As a turbulent 2017 draws to a close, we at Encyclopedia Geopolitica anticipate 2018 to present us with another exciting year from the geopolitical perspective. Major world events will continue to unfold, lines will be redrawn across maps, and major international powers will find themselves increasingly challenged by emerging rivals. In this annual piece, we put forward our (rather expansive) list of suggestions for those seeking to better understand the coming year’s geopolitical movements in their focus areas, which includes academic textbooks, historical studies and in some cases even novels containing relevant geopolitical thought experiments. 


Full disclosure: Purchases made using the links in this article earn referrals for Encyclopedia Geopolitica. As an independent publication, our writers are volunteers from within the professional geopolitical intelligence community, and referrals like this support future articles.

As this list contains a total of 100 books, it may be worth considering Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited programme as a more cost-effective way to get through the reading list. Encyclopedia Geopolitica readers have access to a 30-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited, allowing them to sample over 1 million ebooks and thousands of audiobooks.


Team favourites

While the bulk of this list has been divided into geographical sections, the writing team at Encyclopedia Geopolitica have also put forward a collection of their personal recommendations below.

Lewis Sage-Passant – Chief Editor and EMEA affairs writer

War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet (Eric S Margolis)

This fantastic piece follows journalist Eric Margolis’ voyage through the extremely conflict-prone Himalayan theatres to meet with warlords, military commanders and to examine the battles that they are either fighting, or preparing to fight. An excellent overview of the geopolitical risks facing one of the world’s more overlooked regions. I first read this piece as I prepared to deploy to Afghanistan as a British Army Intelligence Officer, and it has sat centrally on my bookshelf ever since.

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century (George Friedman)

I regularly recommend Friedman to those looking for a strong introduction to geopolitical forecasting, as the STRATFOR founder lays out a number of key concepts in “The Next 100 Years”. This book examines in strong detail America’s geopolitical advantages, and compares them to the curses of geography that challenge Russia by comparison. While the book does get a little far-fetched towards the end of the timeline, it provides some excellent entry-level forecasting, and was able to anticipate the Ukraine crisis even as early as its 2009 publication date.

Charlie Song – North Korea and global security affairs writer

The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (B. R. Myers)

One of the best books on North Korea out there, “The Cleanest Race” examines the North (and to some extent South) Korean mindset, and how this view drives everything from Pyongyang’s foreign policy, to the internal politics of the nation. It examines how the Korean cultural view has been used by the Kim regime to control the hermit kingdom.

Shutting Out the Sun (Michael Zielenziger)

While not an outright geopolitics book, Shutting Out the Sun provides an interesting blend of cultural psychology and its implications for Japanese geopolitics. Zielenziger examines the major demographic crises facing Japan, and how they have contributed to the nation’s current economic stagnation. The book explores the societal factors that have incubated isolationist tendencies in elements of the nation’s youth, and how these trends affect both Japan and the world at large.

Alexander Stafford – Defence affairs writer

Everything Under the Heavens (Howard W. French)

Drawing on thousands of years of Chinese history, “Everything Under the Heavens” shows how China’s methods of dealing with foreigners have endured since Imperial times, and gives us an insight into how modern China approaches some of today’s most pressing geopolitical issues. A worthwhile read for China-watchers.

Simon Schofield – Terrorism affairs writer

The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight

“The Exile” by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy is a wonderful piece of investigative journalism chronicling Bin Laden’s activities in the years between 9/11 and Neptune Spear. It features some critical revelations about the degree to which Iran was involved with Zarqawi and Al Qaeda’s central elements, and is overall very informative about their strategies. Despite the decline of Al Qaeda in recent years, this book is an excellent insight into terrorist operations.

War in 140 Characters: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century

“War in 140 Characters” is an eye opening look into the way technology is shaping not only the reporting, but also the conduct of war, from Islamic State recruitment on Skype to Russian misinformation campaigns, Patrikarakos portrays vivid examples of technological and informational warfare from his own personal experiences on the front lines of today’s conflicts.

John Rugarber – Doctrinal theory writer

The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century

“The Limits of Partnership” examines U.S.-Russian Relations post USSR and why diplomatic resets between the two have failed. An honest, well documented look at lost diplomatic opportunities for peace between the US and Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Anthony Clay – U.S. Military and government affairs writer

The Accidental Admiral (James Stavridis)

This memoir contains nuggets of excellent leadership advice and geopolitical insight, written by one of the more remarkable leaders in U.S. Navy history. Rising through the ranks, and writing the manuals along the way, Stavridis reshaped the Navy in far reaching ways before rising to the office of NATO Supreme Allied Commander as the first Naval Admiral to do so. Stavridis is currently the Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and was considered as a running mate for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.

