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The Key Issues Shaping 2019  

 

Bullets Jan 2019 Image

The Sign of the Times’s final Leader of the year provides a window onto the coming year.  As in previous years, the paper presents the key themes or events with the potential to shape the world, markets and lives during the next 12 months and beyond.  2019 promises to be as turbulent a year as 2018 has been, which has seen a US government shutdown, senior US cabinet member departures, a US-China trade war.  At this transition from the old year to the new, we would like to pause and examine more closely ten events in the coming year that will have a potentially significant impact on peace, prosperity and happiness around the world.  The context is that of the world in the throes of several transitions, the decline of the western liberal order, the shift from industrial to information-based economies and societies and the geopolitical realignment arising from the decline in the West relative to China’s and other emerging markets growth.  As a result, international institutions, nations, governments, corporations and individuals are suffering the overthrow of widely accepted rules and conventions which look set to continue to transform the world order.  While it is uncertain what the cumulative impact of these changes on the world might be, it is clear that they represent fundamental risks to growth and stability and that the changes they are ushering in are set to be a painful one as irreconcilable division seems to be the norm within and across nations and communities,  Accordingly, this month’s Sign seeks to identify the key events that look set to shape 2019 as well as the competing world views that are shaping them, and to draw out the potential implications for the year ahead.  Wishing you a prosperous and happy 2019!

 

 10 Key Issues Shaping 2019

 

1. 2019 Indian General Elections

1 2019 Indian General Elections

Potential Outcomes and Implications

Trajectory Set or Fork in the Road.  The outcome of the 2019 election could play an important role in shaping India’s trajectory going forward.  The country’s economic recovery and re-emergence since 2013 has been driven by a combination of strong macro-economic fundamentals, and the passage of a number of important reforms by a government with a strong majority and an aligned legislative agenda.

Coalition, but How Restrictive?  If the BJP successfully replicates its success from 2014, it could build on its achievements over the last five years and potentially address some large-scale reforms (such as amending labour or land acquisition laws) and set India on the path towards double-digit economic growth.  A decisive victory for a Congress Party, promising to learn from the mistakes of their last term in government, could yield similar benefits for the country and depending on the strength of whoever emerges as their leader and how the party organises its manifesto and legislative agenda.  There is also a distinct possibility of a split mandate with a coalition government, and the Congress Party’s pre-poll alliance already consists of a number of regional parties.  The BJP will no doubt look for a repeat of its decisive victory from 2014, but if it does fall short of an absolute majority, it may still be able to form the government with support from regional parties.

Growth Looks Set to Continue, Following a Bump in the Road.  Both scenarios in a split mandate could increase the risk of short-to-medium term policy uncertainty with political parties jostling for power, and while India’s economic growth should remain robust in the medium-to-long-term due to its macro-economic fundamentals, a failure to implement key reforms due to political uncertainty could be the difference between 6-8% annual GDP growth and 8-10% annual GDP growth.  This looks like a “high class” problem relative to the growth challenges of the developed world and other emerging markets, but India has in previous decades managed to mire itself in its internal affairs to the detriment of its people and the international community.  The third scenario of a bump in progress, where a coalition learns to work or break-up and re-form, before stability seems remote but should not be ruled out.

 

2. The US-China Trade War

2 The US- CHina Trade War

Potential Outcomes and Implications

Trade War Ongoing with Proxy Conflicts.  The current truce by the US and China has clearly not seen a cessation of trade hostilities, but a shift to proxy conflicts and actions that threaten to derail any bona fide progress on the key issues being discussed.  The arrest of Chinese telecom equipment company Huawei’s CFO in Canada and potential extradition to the US for her company’s alleged Iran sanctions violations can be seen as an example of a US proxy move (at a cost to its proxy Canada, which has seen its own citizens detained in China as a result) , while the injunction banning Apple from selling its recent iPhone models in China (ironically based on a filing by another US company, Qualcomm) is an example of a Chinese counter-move.

