As a fascinating 2018 comes to a conclusion, we at Encyclopedia Geopolitica anticipate that 2019 will present us with another exciting year from the geopolitical perspective. Major world events will continue to develop, lines will be redrawn across maps, and key international powers will find themselves increasingly challenged by emerging rivals and the revision of established orders. In this annual piece – which supplements our regular geopolitical book reviews – we put forward our (rather expansive at 176 books!) 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 insights from some of the world’s greatest geopolitical minds.
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As this list contains over 170 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.
While our annual reading list is divided into geographical and thematic sections (see below), the analyst team at Encyclopedia Geopolitica have also put forward a collection of their personal recommendations to start the list.
Lewis Tallon – Chief Editor and EMEA Analyst
To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk (John C. Hulsman)
This brilliant piece explores a set of “10 commandments of political risk analysis” and examines previous analytical predictions throughout history that have been staggeringly incorrect, often as the result of institutionalised thinking. Hulsman offers the reader seemingly bizarre but often entertaining examples – the British Empire, the breakup of the Beatles, Charles Manson, and the founding of the United States – to explore through the lens of political risk analysis, and the end result should sober the analytical perspective of anyone (novice or veteran) in the geopolitical industry. Our industry often falls victim to institutional thinking, and this book is a critical statement in favour of bold thought and bold analysis.
Intelligence Elsewhere: Spies and Espionage Outside the Anglosphere (Philip H. J. Davies & Kristian C. Gustafson)
Davies and Gustafson have put together an incredibly well-researched tour of those intelligence agencies that are seldom examined, particularly in the Western, Anglophile world. Much analysis is often dedicated to the exploits of the CIA, SIS and other Western intelligence agencies, but the history, culture, and psychology outside of this relatively small “club” are an enigma to most. The chapters are engaging and short enough to digest quickly, and give an eye-opening look into intelligence operations “elsewhere”. With many of the nations profiled being increasingly active in the global intelligence and special operations spheres, a good understanding of how they operate will be vital for those seeking to observe our increasingly multipolar world.
Simon Schofield – Terrorism and CBRN Analyst
For those looking to chart the landscape of terrorism in the modern age, Ali Soufan’s ‘Anatomy of Terror‘ provides a comprehensive insight, laced with his experience in counterterrorism with the FBI. His incisive analysis lays bare the psychological, ideological, historical, social, and political factors which drive this phenomenon. He uses both well-known and lesser known figures in the various jihadist movements, telling their stories and, in so doing, illustrates a lurid and complex picture of the modern day terrorist.
The Future of Terrorism: ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Alt-Right (Walter Laqueuer & Christopher Wall)
‘The Future of Terrorism‘ is an inspired piece of history, which also aims to predict the future of terrorism and political violence. The book is the product of a clearly fruitful partnership between Walter Laqueur, a renowned historian who sadly recently passed away, and Christopher Wall an expert in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. The result is a clear-eyed, dispassionate look at how and why terrorism has been a persistent phenomenon throughout history. Their answer is a grim but measured one; because terrorism works and often achieves its goals. Using this basis, the book then looks forward to the future of terrorism to attempt to peek behind the curtain to see what we can expect from the next act of history.
Charlie Song – North Korea, Espionage and Global Security Analyst
Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying (James M. Olson)
Written by a former CIA case officer and now Professor of the Practice at the Bush School of Public Policy, Fair Play is a primer for ethics in intelligence collection. Olson provides a philosophical framework on espionage in general through the lens of Aristotle, Cicero, and Machiavelli as well as realpolitik and utilitarianism. The largest section of the book is dedicated to case studies or ‘scenarios’ as Olson frames them. Olson crafted 50 scenarios based on common issues that case officers often come across in the field. While some of the scenarios seem repetitive, each scenario has a rotating panel of experts weigh in on the morality of each course of action that the U.S. should take, including religious leaders, military officers, public officials, former State Department executives, as well as current and former intelligence professionals. Olson asks the reader to make up his or her mind first before reading the responses. In his afterword, he reminds the reader that these scenarios are not academic, that they have actually occurred and need to be addressed.
Relentless Strike traces the history of the mysterious military organisation that has been at the forefront of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Naylor, a senior writer for Army Times, traces the Command’s lineage from the failed Desert One fiasco that sparked the need for better coordination between elite Special Mission Units, the friction it encountered from military bureaucracy to its initial growing pains to its current role as the centrepiece of GWOT. The value of the book lies mostly in the tracking of the evolution of the Joint Special Operations Command’s (JSOC) profile from reluctance from the service chiefs in its creation, the struggles for missions in its early history to the present where it is the go-to response for any GWOT related issue.
John Rugarber – Doctrinal theory analyst
America: the Farewell Tour (Chris Hedges)
America is a well researched book spanning the cross-sections of the nation from hate groups, the poor, the radical right and left, as well as Christian fascists. All of this is put forward in an effort to understand how the people of the U.S. really feel, why they vote the way they do, and how these feelings are all built up in a sense of betrayal and failure of the political ruling class to provide for the people. Hedges begins his autopsy of American life with the Clinton years and continues through to Trump, writing in a style befitting his vast domestic and foreign reporting career with touches of his Harvard Divinity School training. His conclusion is that Trump is not the problem, but the symptom of the failed policies of the last 30 years that have spelled the end of the American empire.
