12 Predictions for Global Geopolitics for 2018 and Beyond

Geopolitical tensions will continue to escalate over the course of the next seven years.

Governments and institutions will face considerable challenges over the next decade as the international order is restructured and global trends converge.

Across the globe, governments and institutions face increasing challenges to their legitimacy and authority. All forms of government in every region will face increasing tensions both domestic and foreign. In the short-term, these global trends will increase the threat posed by all types of terrorism, and the ability for asymmetrically-powerful state and non-state actors to adversely affect the International order and the global balance of power.

Tensions are rising because citizens around the world are raising questions about the relationship that exists between governments and themselves. The social contract that exists between society and their governments is unraveling as people demand increasing levels of security and prosperity. Globalization means that domestic conditions are shaped, to an ever-greater degree, by occurrences overseas.

Growing populism in the West threatens an international order governed by rule-of-law. Tensions between governing elites and their citizens are reshaping global geopolitics. A weakened United States would mean less of an emphasis on human rights and maintenance of global order.

Less of a U.S. presence on the global stage creates gaps for authoritarian powers like China and Russia. It also means a heightened risk of conflict arising between competing for regional powers like India and Pakistan or Iran and Saudi Arabia, and an international order comprised of competing “spheres of influence.”

1. Sharpening tensions and heightened doubts concerning the U.S. role in the world will continue for several years.

In the short term, the U.S. will have a diminished presence abroad due to its domestic political divisions.

Economic crises and inequality have contributed to widening societal and class divisions. The number of men who are not working and not seeking work is at its highest since the Great Depression. However, incomes have risen slowly, and investors see high rates of return on both domestic and foreign investments.

Politically, the country is still profoundly divided. However, growing solidarity and activism around critical issues such as healthcare have been useful in checking executive and congressional power.

2. The European Union will need to implement badly needed reforms to maintain its legitimacy.

The Brexit vote of 2016 and rising popularity of far-right nationalist political parties in Western Europe has led many observers to question the long-term viability of a united Europe. In the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, many were concerned that European far-right politicians like Marine Le Pen would gain traction in their electoral contests.

However, despite considerable attempts by Le Pen’s campaign—and the Kremlin, in no small degree—Emmanuel Macron led a stunning rebuke of the populist trend circumventing the globe. Europe seems to be trending away from the right as the United States Government continues to be paralyzed by the competing factions of the governing Republican Party.

Rising ethnic, demographic, and economic tensions will make European integration more difficult. Furthermore, Europeans must repair the structural problems in E.U. institutions.

For example, E.U. agencies set monetary policy for members of the Eurozone; however, member states retain control over their financial and security obligations. This leaves poorer E.U. states like Greece with vast amounts of debt and decreasing growth prospects. There is no unified E.U. security policy; each member state determines its national security strategy.

3.

In Northeast Asia, growing tensions around the Korean Peninsula are likely, with the possibility of a confrontation in the coming years.

Kim Jong Un is consolidating his grip on power through a combination of patronage and dread and is doubling down on his nuclear and missile programs, developing long-range missiles that may soon endanger the continental USA.

Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington have a shared incentive to handle security risks in Northeast Asia, but a history of warfare and occupation along with current distrust makes cooperation difficult.

Continued North Korean provocations, such as additional nuclear and missile tests, may worsen equilibrium in the region and immediate nations to take actions, sometimes unilaterally, to defend their security interests.  Kim is determined to secure international recognition of the North as a nuclear- nation, for safety, prestige, and political legitimacy.

Contrary to his father and grandfather, he’s signaled little interest in participating in talks on denuclearization.  He codified the North’s nuclear status in the party constitution in 2012 and reaffirmed it during the Party Congress in 2016.

Beijing faces a continuing strategic conundrum about the North.  Pyongyang’s behavior both undermines China’s argument that the US army presence in the region is anachronistic and demonstrates Beijing’s lack of influence–or perhaps lack of political will to exert influence—within its neighbor and customer.

North Korean behavior leads to tightening US alliances, more assertive action by US allies, and, on occasion, greater cooperation between these partners themselves—and might lead to a change in Beijing’s approach to North Korea with time.

4. Populism and dissent will spread across Latin America.

Leftist governments have been kicked out in Argentina, Peru, and Guatemala. Venezuela’s left-wing populist government is stripping the country of its democratic institutions in a sharp slide towards authoritarianism, leading to a sharp increase in lawlessness across the country.

Furthermore, while Venezuela doesn’t produce drugs, it’s become a major transport hub for drugs going to Europe or  Africa before being routed to Europe. Drug trafficking increases under as the rule of law decreases. After a 2009 coup in Honduras, the country was run by a fragile government—lawlessness increased dramatically.

Honduras now has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Countries like the United States are seeing a significant increase in the number of people arriving from countries like Honduras that are plagued with violence.

5.Expect increasing assertiveness from Beijing and Moscow as both governments seek to lock in competitive advantages.

Beijing and Moscow will seek to lock in competitive advantages and also to right what they bill are historical wrongs before economic and demographics headwinds further slow their material progress and the West regains its foundation.

Both China and Russia maintain worldviews where they’re rightfully dominant in their regions and able to form regional politics and economics to match their security and material interests.

Both have moved aggressively in latest years to exert more considerable influence in their regions, to contest the US geopolitically, and also to force Washington to accept exclusionary regional spheres of influence—a situation that the US has historically opposed.

6.The standoff between Russia and the West will continue throughout 2017 and 2018.

Diplomatic spats, strategic political and political tensions will last between Russia and the US. In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration may have few choices for relieving the strain because of increased checks on the president’s power and enlarged sanctions from the U.S. Congress.