Likely Outcomes Driven by US End Game(s).  If the conflict is tactical or designed to achieve a one-off reset, trade negotiators will be empowered and able to overcome the distractions of proxy wars and 2019 will see a reduction of uncertainty and volatility as a trade deal calms global markets and reaffirms the core principles of the global trade order, while addressing some of the West’s concerns about China’s unfair trade practices.  Should however, the US be playing a longer game of containment, 2019 is likely to see a significant escalation of conflict: with China’s direct exposure to the current tariffs limited to 4% of its GDP, the US will need to continue to turn up the heat, with potentially significant market and trade repercussions across the world, driving further volatility and uncertainty and creating collateral damage for both the US and its allies.

Domestic Priorities Driving Pace of Engagement, but a Long-Term Strategic Play has Begun.  The alternative view is perhaps a cynical one in which the strategic containment of China is a legitimate high priority concern of the Trump Administration but winning the next election is more important and so no meaningful progress can be expected to be made until it serves the political purpose of showing the deal making capability of the president and so a series of “fake” deals can be expected before a “real” win is declared very close to the next US general election.   Whatever is the short-term outcome, this initial containment and management of China’s rise looks set to be a cross-party and cross-presidency strategic objective.

 

 3. The Trump-Russia Investigation and the US Legislative Agenda

3 The Trump Russia Investigation

Potential Outcomes and Implications

Baseline of Disruption and Controversy, as per the Promised Mandate.  In his first two years in office, President Trump was able to play to his base and aggressively drive his ‘America First’ agenda[4], including on tax, trade, immigration and judiciary.  This was particularly dramatic in the nomination of conservative judges who tilted the balance of the Supreme Court and federal courts, which was achieved without any serious congressional checks due to the Republican’s control over both houses of congress.  Even with this level of political strength, the White House has been enveloped in near ceaseless controversy due to the ongoing Russia probe and its disclosures, constant turnover in senior officials and because of the President’s own tendency towards making controversial statements, and of course his ongoing war with the press.

Challenges Creating Potential Stalemate and Raising the Stakes.  Facing what is now a far more hostile political environment, as evidenced by the recent very public confrontation with congressional leaders over a potential government shutdown, President Trump will encounter difficulties in passing any major legislation during the remainder of his term.  Further, recent guilty pleas by his personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former-time campaign manager Paul Manafort (among others) appear to indicate that Mr. Mueller’s probe is reaching an inflection point and coming closer to the President’s inner circle (including his family) and himself, and with Democrats poised to re-open the congressional investigation into Russia, the administration may face existential challenges.  Depending on the actions of the Democratic and the result of the Mueller probe, President Trump may find himself either boxed in and compromising with the opposition across a range of issues or bound into a corner and lashing out by firing up his base in an even more divisive manner than in the past in order to survive.

Electoral Politics Likely Drive Pace of Engagement.  The alternative view here is also perhaps a cynical one in which the containment of President Trump is a legitimate high priority concern of “the resistance” and winning the next election is even more important and so no meaningful progress can be expected to be made on the Russia investigation until it serves the political purpose of undermining the president and so a series of “showpiece” confession and convictions can be expected to continue before a “real” win is declared very close to the next US general election.

 

4. Brexit

4 Brexit

Potential Outcomes and Implications

Significant Economic Downside Under All Scenarios for Foreseeable Future.  A “hard” Brexit may provide the country with the ability to implement tougher policies on immigration and border controls in the short term but would only be sustainable if it could fill the exiting migrant labour with productive local labour that enabled it to maintain its international competitiveness.  The government’s own estimates indicate that a hard Brexit would severely handicap the UK economy for the foreseeable future, with GDP estimated to decrease by 5-9% over the next 15 years on account of the country’s withdrawal from the single trade market.  In contrast, a “soft” Brexit would limit the economic blow to the country, with GDP forecast to decrease by a more moderate 3-4% over 15 years, but at the same time bind the country to a series of trade and customs regulations that it would have no say in going forward.

