, led by Yair Lapid. Lapid is a former news anchor who is the son of Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, a former government minister, parliamentary leader of the opposition as recently as 2005, and radio and television personality.



Brazilian Social Democracy Party leader Aécio Neves answers questions from reporters, May 28, 2015 (Agência Senado/Pedro França)

Leaving the Middle East, Brazils’ Aecio Neves, who in late 2014 very narrowly lost a presidential election to Dilma Rousseff (who may now be on the verge of being impeached herself), is the grandson of Tancredo Neves, who would have been President of Brazil in 1985 if he had not passed away before taking office. Roussef and her influential predecessor Lula da Silva are not from prominent political families, however.



Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori campaigns for the 2011 election, December 7, 2010 (Flickr/Keiko Fujimori)

In Peru, the country is in the midst of a presidential election, which is a two-round system that began in April and will end on June 5.  Its leading candidate is former First Lady Keiko Fujimori, a daughter of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Alberto exiled himself to Japan following corruption and human rights violation scandals at the end of his ten yeas in power in 2000, but was later arrested in Chile in 2005 and is now serving a prison sentence back in Peru.



President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina speaks in José Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires, April 27, 2012 (Presidency of Argentina)

Argentina, finally, has just recently ended sixteen consecutive years of being presided over by a Kirchner, first by Nestor Kirchner from 2003 to 2007 and then by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner from 2007 until the end of 2015. The Kirchners were Peronists, a political movement of sorts that has dominated modern Argentine politics, which is named for another power couple, Juan Peron (president from 1946 – 1955) and his second wife Eva Peron, who was a significant political figure in her own right and nearly became Vice President. (Juan’s third wife Isabel Martinez de Peron, meanwhile, was President of Argentina from 1974 to 1976). The incoming Argentine president Mauricio Macri, who is replacing the Kirchners, does not come from a political dynasty, however. His father was just a humble business tycoon.

Africa, Europe, North America, South America

The Return of the Atlantic

This article was written for an essay contest, so the style is a little bit different from others on this site. It was first written three years ago, when most people had not yet become bearish on the Chinese economy and politicians in the US were still talking a lot about America’s “pivot to Asia”. The essay discusses the possibility that the Atlantic regions – North America, South America, Europe, and much of Africa – will remain at the heart of the international system in the years and decades to come, for better or for worse.

Hope you like it!


The Return of the Atlantic 

For nearly 500 years, the Atlantic Ocean was the unrivalled centre of the international system, connecting Europe to its expansive economic and imperial networks in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Transatlantic trade continued to exceed transpacific trade as recently as the late 1980s, while at the same time the transatlantic alliance against the Soviet Union remained the world’s most important geopolitical partnership. Indeed it seems incredible to recall now, but China, India, Indonesia, Korea, and Australia combined had a smaller economic output than West Germany in 1990.

Today, in contrast, the European Union and United States both import more goods from China alone than they do from one another, and the Cold War has been over for a quarter of a century. The Pacific has in many ways become the new centre of the world: it is home to the three largest economies of America, China, and Japan, is the highway for East Asian imports of commodities and exports of manufactured goods, and acts as a base for nearly 75 percent of US soldiers stationed outside of North America or Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, a majority of economists, politicians, and journalists believe that the continued economic growth of populous Asian countries like China, India, and Indonesia means that the centrality of the Pacific has only just begun.

In this essay we will argue that, even as it remains popular to herald the arrival of a “Pacific Century” (to quote a famous Hillary Clinton op-ed in Foreign Policy magazine), it will actually be the Atlantic that will become once again the centre of the international system, serving as the corridor of an expanding economic network that will incorporate Europe, the Americas, much of Africa, and to a lesser extent even parts of southern Asia. Transatlantic commerce is likely to once again exceed the value of transpacific commerce and, partly by doing so, it will help to serve as an organizing force in global geopolitics. We hope it will serve as a force for good in the world as well.

To be sure, while we view this Atlantic phenomenon as likely to be brought about by economic, cultural, and linguistic circumstances that are already actively or latently in place, we will also argue that, from a policy perspective, the political effectiveness and ethical utility of such a reinvigorated transatlantic relationship will depend on the extent to which efforts are made to reduce carbon emissions in developed economies, as well as on the extent to which efforts are made to provide honest and constructive assistance to struggling countries within the developing world.

The Pacific Moment

The rise of transpacific trade during the latter half of the 20th century occurred as a result of a unique set of circumstances. These were, specifically, the reconstruction of the Japanese economy following its destruction in the Second World War, the emergence of South Korea and Taiwan following their adoption by the United States as strategically-located allies in 1950, and the rapid growth of coastal Chinese states following their devastation during the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War, and isolationist era under Mao, which occurred in an overlapping succession from 1927 until 1979. These four countries have caused transpacific commerce to soar in recent decades, with help from Southeast Asian success stories like Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia.

While this rising transpacific trade has certainly deserved the widespread public attention it has received, it has nevertheless served to overshadow a number of other key characteristics of the global economy, which instead highlight the enduring significance of the Atlantic Ocean. These include the fact that roughly 65 percent of both the world’s nominal economic output and private consumer spending are located in the Atlantic basin rather than in the Pacific basin; that more than 70 percent of the populations of North America, South America, and Sub-Saharan Africa live within the Atlantic basin rather than the Pacific basin; that the Pacific generally takes 2-4 times longer to cross widthwise by ship than the Atlantic does; that the quantity of transatlantic investment is estimated to be 5-10 times greater than transpacific investment; and that Indian and Pakistani trade and labour crosses the Atlantic, Mediterranean, or Arabian Sea far more often they do the Pacific.

The reemergence of transatlantic interactivity as a defining feature of the international system will simply reflect these enduring realities. In addition, it will be driven by a set of economic evolutions that are beginning to revive transatlantic trade relative to transpacific trade, as well as by the continued spread of modern communications and the emergence of African and Latin American economies, which are helping to increase the political and economic significance of the cultural, social, and linguistic affiliations that bind together the four continents of the Atlantic world.


Transatlantic Connections

Atlantic regions share a number of important connections with one another. The first is cultural: unlike in Asia, the overwhelming majority of people in the Americas are of European or African heritage. Most have ancestors that arrived within just the past century or two. This could have increasingly powerful political and economic consequences in the future, particularly as the economies of Africa develop and as African populations in the Americas become wealthier and more empowered (most notably the 40 million US African-Americans, 28 million Afro- Caribbeans, 15 million Afro-Brazilians, and 80 million Brazilians who identify as being of mixed ancestry), such that it will no longer just be white Americans and Europeans engaged in the most significant transatlantic partnerships.

The second transatlantic connection is a social one, the result of technology increasingly allowing first-, second-, and even third-generation immigrants in the developed world to maintain relationships with family members, friends, and acquaintances back in their countries of origin. Crucially, immigrants in North America and Europe come overwhelmingly from Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, or the Mediterranean basin. More than half of the foreign-born population in the United States arrived from Latin America alone, and there are about four times as many first-generation immigrants in the European Union from Africa or the Americas as there are from East Asia.

