I thought that I could make a prognosis for 2020. I thought that the main issues were the US elections, the Brexit, a possible US-EU trade war, a decisive year between NATO and Russia and maybe a new refugee crisis. And after that, the USA would turn to China and try to bring the decision that it will be long term No.2 in an America first pax Americana. However, with the beginning of the New Year, it turns out that we suddenly face a new North Korean and Iranian crisis which threatens to escalate in the coming year. As the USA under Bush jr. or Obama the Trump or another administration could be drawn in a new Gulf war which undermines their hoped Asian Pivot policy. maybe China will be the laughing third. Maybe it is wrong to make prognosis anymore as the world constellation is more dynamic as the bipolar Cold war and maybe more comparable to the 30s and 40s and prognosis want to give some sort of security you can plan your foreign policy, but which might no longer be possible. A former German diplomat wrote to me:
“The current situation development confirms that we can no longer forecast events and trends. We have to enter the new decade, aware of the lack of reliable forecasts! The escalation spiral has started. It is not certain whether it can be stopped. Everything is possible.”
A Russian world system analytic wrote to me in response:
„The collapse of world-system analyses? I don’t think so, just had quite a sincere talks with a good PR manager who’s a bit younger than me. He confirmed the idea that those who need practical analyses and forecast nowadays are about 40 years old and their wording is different. And what they are interested in is not what my generation is interested in. They don’t look for stability or long term forecasts and they will act quite actively out from small facts and achievements.
As a voice from my age group: the naval exercise about to be held in the Indian Ocean by fleets from 3 countries brought American “think tanks” to the idea that they should hold a preemptive strike. Quite naturally as in the 70-s otherwise, they will lose the ocean strategy – a 500-year long advantage of the West. So who provoked what?“
However it seems that the USA has lost its ability to control the world anymore and the question will be if it adapts to the new situation and find a new place in the transition towards a new world order or try to escalate and hopes to fight a decisive battle with fury and fire and even is not thinking about fighting adversaries, but destroy them sustainably. That, of course, could be a paradigm shift, but everything is possible.
My Russian friend answered:
„The battle of nerves will not be won by Americans. Not necessarily won by China, Iran or Russia. A paradigm shift requires rethinking imho. No one seems to be in favor of accepting it before a war test. „
Till now Trump had nerves in his first term. The US attack on Syria was well-calibrated, so that Russia didn´t have to react. However. the question is also if Trump wouldn´t losing nerves and go beyond the Mother of All Bombs like in Afghanistan. Does he want to be the less effective and worst president of the USA since Bush jr. and a lame duck? Till now he was a good poker player to mention the game theory, but he question is if Trump couldn´t lose nerves. The conflict was caused because the Iraqi Hisbollah attacked US bases and the US reacted by airstrikes. The Iranians, their pro-Iranian militias and the Iraqi government crossed the first red line by attacking the US embassy–bringing up the old US trauma of the Iranian US embassy in 1979. However, Trump crossed another red line when he was liquidating Solemeini. The Iranians will revenge–the question will be if they choose a new 9-11, which I don´t think, a high US representative or a soft symbolic target. Hard to say. However he the US will react again and maybe escalate. And another question is if Trump is impressed by the joint maritime drills by Russia, China and Iran in the Persian Gulf. Hard to say where this all ends.
Some in the West fear more. The new term is : Overload! While they are worried about the possibility that Trump might draw NATO or Europe in a new Gulf war and that you had a decision like 2003 backfiring to the transatlantic ties, they also voice fears that after Iran and North Korea try to make use of the US election year, China and Russia could also make use of it in the South Chinese Sea, Hongkong and in the Baltic Gap, just to „overload the USA and the West“ and paralyze him. A limited local hybrid war by Putin in the Baltic Gap is seen as a possibility. Foreign Policy thinks that NATO´s focus on the Baltic Gap might be misleading as Putin´s next local hybrid operation might a non-NATO state within the EU thereby splitting the West even more. And as Trump even questions to protect Baltic states or Montenegro this could work even better than attacking a NATO-state in the EU. Of course the worst case, but the international situation seems now so unstable and fragile that some in the West fear a decisive breakthrough by Russia and China for its new world order. Or in a near future.