Increasing Risk of ‘No Deal’.  In the event that Mrs. May is unable withstand the challenge to her leadership or build the internal consensus required to finalise a Brexit deal with the European Union, the country currently would still be required to leave the EU in March 2019.  This “no deal” scenario could prove to be even more catastrophic for the UK than the “hard” Brexit would be, as the country would not only lose access to the single-market, but also no longer benefit from a 21-month transition period that has currently been envisioned by all parties.  As a result, businesses, consumers and government bodies would have to adapt almost immediately to the country’s withdrawal from the EU, and the ensuing uncertainty could result in the UK economy shrinking by up to 8% in 2019 alone.

Structural Downgrade Likely given Lack of Credible Positive Options for the UK Post-Brexit.  All three scenarios – the “hard”, “soft” and “no deal” Brexits – seem to indicate a UK that would fall from its pre-vote position in Europe and the world in terms of economic and geo-political status.  Given that the UK is an important trading partner of the EU, there would of course be an impact on the Union itself, too.  However, while the EU will remain one of the biggest and most powerful trading blocs in the world, the UK would be a relatively small, declining and weaker nation seeking trade deals in a world that is populated by major power blocs (the US, EU, China, India and the ‘Quad’[5]).  Thus far, contrary to the promises of the Brexit camp, major trading nations such as India and China have shown no interest in providing the UK with a deal that would in any way compensate for the loss of its EU advantages and certainly not in any period that would make a difference.  President Trump has said the US would be ready to provide a trade deal to the UK if it implements a hard Brexit.  Clearly, this would be a highly skewed negotiation between the world’s most powerful trade negotiator and a severely handicapped UK with no deals in hand.  Alternative scenarios include a general election and a withdrawal from the Brexit back to the fold in the EU; recent polls indicate that if the vote were held again, demographics favour staying in.

 

5. Saudi Realignment of the Middle East

5 Saudi Realignment of the Middle East

Potential Outcomes and Implications

Swing in Perception of Crown Prince.  MBS’s actions began as a reforming campaign with the promise of bringing modernity, women’s rights, rolling back restrictive religious practices and economic opportunity to the masses.  Following a series of more aggressive acts of war, conflict and assassination, Saudi Arabia’s standing in the world as well as MBS’s own reputation has been damaged.

US Support Continues Without Positive Impact.  At the recent G20 meeting in Argentina, only Russian President Vladimir Putin was enthusiastic about greeting the crown prince, with even President Trump, who had strongly defended him following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, appearing reluctant to interact with MBS.  Further, the US Senate has voted to end support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen, which if successfully followed through would effectively hamper the country’s ability to intercede in the country’s civil war.  The Trump Administration on the other hand continues to argue that downgrading US-Saudi relations would jeopardise national security and US interests in the region.  However, given that Saudi Arabia to date is perceived to have not ‘achieved’ much more than destabilisation in the region, it is unclear whether continued support by the Trump administration will lead to better outcomes in the absence of significant strategic and policy changes on Saudi’s part. 

Uncertainty and Longer-Term Rebalancing Likely.  The alternative scenario is a coordinated withdrawal of support of Saudi Arabia, coupled with constructive engagement with Iran, with the aim of weakening the autocratic regimes of both countries and enabling bottom-up reforms over the short term, and to potentially reshape the political and security structure of the region over the longer term, as stronger civil societies and more inclusive future governments redefine national priorities to focus on peace and prosperity.  This is clearly a long term and multi-generational endeavour but one in which a US administration that is willing to sponsor regime change, as America has done the world over a number of times since World War II, could make a quick impact.[6]  Such a dramatic move while possible, seems unlikely given the alternatives, but President Trump has surprised the world before.

 

6. US Military Withdrawals

6 US Military Withdrawals

Potential Outcomes and Implications

Syrian Withdrawal Cedes Ground to Turkey, Iran and Russia.  The US withdrawal from Syria risks upsetting a delicate equilibrium in the region at the cost of its allies and to the benefit of its strategic opponents.  The presence of US troops on the ground, although limited in number, coupled with allies, was sufficient to combat ISIS, limit Russian encroachment in the region, deter enhanced aggression by Iranian and Syrian government forces and keep both its Kurdish allies and their opponents Turkey, a NATO partner, in check, more or less successfully.  Without US troops, each of these issues risk seeing a reset that undoes all of the progress the US has achieved in the region since 2015.  This move has of course been welcomed by America’s opponents, Russia and Syria, as well as Turkey, whose prime minister apparently first suggested the troop withdrawal to President Trump, and who will likely use the opportunity to reignite a longstanding campaign against Kurdish separatists both at home and abroad.

