What to Watch: Transatlantic Relations in 2018
Will transatlantic democracies finally tackle the problem of foreign interference?
When it comes to the issue of foreign interference in democracies, 2017 was in many ways a lost year. Russia’s attempts to inflame societal divisions in democracies continued even as its 2016 interference in the United States provoked conversation about the challenge. Yet transatlantic governments took few steps to close vulnerabilities. Russia continues to deploy an integrated toolkit blending cyber, disinformation, malign finance, economic coercion, and support for extremism. Governments will need to acknowledge the scope of this threat and break down the silos that impede cross-sectoral steps to address our democracies’ vulnerabilities. In the transatlantic community, there needs to be a greater effort to share lessons learned and to cooperate on this issue outside of law enforcement and intelligence channels. The capabilities of institutions like NATO and the European Union need to be leveraged more effectively to deal with this challenge. With Russia continuing to hone its capabilities and other foreign actors watching closely as European elections and the U.S. midterms loom in 2018, time is of the essence.
How will Europe respond to Trump?
The Trump administration’s approach to Europe is unlikely to change in 2018. NATO Allies will be encouraged to continue to increase their defense spending. Many Trump administration policies related to global issues, such as climate change, multilateral institutions, and trade will continue to cause heartburn in European capitals. The key transatlantic question of 2018 is how Europe will respond.
Will this be a moment of increased European cohesion and attempts to challenge an increasingly unilateral United States? Or will Europeans’ own divisions and ongoing struggles with their own populist movements mean that their response is muted? Across an increasingly complicated global landscape, it is imperative that the United States and Europe develop a common agenda. From the Balkans to Russia, ongoing conflict in Syria, to Iran, and the rise of China, there are plenty of opportunities. Yet European leaders will have to be willing to work productively with the United States at a time when politically, there may be little upside to doing so.
-Jamie Fly, Senior Fellow and Director, Future of Geopolitics, Asia Program
What will the surge of diversity engagement bring?
The issue to watch in 2018 is diversity. Strong men politics and growing populist forces have had a profound impact on groups that are not white and male — women facing openly misogynist behavior, sexual minorities facing increased hostility, religious groups moving further apart, and refugees and immigrants being made to feel unwelcomed in the West, just to name a few. While oppressive traditions such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia are interconnected, they continue to be mentioned and handled separately which means that non-white, male groups do not necessarily cooperate to voice a counter action. Aside from restrictions, 2017 has also produced an incredible wave of civil society and political engagement on both sides of the Atlantic, which we will continue to see in 2018. In the United States, African Americans, women, migrants, and others, will use the new vibrancy to continue to demand that they be included and be part of decision-making — beyond Trump. Europe is grappling in its own way with being more inclusive — of women, refugees, migrants, religious minorities and others and what it means to the process of working toward a more comprehensive EU.
-Corinna Horst, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Brussels Office
Will transatlanticism turn transactional for Eastern Europe?
Expect countries east of Berlin to display an even more transactional approach to both the European Union and the United States in 2018. The transatlantic community, its values, and norms held rich intrinsic value in the early 1990s and provided an engine for change in Eastern Europe in subsequent years. But a transatlantic orientation has shifted from a major objective to a series of political, military, and economic transactions. The governments in both Central and Eastern Europe, facing elections throughout 2018 and 2019, will intensify their nationalist paths, and/or further slow their already almost stagnant adoption of transatlantic principles. At the same time, security and military cooperation will continue, pushed forward by real security threats and economic interests. But this cooperation will be isolated from transatlantic values, which will be ignored or even flouted. With a crisis of values and principles also in evidence across the Atlantic, transatlanticism will be further reduced to a number of transactions, good enough to address individual problems, yet insufficient to fuel transformation.
-Alina Inayeh, Director, Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation
Will transatlantic gap over the Middle East continue to widen?
Throughout 2017, Europe and the United States have placed themselves repeatedly at opposite ends of key Middle East policy positions. From commitment to the nuclear deal with Iran to the position on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Europeans have, with increasing resolve, cast off their doubts over disagreeing with Washington and taken unequivocal positions in direct contradiction to those defended by the Trump administration.
2018 will likely see more sudden flares of Saudi-Iranian proxy confrontation as those witnessed over Qatar and Lebanon in 2017. These crises will demand strong, immediate positions from the Gulf countries’ allies. While the United States has chosen a confrontational course against Iran that departs from Washington’s past efforts to sustain a balance of power in the Middle East, a solid consensus across European capitals decidedly backs a strategy of dialogue and de-escalation. The ensuing transatlantic gap may well widen further in 2018 as the Middle East slips further toward polarization.
-Kristina Kausch, Senior Resident Fellow
Is China’s Communist Party gaining influence on new German parliamentarians?
