Ananth points to this fine, fine Jeff Sachs interview which should count as among the most prudent assessments of global geopolitics and international development. At a time when political correctness and ideological biases are commonplace among the intelligentsia, this comes out as a refreshing acknowledgement of the reality.
He attributes populism to rising nationalism, weakening of US Foreign Policy, refugee crisis, and the crisis on the centre left. Sample this on immigration,
All of the Scandinavian countries, and their neighbors in northern Europe, have right-wing populist parties, with some approaching power... For me, the most pertinent fact is that populist Scandinavians are calling for a social-democratic order, but one for Danes or Swedes or Norwegians alone. They like their society; they just don’t want newcomers. So, it’s explicitly anti-migrant – essentially a demographic and cultural reflex... I think people really like their social order – again, I don’t think we know how to make economies work better than those countries do. What many of their people apparently don’t like is Muslims living in their country. They don’t want mosques in their neighborhoods. That’s not true of everybody, of course, but that’s what the backlash reflects.
And on the challenge facing Africa,
Africa’s demographic trajectory is deeply worrisome because it is built on an extremely high fertility rate that will hinder its own sustainable development. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average fertility rate remains more than five children per woman, and the resulting population trajectory is roughly a quadrupling of the continent’s population by the end of this century. That means about four billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to a European population that might be around 500 million at the end of the century... the bottom line is that Africa will never achieve successful development if it reaches four billion people at the end of this century. That trajectory would lead to unbearable environmental stress, hunger, war, water depletion, and destruction of remaining biodiversity. It would be a disaster first and foremost for Africa.
This assessment of "regime change" foreign policy is spot on,
In my opinion, it is a US-Saudi-Turkish war of regime change that is essentially stupid and against international law. The reason we have a refugee crisis is not because of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but because the US, the Saudis, and the Turks said in 2011 that Assad should be overthrown. It was a stupid idea – just as stupid as the idea of overthrowing Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003... Assad wasn’t such a danger from 2000 to 2010. Syria was a normal country with autocratic rule. It wasn’t a global humanitarian disaster. It became a disaster in the spring of 2011, and especially on August 18, 2011, when Barack Obama said that Assad must go. That was Obama’s worst foreign-policy blunder, and we’re still living with the consequences. Why would a US president say that another country’s president must go? The idea that the US can choose who should lead other countries has been a complete failure.
And on the surprisingly less discussed concern that Russia rightfully harbours with the presence of NATO in its "near abroad",
SS: Then why did Russia invade Ukraine, annex Crimea, and back the separatists in Donbas?JS: I think that the US made a huge mistake in trying to flip Ukraine to NATO.
SS: Ukrainians wanted to join NATO.
JS: I know, but the US should say: “No way.”
SS: Why?JS: Because that’s geopolitics.
SS: What should these countries do? Must they be subordinate to Russia?JS: Imagine that Mexico’s leaders, having decided that Trump poses a grave threat to their country’s security, formed a military alliance with China. As far as I’m concerned, it would be their choice to make. But US policymakers – Republicans and Democrats alike – wouldn’t see it that way. I don’t know what would happen the next day, but I wouldn’t want to be in Mexico City, or perhaps anywhere in the world (which would all be threatened). This is reality. And it’s why a sensible US leader would say to the Ukrainians: we care for you, we love you, but we don’t want you in NATO, because we don’t want to provoke a conflict with the major power on your border.