With President Trump at the top of the world-leader pyramid and a bevy of like-minded rulers taking control elsewhere in the world, this could be the most dangerous geopolitical environment in decades, according to a story Monday from Time.
Even with the global economy “faring well” and markets “taking hits and (mostly) bouncing back,” we may not see cataclysm in 2019, but the seeds are being planted for perhaps a cyber confrontation with Russia, war with Iran, implosion in Europe and a “true U.S.-China trade war,” as opposed to what’s happened so far, according to Ian Bremmer in “These Are the Biggest Geopolitical Risks of 2019.”
Indeed, Bremmer’s first item is “Bad seeds.” He writes that leaders are dealing with local and current problems now but ignoring much bigger problems down the road. “Political institutions across the world’s advanced democracies, the transatlantic alliance, NATO, the European Union, the G20, the World Trade Organization, U.S.-China, Russia and the West … none of these will explode this year, but every one of them is headed in the wrong direction.”
What all these entities have in common is all have been touched in significant ways by President Trump’s America-first foreign policy. He has made continued good relations with the nations of Western Europe contingent on them doing what they promised on NATO; his views on nations putting their own priorities above those of international organizations has powered the Brexit debate; his roiling of the G20 led to a renegotiation of NAFTA, and his actions on trade and energy have caused economic hardship to China and Russia.
Bremmer also acknowledges Trump has united American politicians in their views of how China treats the U.S., although he doesn’t put it that way. “The US-China relationship is broken, and even a truce in the trade war won’t fix it,” Bremmer wrote. “Trust between the two sides is almost gone. Democrats and Republicans agree that China poses threats. Both sides will work to make themselves less vulnerable to the other by reducing the connections that have so far bound them together.”
Time also lets its readers in on its disdain for and fear of “populism” – leaders taking seriously and acting on the needs of their constituents on tax, crime and immigration, among other issues. No. 4 on Bremmer’s list is “European populism.”
That’s a problem because the European Union will hold parliamentary elections in May, and populists will win more seats than ever before, Bremmer wrote. “They’ll also win a bigger role in the European Commission and European Council, helping them challenge current European policy on migration, trade and enforcement of EU rules inside member states. Populists also will gain control this year inside France and Italy – the EU’s third and fourth largest economies.”
The populists winning these elections themselves pose a geopolitical danger, Bremmer wrote. No. 7 on the list – “Coalition of the unwilling” – says “Donald Trump now has imitators. Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro used a playbook like Trump’s to win an election. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un have tactical reasons to support the US president. Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman and Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu need his support. These leaders don’t salute a common flag, but each will bolster Trump’s challenge to the international status quo.”
In No. 8, Bremmer points out Mexico also has taken a populist path and followed Trump’s lead in seeking to privatize and deregulate. Its new president, Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, “is popular, and his party has big congressional majorities, but his bid to roll back the roll back the opening of Mexico’s economy, orthodox macroeconomic policies, privatizations and deregulation threaten a return to the 1960s,” he wrote. “In 2019, he’ll spend money Mexico doesn’t have on problems like poverty and security that resist straightforward solutions. And as he centralizes power, policymaking will become more erratic.”