Launch of IISS Strategic Survey 2017

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IISS: Revive international alliances to avoid further global insecurity


London – Rival powers will continue to exploit the opportunities opened up in 2017 by the fracturing of Western alliances until this damage is repaired, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) concludes in its 2017 Strategic Survey.

The fracture of various partnerships and alliances, mainly from the inside, is opening up more opportunities for large countries, who perceive the status quo to be stacked against them, to exploit and widen these fissures,” the Institute’s Director-General, John Chipman, will warn at the report launch in London on 20th September 2017.

A significant phenomenon over the last year has been the dramatic fracturing of international alliances and strategic relationships, which had previously appeared solid. The actions of the US administration have contributed to the trend, but so too have the actions of other state parties.

“Protecting long-standing alliance structures from external pressures is diplomatically labour-intensive; the status quo challengers may have a stronger focus and longer attention span than the status quo defenders,” Dr Chipman will caution. “Governments will need to rebuild international alliances in 2018 to repair the damage to global security seen this year and to avoid further instability.”

The Strategic Survey is the IISS’s annual review of world affairs, identifying trends in international geopolitics.

According to this year’s assessment, the geopolitical agenda in 2018 is likely to be dominated by four themes that reach across different regions:

  • nuclear proliferation, principally by North Korea but also potentially Iran;
  • terrorism inspired by ISIS and others, reaching the Americas, Europe and Asia, as well as the Middle East and Africa;
  • information warfare, largely led by Russia, generally executing a policy in Europe and elsewhere of ‘disruptive engagement;’
  • and the use of proxies by state actors, principally Iran, but also Russia.

“There is a limit to what ad hoc coalitions and state-to-state collaboration can do on these issues. A rebuilding – and, in some cases, a repurposing – of regional institutions and security partnerships will be needed,” John Chipman will conclude at the Strategic Survey launch.   ENDS/

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  • NORTH AMERICA – Doubts over how the US defines its interests and conceives its global role under a new administration have heightened anxieties among US allies, at a time when the pace and complexity of threats from terrorism, nuclear proliferation and information warfare are increasing. The rest of the world is waiting to see whether the US decision to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership and leave the Paris climate agreement signals an abdication of a leadership role, or the start of a process by which that role is recast.
  • EUROPE – Although the EU faces pressing, complex challenges to the south and east, the imperative to maintain unity as the UK prepares to leave the bloc and the disruption caused by populist movements, is prompting member states towards introversion, limiting the EU’s wider strategic engagement. The defeat of populist parties in the Netherlands and France does not mark the end of the challenge; electorates remain discontented, and politics volatile.
  • MIDDLE EAST – While Syria’s war still burns fiercely, the country is being partitioned into zones of influence, with the regime-controlled west and centre, Kurdish Rojava in the northeast and northwest, ISIS in the east, and small groups of rebel holdouts in the north and south. Iran has steadily strengthened its position in the region, as has Russia, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE have weakened the GCC by sanctioning fellow member Qatar. The damage to the GCC may prove permanent.
  • ASIA-PACIFIC – North Korea’s alarming advances in nuclear and missile technology are driving Seoul, Tokyo and Washington closer together, to the dismay of Beijing whose efforts to rein in Pyongyang have thus far not succeeded. Washington’s questioning of its alliance commitments in Asia, and its abrogation of the TPP, have prompted its allies to hedge in an effort to preserve the regional security architecture and rules-based order.
  • LATIN AMERICA – The Trump administration’s hostility towards existing and proposed trade agreements, and lack of commitment to development aid, is forcing much of Latin America to limit its exposure to the vagaries of US policy. Yet this trend has combined with a general shift towards market-friendly governments in the region, and a pressing need for multilateral initiatives on the Venezuelan crisis, to encourage greater regional cooperation between Latin American countries.
  • RUSSIA AND EURASIA – Demonstrating a significant appetite for risk, Russia has reasserted itself as a great power in the Middle East and made an increasingly ambitious bid for influence in the Balkans. As the details of far-reaching Russian information campaigns come to light in several NATO states, the decline in relations between Moscow and Western capitals is driving militarisation on both sides. At the centre of the dispute are fundamentally opposed views of Europe’s future security architecture; at stake are the development of the post-Soviet region and the fate of arms-control measures decades in the making.
  • SOUTH ASIA – As the development of the Belt and Road Initiative strengthens ties between Pakistan and China, India is moving rapidly towards its goal of becoming a leading power in the Indian Ocean region through the sponsorship of security and economic agreements. Intractable problems of cross-border terrorism, as well as instability in Kashmir, continue to damage relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, while accelerating competition between major powers is undermining efforts to stabilise Afghanistan’s parlous security environment.
  • SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA – Domestic turmoil and budgetary constraints have reduced the capacity of several leading military powers in sub-Saharan Africa, just as Washington is poised to cut its critically important development spending in the region. China continues to increase its engagement with sub-Saharan Africa, primarily through economic initiatives.  West African states are demonstrating a significantly reduced tolerance for autocrats, reflected in their pursuit of multilateral cooperation on security, justice and the enforcement of democratic practices.