Afghanistan Withdrawal Mid-Mission and Without Exit Strategy.  In Afghanistan, the expected withdrawal of 7,000 troops is occurring after 17 years of continuous US military presence is occurring in the context of significant territorial wins by the Taliban and increasing mission fatigue by coalition forces.  This fatigue has driven a round of recent talks between the US and Taliban, brokered by Pakistan, to find a political accommodation with the insurgency (one that is largely believed to threaten the political and security stability of Afghanistan).  The withdrawal of US troops during these talks eliminates a major point of leverage for the US in negotiating the future order of the country and further risk bringing the Taliban – who are believed to have become increasingly extremist and ridden with al-Qaeda affiliates – into the position of the official government as part of a negotiated settlement.  This risk will be exacerbated if the US hands over key roles and responsibilities to Pakistan, who as US intelligence believes continues to support the Taliban covertly to undermine the Afghan government and pull the country into its sphere of influence.

Reversing Course will be Difficult, Not Doing so Creates Anti-US Power Blocs in the Middle East and Asia.  America of course can reverse course, as it often has before, and resume engagements in both regions.  However, with the recent cabinet departures the administration has lost the remaining members that supported such strategic US engagements abroad.  Further, any re-engagement in either region would, given the complexity of the issues in each, require a sustained effort and a multi-layered engagement strategy that leveraged not just US military but also economic and political resources.  Without US leadership, its allies most likely fail to prevent anti-American forces from seizing power in the region and establishing bases that can in the future threaten US interests and security.  In Asia, Pakistan has not proven to be a reliable ally in addressing issues of a security, military and regional influence nature.  In Syria, France now represents the largest Western power in terms of troops on the ground but lacks the resources and credibility to stand against both local and Russian forces.  The outcome seems to be an America and a world that is less safe: Firstly, it breeds defiance with America’s opponents, who will feel that they have defeated the US. Secondly, it undermines future collaborations with America’s partners, who will lose further trust in the US.  Most importantly though it creates resentment with local allies, who, having been abandoned by America and brutalised by now unchecked dictators, represent a potential next generation of US enemies.  Premature withdrawals teach dictators that they can outlast the US, and people seeking freedom that the US cannot be relied on – a real blow to the ‘Land of the Free’.

 

 7. The 2019 UN Climate Change Summit

7 The 2019 UN Climate Change Summit

Potential Outcomes and Implications 

American Withdrawal of Engagement.  The US, which until 2016 had been a leader in global climate change negotiations, is increasingly playing an unpredictable role, but one consistent with the world view projected by President Trump.  This past month, as all the remaining signatories to the Paris Agreement met at the United Nations “COP24” Conference in Poland to agree implementation guidelines, the US joined Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in refusing to sign off on a statement endorsing a United Nations scientific report that concluded that global emissions need to decline by 40-50% by 2030 to keep the rise in global temperature under two degrees, identified as the upper limit for avoiding the most catastrophic effects of climate change.  These kinds of symbolic actions seem designed to play to President Trump’s domestic political base as evidence of his focus on ‘America First’ policies.  The reality though is that, President Trump’s statements and intentions notwithstanding, the US cannot formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement until November 4, 2020, one day after the next presidential election, and hence the US government remains obliged to work alongside other countries to meet its targets until then.

Climate Disaster May be Unavoidable.  The critical issue “real life”, rather than political, issue facing the world is that despite the commitments laid down in the Paris Agreement, countries have not managed to collectively reduce emissions below 2015 levels, with the level of CO2 emissions actually increasing in 2017.  Therefore, climate negotiators will face a tremendous challenge in agreeing to concrete (and likely, costly) implementation actions to transition away from fossil fuels, particularly with the US likely to avoid agreeing to any tangible actions which may restrict its fossil fuel industry.  With a 0.5 degree difference in global temperature having a catastrophic impact on ecosystems, species loss, and crop yields, the European Union, India and China (which currently together account for 42% of global greenhouse gas emissions globally) will need to play a pivotal role in shaping the global consensus, at a minimum until it becomes apparent in two years whether the US rejoins the global coalition against climate change or chooses to remain isolated.

