Here’s what we think is going to happen in 2018

Members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force in Iligan, Philippines, on June 24 as part of government forces’ assault against insurgents who had taken over large parts of Marawi City.

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Members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force in Iligan, Philippines, on June 24 as part of government forces’ assault against insurgents who had taken over large parts of Marawi City.
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REUTERS/Jorge Silva

2017 has been a roller coaster – both in the US and abroad, the year ends with the world in a very different place from where it was 12 months ago.

Now, as has become our tradition, the Business Insider military-and-defense team will predict the future.

In the past, we’ve done well. Last year we correctly identified many of the problems the world would face in 2017, including some that directly challenged the new US president, Donald Trump.

It’s clear Trump will have more decisions and crises to face in the coming year. To be sure, other global leaders will as well, but the “America First” president has proved to be unpredictable, if nothing else.

Your guides for this year’s journey are Peter Jacobs, Alex Lockie, Christopher Woody, Daniel Brown, David Choi, and Ben Brimelow.

Here’s what we think will happen in 2018:


Trump will remain president of the United States

Impeachment papers introduced in the House. Senators calling for his resignation over sexual assault allegations. And Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation getting closer to the White House with each new revelation.

It can seem sometimes that the walls are closing in on Trump’s presidency. But, in all likelihood, he’ll still be standing when 2018 comes to a close.

Impeachment proceedings have been shot down by Democratic leadership. Even if “Chuck and Nancy” take up the cause, they’re still the opposition party – Republicans control both houses of Congress and have no reason to usher out a president of their own party.

As a growing group of Democrats call for Trump’s head over longstanding sexual assault allegations, it’s becoming clearer that the charges won’t stick (regardless of their potential validity). Even as a sea change takes over Washington and takes down more lawmakers, the allegations against the president didn’t hobble his candidacy and, barring some new revelation, the White House will stick to its current line – deny, deny, deny.

The obvious albatross around Trump’s neck is the Mueller investigation and the president’s potential ties to Russia.

Everyone from his campaign chairman to his national security adviser to potentially his son and son-in-law may be caught up in it. But Trump remains the president – and will through the next year.

– Peter Jacobs, Military & Defense Editor


The US and North Korea will not enter into large scale war

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
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Reuters/KCNA

As I have argued elsewhere, both the US and North Korea have too much to lose to go to war. Both sides can achieve a palatable outcome without exchanging nukes.

That said, Trump will continue his “maximum pressure” approach to North Korea and bring the world to the brink of war. North Korea will complete additional tests of nuclear devices or ballistic missiles. International diplomats will bite their fingernails to the stub but ultimately a large scale war won’t break out.

This is not to say small scuffles may happen. The US may board a North Korean ship, or attempt to shoot down a missile test.

North Korea may shell a relatively uninhabited part of South Korea. It may detain more US or South Korean citizens. It may lodge a cyber offensive or emulate some of Russia’s “hybrid war” tactics in the South, but the big show doesn’t happen.

Remember: There is tremendous leverage in threatening to initiate the end of the world with nuclear war, but nothing to be gained by actually ending it.

– Alex Lockie, News Editor


China will flex its muscles in the Sea of Japan

China’s actions in the Pacific have not exactly been warm and inviting.

China conducted a number of flying missions that made Japan rather nervous this year. These were usually with H-6 bombers and other surveillance aircraft over the Miyako Strait, an open area of water between Miyako Island and Okinawa Island.

When Japan complained about violations of its airspace and the increased activity, the Chinese responded with an abrupt statement: “Get used to it.”

With China’s rhetoric getting increasingly assertive, and its new aircraft carrier sailing the waters, China can be expected to flex its naval muscle in the area.

– Ben Brimelow, Military & Defense Intern


Mexico’s bloodshed will continue — and likely deepen

2017 looks likely to end as Mexico’s most violent year in the last two decades.

Homicide data for the last two months is yet to come in, but the 23,968 homicide victims reported though October this year are nearly 27% more than over the same period last year. The 20,878 homicide cases (which can contain more than one victim) recorded through October well exceed the 16,881 registered over the same period in 2016 and are already more than the 20,547 seen all of last year.

