INHERITANCE OF THE 2018 TRANSFORMATIVE TRENDS AFFECTING 2019
The main transformative trends in 2018 that will affect next year will concern at least the following three different global and interconnected sectors: Economic & Financial Area; Security; Dismantling of the Old World Order.
Economic & Financial Area
Regarding the economic and financial area, it will be necessary to monitor the growing importance of advanced technologies and their applications in the production cycles of the most industrial nations. In the next year, we will face a sort of rationalization of these production processes that will profoundly change the evolution of the current social equilibrium within nations and also the relations between states and large financial organizations. According to some analytical studies, a third of US workforce (about 50 million people) could be transformed by 2020. Furthermore, we will witness the explosion of new markets based on the technological needs of the elderly and the disabled people. We will also face the increase of cryptocurrencies. The knowledge and management of new technologies – ICT, AI, blockchain. 3D printing mainly – will constitute the challenge of the next decade between the major world powers and the main investment groups.
The impact of the advanced technologies on geostrategic decisions will increase. The new technologies will contribute to impressing, in 2019, a decisive turning point in what we can define henceforth as a new global revolution in military affairs. The military-industrial-financial complexes of the major world powers will undergo a complete transformation starting from 2019.
Dismantling of the Old World Order
Another important trend that will affect the global level concerns the dismantling of the old world order based on the criteria of multilateralism. In 2019, we will witness the weakening of large global organizations such as the UN and the reorganization of multilateral consultations regarding international trade, climate issues and regulations on the use of new technologies. This will happen for two main reasons. The first is due to the growing presence and importance of global players of nations like China, Russia, and India, who obviously try to implement their 360 degree spheres of influence, even outside the old institutions born in the so-called bipolar era, when the destinies of the world were substantially decided in Moscow and Washington. The second reason is due to the putting into practice of the “Trump Doctrine,” which, over the past two years, has placed a particularly bilateral strategy on U.S. foreign policy, upsetting the old equilibria.
2019: KEY GEOPOLITICAL CHALLENGES
A very important transformative trend will concern the European Union. 2018 has been a very critical year for the EU, both on the economic level, but above all on the political and social ones. 2019 will be a year in which the fate of the “European Common House” will be decided. As a consequence of the neopopulist waves and the so-called sovereignist ones that marked the social and political life of the Europeans during 2017-2018, most likely, the elections for the renewal of the European Parliament will reward the anti-European parties. 2019 will therefore be a very unstable year for the economy and politics of the European Union.
Regarding Europe’s role at global level, we have to consider that the contentious relations between the U.S. and China as well as with Russia will impact the European Union in 2019.
For different and divergent aspects, the U.S., Russia, and China have an interest in weakening the European Union.
For the U.S., with Europe in the grip of a political, economic, and financial identity crisis, this situation would allow Washington to “manage” the U.S. economic recovery, especially now that the traditional British ally, thanks to Brexit, is released from the obligations that tied it to Brussels. Moreover, at a geostrategic level, the continuing European crisis allows the U.S. to gain time in making costly decisions and responsibilities in financial terms in the theatres of North Africa and the Middle East.
For Russia, the issue is more delicate and problematic. A weak European Union, according to the Kremlin, would be more malleable in relation to the Ukrainian issue and the sanctions regime that has influenced the Russian economy since 2014. But this could be true, for the short term. In fact, a European Union weakened in the medium and long term would be at the mercy of the strategic interests of the U.S., since the EU is the eastern periphery of the U.S. geopolitical system, built at the end of the Second World War. Ultimately, in the absence of a political EU, the true European “glue” would consist only of NATO’s military-diplomatic device: something that Moscow certainly should not wish.
A fragmented Europe, unable to have a coherent and unitary policy of infrastructural development, does not realistically have the useful force to negotiate – on the basis of equal geopolitical dignity – with China on the great project of the New Silk Road. For this reason, at the moment, a weak Europe is convenient for China. For Beijing it is easier and cheaper to negotiate with individual EU countries and, in some cases, even with regional administrations. Moreover, the absence of a truly European foreign policy allows China to operate in Africa without real competitors, apart from the U.S. and Russia.
The main geopolitical challenges in Asia will concern relations between the U.S., Japan, and China. Tokyo, although in line with U.S. policies, could be a point of mediation between the different positions of Washington and Beijing.
On the geostrategic level, Washington will have to follow up on the initiatives launched in 2018 with Pyongyang for a complete normalization of relations. It will be a bumpy route, because the conflicting interests of the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China remain in the background of the North Korean issue.
Another very controversial issue about the relations between the U.S. and China will concern Tibet. In particular, in the first months of 2019 Beijing and Washington will have to find a mediation in reference to the effects of the “Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act” (signed by President Trump at the end of 2018) that promotes the access to Tibet of U.S. diplomats, journalists and citizens and denies U.S. visas to Chinese officials considered responsible for blocking access to Tibet.
Another issue that will have considerable geopolitical impacts at regional and global levels is related to the Chinese project of the New Silk Road. Beijing – in order to achieve its objectives – will consolidate its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation.
U.S.-China trade tensions impact
During 2018, the Trump administration has conducted a real trade war against China. In the next year this war will be in a certain way perfected. We have already had warnings of such kind: the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer and daughter of founder of high-tech giant Huawei, constitutes an example of the escalation of the U.S.-China tensions. The tensions between the U.S. and China are not just commercial, but strategic. The U.S. and China compete for technological supremacy. This strategic confrontation will affect the entire global system, impacting the worldwide financial system and determining choices of field between the various countries of the globe.
North Africa, Near and Middle East
In North Africa (particularly in Libya), Moscow’s stabilizing function is destined to grow in importance.
In 2019, we will witness a rearrangement of forces within the quadrants of the Near and Middle East. Despite the Kashoggi affair, the United States will strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia and will target the new Israeli government to counter Iran’s presence.
The geopolitical and strategic dynamics concerning the area, however, will be affect by the increasing influence of the Russian Federation, Iran and Turkey in the course of the next year.
Central and South America
Although the US has regained some positions in South America, the Chinese presence and, partially also the Russian one, in the area will produce effects on the hegemonic attempt of the Trump Administration. The issue of migration is destined to play an increasing crucial role in Trump’s Central American policy.
An early version of the text appeared with The Diplomat magazine (interview with Kuo Mercy)
Vision & Global Trends
International Institute for Global Analyses