Commitments May be Impossible to Meet, Even with the Best of Intentions.  There is the distinct possibility that countries are making commitments that they cannot or will not meet, either because politicians feel the economic cost would damage their countries or their careers or because the task itself is becoming increasingly elusive.  As a result, smaller groups of citizens of the world are living in denial while the majority live either in the hope of a breakthrough to a problem that we will not solve through abstinence or become resigned to facing dire consequences.

 

8. North Korean Nuclear Disarmament

8 North Korean Nuclear Disarmament

Potential Outcomes and Implications 

Alignment on Ends, but Not on Means.  The US, South Korea and China all agree that denuclearisation is a good idea given the potentially catastrophic consequences of a nuclear detonation, much less a nuclear exchange on the densely populated Korean Peninsula.  The two opposing views on how to achieve this however present a potential source of conflict for the United States and South Korea that provides North Korea, and potentially China with the opportunity to exploit this to their advantage, and perhaps even gain the chance to loosen the US-South Korean security alliance. 

North Korean Intentions Critical in Absence of Interventions.  Ultimately, determining the right mode of engagement depends on the level of actual commitment to denuclearisation on North Korea’s part.  While Kim Jong Un has repeatedly reaffirmed his support of the process, the country’s goodwill gestures to date have been dismissed as cosmetic at best.  If North Korea’s commitments stop there, further engagement and de-escalation will weaken US-South Korean relations and the US-led security architecture in North Asia for no effective gain, with China able to widen its military sphere of influence.  In such a scenario, containment would be the best option until the US and China manage to reset their geostrategic relationship and agree on a mutually executed peace plan for the region.  If, however North Korea’s commitment is sincere, positive engagement will reap massive security benefits for the nearly 80m people living there, reducing nuclear risk, as well as significant economic development for North Korea, 50% of whose population lives in extreme poverty.  Starting down the path to this outcome in 2019 however will require a concentrated effort by not just South Korea but also the US, whose foreign policy priorities appear to have moved on somewhat since it billed the 2018 Trump-Kim summit a success.

Potential Geopolitical Trade-offs Determine Outcome.  The alternative view is that this is a game with no solution within the construct of how to incentivise North Korea to disarm and join the league of nations.   If there is a solution it is one struck at a geopolitical level trading something of greater strategic value between the US and China, such as Taiwan.

 

9. The Onset of Gene Editing Therapies

9 The Onset of Gene Editing Template

Potential Outcomes and Implications

The World Moves a Step Closer to Materially Reducing the Global Disease Burden.  Gene editing, using the CRISPR/CAS9 technology, is undoubtedly one of the most important science stories of the last decade, and the nature of outcomes of the upcoming clinical trials could have far-reaching consequences for medical research and the global healthcare community, with breakthroughs across a number of previously untreatable diseases worldwide.  In the event that the aforementioned clinical trials are successful in 2019, they would arguably represent one of the most important breakthroughs in global healthcare in the past 50 years.  The debate over gene-editing has been a fierce one though, as the outcry over the recent announcement of the alleged gene edit of two embryos in China has highlighted.  While the debate over the ethics of gene-editing will of course continue, the success of these trials, conducted in line with US FDA standards, would likely assuage a number of safety-related concerns that opponents of gene-editing based treatments have expressed.  These results would not only pave the way for a number of other pharmaceutical companies that are looking to prevent and treat a variety of illnesses and disorders including cancer, blindness and heart disease, but also represent an important step forward in the fight to reduce the global disease burden.