Analysts have said only about half of these killings are related to organized crime, but homicides are not the only rising indicators of insecurity. The number of overall crimes reported rose 13% during the first 10 months of the year; attempted homicides with a firearm rose 39%; violent robberies were up 38%. Extortion cases were up 12%, and sexual attacks increased over 10%.

In the near term, it’s not clear what the Mexican authorities can do to bring down this violence. Much of it is driven by the fragmentation of larger criminal groups that have broken down under law-enforcement pressure.

But state and local police will continue to be largely ineffective or nonexistent. The Mexican government is considering a law that would formalize the military’s decade-long domestic role fighting criminal groups, but many are alarmed at the potential for a permanent military presence.

All signs are that things will get worse in Mexico before they get better.

– Christopher Woody, Military & Defense Reporter


Putin will cruise to reelection and turn his eyes to Georgia and Belarus

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Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Reuters

It’s a pretty safe bet that Russian President Vladimir Putin will win reelection in March 2018.

The most popular opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, has been ruled ineligible to run by Russia’s top court, and the European Court of Human Rights has even declared some former elections as unfair and compromised.

Putin’s reelection will not be good news to millions of people living in former Soviet states, as he will maintain and try to expand his tentacles into their territories to provide a buffer between Russia and the West.

The war in eastern Ukraine will continue to drag on. The Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, which are battling Kiev and funded and managed by Moscow, will receive more support.

Moscow will keep propping up the South Ossetia and Abkhazia republics in Georgia, which, like the Russian-backed republics in Ukraine, most of the world doesn’t recognize. Moscow will also continue its tactic of “borderization” in which its troops slowly and methodically move border posts inch by inch to gain more territory and further stymie their hopes for NATO inclusion.

Russia will also keep attempting to blend its military with Belarus’ forces, as it prepares to use Belarus’ in case there’s a confrontation with the West.

Other countries, such as Montenegro, Lithuania, and Latvia, will experience further meddling and hybrid warfare.

– Daniel Brown, Military & Defense, Visual Features Reporter


Trump’s Middle East peace plan will be unveiled and go nowhere

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Undercover Israeli security personnel detain a Palestinian demonstrator.
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REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

There are so many issues standing in the way of Trump’s still-unknown grand plan for Middle East peace.

Israel has ramped up settlement building, and shows no sign of stopping.

The Palestinians – in the midst of implementing a unity deal – will either include the armed terrorist group Hamas or remain splintered in opposing factions.

Add to this Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as he offered nothing to Palestinian leadership looking to establish a state with East Jerusalem as their capital. While the details of Trump’s Jerusalem decision are vague, and somewhat toothless, it at least shows an administration unconcerned with its appearance to the Arab world.

A Middle East peace plan – helmed by top advisers Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner – would have to deal with all these issues, and more. Even if it does hit its unofficial deadline of early 2018, it looks like it will be dead in the water as soon as it drops.

– Peter Jacobs, Military & Defense Editor


Peace will come to Syria

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Syrian police officers.
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REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Syria’s nearly seven year old civil war will find a political solution in 2018.

The opposition to Syria’s President Bashar Assad has solidified under a single, unified banner to a satisfactory degree. Russia, Iran, and Turkey have big plans for the future of Syria, and the US seems content to sit out most of the major negotiations.

Now that ISIS has lost every inch of its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, the US has little keeping it involved in Syria. Past administrations may have wanted a hand in shaping Syria’s future, but for Trump this is a good chance to make good on his campaign platform of non-intervention.

Sectarian conflict will continue in Syria and Assad may cling to power, but the great majority of Syria’s fighting lies behind it.

– Alex Lockie, News Editor


The US will increase its footprint in Africa

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Nigerien service members.
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US Army

Following the deaths of four US servicemembers in the Niger-Mali border in October, many Americans, including some lawmakers, were dumbfounded by the notion that the country had a military presence in the continent.

But the US has had a fairly hawk-like presence in the region since the 9/11 attacks, thanks to its ever-increasing requests for counter-terrorism operations and intelligence gathering; justified by the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force and the 1973 War Powers Resolution.