Eamon Driscoll – Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States Analyst
International Law: A Critical Introduction (Wade Mansell & Karen Openshaw)
Though the world might seem to be on the precipice of a great conflict given events of the last few years, we remain steadily in a period of prolonged peace. Mansell and Openshaw take a look at contemporary events through the lens of international law, providing insights into how the law regulates actions between countries and acts as an obstacle to conflict. When considering how conflicts and disputes arise and are resolved, it is necessary to include the effects of international law and how readily a nation is willing to adhere to, cast aside, or even take advantage of the stability offered by a world in which interactions between states are governed by laws. With the stable orders of recent centuries seeming to rest on a precipice this year, I recommend this book as a reminder of how crucial international law is to geopolitical stability.
John Scott – Crime and Insurgency Analyst
Shooting Up: A History of Drugs in Warfare (Lukasz Kamienski)
This is one of the most original and engaging historical analyses of conflict of recent years, and while the translation from the author’s original Polish is occasionally clumsy, anglophone analysts’ knowledge will be hugely enhanced by its conversion. It is an ambitious, even exciting, concoction of pharmacology, military doctrine, history and sociology, and its revisionist energy should completely rejuvenate the reader’s interests in the wars of the past. It ploughs effortlessly from Inca militias, to the Zulus, to Messerschmidt pilots and Finnish snipers, all the way to the American troops in today’s Afghanistan, detailing how their exploits have been advanced or even ruined by getting high. It is the beginners textbook of psycho-insurgency.
Mafia Life: Love, Death and Money at the Heart of Organised Crime (Federico Varese)
Much like the equally excellent Narconomics by Tom Wainwright, Federico Varese’s Mafia Life is an investigation that reveals the deep complexity within criminal networks beyond typical assumptions, gory headlines and Netflix tropes. The book is a fascinating account of the customs that underpin the most prolific illegal families on Earth. Trust, above all, is king among the virtues of the Yakuza, the Sicilian Mafia, and the Triads. Varese elucidates how it saturates everything, and when he describes the consequences of its decay, he gleefully leaves very little to the imagination.
Drone Theory (Gregoire Chamayou)
This award-winning philosophical analysis of drone warfare may be small in stature, but it packs a punch. The paperback edition is physically small enough to fit into a jacket pocket, and yet its contents feel rich and comprehensive. Somewhat refreshingly, it removes, almost with disdain, the membrane of military jargon and political spin that covers the public’s understanding of the drone strike, and it applies a challenging new ethical perspective to the phenomenon. Read something else if you want to know the science or the strategy or the reasoning behind a Hellfire missile. But if you want to ask what that remote annihilation means for us as Westerners, for the drone’s distant operators, and certainly for the people whose lives it ends, Drone Theory is the book to consult.
Archie Hicox – Levant Conflict Analyst
Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls (Tim Marshall)
In his latest book Tim Marshall approaches geopolitics with his characteristic engaging style; through the prism of division. What could be a thoroughly disheartening topic is actually interesting, unbiased, and thoughtful. As with many of his texts, this is a detailed primer of several facets of division rather than an in-depth thesis of, for example, Israeli-Arab relations. This book is a quick read that divides the themes into easily digestible sections.
The Marsh Arabs (Wilfred Thesiger)
Whilst not exactly a current geopolitical piece (it was published in 1964), it is a timeless classic from an explorer of a bygone age. Thesiger highlighted the plight of the Southern Iraqi Marsh Arabs in a changing world. It is fascinating to see this historical snapshot both in the context of the era and in the modern context, where we once again see Iraq divided and its peoples fractured. The Marsh Arabs wetland context is all but gone now thanks to the Saddam Baathist era, but it serves as a warning from history of the fragility of a people who had existed untroubled for 5000 years and who were suddenly swept away by “progress”. Recent Iraqi history pales in significance to the proud, noble lineage of Mesopotamia. Thesiger does them a service with his observations.
Manish Gohil – South Asia Analyst
The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics (Andrew Small)
The China-Pakistan Axis is a well crafted account on an often under-explored, but highly important friendship between China and Pakistan. Today, China’s relationship with Pakistan is seen as a crucial artery in President Xi’s “One Belt One Road” initiative. While Small’s book pays critical attention to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, he provides a gripping narrative of how these two nations have cooperated with one another throughout history, and its implications for both the U.S. and India.
Narratives of Political Violence: Life Stories of Former Militants (Raquel da Silva)
The people of Portugal witnessed one the country’s biggest political transformations in the April Revolution of 1974. Both left-wing and right-wing ‘militants’ fought for influence in the country following years of authoritarian rule. Through compelling interviews with former militants, Raquel da Silva presents an analytical insight into how individuals in Portugal engaged and subsequently disengaged with politically violent organisations. Beyond violent Portuguese militants, the book serves as an effective handbook for understanding how narratives of violence can inspire militancy in various regions of the world.
Anthony Clay – U.S. Government and Military Affairs Analyst
Both of these pieces separately tackled the issue of the ties between the Trump organization and Russia, with a focus on organised crime in particular. While both books are now several months old, not much of President Trump’s past has been revealed through other more official channels, keeping these books relevant and fascinating. With promises of a post-election drop of news from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, these books should provide a good backdrop from which to view any pending legal issues.
