Year in preview: World stage set for more dramatic tension in 2017
NEW YORK — It’s once again time to consult the crystal snow globe and peer ahead into what events 2017 may bring.
After a surprising, tumultuous and truly roller-coaster year just past, we certainly can hope for a more stable period. But should we?
Despite the unprecedented electoral triumph of Donald Trump in the American presidential election, the incoming Trump Administration inherits a combustible mix of global chaos.
London’s respected Spectator magazine dubs 2017 as “Europe’s Year of Rage.” The winds of political populism have hardly abated; after Brexit in Britain with the UK’s intent to leave the European Union, unpredictable forces of populism have yet to crest on the continent.
Elections: France and Germany will hold crucial national elections. In France the populist hard-right National Front may make serious inroads over the incumbent and incompetent Socialist government. In Germany Angela Merkel’s Christian democratic coalition will probably win despite the fearful backlash to Germany’s accepting over one million Mideast migrants.
Afghanistan: Can an invigorated Taliban Islamic insurgency topple the U.S.-backed Kabul government? And importantly, what would be the stand of the new American administration? An Afghan showdown could be an early test in 2017.
Turkey: A crucial country at the crossroads but facing dangerous domestic trends which include the increasingly authoritarian Islamic government of President Tayep Erdogan. Not your father’s Turkey; the tried and true Turkey which was a stable linchpin of NATO has fundamentally changed in recent years and especially in the wake of the ill-fated but suspicious military coup in July 2016 which gave Erdogan the excuse to massively crackdown on opposition politicians, the security forces and the media.
Terrorism: The recent Christmas-market bombings in Berlin and the attacks in Nice, Istanbul and Brussels earlier in the year underscore the clear and present danger from international terror. Massive refugee flows and threat of Islamic Jihadi violence in USA and Europe persist. The decline of ISIL’s pseudo state will likely be offset by the rebirth of the Al Qaida hate franchise. Syria remains the epicenter of violence and the Islamic internationalist cause.
The Islamic Republic of Iran: has truly gotten away with murder. Now with American and European economic sanctions lifted, both countries plan to profit with lucrative trade deals with the Teheran regime. Both Boeing aircraft and Europe’s Airbus couldn’t wait to do business with the Islamic Republic to sell planes and technology to Teheran.
United Nations: The UN has elected Portugal’s Antonio Guterres as its new Secretary-General. And while the overload of widening refugee crises, conflicts and natural disasters confronts the UN system, a simmering new imponderable has emerged in the wake of the Obama Administration’s controversial action in the Security Council. The widespread bipartisan backlash to a U.S. vote to abstain from and thus allow a crucial resolution condemning Israeli settlements, has flared up a smoldering resentment in the U.S. Congress. Given that the USA remains the world organization’s largest donor at 22 percent of the budget, such an anti-Israel stance could cause a major reappraisal in both Congress and the new Administration. Expect the power of the purse strings to be played at the UN.
China: Part of the Trump Trade Template focuses on massive deficits between the People’s Republic of China and the USA. In 2015 the deficit with Beijing hit $367 billion. It may ease marginally for 2016. There’s also China’s expanding military moves into the disputed waters of the East and South China Sea. Also expect Beijing to bully Taiwan’s democratic government and reassert the claim that Taiwan is part of the PRC.
Russia: Interestingly on Dec. 31, 1999, Vladimir Putin was elevated to Russian president in the wake of Boris Yeltsin stepping down. Seventeen years later Putin’s authoritarianism is in full stride. He’s stifled domestic opposition, dismembered neighboring Ukraine, has successfully intervened in Syria’s gruesome conflict, and outmaneuvered Obama’s humiliating complacency.
Korean Peninsula: A real danger reemerges on the divided peninsula as a bellicose and nuclear armed North Korea could misread democratic South Korea’s political turmoil in the wake of the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye.
Japan: During his recent summit in Hawaii, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed remorse and continuing reconciliation between Japan and the USA for Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Significant improvement of the U.S.-Japan relationship can be expected as the Trump team tilts towards Tokyo as a counterweight to Mainland China.
As we enter the New Year, let me wish my readers a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2017.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]