After taking office this year, Trump has taken steps to green-light restrictions on drone strikes and special forces raids against networks of al-Qaeda, the Islamic state, and other jihadists, that were previously imposed by his predecessor.

In Niger, the Defense Department finally received permission last month to fly armed drones, allowing it to target militants in West Africa. Around the same time, the Defense Department is reportedly expecting at least two more years of combat against militants in Somalia.

With around 6,000 troops are already deployed to the continent, the US’ role in training local forces and assisting allies may become shrouded by the chance of direct confrontation and go from “low risk” to something much higher.

– David Choi, News Reporter


Trump’s foreign policy brain trust will stay under fire — and may see a big shake up

Trump’s foreign policy has thus far been an antagonistic one – taking aggressive stances in northwest Asia, on the US-Mexico border, in Europe, and throughout the Middle East.

What the US does elsewhere in the world in 2018 remains to be seen, but at home, relations within his national-security team look set to remain vicious.

Reports of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s contentious relations with Trump and his team – he reportedly called the president a “moron” this summer – have swirled for months, and a plan to replace him at the State Department emerged at the end of November. Tillerson is hanging on in Foggy Bottom, but he is not the only senior official with a target on his back.

Trump loyalists have reportedly be trying to force out National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster for months – with reports alleging that McMaster has also disparaged Trump in private.

The “America First”-ers who want to get rid of McMaster don’t seem to be backing off.

“There is always someone trying to oust McMaster, who arrives to discussions with well-prepared, thoughtful positions,” a former National Security Council official told Foreign Policy.

With a president who has a predilection for drama and an aversion to confrontation, the internecine squabbles that frequently spilled into the open during Trump’s first year office seem likely to continue during his second.

– Christopher Woody, Military & Defense Reporter


Mohammed bin Salman will continue to remake Saudi Arabia — and may even become king

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Mohammed bin Salman.
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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has had a groundbreaking year, not only remaking the kingdom he is set to one day lead, but also consolidating power for himself in an unprecedented fashion.

In the past year, the 32-year-old MbS – as he is informally known – has taken on the country’s clerics, business leaders, and powerful royals. He’s behind a modernization push that is publicly downplaying radical Islam, revamping the economy, and changing Saudi culture, most notably reversing the ban on women drivers.

There is no reason to believe this will suddenly end in 2018. Saudi Arabia still has a lot of sacred cows to slay.

MbS has thrust himself into the center of how Saudi Arabia is viewed by the outside world. As Defense Minister, he spearheaded the ongoing conflict between the kingdom and Yemen, as was reportedly behind the surprise resignation (which ended up being rescinded) of Lebanon’s prime minister.

Saudi Arabia’s wide-ranging battle with Iran may not fall into direct conflict next year, but their proxy wars will continue – and likely spread.

Rumors at the end of the year have speculated that King Salman would abdicate the throne for his son. As of now, those look unfounded, but the king will turn soon 82 and clearly trusts MbS.

Don’t be surprised if the Saudi throne changes hands early.

– Peter Jacobs, Military & Defense Editor


The humanitarian crisis in Yemen will continue to get worse

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Newly recruited Houthi fighters.
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REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

The war in Yemen began as a civil war in 2015, but has since evolved into a proxy fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

There is no end in sight.

The killing of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh earlier this month, which came at the hand of Iranian-backed Houthis just two days after he announced the end of an alliance with them, makes a peace deal even more unlikely.

Saudi Arabia has liberated about 85% of the country from Houthi control, and Saleh’s announcement before his death to “turn the page” on relations with the Saudis seemed to make a peace deal more possible.

But his death has increased the Houthis’ resolve, and the Saudis have responded with more bombing runs.

Unless the Saudis can somehow stamp out the rebel movement, they will continue bombing and blockading the country, maintaining the existing humanitarian crisis.

– Daniel Brown, Military & Defense, Visual Features Reporter


The Kurds will still not get their own state

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A boy rides a bicycle with the flag of Kurdistan.
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REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

Despite a referendum that showed overwhelming support for an independent Kurdish state in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, a Kurdish republic has not been created.

2018 will likely be no different.