Fear: Trump in the White House (Bob Woodward)
Likely the most accurate depiction of life inside Trump’s White House. Woodward, who was part of the duo who broke Watergate, is known for having extremely deep access, and being thorough with his substantiation. While it lacks the bluster of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, it still carries many revelations of an Executive Branch struggling to find its way.
Ananay Agarwal – South Asia Analyst
Choices, Inside the Making of India’s foreign Policy (Shivshankar Menon)
This book, by former Foreign Secretary of India Shivshankar Menon, describes the crucial choices India has made in recent history with respect to its foreign policy goals. Menon started his career in the Indian diplomatic services in 1972 and relinquished office in 2014. During his tenure as foreign secretary and National Security Advisor, the author was party to various events such as the Mumbai terror attacks – which strained ties between India and Pakistan – and the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal among others. He also examines the Sri Lankan Civil War and India’s relationship with China. This book gives an insider’s point of view to how one of the 21st Century’s rising powers made key decisions that will have long-term effects for India, and perhaps the world.
How India sees the World: Kautilya to the 21st Century (Shyam Saran)
A recommended book for anyone to read who wants to understand how New Delhi views its immediate neighbours and its long-term strategies, the author, Shyam Saran, is another former Foreign Secretary of India who sees the Indian subcontinent as a single geo-political entity, with a common history and economic interdependence. The author espouses the view that its integration, transcending previous cultural boundaries, is and should be the ultimate goal of New Delhi’s foreign policy. He argues this is the reason why India has been continuously pushing for a South Asian Customs Union, Common Currency and maybe even a South Asian Parliament. The author continuously references the seminal treatise Kautilya’s Arthashastra; an ancient Indian manuscript on economic and political statecraft. The book has been written in a narrative style, with many interesting reminiscences. The author particularly focuses on India’s frosty relationship with Pakistan, its competition with respect to China, and the budding ties with the U.S. following the end of the Cold War.
Edwin Tran – Levant Socio-Economics Analyst
On Saudi Arabia (Karen House)
From praises of progress, to caustic criticisms over the extra-judicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia has found itself in the spotlight for much of 2018, and little suggests that this trajectory will change in 2019. Karen House’s work draws upon her years of regional expertise and direct experiences living in Saudi Arabia. Although written before the rise of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, House’s work illustrates a holistic, but nuanced picture of the evolutionary forces changing Saudi Arabia to this day.
Alexander Stafford – Chinese Affairs and Defence Analyst
Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia (Michael Vatikiotis)
Drawing on his decades of experience as both a journalist and a conflict negotiator in the region, Blood and Silk paints a vivid picture of modern Southeast Asia in all its myriad complexities. Taking a thematic approach which incorporates ethnic conflicts, religious extremism and ancient aristocracies getting fat off of bewildering levels of corruption, Vatikiotis shows how the social and political problems of Southeast Asia are deeply rooted in the region’s history. More worryingly however, he shows how mercurial leaders across the political spectrum are more concerned with serving their own ends than in addressing these problems. Blood and Silk is a fascinating and accessible read that helps us understand why Southeast Asia is the way it is today, why so much of the region fails to fulfil its potential, and how that potential is further threatened by the repeated failures and selfishness of its leaders.
On China (Henry Kissinger)
In his treatise On China, Henry Kissinger brings his great experience and deep knowledge of history together to show how China has always taken its own path in international affairs. Kissinger describes the U.S.-China rapprochement that he was so instrumental in bringing about, detailing the tremendous subtlety with which talks took place with some of the giants of twentieth century Chinese history. On China is vital reading for those wishing to understand China not just in the context of the previous 70 years of communist rule, but as the unique and often enigmatic civilisation that it has always been and continues to be.
Dr James Rogers – Drones & Military Technology Analyst
Drones and Terrorism: Asymmetrical Warfare and the Threat to Global Security (Nicholas Grossman)
Grossman’s book provides a sweeping history of drone warfare (largely within the American context), and explores the myriad of strategic motivations and political controversies that have underpinned two decades of U.S.-centric warfare. Of course, this information is nothing new, but Grossman has a knack for explaining complex detail in an accessible and interesting manner. As a result, this book is an ideal introduction for students of all levels and an interested public. As a fellow drone researcher, however, it was the final sections of the book which drew my interest the most. Here Grossman is able to finally build upon the initial history and fully explore his true passion – the emerging terrorist use of drones. Grossman’s conclusions on this important trend are pertinent, well-judged, and, to put it simply, pave the way for an emerging field of scholarship on non-state drone use. I very much look forward to reading more of Grossman’s work on ‘the age of the drone terrorist’ in the years to come.
Special mention: Drone warfare: Concepts and controversies (Dr James Rogers and Professor Caroline Kennedy-Pipe)
Editor’s note: 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 2019. Given Dr Rogers’ formidable grasp on the topic, “Drone Warfare” is sure to be a deeply enlightening and informative read.
