The top 5 issues in International Politics for 2018

3 January 2018, 0723 EST

2017 was not a great year for international politics. The sentence I heard the most during conferences and other academic gatherings was that “the global order is in crisis.” Granted. It all started in 2016 with the victory of Trump, Brexit and the No to the Peace Agreement in Colombia. Nationalist ideologies have nothing but grown in 2017, when the victories of Marine Le Pen in France and of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands all of a sudden seemed plausible. Luckily, they did not materialise. We also had auto-proclaimed nations that demanded independence, such as Catalonia or Kurdistan. To top it all, the far right did win elections in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. This nationalist move is having consequences across the world. In the Libyan costs migrants are being sold as slaves by smugglers or are locked up in hangars with no access to the most basic needs, after the European Union’s enactment of its policy of helping Libyan authorities intercept people trying to cross the Mediterranean and return them to prison.

Nevertheless, I want to argue that 2018 is the year of hope, and that some of our worst nightmares will be nothing more than a bad dream.

But before going through the top 5 issues in IR for 2018, the post comes with a cautionary note: it is a year of elections. As a matter of fact, 8 out of 10 Americans with voting rights will be called to vote: USA renews its House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. There are presidential elections in Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Paraguay. In Europe, there will be elections in Italy, Presidential elections in Czech Republic and Cyprus, legislative elections in Hungary, and there will be a new German government soon. Putin will certainly renew its presidential mandate next March. Cambodia, Thailand, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, DRC, Mali, Palestine and Libya also have elections scheduled for 2018. In Cuba, Raul Castro has announced he will soon leave the Presidency. It is therefore very difficult to predict what geopolitical events 2018 will bring, but I offer some ideas here under.

  1. War between North Korea and the US? Mr Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the US was forced to defend itself and repeatedly warned that all options are open to him. Nevertheless, it is very unlikely that there will be war between USA and North Korea. Mike Mullen, a retired admiral who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Barack Obama, has declared that the US is closer than ever before to war with North Korea. However, it is certain that China will not let that happen and will do everything it can to avoid a conflict in the neighbourhood.
  2. Trump will probably still be President of the USA at the end of 2018. He will survive the sexual-assault allegations, and the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Russian affair. As Peter Jacobs, from Business Insider, explains “Republicans control both houses of Congress and so far have not seemed compelled to usher out a president of their party. […] Everyone from his campaign chairman to his national security adviser to his son-in-law may be caught upin it. But Trump remains the president — and will through the next year.” Indeed, there might not be enough evidence to prove conspiracy between Trump’s electoral campaign team and the Russian government. The first serious test for Trump will be on November 6th, during the elections for the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. The Democrats trust that their recent victory in Alabama – in the hands of the Republicans for the past 25 years – is an omen of their recovery.
  3. China will not become the first superpower as of yet, but it will strengthen its power. Premier Li Keqiang, China’s second-in-command reaffirmed China’s support for the Paris Agreement, stating thatthere is an “international responsibility” to fight climate change. On the contrary, Trump reaffirmed last week that the US would exist the landmark climate-change treaty. Trump’s shabby international policy has successfully painted China as a liberal, responsible, globalist power. After a meeting with Li on Thursday, Angela Merkel stated that China “has become a more important and strategic partner”, and made clear that “we are living in times of global uncertainty and see our responsibility to expand our partnership in all the different areas and to push for a world order based on law.” China is also increasing its influence in international organisations such as the United Nations, where it is now the second-largest contributor to the UN’s peacekeeping budget. During the World Economic Forum annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, Xi portrayed himself as the ambassador of globalization. What is more, its emergent alliance with Russia will redefine the 2018 global order.
  4. Brexit has an uncertain future ahead. The EU and the UK reached a deal in December Three key issues were agreed upon: the money the UK will have to pay to the EU, the rights of Irish and Northern Irish citizens and the porous frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The EU has agreed on a grace period, a transition from March 2019 to December 2020. Besides, May’s fate seems very much linked to the outcome of Brexit negotiations, but it seems she will manage to keep herself afloat at least until March 2019. May will now have to take tough decisions that will not be to the likings of all the members of the Conservative party. We have to wait and see whether the partisans of a soft Brexit can work together in a united front.
  5. The fight against the war on women is far from being won. Of course, 2017 was a remarkable year for women’s rights. Starting from the Women’s March in January, that constituted the biggest march in US history, to the #MeToo disclosures during the last months, 2017 has been the year when women finally united globally and visibly in order to show their frustration and anger. Starting from allegations of sexual harassment and violence against a long list of actresses by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo campaign managed to topple dozens of powerful men in diverse industries and public administrations around the world. Nevertheless, 2018 needs to maintain the momentum if feminist activities want to achieve sustained change. Indeed, the “global gender gap” on health, education, politics and the workplace is growing, with women’s participation in the economy constituting a particular problem. The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report of 2017 estimated that it will take 100 years to close this gap. Besides, sexual violence against women and girls is being used in numerous conflicts around the world, such as in Burma, the Central African Republic, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In education, numbers do not look promising either. In South Sudan, only 24% of girls go to school and in Afghanistan and Chad, 55% and 53% of girls are not studying. Furthermore, reproductive health is under attack. Last year’s US government’s global gag rule banned recipients of billions of US aid dollars from even having a conversation about abortion with patients, and left a good number of countries without development assistance for health. Although a number of donor countries, such as The Netherlands, Sweden or Canada have tried to mitigate the harm of this policy by providing extra assistance, a big hole remains to be recovered. All this to say that 2018 will be a tougher fight for women than 2017 was.