Download PDF Strategic Survey 2016 Press Release

LONDON, 27 September 2016 – The institutions and norms that dampen the risk of conflict in the international system are under assault from populism in developed states and the assertive behaviour of rising and reviving powers, according to a new assessment of the key drivers of strategic change by The International Institute for Strategic Studies.

In its Strategic Survey 2016: The Annual Review of World Affairs, the IISS identifies a series of geopolitical and geo‐economic trends that increase the risk of conflict by weakening the intergovernmental institutions and structures that until now have been accepted arbiters and rule‐makers on the world stage.

‘The underpinnings of geopolitics have splintered so much in the past year that the foundations of global order appear alarmingly weak,’ IISS Director‐General and Chief Executive Dr John Chipman states in the new edition. ‘The politics of parochialism now mix with the instincts of nationalism, and both clash with the cosmopolitan world order so carefully constructed by the technocrats of the late twentieth century,’ Dr Chipman says.

Strategic Survey argues that the renationalisation of conflict management firmly established itself as a key geopolitical trend in the year to mid‐2016. Russia’s engagement in Syria, China’s activities in the South China Sea, the intervention of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen all reflected a ‘go it alone’ approach to conflict resolution or management.

The increasing assertiveness and military capabilities of China and Russia also amplified competition, and the attendant risk of conflict, between major powers. China insisted that territorial disputes should be solved bilaterally and not institutionally via the ASEAN pact. Equally, Russia re‐asserted itself along its border with NATO states and a new Cold War‐like period of tension gained momentum in Europe with a number of close‐call incidents, particularly in the Baltic Sea region. While NATO responded by reinforcing its military presence, regional institutions such as the European Union, ASEAN and the Gulf Co‐operation Council appeared to fracture, Strategic Survey asserts.

‘Multiple strategic earthquakes have created a situation in which world leaders are in a constant state of crisis control. The institutions that have been created to contain crises are being bypassed or have shown themselves incapable, with the result that conflict management has been renationalised,’ Dr Chipman

Significant geo‐economic events are also setting the stage for the coming year. The UK’s vote to leave the EU, dubbed ‘Brexit’, promises to change the EU as much as it will change the UK’s relationship with the Union. Strategic Survey assesses Brexit and other significant geo‐economic events, such as the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the signing of the Trans‐Pacific Partnership and negotiations for other regional trade agreements, pointing to the potential challenge to the Bretton Woods system for the first time in its history.

The coming year will likely see a frantic drive by major powers in all regions to set new rules of the game and revive old ones, he says.

‘The apparent strategic dynamism of the East will superficially constrast with the persistent strategic arthritis in the West. But, on the whole, the net result will be the grinding of the geopolitical tectonic plates, with no geopolitical settlement in the offing,’ according to Dr Chipman.

‘Political and business authority needs to connect with the people,’ Dr Chipman concludes. ‘One must hope there is not much delay in renewing that effort, as a world that doubts its regional and global institutions is a world in drift.’

The book analyses the events of the year that shaped relations between global powers. It includes essays on the difficulties facing the nuclear non‐proliferation movement, the effects of geophysical change on international politics, and the role of technology in shaping the character of conflict. The Strategic Geography section includes maps on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the development of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and the impact of sanctions on Russia.

Pivotal events or trends that have the capacity to reshape the dynamics of the world or a region are identified in a section entitled, ‘Drivers of Strategic Change’. This unique analytical tool offers insights into the factors that can heighten the risk of conflict or death on a large scale, stoke or resolve a conflict, affect the security of large numbers of people, alter security policies, reshape foreign policy or create uncertainty around global or regional security, and covers the Asia‐Pacific, South Asia and Afghanistan, Sub‐Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Russia and Eurasia, Europe, Latin America and North America.


The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is a world‐leading authority on global security, political risk and military conflict. Founded in 1958, the IISS promotes the development of sound policies that further global peace and security, and maintain ʹcivilisedʹ international relations. The IISS is renowned for its extensive global research and publications including its annual assessment of the world’s armed forces (The Military Balance) and active armed conflicts (The Armed Conflict Survey and Armed Conflict Database), its leading annual assessment of global affairs, Strategic Survey: The Annual Review of World Affairs and seminal work on nuclear deterrence and arms control, as well as emerging geopolitical and geo‐economic trends. The IISS is also renowned for its security summits, including the IISS Shangri‐La Dialogue (The Asian Regional Security Summit) and IISS Manama Dialogue (The Middle East Regional Security Summit). The IISS has offices in London, Washington DC, Bahrain and Singapore.


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