The following are the team’s recommendations of regionally-focused books worth reading to get ahead of the major events and geopolitical movements that we anticipate will shape 2019:
Europe & Russia
Europe in 2018 has continued to experience the increasing stresses of demographic changes and immigration; an issue that has been leveraged heavily by the continent’s political right and continues to influence elections and referendums. Despite the abrupt drop in terrorism-related deaths in Europe in 2018, Islam and migration-related issues continue to be heavily scrutinised from a security and political perspective. The following books are highly recommended for deepening your understanding of Islam and its interaction with the geopolitics of the West:
- The House of Islam: A Global History (Ed Husain)
- Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (Christopher Caldwell)
- The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (Douglas Murray)
- Far-Right Politics in Europe (
- Radical Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe: Into the Mainstream? (
In many ways connected to the issue of immigration and globalisation, the region has continued to experience significant challenges surrounding the United Kingdom’s decision to depart from the European Union over the past year. With shockingly little progress made compared to our predictions in last year’s reading list, not much has changed in our list for Brexit-related geopolitics since 2018. 2019 will see the transition period of the UK’s departure begin, and will almost certainly be a determining watershed for the following decades of British domestic and international geopolitics, and as such the following books are worthwhile reads for understanding the factors that have driven this situation:
- Europe’s Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union (Guy Verhofstadt)
- Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union (Harold D. Clarke)
- Rediscovering the Path to Europe (
- The European Union: Politics and Policies (
One of the most interesting developments of 2018 has been the growing EU-US geopolitical rift, driven by myriad factors but most notably by strains placed upon the traditional closeness by a volatile US administration, scrutiny of the NATO alliance, and by divergent views on the Iran JCPOA deal. An understanding of the foundations of this relationship is essential for those wishing to navigate the continuing impact of the rift in 2019. The post-Brexit foreign policy course is also worth closely monitoring within this context, and the following are worth reading:
- The US-EU Security Relationship (Wyn Rees)
- Managing EU-US relations (Rebecca Steffenson)
- Flashpoints: the emerging crisis in Europe (George Friedman)
- German-American Relations in the 21st Century: A Fragile Friendship (Klaus Larres & Ruth Wittlinger)
- Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces, and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy (Rory Cormac)
Disintegrative tendencies have been a common theme across Europe in recent years, from the Catalonian independence movement in Spain, and increased calls for a second independence referendum in Scotland. Brexit has also raised questions over Northern Ireland’s commitment to the United Kingdom, and as such the following are recommended reading to better understand secessionist risks across the continent:
- Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace (Feargal Cochrane)
- The Struggle for Catalonia: Rebel Politics in Spain (Raphael Minder)
- Independence or Union: Scotland’s Past and Scotland’s Present (T M Devine)
- Disintegrative Tendencies in Global Political Economy: Exits and Conflicts (Heikki Patomaki)
Neither truly European nor truly Asian, neither Western nor Eastern, Russia has continued to be its own beast in 2018. Though the modern cities of Moscow and St Petersburg are seen as Russia’s pride and glory, the continued success of Putin’s political regime depends on all districts and how the people in them – no matter how distant they may be from the central authorities – continue to have pride in what Russia was, is, and could be. In recent years Putin has cemented his support among ordinary Russians, but hidden in this triumph is the need for further triumphs to help the people see their country as a strong and proud nation in the world. 2018 has seen cracks slowly emerge in Putin’s populist image, and 2019 will likely see this trend continue. Geopolitical analysts are encouraged to read the following in order to explore what makes Russia tick, and the issues facing it in the next year:
- In Putin’s Footsteps: Searching for the Soul of an Empire Across Russia’s Eleven Time Zones (Nina Khrushcheva & Jeffrey Tayler)
- The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past (Shaun Walker)
- Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must be Stopped (Garry Kasparov)
- All the Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (Mikhail Zygar)
- The New Cold War: Putin’s Threat to Russia and the West (Edward Lucas)
Throughout 2018, Russia has also been placed under significant scrutiny for a series of espionage incidents across Europe, including an assassination attempt in the UK that resulted in the death of a British citizen due to exposure to a Novichok nerve agent. In addition to this, Russia’s pioneering use of social media and “fake news” to sow division and discontent across the Western world has also generated significant geopolitical impacts throughout the year, and is unlikely to abate in 2019. The following are worth reading for a better understanding of this situation:
- The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy (Mark Urban)
- A Very Expensive Poison (Luke Harding)
- LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media (P. W. Singer)
- War in 140 Characters (David Patrikarakos)
- American Pravda: My Fight for Truth in the Era of Fake News (James O’Keefe)
In the south, Russia’s war in Ukraine continues. The schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and the newly-founded Ukrainian Orthodox Church is entirely the result of political strife and conflict between the two countries, and could carry profound geopolitical impacts into 2019. Ukrainian churches and the clergy were not idle bystanders to the Euromaidan Revolution, but active participants in it as they sought a new path for Ukraine as a European nation. Understanding this schism, along with the wider Ukraine-Russia conflict is strongly advised for geopolitical observers in 2019:
- Churches in the Ukrainian Crisis (Andrii Krawchuk & Thomas Bremer)
- Russia & the West After the Ukrainian Crisis (F. Stephen Larrabee et al)
- Aftermath of the Ukrainian Crisis (Panagiota Manoli)
To Russia’s West in the Baltics, the buildup of NATO forces is ongoing, while the Kremlin has responded in kind inside the Kaliningrad oblast and Russia itself. The European Union is also continuing to push legislation on military cooperation forward in response to the combined threat of a resurgent Russia and an inwardly-focused and more volatile US administration. With the departure of the ever-resistant UK, Brussels is likely to continue towards building a more integrated European Army in 2019. The following are worth reading for an understanding of a potentially significant flashpoint for the coming year:
- War with Russia: An Urgent Warning from Senior Military Command (General Sir Richard Shirreff)
- Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence (Douglas E. Schoen)
- Defending Europe: The EU, NATO, and the Quest for European Autonomy (Jolyon Howorth & John T.S. Keeler)
- Security Integration in Europe (Mai’a Cross)
Often overlooked due to its geographic isolation and political existence under the Russian shadow, little is known about Central Asia by most Westerners. Central Asia flies well beneath the global radar screen, with Afghanistan being the exception that proves the rule. Caught between empires since time immemorial, Central Asia today is a critical linchpin of the geopolitical ambitions of neighbouring powers Russia and China, and the American effort to stamp out terrorism. The growing threat of water conflict is also likely to bring the region to global attention in the coming years. From technocratic Kazakhstan to isolationist Turkmenistan, observers are encouraged to understand this forgotten region in order to better examine the far flung effects of the region’s financial, narcotic and terrorism influences:
- Dictators Without Borders: Power and Money in Central Asia (Alexander A. Cooley Ph.D. & John Heathershaw)
- The Fight for Influence: Russia in Central Asia (Alexey Malashenko)
- Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia (Alexander A. Cooley Ph.D.)