Allegations of Russian interference on Western politics are widespread, but China’s Communist Party is likewise undertaking influence operations around the globe. Not only regional democracies (most prominently Australia), but also European states — including Germany — have recently been targeted.
Germany will be a special case to watch in 2018: The last German federal election did not only result in complicated majorities, it also led to the largest ever German Bundestag with more than 700 representatives from seven different parties including more than 280 newly-elected members. Two thirds of these novices are embedded in established structures and mechanisms of existing party groups or can draw on decades of party practice. The 92 Alternative for Germany (AfD) representatives have no previous experience to draw on. They form the soft underbelly for potential foreign influence on the German parliament. Awareness has to be raised and security mechanisms adapted to incorporate this challenge.
-Janka Oertel, Transatlantic Fellow
What will come of Washington’s rivalry with Beijing?
For China, the most important development to watch is whether President Xi Jinping will actually carry out the radical economic reforms he has long promised but not yet delivered. After gaining political supremacy at the 19th party congress in 2017, Xi will face his own moment of truth. His defenders insist that Xi has relentlessly pursued power in order to carry out reforms. He will have a chance to prove his supporters right — and his skeptics wrong — in 2018.
Everyone should pay attention to U.S.–China relations as they enter a new period of heightened strategic rivalry. As an assertive China keeps expanding its influence and challenging U.S. interests, a consensus is fast forming in Washington that the engagement policy that has sustained U.S.–China relations should be replaced with a more robust and confrontational one. We may see this new policy start taking shape in 2018.
-Minxin Pei, Non-Resident Senior Fellow
More technology, less jobs?
The technologies that are changing work and displacing labor — including automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence — will begin to ripen in 2018. For some people and industries these advancements will improve productivity at all skill levels, raise wages, and make work more enjoyable. But as the Mckinsey Global Institute has reported, for millions of others in the United States and Europe, jobs that they now perform will begin to disappear. Work opportunities will grow less stable and the pressure on workers to continually improve and build their skills and maybe even regularly change not just employers but careers will grow. We will need public policy initiatives and investment to help people on both sides of the Atlantic adjust to this structural revolution in production or we will see a populist backlash to technology identical to the current pushback on open markets and trade.
-Daniel Sepulveda, Non-Resident Fellow, Technology and Innovation
Will France and Germany Find a Compromise?
The crucial issue impacting German and European politics alike will be the way Franco–German political chemistry develops in 2018. France and Germany have agreed to a highly (perhaps overly) ambitious time frame for EU reform, especially concerning the euro. By March, they want to agree in principle on a workable compromise, by the summer it is supposed to be all hammered out in detail. So, time is extremely short, especially given the fact that government formation in Berlin has not even fully started yet. More crucially, the gulf between the two partners on this issue (just as on the issue of defense cooperation) is as wide as it could be. The entire EU dynamic in the run-up to the 2019 European Parliament election (and beyond), will depend on whether the two can agree on a workable compromise that is both meaningful in substance and acceptable to the other 25 member states.
-Jan Techau, Director of the Europe Program
Where is Turkey headed?
In 2017 Turkey’s relationship with both the United States and the EU worsened, while cooperation with Russia and Iran on regional issues blossomed. This will continue in 2018 as Turkey finds itself in a kind of regime survival mode, while Washington lacks strategic thinking and the EU remains consumed by its own problems.
While Turkey will continue to drift away from the West, it will not move toward Russia. Turkey has gone a long way from shooting down a Russian plane in 2015 to in 2017 closely cooperating with Moscow in Syria and buying Russian S-400 missile systems. Yet significant disagreements are making themselves clear, particularly regarding the role that Syrian Kurd groups (PYD and YPG) will play in Syria’s future. After a decade of shifting orientations, 2018 will find Turkey focusing inward.
-Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Director, Ankara Office
Who will fill the void left by U.S. withdrawal from migration challenges?
On the UN level, negotiations for two big compacts — a global compact on refugees and a global compact on migration — are due to be completed and presented toward the end of 2018. They present the first compacts of their kind on a global scale to establish global political (yet non-binding) rules to allow for migration to be safe, orderly and legal. One big player will be missing from the negotiation table: the United States. In Trump’s “America First” doctrine, a global governance approach is not compatible with U.S. sovereignty. The Trump administration has set a new cap for the U.S. refugee resettlement quota at 45,000 for 2018, the lowest cap since the creation of the program in 1980. With conflicts around the world continuing, and new ones possibly on the horizon — China has just started to build refugee shelters on the border to North Korea — the plight of hundreds and thousands of people will not improve and new actors will need to step in to fill the void the United States is leaving.
-Astrid Ziebarth, Senior Migration Fellow, Europe Program
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.