2020: Top Geopolitical Trends To Watch By Region
The New Year is a perfect occasion for drawing attention to three of the most important geopolitical trends to watch by region which could greatly shape the course of events there across the next 12 months.
* The Democrats Tempting (Entrapping?) Trump Into Another War
Presidential election seasons are always very sensitive times for American foreign policy since the incumbent (if there is one that cycle) usually tries to avoid being embroiled in any controversial overseas missions whereas the opposition does their best to pressure them into an intervention that could reduce their re-election odds.
* The US’ Possible Designation Of Drug Cartels As Terrorists:
Trump held off on his controversial decision to designate drug cartels as terrorists at the urging of his Mexican counterpart, but he might go ahead with it anyhow later this year to boost his re-election prospects despite the consequences that it might have on bilateral relations with his country’s southern neighbor.
* The Economic Impact Of The USMCA:
The implementation of the USCMA (“NAFTA 2.0”) is expected to have an extremely positive impact on the three economies involved, which could boost Trump’s re-election prospects together with comparatively stabilizing the situation in Mexico, especially concerning economically-driven illegal immigration to the US.
* The Possible Spread Of The “South American Spring”:
The outbreak of differing degrees of genuine grassroots revolt across several South American countries in the last few months of the past year has the potential to spread throughout the rest of the continent, with the question on most observers’ minds being whether or not Bolsonaro’s Brazil will be spared in that scenario.
* The Continuation Of “Operation Condor 2.0”:
The US’ concerted Hybrid War against multipolar-socialist governments in the hemisphere will undoubtedly continue across the coming year, with Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua being its prime targets after this rolling regime change operation swiftly succeeded in overthrowing their ally Bolivian President Morales last year.
* “Fortress America”:
On the back of its geopolitical successes over the past decade, the US will seek to institutionalize its largely restored hegemony over the hemisphere through bilateral bloc-to-bloc trade deals between the USMCA (which is already tied to the CAFTA-DR), the Pacific Alliance, and Mercosur in order to create a pro-US mega-region.
* The Rising “Three Seas”:
The US-backed and Polish-led “Three Seas Initiative” will continue rising in geopolitical, military, and economic prominence as an American wedge for disrupting any non-Washington-approved rapprochement between Western Europe and Russia.
* The EU’s Post-Brexit Battle For Leadership:
It’s presently uncertain what the de-facto political leadership of the post-Brexit EU will look like, but it’ll possibly be either the continuation of German hegemony, the emergence of France as a challenger to the aforesaid, or a division between Franco-German Western Europe and Polish-led Central Europe (EuroLiberals vs. EuroRealists).
* The Triangulation Of Trade Ties:
The EU is one corner of the global economic triangle while the US and China comprise the other two, but the US is expected to pressure the EU to distance itself from China following the conclusion of “phase one” of their more comprehensive trade deal or face its own possible trade war with Trump.
* The West African Failed State Crisis:
The Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger border triangle has become the new “Syraq” in the sense that it’s a largely lawless but geographically expansive and strategic space of millions of people increasingly destabilized by terrorist threats, the consequences of which could catalyze a regional chain reaction of failed states and migrant crises.
* Ethiopia’s Upcoming Elections:
Ethiopia will go to the polls later this year in what are widely being described as its freest and fairest elections in recent memory, though the danger is that the ethno-religious fault lines unwittingly exacerbated by Nobel Peace Prize winner PM Abiy will sharpen after the vote and plunge the country into full-on “Balkanization”.
* Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Conflict:
Whether one attributes it to foreign terrorists, local insurgents, or a combination of both, Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado conflict seems poised to worsen this year, which could have regional security consequences for the neighboring East African Community and global energy ones for the country’s enormous LNG extraction plans.
Middle East-North Africa (MENA)
* Make-Or-Break For “Neo-Ottomanism”:
Turkey’s grand strategic ambitions of restoring its historic sphere of influence will be put to the test in the Eastern Mediterranean through the GRISCY pipeline being built by its regional rivals and across that body of water in North Africa when it comes to the uncertain survival of the pro-Ankara authorities in Tripoli.
* The “New Middle East”:
The winding down of the Wars on Syria and Yemen could result in all relevant stakeholders both inside and outside of the region (such as Russia, China, and the US per the latter category) tacitly agreeing to a new regional status quo, which might even be influenced by Trump’s “Deal of the Century”.
* A GCC Reconciliation:
Small but steady steps seem to have been made in recent weeks concerning the prospect of a GCC reconciliation between Qatar and its organizational partners (primarily Saudi Arabia and the UAE), though this process has only just started and the ultimate outcome will be linked to the future of Doha’s ties with Ankara.
