Brace for glob­alised Trump­ma­nia

The crys­tal ball for 2017 is murky for now, but what is cer­tain for this year is that pop­ulist na­tion­al­ists will show us how they in­tend to re­shape the lib­eral world or­der.

Finweek English Edition - - OPINION - Edi­to­rial@fin­week.co.za Pe­ter Fabri­cius was for­eign ed­i­tor of In­de­pen­dent News­pa­pers for 20 years, writ­ing on African and global is­sues. He has been writ­ing weekly col­umns for the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies (ISS) since 2013.

it might be the Year of the Rooster in the Chi­nese cal­en­dar, but prob­a­bly only the pop­ulist na­tion­al­ists will be crow­ing. If 2016 was the year when those pop­ulist na­tion­al­ists am­bushed the lib­eral es­tab­lish­ment, 2017 will be the year when they start show­ing us how they in­tend re­shap­ing the lib­eral world or­der.

No-one more so than Don­ald Trump, as he be­gins to put his un­pre­dictable stamp on the US and the world. Pop­ulist na­tion­al­ists, em­bold­ened by Trump’s vic­tory and by Brexit, will mount a real chal­lenge to the vi­a­bil­ity of the EU, with cru­cial elec­tions in France, the Nether­lands, Ger­many and Italy.

How many of his rash elec­tion cam­paign prom­ises will Trump keep?

At home he is likely to roll back his pre­de­ces­sor’s hard-fought Oba­macare, and abroad maybe also Amer­ica’s com­mit­ment to the his­toric 2015 Paris Agree­ment to curb green­house gas emis­sions.

Can­celling all of the USA’s free trade agree­ments, as promised, would likely trig­ger a trade war that could plunge the world into a re­ces­sion.

Po­lit­i­cally, Trump has also threat­ened the post-war world or­der, with dan­ger­ous con­se­quences.

Eastern Euro­pean coun­tries are par­tic­u­larly alarmed that Trump will re­nege on Amer­ica’s his­tor­i­cal com­mit­ment to pro­tect them from Rus­sia.

He’s struck up an un­likely “bro­mance” with Rus­sian tough-guy Vladimir Putin and threat­ened not to hon­our the USA’s mu­tual-de­fence obli­ga­tions to fel­low Nato mem­bers. Will this en­cour­age Putin to in­vade other re­gions, as he did with Crimea?

Trump stirred sim­i­lar mis­giv­ings in Ja­pan and South Korea by propos­ing they arm them­selves with nu­clear weapons to counter the threat from nu­clear-armed North Korea, rather than con­tin­u­ing to rely on the US.

He may end US sup­port for demo­cratic rebels in Syria, giv­ing Putin a free hand to con­tinue bol­ster­ing dic­ta­tor Bashar al-As­sad. That would be a ma­jor blow to democ­racy, though it might con­cen­trate in­ter­na­tional ef­forts on de­feat­ing ISIS. ISIS might be forced to aban­don its “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq this year – but will prob­a­bly step up its ter­ror at­tacks around the world in re­venge.

Trump’s un­qual­i­fied sup­port for Is­rael will prob­a­bly kill what­ever small chance there was of a ne­go­ti­ated res­o­lu­tion of the Pales­tine ques­tion.

Trump’s im­pact on US re­la­tions with the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy, China, will be anx­iously watched. In Eastern Europe Trump seems likely to fol­low the main for­eign pol­icy thrust of his cam­paign – to re­treat from Amer­ica’s role as the world’s po­lice­man.

That sug­gests Trump would defuse Amer­ica’s grow­ing con­fronta­tion with China over dis­putes with other re­gional states for pos­ses­sion of is­lands and con­trol of sea lanes in the South China and East China seas. It also sug­gests the US might aban­don Tai­wan – the state which China re­gards as a mere “rene­gade prov­ince” – to its fate. But the dif­fer­ence is that China is an eco­nomic com­peti­tor to the US which Rus­sia is not. And the US work­ers who have lost their jobs to cheaper Chi­nese im­ports were Trump’s core vot­ers. So he has threat­ened to re­tal­i­ate by slap­ping stiff tar­iffs on China’s im­ports. He has cosied up to Tai­wan’s newly-elected pro-in­de­pen­dence pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen, wav­ing a red rag to Bei­jing. So in­creased con­fronta­tion with China is also pos­si­ble. This will be a pre­car­i­ous year for Europe. Elec­tions in the key pil­lars of the EU – France and Ger­many – will give op­por­tu­ni­ties for the far-right to chal­lenge the union. What­ever hap­pens, it is likely to emerge weaker. In Ger­many, Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, the ma­tri­arch and de facto leader of Europe, will face a tough re-elec­tion bat­tle for a fourth term. She and her cen­tre-right CDU-led grant coali­tion have been sig­nif­i­cantly weak­ened by her open-doors pol­icy on im­mi­gra­tion and by Is­lamist ter­ror at­tacks. Pun­dits fore­cast Merkel will win again, but the elec­tions will prob­a­bly give the far­right, anti-im­mi­grant, anti-EU Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many Party (AfD) a foothold in par­lia­ment. In France the two es­tab­lish­ment par­ties – the So­cial­ists and the cen­tre-right Repub­li­cans – face a much stronger chal­lenge from Marine Le Pen and her far-right, anti-im­mi­grant, anti-EU Na­tional Front in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. She could even win in the first round in April, though the two main­stream par­ties would then prob­a­bly join forces to de­feat her in the sec­ond round. If she pro­duced a shock win, it would be a fa­tal blow to the EU. In Africa, ev­ery­one’s wait­ing to see if a ten­ta­tive agree­ment in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) be­tween the gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion, bro­kered by the Catholic Church on New Year’s Eve, will stick – or whether greater vi­o­lence will erupt. The deal de­mands that Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila, who has al­ready ex­ceeded his con­sti­tu­tional man­date, step down be­fore the end of 2017. Zim­bab­wean pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe turns 93 on 21 Fe­bru­ary. With no suc­ces­sion plan in place, chaos threat­ens if he sud­denly dies (and con­tin­u­ing stag­na­tion if he doesn’t). Po­ten­tially desta­bil­is­ing suc­ces­sions or non-suc­ces­sions will con­tinue to sim­mer in places like An­gola and The Gam­bia. So seek not to hear for whom the rooster crows in 2017. It prob­a­bly crows not for thee.

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