In Moscow, meanwhile, forthcoming local and national elections will prevent the Kremlin from creating significant concessions. Consequently, sanctions enacted on Russia from the US along with the European Union probably will stay through the end of the year. Depending upon how investigations into Russia’s role at the 2016 U.S. Presidential election shape upward, Washington might even ramp up the political and financial pressure on Russia.

Similarly, North Korea will be a crucial problem in determining the direction of U.S.-Russian relations over the next several months. Russia will keep going along with the limited sanctions that the US has pursued against Pyongyang, but Russia will Skirt the steps and provide economic aid to North Korea as it sees fit.

7.China, for its part, may have domestic concerns to grapple with this year.

The Chinese Communist Party’s careful preparation for a change of direction will be realized in mid-October in its congress. The event will reshuffle the highest ranks of the party and serve as a significant test of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to consolidate power.

To date, all indications stage to the president’s success in strengthening his grip over the nation’s top decision making bodies. Xi has already achieved the status of core leader, not merely of the Communist Party, but of the Chinese state and military, as well.

He’s also managed to quickly promote a lot of his partners to prestigious positions in recent months. Looking ahead, as much as 11 Politburo and five Politburo Standing Committee members are currently nearing retirement, vacancies that could give Xi a chance to fill nearly all seats in the bodies with political allies.

Even more significant, party members are likely to endorse the addition of Xi’s philosophy of the Communist Party Constitution in the approaching Congress, permitting him to combine the venerated ranks of Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong. However, the summit will indicate the lengths to which Xi should go to secure the political compromises he seeks.

8.Expect Persisting Volatility in Southeast Asia

Nuclear deployment requirements for naval-based delivery vehicles remove a safety valve that, until now, has kept atomic weapons stored separately from missiles in South Asia.

At-sea deployments of atomic weapons by India, Pakistan, and perhaps China, would increasingly nuclearize the Indian Ocean throughout the next two decades.

The presence of multiple nuclear powers with uncertain doctrine for controlling your stresses at sea incidents between nuclear-armed vessels increases the potential risk of miscalculation and inadvertent escalation.

New Delhi, however, will continue to offer smaller South Asian nations a stake in India’s financial growth through development assistance and increased connectivity to India’s economy, contributing to India’s broader effort to assert its role as the predominant regional power.

India will be the world’s fastest-growing economies throughout the next five years as China’s economy cools and growth elsewhere sputters, but internal tensions over inequality and religion will complicate its expansion.

9. Violent extremism, terrorism, and instability will continue to hang over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region’s fragile communal relations.

The threat of terrorism, from Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET), Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and al-Qaeda and its affiliates as well as ISIL’s expansion and sympathy for associated ideology—will remain prominent in the area.

Competition for jobs, coupled with discrimination against minorities, might contribute to the radicalization of the region’s youth, especially given abnormal sex ratios favoring males in several nations.

Populism and sectarianism will intensify if Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan fail to provide employment and education for growing urban populations and officials continue to govern principally through identity politics.

10.MENA: Virtually all of the Middle East and Africa’s tendencies are going in the wrong direction.

Continuing conflict and lack of political and economic reform threaten poverty reduction, the area’s one last bright spot.  Resource dependence and foreign assistance have propped up elites even as it fostered widespread reliance on the nation by inhibiting markets, employment, and human capital.

With oil prices unlikely to recover to levels of the petroleum boom governments may have to limit cash payments and subsidies.  In the meantime, social networks have provided new tools for citizens to vent their political frustrations.  Conservative religious groups—including Brotherhood affiliates and movements—and ethnically-based organizations like those based on Kurdish identity are poised to be superior alternatives to weak governments in the region.

Such groups typically supply social services better than the nation and their politics resonate with publics who’re usually more conservative and religious than the region’s political and economic elites.

11. Sub-Saharan Africa will struggle with authoritarian regimes

Practices have changed, civil society groups have proliferated, and citizens across the region demand better and more just governance.  However, many nations continue to struggle with authoritarian rule, patronage politics, and favoritism.  Many leaders remain focused on political survival as opposed to reform–with a few term limitations.

Global economic headwinds also threaten improvement by keeping commodity prices low and investment weak.  Some nations who’ve made progress toward democracy remain fragile and predisposed towards violence corresponding elections.  Tensions between Muslim and Christian groups can escalate into conflict.

12. Threats from terrorist and insurgent groups will persist and are likely to become more decentralized.

The terrorist threat is likely to increase as the means and the motivations of states, groups, and people to impose harm diversify. Prolonged conflicts and the info age allow terrorists to recruit and operate on a large scale, demonstrating the evolving nature of the threat.

Terrorism kills fewer people globally than crime or disease, but the potential for new capabilities reaching the hands of people bent on apocalyptic destruction is all too real. This ultimate low-probability, high-impact event underscores the imperative of international cooperation and state attention to the issue.

Terrorists will continue to justify their violence by their very own interpretations of religion, but several underlying drivers are also in play. Within nations, the breakdown of state structures in much of the Middle East carries on to create space for extremists.

The world order is changing. The question is, how?

The post-World War II international order that enabled today’s political, economic, and security arrangements and institutions is in question as power diffuses worldwide, shuffling seats at the table of global decision making.  Today, aspiring powers seek to adjust the rules of the game and international context in a way beneficial to their interests.

This complicates reform of international institutions such as the UN Security Council or the Bretton-Woods institutions, also brings into question whether political, civil and human rights—hallmarks of liberal values and US leadership since 1945—will continue to be so.

Norms that were believed to be settled will be increasingly threatened if present trends hold, and consensus to build standards can be elusive as Russia, China, along with other actors such as ISIL seek to shape regions and international norms in their favor.

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