Strategic Estimate is an annual assessment of the global balance of power. In our assessment of 2017, we concluded the US remained the world superpower, but it was not the power it used to be. As Donald Trump passed his midpoint as US president, unlike his predecessors he turned the institutions, treaties and tools the US long used as a means to maintain its grip on the world upon its head.
The liberal world order which the US constructed after WW2 has for the last decade at least ceased to serve the US agenda. It was in this background Donald Trump ran for office on a campaign of American retrenchment – making America great, with a host of populist positions that included ending US wars, renegotiating political and economic agreements and changing relations with the likes of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. This was how the Trump presidency planned to preserve the American position as the global hegemon. NAFTA, NATO, Trans-Atlantic security were all attacked and ridiculed in one way or another as the US has had enough of maintaining the security of others when those same countries contribute little. Strategic Estimate 2019 will assess where these institutions stand today and will they survive the American onslaught.
In this light, the first National Security Strategy of the Trump government was published in early 2018 and it placed the struggle between powers rather than terrorism as the main threat to the US. Soon after this, the US began a trade war with China beginning the battle for the 21st century. Iran and North Korea were for long viewed as enemies of the US. Nations that are run by oppressive regimes and their pursuit of nuclear weapons is causing global instability. But in 2018 and in-line with Trump’s unorthodox style, North Korea was on the receiving end of a summit with Trump, the first time ever, whilst Iran has been thrown under the bus, despite the previous administration’s nuclear accord which brought Iran out from the cold. Strategic Estimate 2019 analyses where both these nations fit into the US strategy in its agenda to remain the global hegemon.
Vladimir Putin was re-elected as Russian president in 2018 and this all took place as US sanctions continue to hurt the Russian economy. Russia has attempted to fight back at the global hegemon through a hybrid and indirect strategy. Whilst Russia has succeeded in saving the regime in Damascus, what role it will play in the country’s future remains a matter of debate. In Ukraine, the conflict remains frozen and Russia has struggled to win back the country it lost back in 2014. In 2018 media reports and analysts galore have talked about a resurgent Russia who has humiliated the US not just in Syria but in the wider Middle East. Strategic Estimate 2019 analyses the reality of Russia’s challenge to the US, especially in the Middle East.
The EU continued to face significant challenges in 2018. Trust, skepticism, rising nationalism and different directions. In this light, the French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to lead the reform of the EU as Britain edged closer to Brexit. Both French and German leaders made it clear they will restructure the EU to see through the challenges it faces in the 21st century. This began immediately with a strategy on how to integrate the Balkans, the last remaining part of Europe that remains outside the EU. The 3rd and 4th largest economies in the EU – Italy and Spain saw the emergence of new governments during 2018, which included anti-EU parties. When Britain’s very disorderly exit of the union is added to the mix the survival of the EU continues to be at the very core of all discussions. Strategic Estimate 2019 assesses where all these developments leave the union.
The year 2018 was the 10th anniversary of the great recession and this took place as the global economy continued to suffer from the effects of the decade old crisis. Economic data throughout 2018 proves whatever growth has taken place since 2008 is not sustainable, it is built on unprecedented debt levels and the global economy is due to the next recession which usually takes place every ten years. All of this took place as the US began its assault on global trade attempting to change the rules on international trade. Currencies were a major issue throughout 2018 with leading currencies suffering from falling exchange rates. Crypto-currencies hit the headlines in 2018 with the rise and fall of digital currencies such as Bitcoin. Whether these digital currencies can become the standard remains to be seen as one US state in 2018 returned to using precious metals as its currency. The past few years have seen a plethora of works on the rise of China. From China becoming the world’s largest economy, the world’s largest exporter and sending missions to the moon, it’s difficult to go without a day, without China breaking some new record. China is the rising power and the US now faces the challenge all hegemonies do – how to deal with a rising power who is challenging for the top position. Much of the analysis comes from a Western perspective on China’s rise, the potential threat as well as its strategy. This ranges from China posing a threat which is out of sync with its capabilities to the US, to the US working to manage China’s rise. In Strategic Estimate 2019 we assess China’s rise and its future from a Chinese perspective, answering questions on how the Chinese view the world, the current global situation and their strategy to traverse it.
What follows in sha Allah is the author’s opinion and assessment of 2018 and the trends for 2019 and beyond. Like any assessment, they are estimates and forecasts.
23 Rabi’ al-Thani 1440 AH
31st December 2018 CE