Disruption awaits in 2018

Robyn Curnow Photo: PR

Anchor and host of CNN's International Desk Robyn Curnow, in Jerusalem for the Globes Israel Business Conference, discusses the year ahead.

Each day, as soon as I’ve wrapped my show and I’m off air, my producers and I have a chat about what to plan for the following day. Should we book a guest, write a special segment or ask an analyst on a specific topic? Lately this has become harder and harder to do.

The main news headlines change so significantly from day to day that we, and just about everyone else, cannot predict what we will be covering tomorrow. The intensity of that unpredictability is amplified by the real-time implications of all this uncertainty.

‘‘Events, my dear boy, events' was the quip allegedly uttered by British PM Harold Macmillan when asked what made him nervous. Even if he didn’t say it exactly - in fact the jury is out on whether he said it at all - the premise is spot-on.

The world has always been accustomed to change; shifting politics and alliances that contract and expand depending on the pique of leaders, the strength of currencies and the buoyancy of public opinion.

Governments and voters can ‘price in’ hurricanes, belligerent dictators or electoral shifts, but today things are different. Donald Trump’s presidency has jolted the global order, unsettling it completely. The scattershot nature of the US President’s Twitter habit, in particular, constantly catches allies, adversaries and everyone in between off-guard.

The White House may argue this is exactly why American voters put Mr Trump into power - to shake things up, unbalance the status quo, rattle the apple cart. Domestically, to his supporters at least, that might make sense. In fact, many in Washington would agree that the apple cart could benefit from a little upsetting. Internationally though, the consequences of an unpredictable, inconsistent America are perhaps being felt more keenly.

The President’s Twitter provides both a window into his thinking and - often, administration policy. Sometimes his messages are written in coordination with departments of government or the White House. Other times, we are told, the President acts unilaterally. Either way, Donald Trump’s thoughts and, by extension, America’s foreign policy, whether or not it’s actual policy, are played out in public, online and in real time.

The impact will only be measured in hindsight by historians, but for now, in the day-to-day thick of things, 2018 might just rustle up some fresh new crises and fuel old ones.

Pakistan has long been a troublesome ally for the US. In reality TV parlance you could call the state a ‘frenemy.’ Islamabad is both part of the solution and part of the problem in Afghanistan, say analysts. Donald Trump threatened in his first Tweet of the year that the US was ready and willing to walk away from this fractious but key relationship.

The US has accused the Pakistani government and its security forces of playing a double game with terror groups in their borders - this is not new, but what has cast a long shadow over this crucial relationship is what the US expects Pakistan to do. Does the White House expect Islamabad to make a hard choice? Is it a simple us or them? Something like the season finale of ‘The Bachelor’?

2018 could feasibly see Islamabad make a strategic decision to cut-off supply lines for US forces in Afghanistan or to share less intelligence in retaliation for the very public ratcheting up of US administration pressure. This could, in turn, push Islamabad to work more with the Chinese, or look for other partners.

Alternatively, the President’s apparent gamble may pay off, and Pakistan and regional partners will clamp down on the Haqqani network and other similar actors.

Pakistani officials have, publicly, been quick to play down any tension and urge diplomatic patience but that stance may not last. Already, concerned observers are warning that this dangerous region - with two competing nuclear powers and a resurgent Taliban next door - risks a descent into turmoil in the coming year.

In terms of potential conflict, however, North Korea and its nuclear ambitions should continue to be the defining issue of the year ahead, even if surprise talks between North and, South and even the upcoming Olympics provide hope of much needed detente. Either way, China will seek to continue its use of sharp and soft power to peddle its growing influence globally.

Elsewhere, populism in Europe might have been tempered by last year’s elections but the forces of discontent against immigration and inequality persist - witnessed, in particular, in Germany. Populist parties have grown and now play a bigger role in coalition governments across Europe. The tortuous extraction of the UK from the EU will play out detail by detail.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia will doubtless continue to push for recognition and respect, while the US investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the US election continue to undermine that ambition.

Focus also remains on Iran after surprise protests and uncertainty over the nuclear deal. Turkey’s apparently growing authoritarianism points to a shift away from NATO and the values that underpin European security.

In the midst of this uncertainty, nations like Israel have found a renewed and bold partner in the White House, with Jerusalem at the center of that. So too Saudi Arabia, which has also welcomed a refreshed relationship with an old ally.

Into this soup of geopolitics comes another ingredient of uncertainty: the repeated suggestion that America is unhappy with its global role and responsibilities, and is looking to change the post-World War Two order. Whether by chance or intention, this historical shift creates vacuums and opportunities for some, potential chaos for others.

Change, uncertainty, unpredictability, all with a disruptive and unpredictable voice dictating its rhythm; we have an interesting year ahead of us.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 10, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Robyn Curnow Photo: PR
Robyn Curnow Photo: PR
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