What to expect in 2020’s geopolitical scenario – Matthew Bugeja

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2019 was quite the year. Looking back, there have been a few surprises. But I have been writing these geopolitical forecasts for about six years, and I cannot say that this year was more surprising than years prior.

On the other hand, 2020 is going to be a big year for geopolitics, in more ways than one. If we look at the things that will ​definitely happen, it is already going to be momentous. There will be a Presidential election in the United States in November. The United Kingdom is poised to leave the EU on December 31st (and negotiate a trade deal, boy is that going to be fun). The new European Commission takes shape, and starts to work on its ambitious 21st century agenda. The World Trade Organisation’s dispute resolution mechanism will come to a grinding halt, making trade disputes messier. That is just a little bit of what we know. That is what the news delivers.

But here at CiConsulta, we do not operate on what we know. But rather, we look at where we are, and try to plot where the world is going. You need cutting edge insight you cannot get anywhere else. So we are here to deliver.

There are a lot of geopolitical forecasters out there, if you look hard enough. Some of them even go as far as to forecast the next ​25-50 years​, which is in my view, absolutely ridiculous. Much like a weather forecast, the further out you venture in terms of time, the more difficult and unreliable your predictions become. Unlike the weather, geopolitics generally moves at a glacial pace, so if you are well-versed in the topic, you can get a feel for where things are going.

Without further ado, here are some of the things to keep an eye on in 2020.

China will become even more assertive

What does it take to become a superpower? We don’t have enough time (or space in this article) to get into that in detail, but in short it takes three things: soft power (the ability to influence other countries), hard power (military might) and economic dominance. China ticks the first and third boxes, and is some way off the second one.

But in 2020, we expect China to flex its muscles more often in the South China Sea with its growing naval might. In Europe, it will look to expand its influence in Brussels through friendly nations, thanks to its economic aid, giving it the ability to stifle actions against their economic interests in the eurozone. On trade, it will certainly look to squeeze Trump more in the run up to his reelection in November.

Iran could well leave the nuclear deal in 2020

The JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal as its more popularly known, is beginning to run its course. The US has left the deal, and the European Union has not been able to put together a package of economic and financial incentives to offset the sanctions put in place by Washington to entice

Tehran to remain in the deal. Now, Iran has its own political, social and economic problems. If they seek to restart nuclear tech research and development, they will be adding international tensions to that mix. But it could bring the people together, and divert attention from domestic problems. This will put it in Trump’s sights in 2020.

The EU will become more outward looking, but just a little bit.

For the first time in a long time, the new European Commission will look to flex its muscles outside of Europe’s borders by becoming a truly ‘geopolitical commission’. The problem is that the EU’s foreign policy initiatives are constrained by the national interests of the member states. More often than not, any actions taken are watered down considerably by the time all 28 (soon 27) member states agree. Von der Leyen will push to improve this, but will face dogged resistance. Expect a little progress, but the operative word there is little.


The WTO will become ineffective

As of the end of December 2019, the WTO will no longer be able to resolve disputes between its members due to a lack of judges on its appellate body. In short, this will mean that the global trade picture will become even more of a battle between the weak and the strong. There are initiatives to bring into place alternative solutions, but it is only the WTO which has the standing to offer a long lasting answer. Next year will look even more dire on the global trade war front, unless something drastic changes. 

Trump will lose his reelection bid

This is a big call, and one that I will not be fully confident in until we are certain of who Trump will be facing from the Democratic Party, which means that this won’t happen until the summer. Depending on his opponent and accomplishments in 2020, Trump could very well win. He has the power of incumbency, an economy which is doing well, and an abundance of support within his own party. So how can he lose? In short, his position in those “rust-belt states”, which were so important to his 2016 victory does not seem as certain this time around. Not so certain that independents and floating voters will be as kind to him in 2020 either, given his behaviour over the past 3 years. In addition, if he does end up being acquitted by the Senate for his impeachment, it will really set off the Democratic voter base, motivating them to go out and vote in numbers. So, don’t hold me to this prediction just yet, but we will update you as we go along.

 2020 will be a lot of things, interesting is certainly one of them. But you don’t have to worry about it, that is our job. If you want to know where things are going, you won’t find a better source than the team at CiConsulta.

In the meantime, let me take this opportunity to wish you and your families a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020.

Matthew Bugeja 

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