There are, in fact, already 2-3 million Latino-Americans living in Spain, and more than 50 million living in the United States. Africa’s emigration rate to both Europe and North America, meanwhile, has risen at a faster pace than that of any other region since 1980, and is likely to continue to do so as a result of the fact that the average birth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is nearly twice as high, and the per capita income nearly twice as low, as that of any other part of the world.

Finally, and in our opinion most importantly, there are the transatlantic linguistic connections. Over 80 percent of the world’s nearly 1.5 billion native speakers of Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, or Arabic live within the Atlantic or Mediterranean basins; each of these languages is fairly prominent within at least three separate continents. English, moreover, is far more widespread in mainland Europe than it is in any other continent apart from North America (or Australia). Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Belgium are particularly proficient; according to some estimates, 60-90 percent of their populations are able to speak English In France, Italy, and Poland, meanwhile, the share of English speakers is estimated at 30-40 percent, which is still far ahead of countries like China, Japan, Indonesia, and even India.

In Africa, European languages are also spoken more widely than in most other areas of the world. This is partially the result of to the continent’s colonial histories, many of which ended as recently as the 1960’s or 1970’s. It is, however, also the result of Sub-Saharan countries tending to be linguistically diverse, such that their use of European languages as lingua franca remains common practice. Indeed, despite having the world’s lowest density of accessible schools, televisions, computers, and satellite dishes, English is already spoken by a greater number of people in Africa than in more populous India, both as a native language and as a secondary one.

French, meanwhile, is used by an estimated 90 million Africans, Portuguese by an estimated 20 million Africans, and Arabic as far south as the Sahel.24 In South Africa approximately 20 million people understand Afrikaans, a language that is for the most part mutually intelligible with Dutch. Over 85 percent of Africa’s English-speaking population and nearly all of Africa’s French-, Portuguese-, Arabic-, and Afrikaans-speaking populations live within the Atlantic or Mediterranean basins.

Also important is that over 40 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of fifteen. This makes it the world’s youngest region by a considerable margin: by comparison, only 15 percent of China’s population and 29 percent of India’s population are younger than fifteen. Children possess the ability to learn languages many times more easily than adults can, particularly if they have access to schooling, books, media, and modern communications.

Africa’s current generation of children might become the first to grow up with widespread access to such tools, which might therefore help African economies to develop and integrate with the other continents of the Atlantic world. This is also one reason why it would be wise from a policy standpoint for Europe and North America to immediately support economic development in Africa, since doing so would help African populations gain access to more education and information now while they are still young.

Shifting Trade Patterns

In 2013, Chinese coastal cities had an average nominal per capita income of roughly $20,000, nearly as high as those of South Korea and Taiwan. The median age in China is 37, about the same as in the US; in South Korea and Taiwan the median age is 40. These are no longer really “emerging markets”, in other words. Rather than experience another lengthy period of rapid economic growth that would continue to drive up transpacific trade, they will instead be undergoing various structural evolutions, as all maturing economies tend to do over time.

In the coastal areas of China, this evolution is likely to be from an economy oriented around exports of lower-end manufactured goods to an economy that exports value-added goods and services and is more reliant on the private consumption of its own population. Such shifts are natural for a middle-income economy like China to experience, but they may also reduce the quantity of China’s transpacific imports of industrial commodities and transpacific exports of manufactured goods.

Economic growth in the poorer interior provinces of China, meanwhile, or in the even poorer Indian subcontinent, is not certain to bring about the continued rise of transpacific commerce either. The emerging provinces of the populous Chinese interior are likely to trade mainly with coastal Chinese provinces and other countries in Asia, rather than with economies overseas. Today, for instance, in Sichuan and Henan, the two largest inland Chinese provinces, exports account for around just 4 percent of provincial economic output, almost nothing compared to the 47 percent of economic output that exports account for in coastal China’s two largest provinces, Guangdong and Jiangsu.

In addition, given the crowdedness of China’s coastal cities and ports, the interior provinces of China may also increasingly avoid using the Pacific in favour of the more direct “Silk Road” routes to Europe, or in favour of using Myanmar’s commercially navigable Irrawaddy River to directly access the Indian Ocean.The economic emergence of the Indian subcontinent, meanwhile, could perhaps lead transatlantic commerce to rise faster than transpacific trade, as India and its neighbours may partially succeed China in supplying cheap goods or services to consumers in the Atlantic world.

As they emerge, the Indian subcontinent and the Chinese interior will also be importing rapidly growing quantities of oil and gas from the the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and Russia. Indeed, India and Pakistan already receive roughly 75 percent of their oil and gas imports and an astonishing 30 percent of their imports of goods in general from the Persian Gulf. China’s interior provinces, meanwhile, get around 75 percent of their gas imports from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and 30 percent of their oil imports from Russia and Kazakhstan. These imports are likely to increase, not only because of India’s and China’s continued growth, but also because of their shared desire to consume less coal, on which they rely for an average of about 65 percent of their energy consumption.

This need to import large quantities of energy could lead to competition, rather than cooperation, between regional powers like China, India, and Japan, potentially undermining Asia’s ability to cooperate as a more coherent political unit. (In contrast, the Atlantic world consists mainly of synergistic relationships where energy is concerned: Europe is a net energy importer, South America and Africa are net energy exporters, and North America is not too far from reaching the “energy independence” it has long dreamed about). Moreover, because the European Union itself currently receives around 60 percent of its oil and gas imports from Russia, the Persian Gulf, or Central Asia, the increasing energy consumption of Asia may force Europe to begin importing much more energy from the Americas or western Africa instead, further boosting transatlantic trade.

Conclusion: Policy Framework

While the renewed significance of the Atlantic is likely to occur mainly as a result of the commercial, cultural, social, and linguistic factors discussed above, we believe that specific policy goals are nevertheless required to ensure that such a renewal occurs in a manner that is both ethical and politically effective on a global level. Two policies in particular may be advisable in this regard:

One is the implementation of per capita carbon emissions taxes. Such taxes would likely facilitate transatlantic commerce through the export of European energy-saving and clean energy production technologies to the emissions-intensive markets of North America, whilst simultaneously providing both Europe and America with a more responsible and defensible platform in climate treaty negotiations with industrialized Asian economies that have much lower per capita and historical emissions levels.

The other is increasing political outreach and economic assistance to struggling countries, particularly those within Africa. Africa contains many of the world’s greatest challenges if it is not constructively engaged with, and it also has a youthful and diverse population of more than a billion people, vast reserves of natural resources, and linguistic and social connections with Europe and the Americas. All of these qualities make it a necessary component of any revitalized transatlantic project.

Of course, each of these policies deserves much more focus than we have left to spare in this essay. Yet still we feel confident in saying that, if these two policies are diligently and honestly pursued, then the unexpected return of the Atlantic as the central corridor of the international system would not only become more likely to occur, but will also be much more welcome when it does.

