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Crisis in decision-making - André DeBattista

The hermit kingdom of North Korea together with its increasing capacity to develop nuclear weapons will test the diplomatic skills of several countries.

The hermit kingdom of North Korea together with its increasing capacity to develop nuclear weapons will test the diplomatic skills of several countries.

A year ago, observers were gripped by a sense of foreboding. Many feared that the populism would flourish politically; others predicted doom and gloom as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. The liberal establishment was unable to get over the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election.

In his first year, Trump proved to be just as unpredictable as many dreaded he would be. His lack of experience, fiery temperament and the complete absence of political acumen within the White House are all too evident. His spat with Kim Jong Un continued to sour relations between North Korea and the US while his liberal use of Twitter to intimidate opponents and respond to critics keeps on raising concerns about his suitability for public office.

The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel may have been premature and ill-advised. Trump’s foreign policy credentials remain a significant concern.

So far, the Trump administration was unable to pass significant legislative bills. Mid-term elections, scheduled for November, may further hamper his ability to implement signature Bills successfully.

One aspect which several administrations failed to deal with adequately is the growing concern of Russian interference. Throughout the past year, reports have emerged of the attempts to influence the outcome of various high-profile electoral tests including the US presidential election, the Brexit referendum, the French presidential election and the German federal elections.

This presents a new security challenge for such interference undermines the beating heart of a functioning democracy. Serious consequences arise when the transparency and independence of institutions, particularly those elected through universal suffrage, is dented.

The development of new technologies will keep on rendering our democracies more vulnerable. Paradoxically, it is through the same technology that we can secure such systems.

President Vladimir Putin is up for re-election in March 2018. There is no serious challenge to his grip on power. His re-election will cement his position as the poster-boy of 21st century authoritarianism while his modus operandi is likely to be a cause for concern in the West.

Russia will also be in the news for entirely different reasons. In 2018 it is due to host the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup. Four years removed from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia will be hoping to show a different image of itself to an already sceptic public.

It will be hard to do so because of its track record on human rights, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and its gradual decline to autocracy.

2018 will be marked by occasional reminders of the cancer-like effects of autocracy and dictatorship. North Korea will undoubtedly remain a source of instability in the region. The unpredictable regime of the hermit kingdom together with its increasing capacity to develop nuclear weapons will test the diplomatic skills of several countries. Without capable diplomacy, the region can plunge into a veritable crisis.

Close to the US, one of the last fossils of the Cold War will finally retire. Raul Castro announced that he would step down as president in April 2018. Miguel Diaz-Canel, his vice-president, is likely to succeed him.

The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel may have been premature and ill-advised. Trump’s foreign policy credentials remain a significant concern

He will have the task of furthering the economic reforms piloted by the Raul Castro regime while trying to maintain the relevance of the Communist Party of Cuba. This will be no easy task.

In Europe, the challenge to remain relevant will be acutely felt. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s struggle to form a coalition may bring a premature end to her tenure. Compromises will be made, and changes will be promised while failures on behalf of the incoming coalition will likely strengthen populist parties.

In Catalonia and Scotland, pressures to secede from their respective unions will intensify. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party remains the custodian of this seemingly-impossible dream. In Catalonia, the illegal October referendum followed by the new legislative elections in December has fuelled the Catalan cause.

The latter may cause additional tensions at a delicate time for Spain.

In 2017, mainstream parties were tasked with forming a government. The predicted wave of populism failed to materialise; however, the key demands of the populist parties found their way into several electoral manifestos across the political spectrum.

Mainstream parties were not given a clean bill of health either; many were returned with reduced majorities while others were elected as the lesser of two evils. They will need to perform well, or they might risk losing additional support.  In Britain, Theresa May will have to explain her vision for Brexit better. