International Politics in 2018: Ten Predictions
1. The United States will retreat further from the global stage, providing more space for China, Russia, the EU and others
After having retreated from multilateral negotiations on trade, migration and climate change, the United States can also be expected to disengage on several other issues, allowing actors such as China and the EU to claim greater international leadership, and continuing the United States' unprecedented soft power decline --rather than having to actively fight for more responsibility, Chinese foreign policy makers will face (possibly excessive) demands to provide more global public goods. The effectiveness of US foreign policy makers around the world will continue to be undermined by the President's erratic tweets, particularly vis-à-vis key issues such as the Middle East, North Korea, global trade, NATO, and the post-World War II international order in general. Temporary global instability will ensue not because others are less committed to defending global rules and norms, but because of the speed and depth of US disengagement, leaving policy makers in Brussels, Beijing and Brasília with little time to adapt.
2. The EU will emerge stronger from Brexit, political uncertainty in Germany, weakening transatlantic ties and instability along its eastern border
Each of the many difficulties the EU is facing today will create important benefits: fraying ties with the United States and long-term estrangement to Russia have promoted a long overdue debate about the EU's role in a far less predictable geopolitical scenario — above all, regarding the creation of an EU army and the EU's relationship to China. Temporary political uncertainty in Germany provides the space for other actors to promote new ideas, making the EU's internal dynamic seem less asymmetrical and Berlin-centric. Brexit negotiations, though time-consuming and depressing, will remind Europeans (particularly the young) of the club's raison d'être and countless benefits, and serve as a wake up call and spur a debate about the EU's future. Economic and political trouble in Britain will make it less likely for others to look for a way out.
3. China will resist US provocations to start a global trade war
The nationalist faction in the White House will partially have it its way in 2018 and the US will impose higher tariffs on several Chinese products — a big gamble considering the importance of Sino-US economic ties. Yet China is unlikely to retaliate, for example by taking the United States to the World Trade Organization (WTO), largely because it would suffer more than the United States in an all-out trade war. Such a scenario would also contradict Xi Jinping's stated objective of being the defender-in-chief of globalization, which today is the greatest source of Chinese soft power around the world. Indeed, China's decision not to engage in a tit-for-tat trade battle with the US and continue to strive for more open trade rules will accelerate global acceptance of China as a key pillar of global liberal order, and erode the still dominant vision in the West that China's rise is bad news for the world.
4. Latin America's election marathon will change the regional political landscape, but most presidential races will be won by established politicians
A mix of low commodity prices (traditionally leading to low growth, low approval ratings of the incumbent, and low public tolerance with corruption) and diminished trust in the political class and democracy itself are likely to make the upcoming electoral cycle in Latin America one of change rather than continuity. Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Mexico and Venezuela will organize presidential elections in 2018. While change is not a bad thing per se – in fact, political elites badly need a breath of fresh air – there are still plenty of reasons to worry about how broad discontent with politics in general could facilitate the rise of populist outsiders. In Colombia, many fear a populist occupying the Casa de Nariño next year – what could be a result of a run-off between far-leftist Gustavo Petro and a right-wing supporter of former President Álvaro Uribe. However, results may be somewhat similar to those in Chile: new political forces emerge, but an established figure wins. In Paraguay, Mexico and Brazil, change will mostly take place in the legislature, while traditional politicians will hold on to the executive. In Paraguay, the Colorado Party's Mario Abdo will most likely win. In Mexico, the PRI's Meade will get the top job, beating Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Elections in Brazil, extremely hard to predict, will see a rerun of the 2006 Lula vs. Alckmin run-off, though this time the center-right candidate (which the Eurasia group described as Brazil's Hillary Clinton) will prevail – by an eyelash.
5. President Trump will get less done after the 2018 in the midterm election, and Democrats will seek to initiate impeachment proceedings
Democrats will regain control of Congress, their first move will be to try to impeach President Trump -- despite all the hurdles and risks involved. Irrespective of whether they succeed or not, it is likely to slow down Trump's agenda as he will have to dedicate more time to defending himself. That will make foreign policy one of the few areas in which he can act in an unrestrained manner, increasing the risk of adventures in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, North Korea or Venezuela. His mentally stable advisors Kelly, Mattis and McMaster, however, will avoid a war with the regime in Pyongyang. On the domestic front, Trump will fail to build the much-touted wall along the Southern border, though his changes in the judiciary boost conservative forces in US politics for decades to come.
6. Incumbents will seek to erode checks and balances across Latin America
Bolivia's Evo Morales, Honduras's Hernández and Venezuela's Maduro are merely symbols of a far broader trend across Latin America: determined and systematic attempts by the executive to stifle an independent judiciary. Be it inspired by a left-wing narrative in Caracas, the supposed defense of sovereignty in Guatemala, where President Jimmy Morales fights the the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), or a right-wing law-and-order narrative in Tegucigalpa: the final objective is always to concentrate power and stifle and eliminate opponents, be they in the legislature, the judiciary, or in civil society. The essence of authoritarian tendencies is very much the same and aims at upending the key principles of democracy: checks and balances, and ultimately, the alternation of power. A more hopeful sight is Ecuador, where Lenin Moreno is reverting some of the authoritarian tendencies of his predecessor.
7. An unprecedented backlash against growing Chinese influence in the West
Since Trump's election victory, China has taken a relatively constructive approach, and it can be expected to provide ever more global public goods, especially in the realm of climate change, where Beijing will mark a welcome contrast to Trump's views. Just like with any other global power, the provision of goods will allow China to slowly gain so-called 'hegemonic privileges' and seek to directly influence domestic affairs in other countries. As has been the case with the United States before, that will lead to resistance around the world (particularly in the West), and current debates in Australia are a sign of what is to come elsewhere. While Chinese influence on other countries will require a careful analysis taking both positive and negative consequences into account, public debates will be polarized, making a productive discussion difficult. As has been the case vis-à-vis the United States before, many politicians and political commentators will be categorized according to their views on China's growing influence on domestic affairs: the soothers/ panda huggers vs. the alarmists.
8. Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Nicolas Maduro, Donald Trump and Michel Temer will still be in office by the end of 2018
They could hardly be more different from each other, but the five politicians leading Germany, Great Britain, Venezuela, the United States and Brazil have one thing in common: analysts have predicted their political demise in several moments during the past year. Yet surprising many, they held on, and they can be expected to still lead their respective nations twelve months from now, despite rock-bottom approval ratings (Brazil), humanitarian catastrophe (Venezuela), non-stop scandals (the United States), remarkable incompetence (Great Britain) and an inconclusive electoral result in 2017 (Germany). In the case of Germany, that is not bad news, even though Germany will need some fresh air in the coming years. In the case of Venezuela, it is profoundly disturbing, and Brazil, Colombia, the United States, Spain and Argentina must brace for more refugees feeling violence and hunger raging in the nation with the world's greatest proven oil reserves. By contrast, Peru's Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, despite his desperate maneuvering, is unlikely to keep his job. In the same way, Jacob Zuma will — hopefully — be pushed aside, allowing Cyril Ramaphosa to get South Africa back on track
9. Continued progress in the realm of economic rights
Despite growing inequality in many countries, economic rights are also advancing, and never in human history has the percentage of those living in extreme poverty been smaller. Strong economic growth in China and India continues to lift tens of millions out of poverty. The Post-Western World will be – largely thanks to the economic catch up in the developing world – more prosperous, with far lower levels of poverty on a global scale, than any other previous order. In 2018, that process will continue, with around 5% growth in emerging markets (China included) — a trend helped by slow but steady recovery in Russia, Brazil and (possibly) South Africa.
10. The global crackdown on human rights accelerates
And yet, when it comes to political rights, we are seeing a global crackdown unprecedented in recent years. The number of journalists and bloggers detained and attacked, the quantity of NGOs harassed and the number of opposition politicians and activists killed has risen and can be expected to rise further in 2018. More governments than ever, many of them democratic ones, passed restrictive laws that stifle and threaten civil society. Almost half the world’s countries have implemented controls that affect tens of thousands of organizations across the globe, and others are likely to follow suit. They are by no means concentrated in one region of the world. Rather, speaking truth to power is dangerous in many places, like Cuba (where the governments routinely detains activists), Brazil (where more environmental activists are killed than anywhere else in the world), Egypt, Hungary, Israel, Russia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and several African countries, where gay rights activists are often killed with impunity. With several countries that traditionally gave a lot of money to support rights groups, such as the United States, ruled by populists, the crackdown will accelerate further.
11. Brazil will win the 2018 Football World Cup in Russia