Africa, Europe, Images, North America, South America

Image of the Day – Islands of the Atlantic

As a follow up to the post about Pacific islands from last month, I decided to make another chart showing islands in the Atlantic. This chart is not as extensive as the previous one, though; it only shows islands that have populations between 100,000 and 1 million. Also, it may be missing a couple of islands, or have population statistics that are already a bit outdated, so if you spot a missing island or a population mistake please post a comment about it below. And if you have a favourite Atlantic island, I would like to hear about that as well!

atlantic islands

North America, South America

Finally Passing Gas: 10 Winners and Losers of the Panama Canal Expansion


When the Panama Canal expansion is finally finished this spring, the canal will have two new features:

1. Serve larger ships that can carry up to 3x as many containers

2. Serve liquified natural gas (LNG) carriers

It is not entirely clear what effects this will have on world trade, but Panama’s hope is that, in spite of a recent shipbuilding trend toward vessels so large they will exceed even the acceptable post-expansion canal dimensions, the new canal will help to make it cheaper and easier for the commodities and consumers of the Atlantic world to access the industrial economies of the Asia-Pacific.

Like any other major infrastructure project, the canal expansion could create a number of winners and losers, all other things being held equal. Let’s briefly speculate on which nations these will be: 

Possible Winners:

South Korea, Taiwan, Trinidad, El Salvador, Colombia 

LNG markets may be the key to understanding which economies will benefit most from the expanded canal, because:

LNG cannot pass through the present-day canal, but will be able to post-expansion

In recent years natural gas prices have been around 5-10 times higher in East Asia than in North America. Today they are $1-2 per BTU in the US, compared to $8-9 in Japan and $5-6 in Germany

The “shale revolution” has unlocked gigantic supplies of natural gas in the US near the Gulf of Mexico, where there already a large number of LNG import facilities that could converted into LNG export facilities. The existence of these facilities is significant, as it is considerably cheaper and faster to retrofit an existing plant than it is to build an LNG export terminal from scratch.

The United States, to be sure, currently has the greatest number of LNG export projects in the world being planned, with the vast majority of these projects are located along the Gulf coast, not so far away from Panama. Even though only one of these facilities, Louisiana’s Sabine Pass, is expected to be finished prior to 2019, the early 2020’s could see many more come to fruition.

South Korea and Taiwan

A typical assumption has been that China and Japan will be the primary beneficiaries of the canal. China, after all, leads the world in importing commodities and exporting bulk goods, and
Japan has accounted for 40% of the world’s LNG imports – far more than any other country – in recent years.

Yet while China and Japan lead the pack in terms of the value of their absolute trade, they lag far behind both South Korea and Taiwan in the more relevant category of relative trade; that is, the value of their trade relative to the overall size of their economies. As can be seen in the chart below, the economies of China and Japan are not as trade-oriented as those of South Korea and Taiwan. As such, they might not benefit as much from the canal, which is intended to ease trade.

relative trade northeast asia

(*LPG stands for Liquid Petroleum Gasses, such as ethane, propane, and butane. The canal expansion is supposed to help these as well.)

Of course, none of this means that South Korea and Taiwan are risk-free investments. They are not. Ceteris paribus, though, they appear likely to be two of the greatest beneficiaries of the new canal.



Until North American gas is made avaliable to East Asian markets, Trinidad is the sole LNG player in the Americas capable of serving the East. Today Trinidad is the world’s sixth largest LNG exporter and 23rd largest producer of natural gas in general. Trinidad exports 3.5 more LNG than Peru, which for the time being is the only other LNG exporter in the Americas. Trinidad also produces more gas in general than any Latin American country outside of Mexico or Bolivia, both of which it trails slightly.

This is a considerable amount of gas production for a country as small as Trinidad, which has a population of just 1.4 million (including its sister island, Tobago, which is home to just 62,000 people). Trinidad is also the world’s largest exporter of ammonia and second-largest exporter of methanol, which often find their way to East Asian markets as well. Finally, Trinidad is 14 km off the coast of Venezuela, another energy-dependent economy which, in the long term, might benefit by exporting gas and other commodities via the canal.


El Salvador 

There are only four countries in the Americas that possess a coastline on the Pacific Ocean yet lack direct access to the Atlantic. These are Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and El Salvador. Of the four, El Salvador and Ecuador are the only two which are located close to the Panama Canal. Indeed, Santiago, the Chilean capital, and Lima, Peru’s capital, are roughly 4500 and 2500 km away from the canal by ship, respectively; El Salvador’s capital San Salvador is 1400 km away.

El Salvador is also the only one of the four to have an economy that is not oriented towards exporting commodities to other Pacific states: Ecuador’s economy is based on exporting oil to Asia and California, Chile’s is based on copper exports, and Peru’s is based on a number of commodities. These do not need to pass through the canal; in fact the canal might cause the price of these resources to fall in Pacific markets, which may, perhaps, hurt these countries’ export revenues.

El Salvador, on the other hand, has an economy that instead depends on its relationship with the US; approximately 25% of Salvadorans worldwide already live in the US, and El Salvador exports lower-end manufactured goods to the US, and imports its refined fuels. Being able to access US markets via the canal, as well as other Atlantic markets like Europe and Brazil, could be a big boon for El Salvador.


Colombia is just 230 km from the canal, much closer than any other South American country. Panama was in fact a part of Colombia until the US helped to detach it in 1903, a decade before the completion of the original canal. Given its proximity, the canal’s expansion could help Colombia’s isolated Pacific coast west of the Andes Mountains interact commercially with its much more developed Atlantic and interior mountain cities. This could potentially allow Colombia to achieve a greater economy of scale, helping it to throw its political and economic weight around as the most populous country in South America apart from Portuguese-speaking Brazil.

Moreover, because Colombia’s vast supplies of coal (it is estimated to be the 10th largest coal producer in the world), coffee (it is the 3rd largest producer in the world), nickel (9th largest), bananas (10th), oil (19th), and other goods are much easier to export via Atlantic rather than Pacific ports — as a result of the navigability of the Magdalena River Valley (see map), which stretches from the major inland cities of Bogota and Medellin to the Atlantic – the expanded canal will help Colombian commodities to reach East Asian, Californian, and Chilean import markets.


Finally, Colombia has medium-sized natural gas reserves: the 47th largest in the world, according to the CIA Factbook. Indeed, Colombia is the only LNG exporter in Latin America outside of Peru (as Trinidad speaks English, not Spanish). It too could pass gas in the years ahead, in that case.

In a future report, we will discuss the 5 potential “losers” of the Panama Canal’s expansion: Australia, Malaysia, Mexico, Yemen, and Mozambique. We will also discuss how Panama itself may be affected by the new canal.   

North America, South America

The Coming US-Argentine Tango

Argentina has the world’s 20th largest economy, 8th largest territory, and 30th largest population, according to the World Bank. Yet Americans have historically had little to do with the place. The United States and Argentina have never been close allies, nor have they been hated rivals. Today the two countries trade just $15 billion or so with one another: Argentina is just the seventh biggest trade partner of the US in Latin America, and the US is only the third biggest trade partner of Argentina. Most Americans cannot name a single Argentinian person, past or present. No, not even Lionel Messi!

There are a number of fairly straightforward reasons why the US and Argentina have not become too close to one another in the past. Interestingly, however, there are also a number of reasons why the US and Argentina might become quite close in the future. Given the size of both countries, any such move towards one another could represent a significant evolution in world affairs. Let’s try to lay out the case for why this might happen, then, beginning by looking at some of the reasons why Argentina and the US have never been close in the past, and then moving on to why they might finally become so in the years or decades ahead:

1. Distance

Even in the modern world, there remains a strong correlation between physical distance and international trade. This correlation matters for trade between the US and Argentina, since the two countries are located on extreme opposite ends of the Western Hemisphere. The flight from New York City to Buenos Aires takes about 11 hours, for example; it is longer even than the flight from New York to Moscow, or from Buenos Aires to Johannasburg. Flying from Las Angeles or Chicago to Buenos Aires is longer still.

