2017 is set to be another bumpy year following on the heels of 12 months which saw the election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, the continuing rise of nationalism, and the Middle East in turmoil. The confidence of the post-Cold War years is behind us, as is the idea of guaranteed stability and prosperity in Europe. We don’t know what history will call these times, but for now we seem to be living in the Age of Uncertainty.
President Trump will set out to do some, but not all, of the things he pledged during his election campaign. The ‘Wall’ with Mexico will not be built but some sort of enhanced fence/barrier will allow him to claim he is making good on promises. The deportation of illegal immigrants is likely to at least maintain the record numbers seen during the Obama era which itself saw a 23% rise in comparison to the Bush years. The system of checks and balances written into the U.S Constitution will restrain the President, but he is still likely to make several ‘bold’ moves. Like George W Bush before him he will attempt to be a President focused on domestic and trade issues. As all Presidents discover, the world can sometimes get in the way of this.
He will probably tinker with the NAFTA agreement, but focus more on attempting a major overhaul of trade agreements with China. Washington and Beijing are bound to fall out over this but the USA has the upper hand as China has more to lose. Tensions will arise from time to time in the South Pacific, but military hostilities between the two are unlikely.
There will be some warm words between the White House and the Kremlin, but the different aims of the two is likely to prevent a genuine rapprochement. Nevertheless, any hint of warmth between them will send shivers through the Baltic States and Poland.
It’s difficult to see President Trump carrying through with his idea of sending tens of thousands of US ground troops to Syria to fight ISIS, but he will not stand in the way of anyone who does take the fight to ISIS and indeed will continue to assist the coalition air campaign. In Afghanistan US forces, will simply attempt to keep the Taliban at bay and pretend it is a form of victory.
Another tumultuous year. The migrant/refugee crisis will continue, and continue to fuel the rise of nationalism throughout the continent. This will be reflected in the voting patterns in the Dutch, French, and German elections. Unless there is a spate of major terror attacks in France, Marine Le Pen will probably not become President. If she does, it will probably mean the end of the European Union by the end of this decade. In Germany, the AFD party will enter the Bundestag in large numbers possibly in the dozens. Unless there are more significant terror attacks Mrs. Merkel should be able to hang on as leader of the CDU and as Chancellor.
The banking crisis, especially in Italy, and the troubles of the Euro, will continue all year. Jointly they will undermine the stability of the EU. With so much to do, and so little money, the EU states will continue to bicker with each other whilst failing to significantly raise their funding for NATO or muster any significant push back against Russia. We will increasingly see how wide the gaps are between various blocs in the EU. The Balkans region will continue to give cause for concern, with Macedonia experiencing difficulties in keeping itself together.
In the UK ‘Article 50’ will be triggered and Brexit will continue to mean Brexit. However, even after Prime Minister May explains her leaving strategy to Parliament we may not be much better informed about what the phrase she coined means.
Moscow will maintain the situation in Ukraine as a ‘frozen conflict’ and seek to use this as leverage elsewhere. It can expect to have at least some sanctions against it lifted. Russia will continue to suffer economically because although the oil price is likely to rise, it may not be at the $80 pb minimum for long enough for Moscow to even begin to balance the books. Russia will continue to push its soft power and disinformation campaigns throughout Europe even as its leadership becomes more authoritarian at home.
The Syrian civil war will not end in 2017 but we are in the ‘beginning of the end’ and by year’s end we should be able to see the outline of how it will finish. The Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah and regime forces have ensured Assad cannot lose. Now the Saudis, Turks, Qataris and others have to see what they can salvage from the wreckage. The Kurds will have their own agenda, and in the end, will once again be on their own without powerful friends. We can expect at least one failed peace conference during the year.
Throughout the year the Kurds should be able to hold on to the territory they have, but with the Turks pushing further into Syria and Iraq, a large piece of contiguous Kurdish territory will be impossible. The Turks will continue to take losses in Syria and will send in more and more firepower, but halt somewhere near al Bab as going any further would mean they bump up too close against Russian forces who will remain in the country all year. The Turks will also find themselves increasingly in competition with the Iranians in both Syria and Iraq.
ISIS will be defeated in the Iraqi city of Mosul setting the scene for the battle for its headquarters in Raqqa in Syria. This will probably not take shape until towards the end of 2017. Even when Mosul is freed from ISIS, its problems will be far from over with competing factions and states vying for influence there. ISIS may lose its ‘caliphate’, but this means it will increasingly act elsewhere especially as hundreds of jihadi terrorists will be heading back to Europe, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia etc.
SOUTH EAST ASIA
China will continue to wrestle with its overarching problem – making enough things to keep enough people employed, while creating enough middle class Chinese to create an internal market and thus be less reliant on trade.
This weakens its hand in the coming trade spats with the USA. This is potentially dangerous as Beijing may seek to make political points elsewhere, such as in the South China Sea to bolster its economic negotiating position. Nevertheless, neither side wants conflict, and China is many years away from being prepared to take on the only global military superpower.
The Chinese political year will be defined by the 19th Party Congress where President Xi Jinping will emerge as the unchallenged supreme leader amid an increasingly obvious cult of personality. He’ll spend the year using his anti-corruption crackdown to ensure that if, as expected, five of the current Politburo Standing Committee members stand down, they will be replaced with Xi loyalists.
Japan will continue its steady voyage back out into international diplomacy backed by its ever-increasing military budget, and confidence that it can take its ‘rightful place’ among the military powers of the Pacific. It will ensure it maintains strong ties with the USA and seek informal alliances elsewhere in the region, such as the Philippines, as the other powers eye China’s rise nervously.
North Korea will continue to test long range missiles and be only ever one misjudgment away from a major international crisis. Other than an unintended war, there is little reason to see a collapse in the North Korean dictatorship.
Ethiopia is likely to see demonstrations against the ruling Tigray dominated regime in Addis Ababa. The Tigray are a minority in the country and the other larger ethnic groups are increasingly unhappy with their control of government.
Somalia will not see an end to its troubles. The militant group al Shabab is again growing in strength and the African Union peacekeepers appear not to be able to check its resurgence.
2017 will see if the trend of African leaders refusing to leave power continues. The signs are not good. Gambia and the DRC are recent examples. In the coming year, we will also find out if the Presidents of Zimbabwe and Angola plan to leave power, and/or leave power without handing it to a family member or friend who will look after their bank accounts for them.
2017 will be the year when the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela comes to an end. Even the rise in oil prices will not be enough to save a government which has overseen a catastrophic economic collapse leading to food and other shortages with hundreds of thousands of people trying to flee the country. The increasingly repressive measures undertaken by the Maduro government will only lead to more violence. Eventually the government, which has already burned through most of its foreign currency holdings, will run out of money. At this point the military will have a decision to make.
Better news is expected in Colombia where the peace deal with the FARC rebels should hold, allowing the country to focus on its other problems.
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan may be volatile, and all 5 Central Asian ‘Stans’ will be keeping a close eye out for strengthened jihadist activity as fighters from ISIS head home.
Amid all this, let us not forget; More people than ever will have access to clean running water. The percentage of people dying violently will be significantly lower than the average for the 20thC. The rates for child mortality are likely to continue to fall, as will death in childbirth. Globally, poverty levels will fall, while the proportion of people being educated will rise.
Happy New Year, and good luck!