An independent Kurdistan would cause a lot of headaches for the region. Turkey, Iran, and the Iraqi federal government are all vehemently opposed to an independent Kurdish state on their borders.

The US is also against the creation of a Kurdish state, not wanting to shake up the Middle East. That fear won’t go away anytime soon.

With no regional supporters (except, interestingly, Israel) to back them and enemies all around, it is unlikely that any Kurdish region will gain independence in 2018.

– Ben Brimelow, Military & Defense Intern


Maduro will continue to preside over Venezuela’s deterioration

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.
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REUTERS/David Mercado

Venezuela’s years-long economic and social strife, and the government’s repressive response to unrest, has earned President Nicolas Maduro international opprobrium.

But he has maintained roughly 20% support over the last two years – not a lot, but one-fifth of the country at a time of widespread hunger, rampant inflation, and considerable violence.

Maduro has sidelined the political opposition through unconstitutional actions to circumvent the opposition-controlled legislature and through electoral victories abetted by fraud and dirty tricks. The Venezuelan president has benefited from the opposition’s own internal divisions and fatigue, but has also marginalized potential rivals in his own camp.

Maduro’s consolidation of power and political advantages appear to put him in good position for presidential elections that are supposed to happen next year – though it’s not clear when. Maduro’s government is negotiating with opposition leaders in the Dominican Republic, with details of that election on the agenda.

There are signs the government is not negotiating in good faith – Maduro has already said some opposition parties would not be allowed to take part in next year’s presidential vote.

Adding to the complexity are US sanctions on Venezuelan officials and on the government’s financial dealings. While these appear to have had some effect on the government’s finances, they don’t yet appear to have cleaved Maduro’s base of support.

The present state of affairs makes it seem like Maduro isn’t going anywhere.

– Christopher Woody, Military & Defense Reporter


US military problems will persist

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The USS Fitzgerald damaged by colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel.
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Toru Hanai/Reuters

The US military will continue to suffer preventable accidents, particularly in the Navy, as operational tempos remain high and the services struggle with inconsistent funding.

The US Navy lost 17 sailors to ship crashes aboard the world’s most advanced guided-missile destroyers. The culprit was in part a scant training schedule and high operational demands.

As the US looks to apply constant pressure to North Korea and continually assert itself half a world away in the Pacific, assets become worn and personnel are quickly called to duty.

This is a literal recipe for disaster, as has been demonstrated by a series of deaths at sea and aviation accidents.

– Alex Lockie, News Editor


Saudi Arabia will increase its ties with Israel as its proxy war with Iran drags on

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Saudi special forces soldiers.
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Vice/YouTube

What for so long seemed impossible is become a reality – Israel and Saudi Arabia are getting closer to each other.

This year, Israel shared intelligence with Saudi Arabia on Iranian movements in the region, invited Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for a visit, and, amazingly, even saw a close associate of the Crown Prince and a former justice minister declare that violence in the name of Islam is not justified in Israel.

All of this is to counter Iran, and the cultural differences between the Jewish state and the Muslim kingdom will no doubt continue. But the very fact that these developments are happening is historic.

With the fight against ISIS ending, the war against the Houthis continuing, and Iran’s continuing to arm and train militias across the Middle East, Riyadh and Jerusalem will only get closer.

– Ben Brimelow, Military & Defense Intern


ISIS will continue on in a series of smaller worldwide attacks

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Philippines soldier in front of a door with a “I love ISIS” graffiti.
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REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

ISIS’ caliphate has been destroyed, and its remaining fighters are on the run.

After suffering multiple setbacks, the jihadst group is transforming from an insurgent group holding large swaths of territory into a terrorist group of small cells.

The approximately 3,000 fighters left in Iraq and Syria will continue sniper and ambush attacks there, but attacks will also become more frequent across the globe.

Europe will most likely suffer more terror attacks in 2018, possibly in the United Kingdom and France, which have faced multiple attacks thus far in 2017.

Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia where ISIS has gained a foothold, will see a buildup of activity from the Islamic State and potentially an increase in attacks.

This will likely coincide with local ISIS affiliates gaining strength in places like Libya and Egypt.

– Daniel Brown, Military & Defense, Visual Features Reporter