Discord Retarding Global Healthcare Advances.  Alternatively, inconclusive or unsuccessful clinical trial results could result in significant uncertainty and inconsistency in human gene-editing going forward.  Countries that abide by more stringent ethical and safety norms in North America and Europe would likely pause or slow down their efforts in this field, with legislators potentially imposing additional restrictions on research.  On the other hand, countries like China or Russia, which to date have refrained from human gene-editing but abide by different ethical and scientific standards, may choose to push ahead with CRISPR based technologies in humans, with fewer safeguards in place.  For the medical community, this dichotomy would result in a lack of global standards of research and a widespread divergence in therapies and drugs in the field of gene editing across the world as well as a recasting of who might lead the field in the future.

The Use of Gene-Editing as a Strategic “Weapon”.  Perhaps more worryingly, however, a lack of globally accepted standards that govern human gene-editing could also result in state actors using these techniques to gain strategic and military advances.  China already appears to have raced ahead in this regard, having successfully modified human embryos, cloned a dog and spliced genes in monkeys, and is believed to have its sights on the potential to use human gene-editing for military purposes.  If the fears of China’s purported ambitions in this field are justified, the United States will likely follow suit, overtly if they have the support of legislators and the public and covertly otherwise, resulting in a global “arms race” within the field of genetic engineering.

 

 10. Russian Aggression in Ukraine

10 Russian Aggression in Ukraine

Potential Outcomes and Implications

Russia is Growing Increasing Aggressive as it is Cornered and Isolated by the West.  The annexation of Crimea has triggered a rapid decline in western countries’ relations with Russia, as the West has maintained and increased economic sanctions, while Russia has steadily escalated its acts of aggression and interference in countries across the world.  Recent actions in the Kerch Strait represent a potential tipping point which could see various red lines being further tested, and crossed, in the coming year. ­

European and US Resolve Likely to be Tested Soon.  As Russia seeks to increase its influence in Eastern Europe to counter growing isolation by the EU and US, its energy resources and military capability are the principal means at its disposal.  By recently restricting access across the newly built bridge linking it to the Crimea, Russia has signalled an intent to expand its territorial claims to the Sea of Azov.  With a sharp build-up of troops and tanks along its border with Ukraine, it is difficult to predict whether Russia will continue its current tactics of gradual incursions or seek to launch a new military invasion to expand its territorial footprint.  Either way, unless there is a de-escalation, the EU and US will face the choice of whether or not they stand firmly behind Ukraine and apply further punitive sanctions against Vladimir Putin and Russia by exerting leverage wherever it can (such as cutting Russia off from the global banking system and sanctions against its oil and gas exports).

The Endgame is Either Rapprochement, or Prolonged Conflict.  The current cycle of sanctions and military aggression that was unleashed by the US and the EU after the annexation of Crimea appears to fast be reaching a tipping point.  The various proxy conflicts Russia has unleashed (in Syria, through various interventions in Africa, cyberwarfare) have had collateral damage globally and has contributed to the reversal of democracy and political freedom globally over the last decade.  For the US and EU, the fundamental challenge remains how to balance the need to encourage democratic movements and stand firmly against military aggression, while engaging with an unpredictable Vladimir Putin in various global conflicts and more importantly how to re-integrate Russia back into the global geo-political and geo-economy community.  Without this rapprochement and de-escalation, western countries appear set to find themselves drawn into a continuous confrontation which will further destabilise western alliances and the world at large for the long term.

 

Conclusion

The world is set for an eventful set of political dramas playing out over the next year and that is without factoring in issues like America’s ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the civil war in Syria, the increasing international condemnation of China’s clampdown on its Uighur population, market jitters due to the ending of quantitative easing and the overleveraged emerging markets, or additional triggers like potential military accidents in the South China Seas, global terrorist attacks, or the potential collapse of the Netanyahu government in Israel and its replacement by an even more hard-line one.  Positive developments also not covered include trends such as the ongoing decline in eradicable diseases, the reduction of poverty globally and increasing digital access across the world, among others.