By ship, Argentina and the US are even further apart than they are by air, since the detour around Brazil (which juts far out into the Atlantic Ocean) adds an additional 2500 km or so to the trip from New York to Buenos Aires. That makes it about 30 percent further by ship than by plane. In addition to this detour around Brazil, the journey through the Panama Canal adds a significant amount of time, canal fees, and size limitations to container ships travelling from the US West Coast to Argentina. And taking an overland shortcut through Chile can still be very difficult for transporting bulk goods, as there are no railways or all-season roads which fully cross the Andes Mountains.


Argentina’s trade is not only impacted by its physical isolation from the US, but also by its physical isolation from Europe and East Asia. Sailing from Buenos Aires to Shanghai, for instance, whether by going westward across the Pacific Ocean or eastward across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, is roughly two and half times further than sailing between Las Angeles and Shanghai. Sailing from Buenos Aires to Paris is around two times further than from New York  to Paris. Partly as a result of this phsyical isolation, Argentina is not well-integrated into global trade networks.

In fact, Argentina’s overall international imports and exports of goods are equal to just around 25 percent of its GDP, according to the World Bank. This is the second lowest share in the entire world among developing countries (see graph below). Plus, nearly a quarter of Argentina’s trade is with Brazil, which is even less trade-oriented than Argentina is. Thus, in addition to not trading much with the US directly, Argentina also does not have much to do with the global commercial system as whole, and therefore also has few indirect commercial connections with the US.

trade as % of gdp in developing economies[Note, by the way, that Argentina is an exception to two different trends displayed by this graph. The least trade dependent economies tend to be extremely large — like Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China, and to a lesser extent Turkey and Mexico — and/or tend to have relatively low per capita incomes, like Nigeria, India, Indonesia, Colombia, Iran, and to a lesser extent China and Venezuela. These trends exist not only among the countries shown in this graph, but also throughout the world as a whole: the least trade dependent economies tend to be either giants like the US, Japan, and Brazil, or else are some of the most impoverished states in the world, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the Central African Republic. Argentina is neither extremely large nor relatively poor (it has a per capita nominal income of around $15,000, which is higher than the Latin American average and more than double that of China), yet it is still second from the bottom in terms of its dependence on trade — not only on the graph above, but also among all of the countries in the world, according to the World Bank]. 

2. Economics

Argentina’s economy is driven to a decent extent by its farm output. According to the World Bank, Argentina has more arable land per capita than any country in the world apart from Australia, Canada, or Kazakhstan. Agricultural goods like corn, wheat, and especially soybeans account for well over a third of Argentina’s net export revenues. It also produces the most beef of any country apart from the US, Brazil, China, or India.

This has historically put Argentina in direct competition with the United States, which in the past was an agriculturally-oriented society, and even today remains the world’s largest producer of both soybeans and corn, and the world’s largest exporter of grains in general. Though at present agricultural goods account for perhaps no more than 5 percent of US exports, they continue to play an outsized role in American politics, because their production is spread out across many different states, municipalities, congressional districts, etc. Thus, the US and Argentina continue to compete economically, to a certain degree.

It might be tempting to say that the same is true of Brazil, which is the world’s second largest producer of soybeans and beef, and third largest producer of corn. But actually, most of Brazil’s export revenues come from goods that are net imports of the United States and Argentina, such as oil, iron ore, coffee, and sugar. Partly because of this, in fact, Brazil exports approximately 7.5 times as much to the US as Argentina does, even though Brazil’s overall exports are only 3.5 times larger than Argentina’s overall exports.

3.  Language 

Because of the high utility of the Spanish language, Latin America is one of the worst regions in the world at speaking English. According to English First, “Latin America is the weakest [at speaking English] of all regions, with an average English proficiency score barely surpassing the low proficiency cut-off.” (Spain, similarly, is far behind the other major countries in the European Union in terms of its English language proficiency). Argentina is no exception to this pattern. Only 6.5 percent or so of its population has a “high” level of English proficiency, according to this article. 

In addition to serving as a commercial barrier between the two countries, the Spanish-English linguistic division has also helped keep the US and Argentina apart in the political sphere. Argentina’s Spanish identity, for example, has given it ties to countries which the US has had rivalrous relations with in the past, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico (where the US invaded Mexico City during the 1840’s, and Veracruz in 1914), Spain (which the US fought a globe-spanning war against in 1898, and which had a fascistic government during middle of the 20th century), Nicaragua (which the US occupied in the 1910s and 1920s, and supported guerillas in during the country’s civil war in the 1980’s), Panama (invaded by the US in 1885, and again in 1989), and others. America’s English identity, similarly, has helped given it relatively close ties to Britain, which Argentina fought a war against in 1982 over the Falkland Islands, resulting in more than 900 deaths.

4. Geopolitics

While today Argentina is generally seen as being an insignificant country when compared to its larger neighbour Brazil, this was not always the case. As recently as the 1950s, Argentina’s economy was actually estimated to be larger than Brazil’s. Brazil aslo used to be much more internally divided along both regional and racial lines than it is today (and even today it is highly divided along both regional and racial lines), in relative contrast to Argentina where the population and political power was more closely unified. Indeed, rather than Brazil, it was Argentina and even Chile which were the major military and naval powers native to the region until at least the early part of the 20th century. Plus, because Brazil spoke Portuguese rather than Spanish, its potential influence within the rest of Latin America or Spain seemed comparatively limited. Many therefore predicted that Argentina, not Brazil, would wind up emerging as South America’s “Great Power”.

Of course, the US does not take too kindly to fellow Great Power hopefuls. Thus, it saw no reason to become too chummy with Argentina, particularly following Argentina’s relative victory over Brazil in a war for Uruguay in the 1820’s, and Argentina’s decisive victory over Paraguay during the 1860’s (in a war in which arguably 90 percent of Paraguay’s entire male population died, making it perhaps the deadliest war for a country in modern history). When, for example, the US convened the first-ever International Conference of American States – the precursor to today’s Organization of American States – in 1890, hoping to implement a hemipshere-spanning trade union and formal political network, the conference resulted in feuding between Argentina and the US, and to a lesser extent between Chile and the US, which prevented the US’s political goals from being realized.

Argentina later irked the US during the begining and middle of the 20th century when, partly as a result of the fact that its population had some significant Italian and to a lesser extent German roots, it took a relatively sympathetic position toward US’s adversaries in the World Wars. To this day, Americans often associate Argentina with its providing of shelter to prominent Nazis fleeing Germany following the end of the war. Following the end of the war in 1945, in fact, the United States even briefly tried to keep Argentina out of the newly-created United Nations. Brazil, in contrast, was the only independent South American country to send soldiers to fight on the side of the Allies during the war.

