After the political earthquakes of 2016, 2017 was unlikely to be easy. And it was not. From Donald Trump being the president to Britain's exit decision from the EU and the turmoil in the Middle East, 2017 was a year that many cannot wait to leave behind. But can we be optimistic for 2018 after the increasing turbulence and tensions of the past 12 months?
The year 2018 will be the second year of Trump in the White House. Many predicted at the beginning of 2017 that Trump would resign by the year's end. In fact, it was not a prediction, but a prayer that has remained unanswered until now. Democrats introduced articles of impeachment against Trump in November, though they admitted that their efforts would be unsuccessful while Republicans control both houses of Congress. Some senators called on Trump to resign over the allegations of sexual misconduct in December, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation can be seen as if he is getting closer to Trump with each new finding. One might think that Trump is backed into a corner, however, with Israel's backing and Saudi Arabia's financial support, he is more powerful than before. That is why it is likely that he will still be in office at the end of 2018.
Due to political divisions shaking America, the U.S. presence abroad has been weakened. It looks like increasing doubts and tensions regarding the U.S. role in the world will continue in 2018, which will probably be followed for the next several years. A weakened U.S. means some gaps on the stage of world politics, which might be filled by global powers like China and Russia. China will probably increase its activities in the Sea of Japan in 2018 even though Japan will further complain about it, while Russia will continue its military presence in Syria, or we can say the Middle East.
One can bet that Vladimir Putin will be re-elected as the Russian president in March. The war in Ukraine will continue as the Trump administration recently approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, and Moscow is not likely to step back. If Russia-backed forces continue to gain more territory on the ground, that kind of development will whip up the European NATO allies. However, we cannot be really sure if the U.S. will stand side by side with them as it always did, since we know Trump has implicitly warned NATO allies many times that they should not expect what former administrations did in the past from him. He finally did say that the U.S. would defend them if Russia's stance hardens after too much internal and external pressure, but I am not sure if European leaders have found that final statement convincing.
In the aftermath of the Brexit vote of 2016 and Trump's being elected, many in the EU were concerned that the extreme right would win in their electoral contests in 2017. It was close but did not happen. Many countries passed the test and gained some time, but it is obvious that rising ethnic, demographic and economic tensions as well as Eurosceptisim and populism will continue to gain ground. There might be some big protests as economic problems in European countries continue. And there is still the risk that other countries would like to get out of the EU, such as Italy, which will hold a general election in 2018. Angela Merkel of Germany won the elections in October but is still struggling to form a coalition government. We can say that Germany may have to go back to the polls in 2018. That means Europe will not get back its strongest voice for a while. The Brexit negotiations may result in a real plan but new problems are inevitable until Britain leaves the union in March 2019.
It has never been easy to make predictions about North Korea. In addition, the Trump administration makes things more unpredictable. Still, I do not think that the U.S. and North Korea will enter into a large-scale war. But this is not to say that the tension will not continue to rise alongside the battle of words between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump.
India's provincial elections, which are seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Pakistan's general elections might escalate regional tensions in Asia, while it is almost sure that Saudi Arabia and Iran will increase regional turbulence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's unpredictability will most likely continue in 2018, which will further destabilize the region. And we cannot be sure if the power play between Saudi Arabia and Iran will hit which Middle Eastern country next.
The seven-year civil war in Syria might be close to an end after the de-escalation zones plan agreed to by Russia, Iran and Turkey in the Astana rounds. But we cannot say if the approximately 6 million Syrian refugees from Syria would be eager to return to their country in 2018, considering the fact that Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator who has been the reason of all the bloodshed in the first place, is still in Damascus.
We are not talking about the Daesh threat, as a priority anymore, but there is still a risk of Daesh or another terrorist group posing a new threat unless the Middle East finds peace, and that dream is not seen on the horizon yet. After Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Palestine would probably shape regional alliances will be a key topic, but I believe it will be a short while since a new chaos or hot conflict will emerge in another zone on the map, and will cause a distraction as it always happens.
It already looks like 2018 will be a year of new crises caused by unprecedented environment, rising populist trends and ongoing tensions. And we have not put global economic risks into the equation yet. But I must say that the risks of new economic crises, which would be big enough to shake the countries, regions and maybe the world, are the ones that scare me most in 2018, and the possibilities of natural disasters, which might shake the earth.