Dr James Rogers – Military technology writer

Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Andrew Cockburn)

The story is a familiar one. Failures in Vietnam led to a revolution in military affairs; drones are a product of this. Yet, Cockburn’s take is unique. He pries open the forgotten aspects of recent American history. He excellently draws out the key people and the key concepts and reveals the lessons about an enemy’s adaptability, and the false promise of technology, which we always seem to forget.

Special mention: Drone warfare: Concepts and controversies (Dr James Rogers and Professor Caroline Kennedy-Pipe)

While Dr Rogers is far too humble to put forward his own work for our reading list, his latest work alongside Professor of War Studies Caroline Kennedy-Pipe is due for release in 2018. Given Dr Rogers’ formidable grasp on the topic, “Drone Warfare” is sure to be a deeply enlightening and informative read.

Eamon Driscoll – Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States writer

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: the Surreal Heart of the New Russia (Peter Pomerantsev) & All the Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (Mikhail Zygar)

These are both excellent reads, partially acting as point-counterpoint to the inner workings of the Russian Federation, but primarily providing insight into what really goes on behind the scenes. These books help to dispel the Western perception of Putin as all-powerful within Russia, and will be critical reading with the elections due in 2018.


Regional Reading

The following are the team’s recommendations of books worth reading to get ahead of the major events and geopolitical movements that we anticipate will shape 2018:

Europe & Russia

Europe has seen significant changes in 2017, with the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union continuing with little in the way of a clear end-state. The British parliament has seen rocky elections and the country stands on the verge of major change. 2018 will likely be a defining year for decades of British geopolitics. Meanwhile the peace in Northern Ireland has been thrown into question, with a Brexit-driven return of a secured border with the Republic of Ireland still remaining a possibility should talks with the European Union fail. While the Brexit vote has been oversimplified and the many genuine problems facing the European alliance have been ignored in much of the media, readers should understand the failures of Europe in order to better understand the future of the bloc in 2018. The following books are worthwhile reads for this purpose:

Across the English Channel, France took an opposite direction with the election of Pro-Europe President Emmanuel Macron. While right-wing anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen remains a contender for future elections, the Macron election has placed France in an excellent position to capitalise on the UK’s European withdrawal. His emergence has also reaffirmed optimism around the EU that had waned following Brexit, and the following books are worth reading for a better understanding of the values of the continental project:

In neighbouring Spain, the Catalonia region stunned Europe in 2017 through the surprising momentum of the secession movement. While the flight of the movement’s leaders and a judicial crackdown have quietened the calls for secession, 2018 may see a resurgence. Back in the United Kingdom, stirrings of an independence movement have also re-emerged in Scotland after Brexit, while Gibraltar (perched on the southern tip of Spain in the strategically unsurpassed gateway to the Mediterranean) is also likely to re-emerge as a point of contention between the two. Understanding the drive and impact of these events will be crucial for analysts in 2018, the following are worth reading:

In Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, immigration has remained a divisive and controversial issue. This has led to the rapid growth of far-right movements across the continent, which has escalated racial tensions and provoked a number of right-wing affiliated terror attacks. This trend continues globally, and in 2018 will form a key part of national-level politics. The following books should be considered for an insight into this increasingly dangerous movement:

In the Baltics, the military buildup of NATO forces continues. Across the border in Russia and Kaliningrad, the Kremlin also moves its pieces onto the chessboard as tensions rise. As the United States looks increasingly less interested in defending Europe, a resurgent Russia has toyed with expansionism in Ukraine, with eyes potentially on the Baltic states. The European Union has pushed legislation on military cooperation forward, and absent the United Kingdom’s veto, may begin moves towards a European Army in 2018. The coming year may see the renewed Cold War turn hot, and the following are worth reading:

In Russia, elections are due in 2018. While unlikely to be truly free and fair, they will provide a telling demonstration of President Vladmir Putin’s true political power over Russia. Overshadowing everything, both in the U.S. and Europe, Putin’s masterful manipulation of Western conventional and social media narratives have put many of Russia’s adversaries on the back foot, while they scramble to deal with inflamed social divides internally. The following are recommended for understanding Russia in 2018:

