Predicting the future is impossible. If anyone tells you that they know exactly how America’s devolving relationship with the Kim regime in North Korea will or won’t unfold in 2018, you would be well within your rights to call them a fool. Same goes for Russia’s approach to its neighbors or China’s economy. Don’t let the local tarot card reading ‘psychic’ fool you, nobody knows precisely what the future holds. Not even Kim Jong-Un, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, or Donald Trump do.
With that said, we do know with a fair measure of certainty what issues, international relationships, and threats foreign and abroad will reside on each region’s to-do list as the new year emerges from its nascence. As part of an international accounting, ‘The World in 2018’ will roll out the most pressing items on each region’s plate.
Part 1: The United States
It was a wild year in the nation whose political strife never sleeps. That political strife, sustained by a culture of vicious mudslinging, partisanship at the expense of civilized discourse, allegations of sexual harassment as a campaign strategy, and perpetual gridlock would come to define America in 2017. As tends to happen, America’s infighting set the tone for a world who either loved or loathed its choice for the presidency, a democratic result which also came to serve as a leading issue in the past year. While this gridlock is here to stay in 2018, with scandals at the highest ranks of the American political and intelligence communities yet to completely unfold, most Americans hope that the coming year will be one longer on substantive change and shorter on agenda-stalling attacks.
Regardless of the American political climate, 2018 appears primed to offer the president and the American people plenty to chew on.
To-Do List Item #1: Solve the North Korean Enigma
For all the bluster that has come along with President Donald Trump’s somewhat combative verbal style, his foreign policy remained relatively cautious. With respect to North Korea, threats were levied. Ad-hominem attacks were traded, with Rocket Man engaging in a war of words with his elderly American foe. But, contrary to many a report of impending warfare, no missiles were launched. No soldiers were deployed. But notably, no treatises or promises of disengagement were entered into, either.
Expect something to change in 2018, for better or worse. The president and his allies will have to proceed with caution. They don’t have a choice, as their detractors will ensure that any move on the international stage will be a slog. This means that they will have to pick their battles wisely and sparingly, making détente or escalation with North Korea the primary goal in Trump’s 2018 foreign policy.
Most believe that there are two options with respect to North Korea, neither of them being full-blown warfare. On the one hand, America could conduct a limited, strategic strike if it believes the result would be significant deterioration of the nation’s nuclear program. This is the more perilous option, one that would irk regional allies South Korea and Japan. The second option, which most consider to be the most likely and reasonable, is to learn to live with North Korea’s status as a nuclear power. This is the approach that America ultimately chose in 2017, leveling verbal threats as Kim Jong-Un empowered his nuclear scientists and engineers to develop technology with greater reach and firepower.
There is too much time in 2018 for a formal approach to North Korea not to develop. Whether that approach is one of increased bellicosity or increased tolerance is the million dollar question.
To-Do List Item #2: To Ease Russian Sanctions or Not to Ease Russian Sanctions? That is the Question
Despite the never-ending investigation which inherently pits Russia as a Cold War-like enemy of the States, the reality is that Donald Trump will never buy into the premise of Russian election meddling. And, as tensions have eased over the conflict in Ukraine, the question of whether Russia deserves to have sanctions lifted looms.
Improving relations with Vladimir Putin and the Russian government is certainly high on President Trump’s to-do list. Putin has openly acknowledged that Trump has nothing to do with the perception of Russia as a direct threat to American sovereignty, and both sides would love to find a way to come together in a show of solidarity, if only to stick it to their Venn diagram of detractors. Unfortunately, lifting sanctions on Russia means attaining some measure of support from Congress. If you haven’t heard, there are Russo-mongering Democrats all over that particular governmental entity, meaning cries of collusion will ring louder than ever. Stonewalling of any effort to lift sanctions will undoubtedly follow the Cold War cries.
Still, finding a way to put the Russian-American enmity to sleep in some formal manner lies in the interests of both nations and leaders. This would be a logical precursor for increased cooperation in a Middle Eastern region that has become increasingly polarized, bellicose, and Russian-influenced as Americans bicker about elections past. Hopefully 2018 is the year that the Second Cold War comes to an end instead of seeing further escalation.
To-Do List Item #3: Finally Getting NAFTA Re-Negotiated
While relations with China are perhaps more important than the re-negotiation of NAFTA in many respects, that issue will be touched upon further in the Asian portion of The World in 2018. An issue that stands to benefit America and its next-door neighbors would be a resolution to NAFTA negotiations which have not gone as smoothly as all parties hoped.
The reality is that nobody would benefit from the decimation of NAFTA. It stands to reason, then, that NAFTA will not be decimated, with tariffs restored as a result. Something has to give, a deal has to be reached. So long as the leaders don’t allow political differences, unreasonable demands, and hubris to get in the way, a new NAFTA will be finalized by the time 2018 comes to an end.
Key Development for America to Watch Out For: The Next Recession
For many, this is not a matter of if, but when. Having gone no longer than a decade without a recession since WWII, it's high time for Americans to go through the next economic contraction. This timeframe puts the hard deadline for the next American recession at 2019, with 2018 constituting the year in which a financial bubble is most likely to pop.