Later still, during the Cold War, the Soviets hoped to gain influence in Latin America to serve as leverage against the United States. While the US was mainly concerned with the close-to-home governments, geurillas, or criminal organizations in places like Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and Central America, the bond between Latin American nations meant that the US often viewed the left-wing governments of countries further south, like Chile (such as that of Salvador Allende, who was killed in 1973 in a military coup sponsored by the CIA) and Argentina (such as that of Isabel Peron, who was toppled in 1976 in a military coup that may have been sponsored or supported by the US government), as potential threats as well.

5. Politics 

Argentina and the US are in some ways exact opposites of one another in terms of their political culture and internal geopolitical structure. In the US, no single region holds a majority of national economic power; rather, the country’s economic activity is spread out among a number of different influential regions, such as California, Texas, Florida, the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, and so on. The largest urban area in the US, in and around New York City, only has around 5-10 percent of the country’s total population, while the largest region, the Greater Northeast, only has around 15-20 percent.

Even within the US’s Greater Northeast region, economic power and influence is spread out between a sizeable number of major states, all of which have had their own unique assets — politics in Washington, finance and culture in New York, education and technology in Massachusetts, coal and natural gas in Pennsylvania, shipping and gambling in New Jersey, manufacturing in Michigan and Ohio, services and agriculture in Ilinois, etc. — as well as their own natural harbours on the Atlantic Ocean or Great Lakes with which they have historically been able to engage with the outside world. Divisions like these have arguably made it difficult for a powerful central government to form within the United States.

Argentina is perhaps the extreme counter-example of this sort of highly diffuse American system. The Buenos Aires urban area, which is the political, cultural, financial, and commercial capital of the country, is home to approximately one-third of Argentina’s overall population. Another 15  percent or so of Argentina’s population lives within the general area around Buenos Aires. No other metropolitan area in Argentina has a population that is even more than 10-15 percent as large as Buenos Aires’ is.

[Update:  In Argentina’s presidential elections this past October, the two candidates were the leaders of the province of Buenos Aires and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, respectively].

In addition to this, a large majority of both Argentina’s entire population and farmland is located within river basins that empty into the Atlantic at precisely the spot where Buenos Aires is located (see maps below), and the produce of these farmlands is transported almost entirely along these rivers. The farmland of Paraguay, Uruguay, and even of significant areas of Brazil is also located within this basin. Moreover, most of the Argentinian population within this basin is highly dependent on Buenos Aires to ship its produce to international markets, because there are few other natural harbours to serve as ports in northern Argentina apart from the Rio de la Plata Estuary in which Buenos Aires (and Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay) is situated.



As such, any government that is able to control Buenos Aires and the region around it faces relatively little challenge in controlling the entire country — at least, absent interference by a foreign power or neighbouring state. Buenos Aires is, in fact, probably quite a bit more influential within Argentina than even cities like London, Paris, or Moscow are within Britain, France, or Russia. Partly as a result of this, Argentina has often seen a lot of “European-style” Big Government, as opposed to “American-style” libertarianistic government. This Argentinian style did not much please the US during its Cold War against the Soviet Union, when Americans saw themselves as being locked in a struggled against centralized socialistic styles of government, which Argentina possessed in an on-and-off fashion prior to the military junta that seized formal control of the country between 1976 and 1983. Argentina also experienced military coups in 1943, 1955, 1962, and 1966.

Even today, Argentina’s government continues to support poltical and economic policies Americans think of as illiberal and overweening, such as high trade tarrifs and high government subsidies of commodities like water and gas. Similarly, the Argentinian government is overwhelmingly viewed by America’s investor class as being populist, corrupt, and dishonest brokers in longstanding disputes over the repayment of Argentina’s foreign debts. In these sorts of ways, the sharp divisions in political culture between the US and Argentina have perhaps contributed to the two countries’ continuing relative estrangement from one another.

10 Reasons Argentina and the US could finally become close in the future: 

1. The Decline of Distance 

While the influence of distance on trade remains large, it is already much smaller than it once was in the past, and may continue becoming smaller in the years or decades ahead. As was alluded to earlier, cheaper air travel could be especially likely to help boost US-Argentine ties, since the distance between the two countries by air is significantly shorter than it is by sea. The Internet is obviously another potential driver behind the potentially declining economic importance of distance — making the fact that Argentina may have the first or second highest rates of Internet access in Latin America, and among the highest in the entire developing world – especially noteworthy. Around 60-75 percent of Argentina’s population is estimated to hae Internet access, up from just 20 percent a decade ago.

Given that linguistic ties will perhaps be very important in allowing for Internet-based economic or social connections to take place, the Internet could also help create indirect ties between Argentina and the US via Mexico and the countries of the Caribbean basin, which are already close to the US commercially and socially even without the Internet. More importantly, it could create direct ties between Argentina and the US as a result of the growing ubiquity and importance of the Spanish language within the United States itself. Which brings us to point number two:

2. Spanish in the United States

As a result of the American immigration boom of the relatively recent past (see graph below), the Hispanic population in the US is currently estimated at 55 million, which means that it is actually larger than Argentina’s entire population is. An estimated 40 million Hispanic Americans speak Spanish at home, up from just 17 million in 1990. US Hispanic populations have a median income estimated at around $40,000 (not far from three times higher than Argentina’s) — compared to $52,000 for the United States as a whole.


Even if the US’s high rates of immigration from Latin America were to decrease, the number of Hispanic Americans in higher-paying jobs and in the workforce in general would continue to grow quickly over the next few decades, as a result of the fact that there are many Hispanic children, teenagers, and 20-30 year olds in the country. The estimated median age for US Hispanics is 27 years old, for example, compared to 37 years old for the country as a whole. Most Hispanic children and teenagers are American born and raised, and are therefore much more likely than their parents or grandparents to possess the social connections, English language skills, and educational qualifications that are often the prerequisites to achieving financial success in the United States.

Hispanic Americans have also been living mostly within relatively wealthy or fast-growing US economies, such as Texas, California, New York City, Washington D.C., Washington state, Colorado, etc. If the economic and political clout of Hispanics in the US continues to grow, it may create opportunities for Spanish-speaking countries like Argentina to forge greater economic linkages with it. As was mentioned above, this relationship is likely to be particularly significant because of they continued spread and increased ubiquity and sophistication of the Internet. Online connections between Spanish-speakers in the US and Argentina could increase not only in direct terms, but also indirectly via Spanish-speakers in countries like Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

As for Argentinians living in the US, there are only about a quarter of a million. However, this number has been growing: around 60 percent of Argentinian-Americans arrived in the US after 1990, and most came since Argentina’s economic crash in 2001. Most live in Florida, California, or New York. Given that about a quarter of Argentinian-Americans live in Flordia, and that they are significantly more wealthy than the general Hispanic-American population, it is actually theoretically possible that they could play an important role in deciding the outcome of a US presidential election.

 3. Containing Brazil 

Argentina may have had a slightly larger economy than Brazil back in the 1950s or 1960s, but that is hardly the case today. Brazil’s economy has grown to become the world’s sixth or seventh largest, both in nominal terms and adjusted for purchasing power. It is close to quadruple the size of Argentina’s and ten times that of Venezuela’s (Brazil’s next largest neighbour). Brazil’s population, meanwhile, is the fifth largest in the world, around five times larger than Argentina’s and almost two-thirds as large as the US’s. And of course, Brazil’s territory remains enormous, nearly as large as the US’s, Canada’s, or China’s, and triple the size of Argentina’s.

