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.
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.