Middle East & North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region continues to be one of the most turbulent and geopolitically charged theatres, from the conflict in Syria through to the tenuous monarchical regimes to have survived the Arab Spring. The region gave birth to the Islamic State extremist movement, and although 2017 saw the near-total territorial collapse of the would-be Caliphate, 2018 will likely see the re-emergence of the group into something far more globally dangerous as it evolves in order to maintain legitimacy within Jihadi circles. The following reads are suggested in order to better understand the conditions that gave birth to the movement, and the likely course of Islamic Extremism in 2018:

The Assad regime has survived the Syrian civil war through 2017, and looks close to achieving a semblance of victory across much of the nation, with Russian and Iranian assistance. The reshaping of postwar Syria will be a central theme in 2018’s major geopolitical landscape, and along with the potential emergence of a new Kurdish nation, understanding the borders being redrawn throughout the region will be key. The following books are suggested on this topic:

A resurgent Iran has challenged the more assertive foreign policy moves of Crown Prince Bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia in 2017. While the Kingdom has spent much of 2017 bogged down in the strategic quagmire of the Yemen conflict, Iran has expanded its influence across the Gulf. While Salman will continue to push for major reforms in the Kingdom in 2018, the continuing rivalry with Iran will be a major theme. Fractures within the Gulf Cooperation Council have defined 2017 on the Arabian Peninsula, and the resolution of the crisis will shape 2018 and beyond.

Turkey has seen dramatic change under the increasingly authoritarian grip of President Erdogan through recent years, while Egypt remains in a similar situation under the yoke of General Sisi’s military dictatorship. 2018 will likely continue this trend both both nations, and with Turkey presenting one of the more geopolitically interesting NATO members, and Egypt remaining a regional power, understanding the situation in both will be key:

In the Sahel, Libya remains in turmoil, with rival governments competing for legitimacy while international powers remain divided over which factions to support. Extremism and exploitation has repeatedly taken root in this lawless vacuum, and will likely continue to pose problems for the European powers in 2018 as Libya remains a gateway to the continent for both migrants and terrorism. Mali and the other Sahel states remain in a similar state of semi-governance, and the following are suggested for an understanding of the region’s geopolitical situation:

Algeria, Morocco and other monarchies of the region remain relatively stable after the turbulence that sought to topple them earlier this decade. Despite this, the Sultan of Oman remains mysteriously out of sight, leading to rumours of his death. Algerian President Abdulaziz Bouteflika’s poor health and progressing age have birthed similar rumours, while King Salman of Saudi Arabia’s age and supposed dementia have likely led to the Crown Prince taking the reins. Understanding the region’s precarious monarchies will continue to prove vital in 2018, with several possible opportunities for royal successions throughout MENA.

Asia

Asia has drawn much of the world’s attention throughout 2017, with escalating tensions in the South China Sea throwing China’s emergence as a major geopolitical player into focus. While U.S. focus on the region may appear to have waned under the Trump administration, maritime disputes in the region continue, along with cross-strait relations between Beijing and Taipei, to serve as potentially catastrophic flashpoints for 2018. For better understanding of the region, the following are well worth reading:

North Korea has offered a key test to the Trump administration, while also challenging military U.S. readiness and alliances in the region. Strategic counter-missile systems have drawn focus throughout 2017 as they have been increasingly deployed across the region. The steady progress of the Pyongyang regime’s ballistic missile development suggests that 2018 may see the first live interception, and should the North’s nuclear weapons programme show equal progress, the region may prove the most geopolitically dangerous. While North Korea is often the focus of media attention, a deeper level of understanding of the Kim regime is crucial to understanding the risks of 2018:

South East Asia has seen the emergence of Islamic State franchises through 2017, with fierce fighting in the southern Philippines, and escalated counter-terrorism threats in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The collapse of the Islamic State in the Levant will likely drive a high number of South East Asian fighters home, however the region still lacks the religious and historic significance of the Levant. Despite this, 2018 is likely to see the threat of extremism continue to grow across the region, and should be well understood by Asia analysts:

Although what was once seen as the world’s most likely nuclear flashpoint has now taken an obscure second to the North Korea situation, India and Pakistan will likely continue to see turbulence in 2018. The long fought-over Himalayan boundaries of the two states are essential understanding for South-Asia analysts. Pakistan’s increasingly cosy relationship with China through the Gwadar port project, and the potential Achilles Heel of Baluchistan is also crucial to understanding the challenges facing China’s One Belt, One Road project in 2018.