Brazil has the world’s largest resources of freshwater and biodiversity, and it is the second largest producer of soybeans and iron ore, the third largest oil producer outside of the Middle East or North America, and the largest producer of coffee, sugar, raw tobacco, meat products, fruit juice, wood pulp, and a number of other commodities. Brazil has also become the world’s seventh largest motor vehicle manufacturer. (Argentina, meanwhile, is the 19th largest motor vehicle producer; the per capita motor vehicle production of Argentina and Brazil is about the same).

In the past, Brazil’s economy has been hurt by the difficulty of developing its challenging terrain, unifying its disparate regions, accessing the far-away markets of North America, Europe, and Asia, and overcoming its racial and class divisions (Brazil arguably has the most class-based income inequality of any major country, and, relatedly, was the last country in the Americas to outlaw slavery, in 1888). If, however, Brazil can overcome these challenges, perhaps helped by technological advances to do so, it could maybe become a great power in the decades ahead. Notably, unlike in other Great Power aspirants, such as the former Soviet Union, India, or even China, the internal regional divisions in Brazil are not overlain by internal linguistic divisions or milleania-old historical divisions. Nearly 100% of Brazilians speak Portuguese.

If Brazil does end up becoming a Great Power, a US-Argentine relationship would probably form to try and contain it. A powerful Brazil would almost by definition make Argentina feel threatened, for a number of reasons including that Brazil’s influence in Uruguay – a  country of just 3 million people, which was part of Brazil until Brazil lost a war to Argentina in the 1820’s – would put it much too close to Buenos Aires for Argentina to feel comfortable with.


From the US’s perspective, meanwhile, if a Brazil was able to eventually take control of Argentinian politics – whether formally or informally – it might be able to use Argentina’s resources (and also Uruguay’s, Paraguay’s, and Bolivia’s) to become more powerful still. Given that Brazil also has ties to the rest of Latin America and Spain, since Portuguese and Spanish are really not all that different, such a move could theoretically allow Brazil to become a rival global superpower to the United States. The US would almost certainly not want to take the chance of allowing that to happen, and so would probably prefer to ally itself closely with Argentina to begin with to make sure that it never does.

4. Shale Gas 

Today, an estimated 40% of US natural gas production (and the US produces the most natural gas in the world) comes from shale deposits, as does 15% of Canadian natural gas production (and Canada produces the world’s fourth most natural gas). And yet, because of the various challenges associated with shale production, no country in the world apart from the US or Canada produces any significant quantity of shale energy. And even US and Canadian shale production only began in earnest less than a decade ago.

Going forward, it may be that there will be diminishing returns in the US and Canadian shale gas production industries, such that their production costs will rise over time in comparison to the potential production costs of shale gas deposits in other countries. This could make American energy companies – the only ones with the expertise required to produce significant quantities of shale gas – look abroad for gas to develop. Outside of North America, the two largest shale gas reserves are thought to be in China and Argentina. Argentina is also thought to have the fourth highest shale oil reserves, behind only the US, Russia, and China.

Developing China’s shale gas reserves could be difficult for American companies, not only because of potential political barriers between the two countries, but also because of China’s high population density and shortage of freshwater (which fracking uses intensively) in some of its gas-rich regions, and because China’s basins are is in many cases more difficult to develop from a geological standpoint than American ones are. Developing shale reserves in Russia could also be very difficult for US companies.

Argentina, on the other hand, seems like a relatively favourable location for shale gas production. Argentina also wants to boost its gas production, since in recent years its demand for gas has outpaced its domestic supply, forcing it to become dependent on imports from Bolivia. And it has the gas pipelines to do so in place already, since it is has long been a major conventional gas producer (it produces around 13 times more natural gas per capita than China does). This is important, since natural gas cannot be transported in trucks, trains, or barges, like oil and coal can, but instead must have pipelines to move from the site of production to the markets of consumption. Argentina could perhaps become the next mecca for American energy companies, therefore. Chevron has already gotten the ball rolling on this, investing over a billion dollars in the country in 2013.

5. Mexico, the Carribbean, Central America, and Spain  

Argentina may be located on the oppopsite site of the globe from the United States, but Mexico, the Carribbean islands, Central America, and to a lesser extent the northern countries of South America and Spain are not. If these Spanish-speaking countries can become closer to the United States, it could create closer indirect ties between Argentina and the US (though, of course, the reverse of this is also true: if Mexico and the United States were to have a falling out as a result of drug trafficking or immigration issues, for example, it could potentially damage US-Argentinian relations in an indirect way). So, in what ways could these countries be likely to become closer to the US in the years ahead?

One area, of course, is outsourcing. In recent decades, when the United States was looking to save money by outsourcing its manufacturing base, it frequently chose to do so in China. Today, however, Chinese exports are increasingly expensive, and the US increasingly views China as a potential rival. It may be that the US will need to find new locations to outsource to in place of eastern China. Many see India as the likely candidate for this, and maybe they are right; however, the fact is that India, because of its intense regional internal complexities, lacks the political and commercial economies of scale that helped make China (and Japan, and Northeast Asia as a whole) such a significant exporter to the US during the past half century or so. Moreover, unlike Northeast Asia, India is located far closer to wealthy consumers in Europe, East Asia, the Persian Gulf, and Australia than it is to the US, so it may be that its economic ties will mainly be to those areas, rather than to North America. The US, then, may find that Mexico, Central America, and the Carribbean are the economies most likely to become its “next China”.


Mexico is already well along this path. Its exports to the US have benefited not only from cost increases in China, but also from the Texas shale gas boom, which, because gas cannot be shipped cheaply overseas like oil can, the Texans have been exporting huge amounts to Mexico, which has been helping to keep the cost of Mexican electricity relatively competitive. US exports to Mexico are up almost 450 percent since 1993 (when NAFTA was finalized), while Mexican exports to the US is up more than 600 percent since 1993.

Meanwhile, if the US and Cuba can finally mend fences, it could also obviously be a huge development, since Cuba is not only the largest Caribbean state, but is also located much closer to the US than any other. Given how slowly container ships move, this proximity to US markets could be very important for companies that are using “just-in-time” logistics as more have increasingly been doing as a result of the ability to use sophisticated computer programs to organize logistical networks. Indeed, any move toward “just-in-time” logistics would help grow US trade with Mexico and the Carribbean in general.

The proximity of this region to the US could also help it to grow its American and Canadian tourist industry, which for a number of reasons could increase a lot in the future. (For example, because of the growing number of American retirees, or the possibility of growing seasonal American unemployment as a result of job automation, or the increasing ease of being away from home for longer amounts of time because the Internet). In 2014, just under three-quarters of the estimated 68 million US  tourist visits abroad were to countries within the Americas.

Trade between South America and the US, meanwhile, could also increase because of possible changes in technology. If, for example, machines allow North America to take back much of the world’s manufacturing industry from Asia, it could cause countries like Peru, Chile, and Colombia to export more of their mineral resources northward to the US instead of halfway across the world to Asia. Similarly, the development of once-remote African, Siberian, or Central Asian mineral resources could lead Asian (and European) manufacturers to rely less on South American natural resources than they do today, which could also free them up to be sold to the United States instead.