Most attention will be focused on North Korea, which is striving for a capability to hit the US with nuclear weapons. One course of action for the US is a preventive strike to destroy DPRK nuclear-armed missiles before they are launched, even though it might prompt North Korea to attack targets in the Republic of Korea. Equally, threat perceptions are running high in Pyongyang, which may propel North Korea to act first. China and the US will need to develop contingency plans, preferably together, for a deteriorating situation in the DPRK. Yet a North Korean crisis is not the only threat that concerns IISS experts when considering what might happen in 2018.

  • Israel may soon be engaged in a conflict with Iranian proxies and possibly Iran itself along its border with Syria and Lebanon. Iran and its allies are expanding its presence in southern Syria and now benefit from more secure and diverse supply lines. Hizbullah too feels confident as a result of its successes in Syria and is far better armed than it was in 2006, when it last fought Israel. Tel Aviv, meanwhile, has developed a rapid ground warfare capability and deployed an anti-rocket system; it may calculate that it has more latitude to respond forcibly to an escalating Hizbullah-Iranian threat under the current US administration than under its predecessor. 

  • The deal to contain Iran’s nuclear programme, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is in jeopardy. US conservatives oppose the deal. Their desire to overturn it is being fired by Iran’s conduct beyond the nuclear sphere. In mid-October the US president must certify whether Iran is complying with the agreement, and while the IAEA says that it is, it is an open question whether the White House will agree. If it does not, the onus will fall on European states to keep the JCPOA alive. If they fail, the Middle East will return to a situation where an Israeli or US strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is a strong possibility.
  • Although the so-called Islamic State has suffered major territorial and personnel losses in Iraq and Syria, it is inspiring an increased tempo of terrorist attacks around the world. Europe is facing a ‘new normal’ of small-scale, opportunistic, random attacks that tie up the security agencies and so create space for planning of larger-scale assaults. A ‘spectacular’ attack in the US or Saudi Arabia is likewise a possibility, while more sustained threats are emerging in Asia. Unless the Philippines’ government scores a swift victory in Marawi and follows up with a peace plan for Mindanao, there is an increasing risk of jihadi violence elsewhere in the country, against government or western targets. In Myanmar, the Islamic State is seeking to co-opt the Rohingyas in their struggle against a wide-scale military crackdown. Success in Myanmar would be a major fillip for ISIS.


‘A landmark of the think-tank landscape: a handbook for what to worry about for the coming year. Bronwen Maddox, former Foreign Editor, The Times

The Strategic Survey is the IISS’s annual review of world affairs, identifying trends in international geo-politics.

The report includes thematic essays on:

  • the future of the World Trade Organization
  • electoral disruption and the liberal order
  • urbanisation and violence
  • the resurgence of information warfare

The Strategic Geography section includes maps on North Korea’s illicit economic network, constitutional change and conflict in Turkey, and the burgeoning food-security crisis.

The Drivers of Strategic Change section identifies the most important overarching trends in each region using select data and other indicators.

About the International Institute for Strategic Studies:

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 'civilised' 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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