- Security and Human Right to Water in Central Asia (Miguel Ángel Pérez Martín)
Middle East & North Africa
The Middle East and North Africa region has continued to be one of the most turbulent and geopolitically charged theatres dominating geopolitical attention in 2018, and this is unlikely to change in the coming year. From the new “Great Game” being played out across the region between Saudi Arabia and Iran, to the internal shifts unfolding in the great houses of regional royalty and politics, 2019 is likely to be another year of critical importance for the Middle East and North Africa. In particular, understanding the extent of Iranian influence will be key in the coming year, given the collapse of the JCPOA nuclear deal and the continued assertiveness of Iranian regional foreign policy:
- The Pasdaran: Inside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Emanuele Ottolenghi)
- Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Afshon Ostovar)
- Iran’s Influence: A Religious-Political State and Society in its Region (Elaheh Rostami-Povey)
- Syria and Iran: Diplomatic Alliance and Power Politics in the Middle East (Jubin M. Goodarzi)
- Iranian Foreign Policy Since 2001: Alone in the World (Thomas Juneau & Sam Razavi)
- Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence (Alex Vatanka)
Across the Arabian/Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and their predominantly Sunni allies seek to counter Iran’s growing influence across the region. From the stalled and bloody war in Yemen to counter Iran-backed Houthi rebels, to their efforts to expand a presence across the Horn of Africa while building up their own military capabilities, the wealthy Gulf States appear to be scrambling to cement their own power in their near abroad. An understanding of the inner workings of the Gulf States, as well as their own foreign policy dynamics will be extremely useful in 2019:
- Saudi Arabia & Iran: Power and Rivalry in the Middle East (Simon Mabon)
- The House of Saud ( David Holden & Richard Johns)
- The United Arab Emirates: Power, Politics and Policy-Making (Kristian Coates Ulrichsen)
- The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf (Kristian Coates Ulrichsen)
Most interesting of 2018’s regional developments has been the slow but steady sense of rapprochement between Israel and several of the Gulf states. While the UAE has long been exploring Israeli arms purchases, and the two states have cautiously seen each other as potential partners against a resurgent Iran since at least 2009, the last year has seen increasing levels of diplomatic opening between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. The ascension of Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia has also opened Riyadh to the possibility of renewed ties with Israel as a counterbalance to Iran. Understanding Israel’s place in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East will likely be highly important in 2019 as these developments continue, and the following are recommended reads:
- Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations (Ronen Bergman)
- Israel’s Fateful Hour (Yehoshafat Harkabi)
- The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Avi Shlaim Ph.D.)
- The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (Yaakov Katz & Amir Bohbot)
- My Promised Land: the triumph and tragedy of Israel (Ari Shavit)
- Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Michael B. Oren)
The schism in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), caused by the divergent foreign policy goals of Qatar and the other member states, has continued to impact the Arabian Peninsula this year. The subsequent embargo of Qatar remains ongoing, and the tiny-but-wealthy nation continues to leverage its vast financial reserves to wrestle with the Saudi-led opposition bloc in the soft power realm through its Al Jazeera media outlet, while simultaneously building relations with Turkey and Iran in order to shore up its own strategic position. Understanding the factors – both internal and external – impacting Qatar will be critical for those seeking to understand developments in the GCC in 2019:
- Qatar: Small State, Big Politics (Mehran Kamrava)
- Constructivist Niche Diplomacy: Qatar’s Middle East Diplomacy as an Illustration of Small State Norm Crafting (Nicolas Fromm)
- Turkey and Qatar in the Tangled Geopolitics of the Middle East (Birol Başkan)
- Qatar: Governance, Security and U.S. Policy (Kenneth Katzman)
- Desert Kingdoms to Global Powers: The Rise of the Arab Gulf (Rory Miller)
Moving north to the Levant region, the Assad regime has continued to cling to power as the Syrian Civil War drags on, and looks close to achieving a semblance of victory across much of the nation thanks in no small part to Russian and Iranian assistance. The reshaping of postwar Syria will be a central theme in 2019’s major geopolitical landscape, along with the now-receding ambition of an independent Kurdish nation as a result of the conflict. Despite the reduced optimism for a geographical rationalisation of the region as a result of the conflict, understanding the significant impact of the often arbitrary borders throughout the region will be key to understanding the problems persisting in 2019. The following books are suggested on this topic:
- Turkey – Kurdish Regional Government Relations After the U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq: Putting the Kurds on the Map? (U.S. Department of Defence)
- Assad, Or We Burn the Country (Sam Dagher)
- Rojava: An Alternative to Imperialism, Nationalism, and Islamism in the Middle East (Oso Sabio)
- The Man Who Created the Middle East: A Story of Empire, Conflict and the Sykes-Picot Agreement (Christopher Simon Sykes)
The region has now seen a thorough retreat of the Islamic State extremist movement, to the point of near-total territorial collapse of the would-be Caliphate in 2017-2018. Despite this, next year will almost certainly see the group continuing to pose risks globally. The following reads are suggested in order to better understand the conditions that gave birth to the movement, the likely course of Islamic Extremism in 2019, and the strategies that will be employed to counter them:
- The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State (Lawrence Wright)
- Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS (Joby Warrick)