It is probably also worth mentioning that in the past generation there has been a huge religious shift within Latin America, and particularly within Central America, whereby tens of millions of people who were raised Catholic have switched to become Protestant evangelicals (or, to a lesser extent, to become religiously unaffiliated or atheistic). The share of Protestant evangelicalism has risen from an estimated 4 to 19 percent of Latin America’s population since 1970. Given that more than 50 percent of the US population is Protestant, and that maybe 25 percent are Evangelical, this religious shift might influence relations between the US and Latin America to some degree. In Argentina, meanwhile, an estimated 15 percent of people are now Protestant, more than half of them new converts. Argentina’s population also has the highest rates of secular or atheistic people in Latin America apart from Uruguay, Chile, or the Dominican Republic, also giving it something in common with the “developed” world.

Finally, US ties to Spain will perhaps remain relatively close during the decades ahead. One reason for this is that the US is highly dependent upon Spain’s Strait of Gibraltar in order access to the Mediterranean Sea (and by extension, to access the Indian Ocean and the Black Sea). Another is that the US may want a strong ally in Europe in addition to Britain, in order to keep any potential relationships between major continental European powers like Germany, Russia, and France in check. Spain is arguably a likely candidate to become this ally, since Spain’s economic ties with Germany and Russia are very small compared to, say, Italy’s, France’s, or Turkey’s ties with Germany and Russia. Moreover, Spain has a potential connection to Spanish-speakers in the US, and it already has a relatively significant economic relationship with Britain (and could become by far the main destination for British Baby Boomer retirees in the coming years). Indeed, Spain has already been one of the US’s main European allies in modern times, for example sending more troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq than any European country apart from Britain, Poland, Italy, or the Netherlands.

 6.  Food Exports 

As was mentioned earlier in the article, Argentina and the US have often been economic competitors of one another in the past, as a result of both being major food exporting nations. Today they are still competitors in global food markets, though because the US economy is no longer as agriculturally-oriented as it once was, they do not always compete to the same extent as they used to in the past. If Argentina could reduce its dependence on agricultural exports as well, it could further cause the level of economic competition between the two countries to fall. Of course, the reverse of this is true as well: if Argentina and the US are able to increase their agricultural exports, they would maybe become more competitive with one another again.

One area to watch here is biofuels. Both the US and Argentina (but especially the US) are world leaders in biofuel production, and both might try to increase their biofuel production going forward in order reduce their dependence on oil imports and reduce their carbon emissions. Already, for example, about 40 percent of the US’s world-leading corn production is used to create ethanol, which accounts for around 10 percent of the fuels used by American vehicles. Argentina’s overall biofuel production is lower than the US’s, but its per capita biofuel production is quite a bit higher than the US’s.

If biofuels become the next big thing in “renewable” energy production, such that Argentina and the United States start using much more of their corn and soybean production to create biofuels to use domestically in their transportation sectors, then they will probably not be exporting nearly as much food as they do today, and so will not be competing as much with one another economically. If, on the other hand, their biofuel production decreases, then they could start competing with one another more in global food markets again.

Finally, in the decades ahead world food markets could perhaps be transformed by technology. If new technologies allow countries with a lot of remote, under-developed, or “unconventional” farmland – like Kazakstan, Russia, Brazil, Australia, Africa, etc.. – to become major grain exporters for the first time, or if it allows countries with little farmland but a lot of capital – like Germany, Japan, South Korea, etc.. – to become larger grain exporters, then countries that have historically dominated global grain exports, like the US (along with Canada) and Argentina (along with Paraguay and Uruguay), could find themselves in a much more diverse global food marketplace. If more countries turn in to major food exporters (which in fact did happen during the decade of the 2000’s, for instance with the quadrupling of Brazilian soybean exports, which led to increased Argentinian-Brazilian economic competition), it could potentially reduce the level of competition between Argentina and the US.

7. Bridging the Andes

Argentina and Chile are the second and fourth largest economies in South America and the 48th and 50th richest countries in the world in terms of their per capita nominal GDP. They both speak Spanish, and they share a land border that is more than 5000 km long, the third longest border between any two countries in the world. Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires is only 900 km from Chile’s capital of Santiago, while Argentina’s fourth largest city, Mendoza, is just 150 km from Santiago.

In contrast, Santiago is 2500-3000 km from Sao Paolo (Brazil’s largest city by far), Rio de Jaenaro (Brazil’s second largest city by far), or Lima (Peru’s largest city, and the second largest city in South America). It is 1400-1800 km from the largest cities of Paraguay and Bolivia, and 4200-4800 km from the largest cities of Colombia and Venezeula. In addition to their physical proximity, both Argentina and Chile could also potentially use one another as very significant short-cuts in order to access the Pacific Ocean (for Argentina) or the Atlantic Ocean (for Chile).


And yet, Argentina and Chile actually do not have all that much to do with one another.  There is some trade and travel between the two countries, but not nearly as much as one might think. The reason for this is that the Andes Mountains sit in between the two countries, and they are such a formidable barrier that, even today, there are no railways or all-season roads that cross them. The lack of railways between the two countries is especially significant, because Argentina and Chile mainly produce bulk goods like grains (for Argentina) and minerals (for Chile), neither of which can be transported long distances efficiently by truck in most cases.


In the future it might be that Argentina and Chile will overcome the Andes, whether through a tunnel with a railway through it (which they are hoping to finally build within the next decade), or by air travel becoming cheaper (whether passenger flights or cargo flights), or by more reliable mountain roads being constructed and maintained, or by cyberspace becoming more important, or by gas pipelines (which already exist — see map below) exporting more of Argentina’s natural gas to Chile’s gas-hungry economy. If this were to happen, the two countries might form a very close relationship. Though it is not likely to result in their fusing to become a single country, the future synergy between Chile and Argentina (Chargentina?) might become extremely significant.


This could have an affect on US-Argentina relations, for several reasons. First, the US could see Argentina-Chilean cooperation as being worhty of political engaegement, since a connection with Chile could help Argentina to more successfully ensure that Brazil never becomes a great global power. Second, a railway linking Chile to Argentina could do a lot to help boost trade between Argentina and the US West Coast. From Chile’s northern commercial port of Antofogasta to Las Angeles by sea, for example, is less than half the distance from Argentina’s northern port of Buenos Aires to Las Angeles via the Panama Canal. Antofagasta to Las Angeles is even shorter than from Buenos Aires to Miami.

Lastly, a connection between Argentina and Chile could create an indirect connection between Argentina and the US. This is because the Chilean economy is much more closely integrated with the US economy than Argentina is. Whereas in Argentina trade with the US only accounts for about 8 percent of total Argentinian trade, and Argentina’s total trade only accounts for about 25 percent of Argentina’s GDP, in Chile trade with the US accounts for about 16 percent of total Chilean trade, and Chile’s total trade accounts for an estimated 56 percent of Chile’s GDP. In other words, Chile’s trade with the US relative to the size of its GDP is more than four times as large as Argentina’s is.