At one extreme, a negative year includes the world’s energies and focus centred on US-China conflicts, which begins with trade and spirals into multiple issues that impact not just economics and markets, but also territorial issues, political allies and the global and regional security environment.  In a negative scenario where the US president, under pressure at home from investigations and a Democrat-led House of Representatives, is a source of greater risk of diversionary and aggressive actions abroad.  As Saudi Arabia comes increasing pressure due to its war in Yemen, the on-going decline in respect for its leadership and as OPEC frays, oil prices are likely to continue to swing as they have done in the last 12 months, further exacerbated by uncertainty about Russia, the world’s third largest oil producer.  Regional affairs would continue to have negative impacts on international political and economic relations with India’s government feeling more constrained in coalitions, Britain set to leave the EU with no deal or at best a poor deal and the Middle East mired in uncertainty and unresolved conflicts.  In this negative world outlook, a lack of progress on major issues such as climate change, healthcare, nuclear weapons containment and disarmament and poverty leaves the world worse off in 2019 with increasing risk, uncertainty and the potential for future conflict.

At the other extreme, a positive year includes a normalisation of global trade with moderate rebalancing, and a de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula as stakeholders engage constructively to attempt to resolve outstanding issues.  In this world, a “soft” Brexit stabilises the UK and the EU while discouraging others from wanting a similar deal, while a strong mandate for the winning party in the Indian general elections provides the incoming government with the runway for further reforms.  In America, politics would settle into a modus operandi that allows for a measure of effective government, or at least avoids a total breakdown and a further escalation of hostilities across what appears to be an unbridgeable partisan gap.  Against this backdrop, improved global economic and political stability allows leaders to focus and make progress on big issues such as a climate change, non-proliferation, and global health issues in a constructive and multi-lateral fashion.

Of course, reality is likely to play out somewhere between extremes, but it is important to consider that the event risks laid out above cannot be seen as individual or as a series of isolated transactions, they are mostly interconnected and so need to be seen as a whole if world leaders are to produce an execution plan that can succeed.  This interconnectedness is both a function of globalisation and the legacy of the US geopolitical strategy that drove globalisation and built America’s pre-eminent position.  Playing this game as a series of transactions rather than holistically is to waste the great hand that America holds.  But joining the dots into an integrated whole would require adopting a globalist view that is increasingly at odds with the philosophical underpinnings and the actuality of how ‘America First’ is unfolding.  For example, while the geostrategic containment of China has been a feature of US foreign policy for a number of administrations, and which the current one has widened to trade as well, previous administrations recognised that its success would be enhanced if implemented in coordination with its allies, rather than seeking to attack both China and the US’s allies at the same time.  This transactional worldview, which seeks to maximise the value of America’s position one issue at a time, and at any cost, appears simplistic and misreads the system of the world; it appears to work well in populist electoral politics but not for actually governing and protecting enduring interests in the real world.

While individuals and their aspirations play an important role in shaping these outcomes, the interconnectivity of these major events suggests that whichever scenario come to pass is more likely to be determined by the flow of events beyond the control of individuals.  However, one can never underestimate the potential of human beings to do good and evil.  So, the hope remains that there emerges an alignment of interests between the various actors, an ability to keep their egos in check and a sincere empathy for each other and for the world affected by their choices!

Best wishes for the year ahead.

 

 

India’s 2019 General Elections| US-China Trade War | Trump Russia Investigation| Brexit | Middle East Realignment | Modicare | 2019 UN Climate Change Summit |North Korean Disarmament |Gene Editing |Russia

1. Source: The National Bureau of Asian Research
2. Particularly in the automotive sector, which is subject to a 40% tariff. While President Trump’s claim that a Chevrolet Camaro costs $120,000 in China was an exaggeration over the $58,000 that it actually costs, this is still a 125% increase over the equivalent US cost
3. Source: People’s Daily Editorial: “It is never just about narrowing trade deficits, but to contain China in much broader areas”
4. Including through several controversial anti-trade and anti-immigration policies including the travel ban on Muslims, aggressive prosecution and deportation of illegal immigrants and child separation policy, renegotiation of NAFTA and other major trade treaties, amongst others
5. The former and proposed future military alliance between the US, India, Japan and Australia
6. Source: The Washington Post, Foreign Policy
7. Source: Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2018 report