From the vantage point of 100 years in the future, 2017 may well be viewed as one of those turning points when the worldwide distribution of power and influence was redefined, with repercussions well into the 21st century.
Throughout the world, specific events may trigger wider political and economic repercussions. In the U.S., Donald Trump’s first year as President could herald an era of isolationism. In France, the election of Emmanuel Macron rebooted national politics and pushed back populism, in a way that other European countries are observing with interest. In Germany, the re-election of Angela Merkel for a fourth term as Chancellor was a proof of that country’s stability, although the Cabinet has still not been formed.
In China, the confirmation of Xi Jinping ( 习近平 ) for a second five-year term as paramount leader strengthens his influence on world affairs, with Beijing now often filling the vacuum created by Washington’s withdrawal. As for the group of countries known as ”BRICs” (emerging powers Brazil, Russia, India, China), their development has been uneven: in Russia, Vladimir Putin (Владимир Путин) announced that he will seek re-election in March 2018 for a fourth term as Russia’s omnipotent head of state.
In Brazil, the long drawn-out political instability impedes economic and social development. India, with remarkable progress in some areas such as Internet use, is still hobbled by social inequality, administrative inefficiency, and a literacy rate of 74 percent (compared with 97 percent in China).
At the same time, we can observe a set of developments with potentially wide-ranging implications. Since the Brexit referendum which initiated its divorce from the European Union, the United Kingdom is awakening to the risk of severe damage to its economy. The heightened testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles by North Korea has caused grave concern in South Korea, Japan, China and even beyond Asia, and heightens the danger of nuclear proliferation.
Russia was accused of extensive hacking and interference in the UK referendum, in the U.S. presidential election, and in France before the presidential election when it supported the National Front party. On global issues, the abstention or absence of the United States has created a vacuum in international fora on world trade, global warming, international development policy, and in UNESCO. And while the United States is withdrawing, China is gradually gaining influence in many of these areas.
But in evaluating the probable distribution of power and influence in 2018 and beyond, one must include non-state actors: technology and innovation as agents of change, large corporations as initiators of global strategy, but also civil society and individuals as pioneers for concepts and models.
This essay will be published on WikiTribune in the following instalments:
- Part 1. The U.S. in a multipolar world. (published 22 December 2017).
- Part 2. China, the rise of a global power (published 02 January 2018).
- Part 3. An evolving European Union (published 17 January 2018).
- Part 4. Confirmed and aspiring regional powers (published 26 January 2018).
- Part 5. Non-state global actors (published 24 February 2018).