Even leaving Chile aside, Argentina could also find the Andes Mountains less imposing in the future because of the completion of the large expansion to the Panama Canal, which is expected to finally be complete (after having been delayed several times) in 2016. The expansion is supposed to allow ships carrying up to arount 13,000 containers to use the canal, up from around 5000 containers today. The expansion could help Argentina access the US West Coast, and could help Pacific Latin American countries, like Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and El Salvador, access the eastern half of the US. Similarly, improvements in the overland intermodal transport networks of countries like the US, Mexico, Panama, or Costa Rica could help in trade between the two sides of the American continent, which could have both a direct and an indirect positive influence on US-Argentinian trade.

8. The Falkland Islands

In 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands (which it calls the Malvinas Islands), prompting a war with Britain, which successfully counter-invaded the islands. Around 900 people were killed. Though certain elements of the US government (including, arguably, then-president Reagan) were sympathetic to the Argentinians claim on the islands, the US ultimately supported Britain in the war, hurting US-Argentine relations.


Today the Falklands is still a tense issue in British-Argentinian relations. However, as the population of Britain is now another generation removed from its grand imperial past (remember, even as late as the 1970’s Britain still formally had a pretty huge empire), and as Argentina is no longer ruled by an intensley right-wing military junta as it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the war occured, and as the Falklands/Malvinas Islands are only home to fewer than three thousand people to begin with, it seems possible that it will become less and less problematic of an issue going forward.

If Britain and Argentina can finally manage to sort out the Islands issue, it might help to boost US-Argentina relations. In fact, even if Argentina and Britain cannot sort out the issue without another conflict, US-Argentinian relations could perhaps improve if the Argentinians become pleasantly surprised by US neutrality (or perhaps even outright support for Argentina) in any future spat (or war) over the islands.

9. The Antarctic Connection 

World maps tend to be somewhat misleading, since they often tend to make areas nearer to the north and south poles – like Greenland, for example – a lot larger than they actually are in the real world. This stretching applies to Argentina too, since Buenos Aires is acually located further south than Cape Town in South Africa or Sydney in Australia. The southernmost provinces of Argentina are about 2000 km further south than Africa or Australia, in fact, and they are several hundred km south of southern New Zealand. A similar thing is true of Chile: Santiago is situated at roughly the same latutide as Buenos Aires is, and southern Chile extends about as far south as southern Argentina does.


One of the effects of this is that the distance between Argentina and the other southernmost countries in the world, namely Australia, South Africa, especially New Zealand, can be a lot less than it appears. Looking at a two-dimensional map, for instance, one would probably assume that northern Argentina is a lot closer to South Africa than southern Argentina is. But in fact, southern Argentina is actually slightly closer to South Africa than northern Argentina is. Both are only around 7000 km from South Africa, which means that by sea Argentina is actually closer to South Africa than Argentina is to Venezuela or Colombia. Indeed, from southern Argentina to South Africa is more than twice as close by sea as is the distance between southern Argentina and Europe.

Similarly, even though New Zealand is often considered a part of Asia, the distance by air from Buenos Aires to central New Zealand is actually about the exact same as from central New Zealand to Shanghai, while the flight from southern Argentina to southern New Zealand is about 1.5 shorter than from New Zealand to Beijing. The flight from Melbourne or Sydney in Australia to Buenos Aires, meanwhile, is only about 1.5 times further than from Melbourne or Sydney to Shanghai, and is around the same as from Melbourne or Sydney to Mumbai. Sydney is around 9000 km from southern Argentina by air, whereas New York City is around 1600 km from Sydney by air.

Thus, anything that would reduce air cargo costs and the safety costs associated with flying over the Antarctic ice could be significant in increasing the interactivity between these Antarctic-region countries. In fact, the most direct route between Argentina and western Australia is by flying basically over the South Pole itself. Even by sea, however, by rounding the southern cape of South America, Buenos Aires is about as close to New Zealand as New Zealand is from Shanghai (and quite a bit closer than to Beijing or Seoul), and Buenos Aires is only about 1.5 times further from Australia as Australia is from Shanghai.

If Argentina becomes much closer than it is today to South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand – each a significant member of the global “Anglosphere” – it could perhaps help bring Argentina indirectly closer to the United States. In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, the US continues to have some very significant strategic military interests in various parts of the region around Antarctica: in particular, the US navy wants to ensure that it continues to have access to the route around the southern cape of Argentina and Chile, since its aircraft carriers are too large to pass through the Panama Canal or the Northwest Passage to move between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

There are some other reasons to think that Argentina might become somewhat more closely entwined with these countries. In the case of South Africa, most of Argentina’s exports (which are mostly of food) pass directly by its shores on their way to food importing nations in the Arab world and southern Asia. In addition, South Africa’s chief regional rival is Angola, a Portuguese-speaking country that was often the world’s fastest growing economy during the past decade or so, and which has potential pan-Portuguese ties with Argentina’s potential rival, Brazil (and to a lesser extent with Mozambique, which is South Africa’s most populous next-door neighbour by far). It is not unthinkable that a South Africa-Argentina relationship would form to counter a Brazil-Angola one.

global trade

Argentina could also potentially become closer with South Africa and Australia if Argentina finally uses its wealth to develop a large industrial base, since South Africa and Australia are both huge exporter of various minerals. Or, if Argentina finally mends its relationship with Britain over the Falklands; during the Falklands war, for example, even then-apartheid-era South Africa cut off diplomatic ties with Argentina, and did not resume them for nearly a decade. Also, if Australia’s severe water shortage risks eventually turn it from a net exporter of grains to a major net importer of grains, it could lead to a much larger trade relationship between the two countries.

Finally, because of the relative proximity between areas of the Antarctic region, if the southern halves of Argentina and southern Chile could be developed economically on a significant scale for the first time, perhaps through the use of new technologies like water desalination (southern Argentina is arid), wind power (southern Argentina is one of the windiest places on the planet), machine-intensive development (southern Argentina lacks a significant labour force because it is sparsely populated, but it is also resource rich), or cheaper air travel (southern Argentina and Chile have huge tourist potential, yet are very remote, and in many cases are also highly mountainous and archipelagic), it might have a positive influence on their economic interaction with fellow Antarctic-region economies in South Africa, southern Australia, and New Zealand.

10. Political Convergences

Earlier we talked about how Argentina’s and the United States’ geo-economic and political systems are in a certain sense complete opposites of one another, with Argentina being highly centralized around northern Argentina in general and Buenos Aires in particular, and with the US being extraordinarily diffuse by comparison. However, this could be changing in both countries, because of technology. In the US, technology may be serving to bring the country’s disparate regions closer together – as communication has already become easy because of the Internet, and travel could perhaps become much easier in the future as well. Technology might allow the US to overcome its de-centralized geography to become somewhat more centralized, in other words.

In Argentina, conversely, technology could perhaps allow the country to overcome its centralized geography to become somewhat more de-centralized, if, for example, it empowers Argentinian individuals, businesses, or other groups, allows northern Argentina to become somewhat less dependent on Buenos Aires, or allows for the development of regions – such as the Andes regions and southern Argentina – that in the past have not had significant economies. If technology allows the US to become more centralized and Argentina less centralized, the two countries might start to have more in common in terms of political culture. In turn, this could perhaps help them finally become closer to one another.