Twenty-seventeen was a year that to many may have passed as unremarkable, but if one looks deeper there were significant events that are changing the global balance of power. There has been welcome change in some areas of international relations, while in other areas new problems have arisen that require new and updated thinking to tackle. To recap the year, I highlight the ten most significant events that I feel will have the greatest impact on the future, and attempt to list them in some kind of order of importance. Let us get started.
10. Zimbabwe Moves Beyond Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe almost made it through 2017 as Zimbabwe’s leader which would have brought his rule over Zimbabwe to more than 37 years. However, events transpired that led to him being forced from power in a military coup. Mugabe was both loved and hated. He championed his country’s independence from colonialism, but then turned around and ran the country into the ground with corruption and violence. The end of his leadership brought cheers in Zimbabwe. His replacement, Emmerson Mnangagwa, offers some hope of a brighter future, but then again, he seems to be more of the same, making it likely Zimbabwe will be plagued with corruption and an ineffective government. Time will only tell.
9. Mohammad bin Salman Becomes Crown Prince
In June of 2017 aging Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud made his 32-year-old nephew, Mohammad bin Salman, his heir to the throne. Bin Salman stands out not only for his youth, but his idealism. He is the champion of the Vision 2030 project which hopes to modernize Saudi Arabia by diversifying its economy and putting the country on a path to be more secular. It is a wonderful vision, but it threatens to destabilize the social underpinnings of the kingdom. Already women have been given the right to drive, theaters have returned to the country for the first time in decades, and efforts are underway to take Saudi Aramco public. On the other hand, Mohammad bin Salman has arrested potential rivals. In November he had 11 of his cousins arrested. He is a driving force behind the unpopular intervention in Yemen and he pushed for the controversial embargo of Qatar. As Saudi Arabia’s future king it remains to be seen if bin Salman has the leadership and deft skills to radically change his country’s society.
8. Britain Signs Article 50
The “Brexit” vote of 2016 was merely an advisory vote and questions remained as to whether Britain would in fact “pull the trigger” to go forward with its divorce from the European Union. On March 29th of 2017, that trigger was pulled when Britain signed Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Now there is no turning back and Brexit will happen. Now Britain has until March 29th of 2019 to negotiate the terms of its separation. Prime Minister Theresa May tried to shore up an already weak negotiating position by calling a snap election in June. Her gamble backfired. Many analysts predict that Brexit will be extremely painful economically for Great Britain with pain already being felt in various parts of the British economy.
7. The Global Economy Grows
Global economic growth grew in 2017 and stock markets around the world hit record highs. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated about the global economy in October that, “The outlook is strengthening, with a notable pickup in investment, trade, and industrial production, together with rising confidence.” Growth remains slow ten years after the Great Recession, but it is growth all the same. The IMF predicts that growth overall in 2017 will average 3.6 percent globally. The Eurozone, Russia, China, and the U.S. were economic bright spots throughout the year.
6. The World Continues to Warm
Global Warming remained a top issue in 2017. As the world’s leaders signed the Paris Climate Agreement, with the only holdout being the United States under the leadership of Donald Trump, the global temperatures continued to rise. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects that 2017 will be the second warmest year on record, just behind 2016 which currently holds the record. Glaciers and ice caps continue to melt at record rates and powerful storms, at least on the surface, seem to be occurring more frequently. The climate has the world’s attention, but it remains to be seen if the countries that signed the Paris Climate Agreement back their words with action.
5. U.S. Recognizes Jerusalem
Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital at the end of 2017 was a very controversial move that is bringing renewed tensions and violence to the region. The repercussions of the move are still being played out as Hamas calls for a new Intifada. Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in protests with some being killed. Mahmoud Abbas has rejected any further U.S. participation in the peace process and has the backing of many world leaders. It remains unclear what benefits Donald Trump hoped the U.S. would gain by his decision, but the price appears to be steep. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital outside of any negotiated agreement threatens to undo America’s role in the Middle East for years to come.
4. The Persecution of the Rohingyas
Persecution might be too light a word to describe what is happening to the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Better terms might be ethnic cleansing or genocide. Despite living in Myanmar for centuries, the Buddhist majority government has decided the Muslim minority Rohingyas are not entitled to recognition or citizenship. Violence against the Rohingyas is nothing really new. They have a long history of being discriminated against in Myanmar. This past August, however, a new surge of violence broke out causing 400,000 Rohingyas to flee the country. Mass killings, systematic rape, and torture have all been reported. The Myanmar government, of course, denies any human rights violations and labels the Rohingyas terrorists. The story of the Rohingyas is slowly galvanizing world attention, but at this point very little is being done to help their cause.
3. China Shines Bright on the World Stage
China could not have asked for a better year than 2017, and even more so than its leader Xi Jinping. In October he was coronated by the Chinese Communist Party and was granted his second five-year term as party general secretary. Xi Jinping is now the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. The One Belt, One Road initiative took a major step forward with their Belt and Road Initiative Forum (with the unfortunate acronym of BARF) which brought 28 world leaders to China making it the largest gathering of international leaders in China since they hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Also in 2017, President Donald Trump canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement which was designed to help Asian economies steer clear of having to rely economically on China. America’s loss is China’s potential gain.
2. North Korea Continues to Defy the World
Despite severe economic sanctions and a starving population, North Korea has continued to defy the international community by detonating its atomic bombs and testing its missiles that now have the potential to reach most of the continental United States. There are few places left for the international community to tighten sanctions further, and China has been a barrier to those efforts. There was some success in 2017 when Donald Trump was able to convince China to finally go forward with tightening sanctions on its energy exports to North Korea. A war with a nuclear-armed North Korea would be a catastrophic event for all countries involved with projected death tolls on a scale not seen since the second world war. When it comes to how handle North Korea, there are some very difficult choices to be made in 2018.
1. Donald Trump in the White House
Twenty-seventeen was the year Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States. It has been an eventful year for his presidency, and not necessarily in a good way. His administration is under the cloud of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into obstruction of justice and collusion with Russian officials during the 2016 elections. The investigation so far has led to four arrests and does not appear to be wrapping up anytime soon. Trump’s presidency has been met by many American allies across the world with extreme worry. His rejection of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, along with his ill-advised recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are all controversial events. Less controversial was his efforts to get China to enforce international sanctions against North Korea. All these events were mentioned in this list of the notable world events of 2017. With that, Donald Trump taking control of the White House is the most significant world event of 2017.