Anthony Manduca looks at the incoming year which sees Donald Trump becoming the next US President and and a number of crucial elections being held in Europe.
It is going to be a very challenging 2017, primarily because Donald Trump will become America’s next President on January 20. Because of America’s tremendous power and influence around the globe and because the US has traditionally been the leader of the free world, whoever sits in the Oval Office in the White House matters a great deal to the international community.
The soon-to-be President’s hardline support for Israel’s illegal policy of building settlements, his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, his closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin, his lukewarm support for Nato and the UN, his protectionist trade policy, his call for a nuclear arms race and his inward-looking nationalist agenda are definitely cause for concern.
We shall have to see whether Trump actually pursues such policies but such an agenda will only isolate America and lead to other world actors taking on more of an internationalist role. I expect the EU and individual European countries such as France, Germany and Britain as well as nations like Australia, Canada, India, Japan, China, South Africa and Russia to play a more prominent role in global multilateral diplomacy. Chinese global leadership is likely to grow considerably.
Trump’s exaggeratedly strong pro-Israeli attitude, if really pursued, will probably lead to another intifada by Palestinians frustrated by Israel’s intransigence and condemnation of the US by the Muslim world.
President Barack Obama’s decision not to veto a UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlements policy (long overdue) marks a new encouraging chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Will the US under Trump want to defy the Security Council where it needs as many friends as possible?
I am not sure, however, that Trump will withdraw US support for the Iran nuclear accord, even though he will undoubtedly adopt more of a hardline attitude towards Teheran. Trump has put a high priority on improving ties with Russia, which strongly supports the agreement and would greatly condemn any US military action against Iran. Furthermore, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Defence, retired General James ‘mad dog’ Mattis, is said to be in favour of the Iran nuclear accord, even though he believes that the Iranian regime should be confronted more for its behaviour in the Middle East. Finally, the Iran deal is good for business, and that is something Trump surely appreciates.
Iran votes in a presidential election in May and an antagonistic attitude towards Teheran by the US will only strengthen the position of the hardline candidates. It is just possible that this is what Trump wants to achieve – as it is always easier to confront a hardline Iranian regime that a moderate one keen on opening up to the world.
It will be an interesting time for US-Russian relations. Trump says he wants to improve ties with Moscow, which in itself is a good thing. However, while Trump has a great opportunity to ‘restart’ relations with Russia he will soon learn that Moscow needs to be contained and at times, confronted.
In this policy area he will be monitored very carefully by his own Republicans in the House and Senate, most of whom are very sceptical about Vladimir Putin and who support President Obama’s punitive measures in retaliation for Russian interference in the US presidential election.
Trump will be tested on key foreign policy issues shortly after he takes office. Will he be 100 per cent committed to Nato and to the territorial integrity of the Baltic States and Ukraine? If he seeks a deal in Syria with Russia will he abandon America’s allies such as the Kurds, the Free Syrian Army and the Gulf States? How will he deal with North Korea when it announces that its nuclear missiles are capable of reaching US territory? How exactly is he going to deal with China; will a trade war with Beijing really help American workers and jobs? Will he remained committed to the security of South Korea and Japan?
The key to Trump’s success at home lies in his Republican party, which controls Congress, and which has never been comfortable with him. It is also possible that the Republicans will actually reject one or two of the new President’s Cabinet appointees or Ambassadors. Who knows, perhaps Trump will be impeached by Congress, as predicted by the Washington DC-based professor, Allan Lichtman, who had also forecast that Trump would win the election.
Let me make one prediction which I know will be 100 per cent accurate: the whole world, not just America, will miss Barack Obama in 2017. We will miss his grace, his dignity, his common sense, his well thought out reassuring words and his belief in tolerance, pluralism, social justice, inclusiveness, international engagement, diplomacy and an America that is a champion of liberal values.
Let me make one prediction which I know will be 100 per cent accurate: the whole world, not just America, will miss Barack Obama in 2017
Europe faces a number of challenges in 2017, and Malta, as the holder of the EU presidency from today, can play an important part in forging a consensus within the bloc on a wide range of issues. The EU will have to build on the momentum achieved by the Paris climate change agreement, broker a deal to reform the Dublin rules on migration, increase security and intelligence co-operation, secure its external borders, respond to be populist surge by getting closer to its citizens, start Brexit negotiations, establish ties with the Trump administration in the US and redouble its efforts at stabilising the situation in Libya and supporting Tunisia’s fragile democracy.