* Russia’s “Balancing” Act Is Becoming Unbalanced:
Russia will need to recalibrate its “balancing” act if it hopes to continue credibly practicing this strategy after its pro-Indian pivot and serious consideration of supersonic BrahMos missile sales to South China Sea claimants like the Philippines risk undoing the hard-earned trust that was reached with China over the past two decades.
* Central Asia Continues With Its Comprehensive Regional Integration:
The former Soviet Republics of Central Asia are moving forward with their comprehensive regional integration following the pragmatic foreign policy reforms of new Uzbekistani President Mirziyoyev, which has cultivated an atmosphere of trust that facilitates the countries’ enhanced participation in the CSTO, SCO, and BRI.
* Belarus’ “Balancing” Act Comes To An End:
Belarus will be pressed to choose whether it wants to remain part of Russian-led integration processes or join US-backed and EU-led ones (including the Polish-led “Three Seas Initiative”), which isn’t the result of any “Moscow meddling” but simply the failure of Lukashenko’s increasingly clumsy “balancing” act this past year.
* An Afghan Peace Deal Would Be A Paradigm-Changer:
It would be nothing a paradigm change in regional geostrategy if the US successfully clinches a peace deal with the Taliban, one which could likely see the increasing role of multipolar stakeholders in the conflict-beleagued landlocked state together with a shift in America’s regional approach from a military to an economic one.
* Tangible Progress On CPEC+:
It’s very likely that the concept of expanding CPEC along the northern, western, and southern geographic vectors (CPEC+: N-CPEC+, W-CPEC+, and S-CPEC+, respectively) will see some tangible progress next year as the global pivot state of Pakistan slowly but steadily begins to incorporate this vision into its grand strategy.
* India’s Internal Implosion:
The ruling BJP’s efforts to impose a “Hindu Rashtra” on the constitutionally secular state have provoked a scale of ethnic, religious, separatist, and political turmoil not seen since India’s infamous 1975-1977 “emergency”, which will likely worsen as the state doubles down on violence and the economy continues to decline.
* Indo-Japanese Involvement In The Russian Far East:
The “Vladivostok-Chennai Maritime Corridor” (VCMC) will increase Indian influence in the Russian Far East, as could a breakthrough in reaching a Russian-Japanese peace treaty do the same for Tokyo, with both allied Asian nations then potentially inviting Russia to join their “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” (AAGC).
* “Phase Two” Of The Trade Deal?:
It remains to be seen when, or even if, the US and China agree to “phase two” of their more comprehensive trade deal, with this variable greatly influencing their relations across the next year as well as the predicted state of their economies.
* The Korean Question Mark:
Nobody ever really knows what North Korea will do, but any backtracking on its symbolic commitment to denuclearize could have extremely destabilizing consequences for the region because of the reaction that the US might have to it, especially if Trump blames China for supposedly pressuring its partner to “misbehave”.
ASEAN & Oceania
* Supersonic Missiles Might Upset The “Balance Of Power” In The South China Sea:
Russia and India’s serious interest in selling their jointly produced BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to states in territorial disputes with China could completely upset the “balance of power” that’s thus far prevented a war from breaking out, as could any US efforts to get ahead of them in delivering this class of arms to the region.
* The “Arakan Army’s” Destabilization Of Myanmar’s Rakhine State:
Myanmar’s Rakhine State is globally known as the place where the military’s counter-terrorist efforts back in 2017 led to the exodus of over half a million “Rohingya”, though it’s nowadays becoming the latest front in its long-running civil war after the so-called “Arakan Army” stepped up attacks there all of last year.
* The Sino-Australian Competition In The South Pacific:
It’s extremely unlikely that the ongoing Sino-Australian competition for influence in the South Pacific (encouraged as the second-mentioned player is by the US) will abate anytime this coming year, meaning that this constellation of thinly populated island nations will continue to receive more global attention.
* Regional Integration Organizations Are More Important Than Ever:
Most of the world is nowadays part of political and/or economic regional integration blocs — the USMCA, Pacific Alliance, Mercosur, EU, Eurasian Union, AfCFTA, GCC, SAARC, SCO, ASEAN, BRI, RCEP — which is leading to the emergence of inter-bloc (as opposed to solely inter-national) relations as a force of global change.
* Kissinger’s Comeback:
The US’ Kissingerian strategy of “divide and rule” is comparatively easier to attempt than in the past few years due to the development of various fault lines between Western & Central Europe, Turkey & its neighbors, China & India, and Russia’s increasingly unbalanced “balancing” act, among others.
* The “Greater Eurasian Partnership” (GEP) Is The Supercontinent’s Greatest Hope:
The greatest hope for offsetting the destabilizing consequences of the US’ revived Kissingerian strategy rests in Russia’s GEP for integrating the supercontintent on a bloc-by-bloc basis, though its success is largely dependent on whether Moscow recalibrates its “balancing” act and whether India decides to join or obstruct this initiative.