The world in 2018 will be shaped by three major factors – power vacuums, the fourth industrial revolution and digital vulnerability – which may ultimately lead to many crises of greater frequency and intensity. 2018 therefore invites us to reflect on the validity and composition of the world order that no longer represents the contemporary dynamic in the world. Power vacuums are clearly being caused by the withdrawal of the United States from certain areas that other actors in the international arena are eager to fill. The step back from the multilateral commitments in pursuit of “America First” rhetoric is, however, not read as a sign of strength but rather an expression of weakness.
The fourth industrial revolution is nothing else but the accelerated technological change that is already resulting in a redistribution of power worldwide including changing foundations on which the economic and social order of the most developed economies is based. This causes some nervousness among parts of the population, further reshuffling political scenes in Western democracies. This revolution goes hand in hand with rapid technological changes, bringing about digital vulnerability. These require some new regulations and those in turn spur questions that effectively make companies and even countries feel “cyber-vulnerable”. These are the most important trends and developments that will shape and reshape the world in 2018:
- Fortress Europe will not be a sufficient response to the migration crisis as the continent will likely crumble in response to more serious humanitarian emergencies in its immediate neighborhood. 2018 will likely see continued migration flows undermining international commitments to the internationally displaced. The Geneva framework is poised to be repeatedly breached and the upcoming United Nations conference – the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration – will be negotiated and approved despite Donald Trump having decided to withdraw the US from these talks. Nevertheless, a multilateral deal will be made and good intentions will be held up on paper.
- Terrorism will continue to shape the day-to-day international affairs. In 2017, all “bloody” limits were exceeded at the Sinai mosque, which claimed 309 Muslim lives at the hands of Muslim jihadist perpetrators. The 2018 attacks are likely to continue to be characterized by their relatively low cost nature and autonomy. One of the biggest security challenges will be what to do with the returning foreign fighters.
- The European order is being rearranged and 2018 will be the year of transition. This will mostly mean consolidation of power of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in their home countries and thus at the European level as well. Brexit will continue to shape the European politics and define the future trade relations between the UK and the EU. If this goes well and the prospects of greater integration will materialize, the foundations for the strong post-crisis Europe might be made this year.
- Amidst the fight against international terrorism, Saudi Arabia will continue portraying Iran as a global threat. The escalation between the two countries will cause disruption of global dimensions in trade and energy production. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia is likely to continue his reform endeavor not only in his home country but also in the region as a whole. He will be willing to take more risks as demonstrated in the boycott of Qatar, in the Yemeni Civil War and the purges within the royal family.
- The Sahel region will attract more attention and increase its importance in the international landscape. The strip separating the Maghreb from sub-Saharan Africa has been getting more attention from major players and mainly the EU who is closely following developments in the region due to the migration challenge. In 2018, we will likely witness the military force of 5,000 troops being set up in the area amidst the combined challenge of increasing migratory pressures and jihadist terrorism. The force will be likely strengthened by European troops, accompanied by major investment in economic development and infrastructure building.
‘The World in 2018: Ten Issues that Will Shape the International Agenda’ – Op-Ed by Eduard Soler i Lecha and a Team of Authors – Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.