Europe will need to go out of its way to convince Trump that the Trans-Atlantic relationship, including Nato, is in America’s interest just as it is in Europe’s. The EU should also give Trump the benefit of the doubt, and while sticking to its core values, Brussels should go the extra mile in seeking to preserve its close ties to Washington.
There are important elections in Europe this year. Holland goes to the polls in March, France votes in presidential elections in April and May and Germany votes in September.
In all three countries right-wing populist parties are taking votes away from the centrist parties, mainly because of concerns over migration and security. We can expect all the mainstream parties to adopt more of a hardline attitude in this regard, in order to erode support for the populists.
In Holland the anti-EU, anti-Islam Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders could well receive the highest number of votes, but will likely be excluded from any coalition formed by the centrist parties. If it had to join into a coalition with one or more of the mainstream parties, this would likely be conditional on Holland remaining in the EU and the new government respecting European values.
In France the polls indicate that Marine Le Pen from the far-right anti-EU National Front will make it to the second round of the presidential election but would then be defeated by the centre-right Republican candidate François Fillon. A victory for Fillon would be a huge boost for Europe and a vote against populism. If Le Pen had to be elected, on the other hand, it would be a huge blow for Europe. However, to really control the government Le Pen would then have to win the country’s parliamentary elections. Furthermore, it won’t be easy for France to leave the EU – the French Constitution says that France is a member of the bloc.
In Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU faces a challenge – as do other parties – from the Alternative for Germany, a populist anti-migrant anti-euro party. This new party is expected to make it to the national Parliament after September’s elections and is currently running at about 15 per cent in the polls. However, no party will want to govern with it in a coalition. If Alternative for Germany continues to attract support from all voters, then it is perfectly possible for the CDU to still win most votes and Merkel could be reconfirmed as Chancellor in a new coalition. Of course, every time a terrorist attack takes place on German soil, Merkel will lose votes.
Syria will continue to dominate the headlines this year and the ceasefire announced last week by Russia and Turkey is certainly welcome, although it remains to be seen if the truce holds and exactly what type of negotiations will take place.
It will be interesting to see how the Trump administration deals with Syria, and whether it will listen to its allies in the region such as Turkey and the Gulf States. We can expect Bashar al-Assad to remain in power, although taking control of all his country will be difficult.
Europe will have less influence over Turkey as Ankara grows more authoritarian and Turkish-EU accession talks will go nowhere. Turkey’s influence in its neighbourhood, however, especially in Syria, will continue to grow. Saudi Arabia will have to be watched carefully for any signs of economic turbulence as the low price of oil takes its effect on the kingdom.
The war against the so-called Islamic State will continue and if the Trump administration carries on with President Obama’s multifaceted strategy (not just depending on a military solution) then the jihadist organisation will most likely lose the territory it controls in both Iraq and Syria. However, we can expect IS and al-Qaeda terrorism to continue, not only in the region, but also in Europe, Africa, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan for many years to come.
The G7 summit will be held in Taormina in May and G20 summit will be held in Hamburg in July. A number of new leaders will be taking part such as Donald Trump and a new French President, and perhaps a new Italian Prime Minister if elections are held earlier than expected.
In the Philippines we shall have to see whether President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial war on drugs continues to enjoy wide popular support or whether its gets out of hand, thus turning public opinion against him. Duterte’s relations with China, in view of the two countries’ dispute in the South China Sea, will also be under the spotlight.
We can expect the Opposition in Venezuela to continue to try to get rid of Socialist President Nicolás Maduro who has presided over economic chaos and mismanagement in the country. In Congo, Gambia and Ethiopia we can expect pro-democracy demonstrations to continue as more and more African countries demand better governance and democratic norms.
Finally, the spread of ‘fake news’ will continue to pose a challenge to democracies around the world and hopefully organisations like Facebook, Twitter and Google will come to terms with this threat and do something about it.