- The Age of Jihad: Islamic State and the Great War for the Middle East (Patrick Cockburn)
- The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State (Graeme Wood)
- The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency (Charles R. Lister)
- The Counter-Terrorism Handbook: Tactics, Procedures and Techniques (Frank Jr. Bolz, Kenneth J. Dudonis & David P. Schulz)
- Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters (Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel M Katz)
Libya remains tattered and in a state of turmoil, with rival governments competing for legitimacy while international powers remain divided over which factions to support. Neighbouring Mali and the wider Sahel have become of increasing importance to French and U.S. counterterrorism missions as a result of the extremism and exploitation that has taken root in the region’s sovereignty vacuum. The Sahel will likely continue to pose problems for both the U.S. and European powers in 2019 as the region remains a gateway to the EU for both migrants and terrorist groups. The following are suggested for an understanding of the region’s geopolitical situation:
- Terror and Insurgency in the Sahara-Sahel Region (Stephen A. Harmon)
- Sowing Chaos: Libya in the Wake of Humanitarian Intervention (Paolo Sensini)
- Security Cooperation in West Africa and the Sahel (Anouar Boukhars Et Al)
- From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel (Gregory Mann)
- Unfinished Revolutions: Yemen, Libya, and Tunisia after the Arab Spring (Ibrahim Fraihat)
- Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya (Horace Campbell)
- The Politics of Islam in the Sahel: Between Persuasion and Violence (Rahmane Idrissa)
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 a rarely seen figure, 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 led to the ambitious Crown Prince bin Salman taking the reins. Understanding the region’s precarious and often ageing monarchies will continue to prove vital in 2019, with several possible opportunities for royal successions throughout MENA. Autocratic actions and political machinations also continue to be seen across the region, but beyond the palace walls other forces are beginning to take root across the region. While many regimes may continue to target seemingly bigger issues throughout 2019, this may leave them under prepared for the driving undercurrents of the Middle Eastern street, and the following is recommended for deeper insight into the nuanced perspectives one should have about the coming changes:
- The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know (James Gelvin)
- People Like Us: Misrepresenting the Middle East (Joris Luyendijk)
- Saudi Arabia in Transition: Insights on Social, Political, Economic and Religious Change (Bernard Haykel, Thomas Hegghammer & Stéphane Lacroix)
- Oman: Politics and Society in the Qaboos State (Marc Valeri)
- Algeria Modern: From Opacity to Complexity (Luis Martinez & Rasmus Alenius Boserup)
- Politics and Power in the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco from Independence to the Arab Spring (Michael Willis)
Asia has continued to draw focus in 2018 as tensions between the United States and China have simmered on and President Trump’s unpredictable foreign policy course has placed economic relations in the region on a knife edge. The territorial claims pushed in the South China Sea by Beijing have continued to agitate regional and international naval operations, and much of the past year has been dedicated to discussing a possible conflict in the theatre. For better understanding of the issue, the following are well worth reading:
- Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap? (Graham Allison)
- Easternisation: War and Peace in the Asian Century (Gideon Rachman)
- Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific (Robert D. Kaplan)
- Great Powers, Grand Strategies: The New Game in the South China Sea (Anders Corr)
China’s economic and real-power expansion has also continued to draw focus in Asian affairs, leading many to examine the internal workings of the all-powerful Chinese Communist Party. Once untouchable, Xi Jinping’s cult of personality-like popularity has also taken several small blows in 2018 leading many to question the extent of his acceptance across China. Understanding the party and those who lead it will be crucial for those wishing to understand China in 2019:
- Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power (Howard W. French)
- The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State (Elizabeth C. Economy)
- End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining Its Rise (Carl Minzner)
- CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping (Kerry Brown)
China-Taiwan relations remain tense, and many have questioned whether U.S. President Trump may seek to use the “Taiwan issue” as a dangerous button in his competition with China. The precarious balance between the two Chinas remains in place, but between China-U.S. economic adversity and disputes over the South China Sea, the issue carries a strong possibility of being dragged into the limelight at great risk in 2019. Concurrently, Beijing continues to slowly outmanoeuvre Taipei on the international relations stage, chipping away at the island nation’s foreign support. Understanding the history and situation of Taipei and Beijing’s relationship will be critical in the coming year:
- Taiwan and China: Fitful Embrace (Lowell Dittmer)
- China and Taiwan in Central America: Engaging Foreign Publics in Diplomacy (C. Alexander)
- Taiwan’s China Dilemma: Contested Identities and Multiple Interests in Taiwan’s Cross-Strait Economic Policy (Syaru Shirley Lin)
- Strait Rituals: China, Taiwan, and the United States in the Taiwan Strait Crises (Yang Huei Pang)
China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) plan to revive the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road for the modern world continue to press on despite economic uncertainty and debt-trap concerns amongst Beijing’s “partner” nations. Across Central & South Asia and Africa, Chinese infrastructure projects continue to develop while little by little, small contingents of Chinese security forces are deployed in force-protection roles, garnering much suspicion along the way. Understanding the ambitious OBOR project and its impact on the countries along its route will be key in 2019:
- China’s New Economic Silk Road (Chris Devonshire-Ellis)
- China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building along the New Silk Road (Tom Miller)
- Silk Road 2.0: US Strategy toward China’s Belt and Road Initiative (Gal Luft)
- China’s Second Continent (Howard W. French)
Further East, the Korean Peninsula has remained cautiously observed in 2018. The two Koreas have embarked on a new round of rapprochement, however given the failures of previous attempts at peace-building between the two, this has been viewed with suspicion and restraint around the world. Despite this, stories of the horrors of daily life inside the “Hermit Kingdom” continue to emerge. Understanding the difficulties in rekindling relations between Seoul and Pyongyang will be important in 2019, as despite the optimistic chatter from both nations, rapprochement remains a challenge. The following are recommended reading:
- The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History (Don Oberdorfer & Robert Carlin)
- The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future (Victor Cha)
- North Korea: The Definitive Guide to Understanding the Hermit Kingdom (Ryan Burke)
- Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Bruce Cumings Ph.D.)
In Southeast Asia, the collapse of the Levantine Islamic State will likely carry locally-felt ramifications. Highly conservative forms of Islam are widespread across the region, and local-issue insurgencies often intertwine themselves with the ideology of jihad. Whilst the region lacks the cultural-historical significance of the Levant for the Islamic State movement, the establishment of regional wilayats will likely continue to place strain on local counter-extremism efforts. Understanding the extent and influence of Islamism across the region will be important for understanding the geopolitics of Southeast Asia in 2019:
- Jihad in Paradise: Islam and Politics in Southeast Asia (Mike Millard)
- Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of Terror (Zachary Abuza)
- The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (David Kilcullen)
- Islam in Southeast Asia: Political, Social and Strategic Challenges for the 21st Century (K. S. Nathan & Mohammad Hashim Kamali)
In South Asia, 2019 is expected to be a significant year in terms of state politics. India, the most populous nation in South Asia and the world’s largest democracy, will go to the polls in April/May for its general elections. With the hindu-nationalist BJP seeking re-election, the rhetoric from Indian politics is expected to be quite polarising in the run-up to the vote. The following are worth reading for insight into Indian politics and the local context of regional geopolitics:
- India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy (Ramachandra Guha)
- The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (Yasmin Khan)
- The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age (James Crabtree)
- Marching with a Billion: Analysing Narendra Modi’s Govenment at Midtem (Uday Mahurkar)
- The Roots of Rhetoric: Politics of Nuclear Weapons in India and Pakistan (Haider Nizamani)
- Sikkim: Dawn of Democracy (GBS Sidhu)
Across the border, Pakistan’s Prime Minister – Imran Khan – will also finish his first year in office in 2019. It will be interesting to see which direction he takes the country in, and whether he will resist the influence of the country’s powerful military or become more submissive in ceding greater powers to the Generals. Bangladesh will also have general elections in the last few weeks of 2018, while Sri Lanka might also experience snap elections due to an unfolding constitutional crisis. All in all, it will be quite an eventful year for the region, and the following are worth reading for greater insight:
- The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan (Aqil Shah)
- Military, Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy (Ayesha Siddiqa)
- Pakistan: A Personal History (Imran Khan)
- Paradoxes of the Popular: Crowd Politics in Bangladesh (Nusrat Sabina Chowdhury)
- Sri Lanka: The Struggle for Peace in the Aftermath of War (Amarnath Amarasingam & Daniel Bass)
- The Most Dangerous Place: A History of the United States in South Asia (Srinath Raghavan)
Africa has continued to draw little geopolitical attention this year, overshadowed by issues elsewhere in the world. Despite this, the continent remains central to global geopolitics, and has proven largely stable in a way that makes it attractive to international investment in a turbulent world. In East Africa, rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia has opened the region up to the possibility of becoming a new shipping hub, while the Arabian Gulf’s “Great Game” has arrived on African shores through the establishment of regional military bases. In addition, China continues its soft power offensive on the continent and will be sure to project power ever further into 2019. The following are suggested for understanding the emerging East African geopolitical landscape:
- Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea (Robert D. Kaplan)
- Sharing the Nile: Egypt, Ethiopia and the Geo-Politics of Water (Seifulaziz Milas)
- The Changing Security Dynamics of the Persian Gulf (Kristian Coates Ulrichsen)
- Brothers at War: Making Sense of the Eritrean-Ethiopian War (Tekaste Negash & Kjetil Tronvoll)
- China’s Second Continent (Howard W. French)
In central Africa, the Congo conflict – known by many as “Africa’s World War” – simmers on. Little understood, the conflict has wide-reaching influence over much of the continent, and remains one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises. Understanding this multi-polar conflict will be important for those seeking to understand African geopolitics in 2019:
- Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (Jason Stearns)
- The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair (Michael Deibert)
- Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World’s Deadliest Place (Peter Eichstaedt)
- Democratic Republic of Congo: Mediating Ethnonationalist and Political Conflict in a Multiethnic Society (Fidele Lumeya)
