Looking ahead to 2020: Standoffs, abuse, hope

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

NEW YORK — Peering into the crystal snow globe, it’s time to predict, prognosticate and presage into the year ahead.  Without a pun we need the proverbial 2020 vision to decipher the political and security landscape that awaits us in the new year with both long running static conflicts and newly unpredictable crises.

Here are among the things we can expect.

Static Conflicts

Syria’s devastating civil war enters its 9th year with no clear end in sight but continuing as a churning humanitarian Hell for millions.  Few can imagine the sanguinary killing zone that has slogged on since 2011. The UN Security Council remains dangerously deadlocked by a superpower standoff and thus even humanitarian concessions for the suffering Syrian civilians fall by the wayside.  Millions of refugees and internally displaced people later, the fight for Syria’s future continues with a devil’s mix of Islamic jihadi terrorist groups facing the Russian- backed Assad regime.

The Hong Kong demonstrators’ powerful statement will resonate in 2020 as well. / Video image

Korea’s face off continues.  Despite tough UN economic sanctions, the Pyongyang leadership still refuses to denuclearize. Diplomatic efforts by the U.S. have stopped the ticking clock but have failed to resolve the clear and present danger from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to East Asia and the USA. A renewed crisis could erupt in the new year on the divided Korean peninsula.

There’s the glaring humanitarian crisis in forgotten Yemen, Libya’s strife,  Afghanistan’s deterioration, and the everlasting conflict in the Congo.

In Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro’s socialist regime is holding on despite the once prosperous economy now in free fall. Four million Venezuelan refugees have created Latin America’s largest humanitarian crisis. The outcome remains far from resolved; most Latin American countries and the USA back the democratic opposition, but Maduro is supported by Cuba and China.


Britain’s recent election saw the Conservative party win a thumping majority over Labour. Prime Minister Boris Johnson now finally appears to have a clear Parliamentary path to the controversial Brexit through which the United Kingdom will formally leave the European Union (EU) at the end of January.  But beyond the Brexit euphoria, the United Kingdom faces serious political fault lines, especially in Scotland.

Presidential elections are scheduled for Taiwan in early January; the outcome of the democratic contest will decide the island’s commercial relations with and security from Mainland China.

China’s aggressive actions and brazen disregard of Hong Kong’s “One country, Two Systems,” formula poses a poignant reminder to Taiwan’s voters to cherish and safeguard their political freedoms.  Given Beijing’s abuse of Hong Kong’s “guaranteed” rights, why would Taiwan risk a deal with the People’s Republic? Incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen will likely be reelected.

In November the United States goes to the polls in a nearly theatrical Presidential election.  The politically embattled Trump administration has, despite the naysayers, delivered impressive economic gains for the American people. Record low unemployment, impressive growth in long lost manufacturing jobs, and a roaring stock market, are among accomplishments charting  prosperity. The old slogan, “It’s the Economy stupid!” shall likely bear out in the polls in the face of a divided and detached Democrat party opposition.  Congressional approval of the Administration’s upgraded USMCA free trade pact with Canada and Mexico assures further jobs and growth.

New Flashpoints

Turkey’s authoritarian leader Tayyip Erdogan’s muscle flexing in the eastern Mediterranean Sea,  comes as Ankara signed an agreement with Libya that creates an exclusive economic zone from Turkey’s southern Mediterranean shore to Libya’s northeast coast. This impinges on the maritime interests of Greece and Cyprus and looks to create a Turkish Mare Nostrum.  

Jihadi resurgence in the Sahel; the huge swath of subsaharan Africa from northern Nigeria, through Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Here French military units battle Islamic militants in a forgotten war far from the headlines.  On the outcome of this turmoil hinges weather large numbers of migrants would ultimately head to Europe.

Iran’s grim reality of both incompetence and corruption, sparked growing domestic dissent to the Islamic regime. Seething anger among disenchanted young people has led to pro-democracy demonstrations in 2018 and as recently as November where 1,500 protesters were killed by security forces. The political pot could boil over in the new year.

Wild Card Wishes

Let’s refuse to politely overlook human rights abuses in China, Cuba, Burma or North Korea. It’s time to condemn the persecution of Middle East Christians.

That Argentina’s new Populist left-wing Fernandez government somehow tries to stay sensible and refrain from its Peronist fantasy.

Sadly uncertainty seems to be the watchword of the new decade. Happy New Year!

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]