Australia will face a geopolitical crossroads in 2018, as the choice between its traditional U.S. political alliance and rising Chinese regional trade influence crystalises. While culturally, Australia is a natural U.S. ally, geographic proximity to China has made the countries heavily entwined. This complex relationship is worth understanding in order to better anticipate Australian political trajectories in 2018.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa has drawn little major geopolitical attention through 2017, overshadowed by issues elsewhere in the international media. Despite this, the continent remains central to global geopolitics, with elements shaping the wider world. This can be seen in China’s engagement in East Africa, which many would argue has prompted the development of Chinese naval force projection capabilities such as Indian Ocean facilities and a series of new aircraft carriers. The following are suggested reading on Chinese involvement in Africa:

In Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo presents a potentially major crisis for 2018, with close to five million people already displaced, and reports of mass killings on a near daily basis. The spectre of civil war looms over the nation once more, and although it will be a crisis at arms length for much of the Western world, the Congo is already the United Nation’s largest peacekeeping mission, and understanding the situation will be key to understanding one of the UN’s biggest challenges in 2018.

In Southern Africa, Zimbabwe drew the spotlight briefly in 2017 with the ouster of  longtime President Robert Mugabe. 2018 will see the new national government take the reigns over an economy in crisis and a people eager for change, and is recommended knowledge for Africa-watchers. Across the border in South Africa, the ruling African National Congress elected Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as the party’s next President by a narrow margin in late 2017. The new ANC leadership will face challenges to unite the party in 2018 if it is to deliver on promises to revive the South African economy and combat the endemic poverty and corruption facing the nation. The following are recommended reading for Southern Africa:

Food security has become an increasingly desperate backdrop to the geopolitical challenges of Eastern Africa, and in 2018 the issue is likely to intensify for Ethiopia and Somalia unless drought conditions abate and long-absent political stability is restored. The following are recommended for understanding the situation:

The Americas

As the modern centre of global geopolitcal power, the United States of America has overwhelmingly dominated geopolitical discourse in 2017 as the Presidency of Donald Trump has unfolded. Understanding Trump’s geopolitical outlook, as well as those of his influential cabinet members, will be crucial to anticipating U.S. (and therefore global) geopolitical trajectories in 2018. Additionally, internal divisions have gripped America in 2017, and will likely deepen in the coming year. While these will be largely domestic in nature, their impact will be felt around the world.

While Venezuela’s economic and political crisis has dominated regional focus throughout 2017, a solution remains elusive, drawing the issue into 2018, and causing ripples as far afield as the OPEC summit due for mid-year. Venezuela’s domestic troubles have also resurrected cross-border tensions with Colombia, as hungry Venezuelan refugees have streamed across into a nation itself only just recovering from divisive conflict. Meanwhile Latin America will begin to struggle in 2018, as a result of predatory economic behaviour from China.

Brazil faces a presidential election in 2018, while Peru faces the impeachment of a national leader. Elections and political change will be dominant features across the continent in 2018, and as an often poorly-covered topic is worth understanding for those seeking a geopolitical edge in the coming year.

As with Britain’s growing disputes with Spain over the sovereignty of Gibraltar, the nation’s withdrawal from the European Union may also present Argentina with an opportunity to renew its longstanding territorial claims over the Falklands in 2018. The EU has stated outright that it will no longer support the UK in any disputes over the territory. Although a modern attempt at invading the Islands is highly unlikely after the disasterous Argentinian defeat of the 1980s and the dramatically increased British Military presence on the Falklands today, the window of opportunity for any attempted sabre rattling will close in 2018 with the arrival of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers. As such, understanding the history of the Islands and the dispute could prove valuable for military analysts in 2018.

Conclusion

2017 has proven an exciting year for Encyclopedia Geopolitica, which celebrated its first birthday in November. We would like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks to our highly-involved readership, who have followed up each of our articles with excellent discussions on platforms such as Twitter and Reddit.

We suspect that 2018 will be an equally exciting year in the world of geopolitics, and we hope to be able to continue bringing you insightful and informative articles on those niche and under-examined geopolitical developments that we have tried to accurately capture this year.


As this list contains a total of 100 books, it may be worth considering Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited programme as a more cost-effective way to get through the reading list. Encyclopedia Geopolitica readers have access to a 30-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited, allowing them to sample over 1 million ebooks and thousands of audiobooks.


Encyclopedia Geopolitica is a collaborative effort to bring you thoughtful insights on world affairs. Our contributors include Military officers, Geopolitical Intelligence analysts, Corporate Security professionals, Government officials, Academics and Journalists from around the globe. Topics cover diplomatic and foreign affairs, military developments, international relations, terrorism, armed conflict, espionage and the broader elements of statecraft.


Picture credit: James Stephanoff (1786–1874)

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