In West Africa, Nigeria’s election is due in 2019. The once hopeful presidency of Muhammadu Buhari now appears to be gripped by ineffectiveness, while the security situation across the country remains in flux. Although the previously-looming threat posed by Boko Haram has now been restricted to the country’s far north, inter-ethnic clashes – driven in part by the climate-change driven migrations of the Fulani herdsmen of President Buhari’s ethnic group – pose significant problems across the nation. Understanding the complex mesh of economics, the military, corruption, religion and ethnicity that comprises Nigerian politics will be critical in 2019. The following are advised reading ahead of the election:
- Contemporary Nigerian Politics: Competition in a Time of Transition and Terror (A. Carl LeVan)
- Nigerian Politics and Corruption (Kyrian Chukwuemeka Echekwu)
- What Everyone Should Know About Nigerian History, Politics & Government (Victor Anazonwu)
- Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (Max Siollun)
In South Africa, drought, economics and land politics have grabbed headlines in 2018, and are likely to prove increasingly more problematic in the coming year. Despite dramatic claims that the nation is on track to become the next Zimbabwe, the land dispute situation facing the country is a nuanced, complex issue. Understanding South African domestic politics will be important for those seeking to understand the powerhouse of the southern African region in 2019:
- Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century (Ben Cousins & Cherryl Walker)
- Cycles of Drought and Good Seasons in South Africa (David Ernest Hutchins)
- Contradictions of Democracy: Vigilantism and Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa (Nicholas Rush Smith)
- In the Shadow of Policy: Everyday Practices In South African Land And Agrarian Reform (Paul Hebinck)
As the modern centre of global geopolitcal power, the United States of America has continued unsurprisingly to overwhelm geopolitical discourse in 2018. Understanding the mercurial administration of President Trump in terms of both the White House’s geopolitical outlook, and those of individual cabinet members, will be crucial to anticipating U.S. (and therefore global) geopolitical trajectories in 2019. The following are recommended for understanding the key players in the White House:
- American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump (Hal Brands)
- Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (Joshua Green)
- Donald Trump: The Making of a World View (Brendan Simms & Charlie Laderman)
- The Mattis Way of War: An Examination of Operational Art in Task Force 58 and 1st Marine Division (United States Army Command and General Staff College)
- Surrender is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations (John Bolton)
- The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy (Stephen M. Walt)
In addition to the turbulent administration, increasingly stressed internal divisions have gripped America in 2018, and will almost certainly continue to deepen in the coming year. While these divides will be largely domestic in nature, their impact will be felt around the world. An understanding of both sides of the U.S. political divide is key, and the following are recommended:
- Divided America: The Fracturing of a Nation (The Associated Press)
- Age of Anger: A History of the Present (Pankaj Mishra)
- Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation (John Freeman)
- Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America (James E. Campbell)
South of the U.S., nearly three quarters of a billion people live in the twenty countries of Latin America. As a result, its geopolitical shifts in the year to come will not go unnoticed. At first glance, the recent elections of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico will have the greatest impact; between them, they will be governing almost half of the population of the entire bloc. Physical security and youth employment will be fundamental drivers of their administrations, and the world will watch as Mexico City and Brasília attempt radically different strategies to reclaim their monopolies on violence.
- Brazil: The Troubled Rise of a Global Power (Michael Reid)
- Jair Bolsonaro and the chaos of the Brazilian presidential election 2018 (Anna Maria)
- A New Hope for Mexico: Saying No to Corruption, Violence, and Trump’s Wall (Andrés Manuel López Obrador)
- Democratic Brazil Divided (Peter Kingstone & Timothy J. Power)
- Politics in Uniform: Military Officers and Dictatorship in Brazil (Maud Chirio)
In neighbouring nations throughout the hemisphere, governments and their armed resistors alike will be forced to deal with the complex realities of globalisation. As is the case globally, this will involve squaring the circle of a dynamic and frustrated polity versus an environment under unprecedented strain. (Indeed, Brazilians may be justifiably alarmed by the sudden appearance of an environmentally dismissive executive, even as Rio de Janeiro ranks among one of the world’s most vulnerable cities to flooding). In Latin America specifically, this tension manifests itself most glaringly with the migrant crisis of an imploding Venezuela. Some of Latin America’s smallest nations are bearing the brunt of the greatest migrant flows, and this is likely to be a phenomenon that spans the entirety of 2019 and beyond. Whether voters seek to embrace and exploit these demographic changes or reject them entirely will be seen in the coming elections in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Panama.
- Crude Nation: How Oil Riches Ruined Venezuela (Raúl Gallegos)
- Migrants and Political Change in Latin America (Luis F. Jimenez)
- Forgotten Continent: A History of the New Latin America (Michael Reid)
- The Migrant Passage: Clandestine Journeys from Central America (Noelle Kateri Brigden)
2018 has proven to be another exciting year for Encyclopedia Geopolitica, which celebrates its second birthday in the coming weeks. 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 Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. As the site’s Editor, I would also like to extend a special thanks to our hardworking volunteer analysis and writing team; without whom this would not be possible.
We suspect that 2019 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.
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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.