Complex problems loom on the horizon
The year 2020 will be particularly important, not only because it will see the next US presidential election in November, but also because it is the start of another decade where several existing complex problems cast a shadow on the international horizon.
Trump’s first gambit was simply to bluster the North Korean leader as Kim tested increasingly lethal and long-range weapons. Then, receiving nothing in return, Trump delivered to Kim a global platform. Now, Trump, waiting for a so-called Christmas and New Year’s gift from Kim has received the answer. Kim Jong-un has informed Trump that he is ending the suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests.
Trump and Xi Jinping have signed a trade pact of sorts covering some dimensions -- trying to delay implementing new tariffs, trimming some existing duties on Chinese products, and opening markets in China to some American farm products. However, there still remain several factors that might delay the signing of a broad agreement before the elections. It may also be mentioned that China, anticipating a further delay in resolving trade problems with the US has already started its push for the internationalization of the Chinese currency, the Renminbi (RMB).
In the meantime, the latest breakout of the coronavirus in China has created different dimensions on the economic front between the two countries.
Rearrangement in the alignment of Russia and China
Both China and Russia and their leaderships have been crisscrossing Africa, conducting trade and selling arms respectively to a continent Trump has never visited. China and Russia have also found an ally in Iran. This could also be the year when Iran finally decides it has nothing further to lose and moves toward a nuclear weapon. It has already breached the levels of enriched uranium it is allowed under the nuclear agreement from which the US has withdrawn. The question that will then arise is what will the US and EU do?
Russia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey
Under the guidance of Vladimir Putin, Russia has gotten involved in several regions -- Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Its role in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey has, however, continued to draw special attention. Putin has enabled Russia to obtain a firm toehold in the eastern Mediterranean, where the American Sixth Fleet based in Naples has long held sway.
Putin, thanks to developments in Ukraine and the aforementioned countries, will be an important factor in Trump’s efforts to regain a higher profile in the international arena. This will definitely be followed carefully by the US electorate before and during the US presidential election year. Meanwhile, Turkey has become the first NATO Member State to agree and adopt a major Russian weapons system.
This has urged strategic analysts to discern the growing influence of Russia within the Central Asian landscape as Russian and Syrian forces enter the final phase of ending the civil war. Nevertheless, the path forward during the election year appears to have persuaded Trump to take more forceful action.
Brexit and NATO
With Britain finally leaving the EU, sooner than later, Trump will need to initiate critical trade talks, first with a newly non-EU Britain and then with the rest of the EU. The denotations and connotations will involve security measures as well as resolving disagreements with two longtime allies -- France and Germany.
An effort to find a solution to the Afghan quagmire also continues. The Taliban have apparently been holding a discussion with several parties associated with the Afghan leadership. However, instability continues to gain momentum in that country. The US effort to withdraw troops from there is still unresolved.
We have an interesting scenario before us. President Trump has a tough task leading up to November 2020. One can only hope that as it unfolds, it does not unravel international peace and stability.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]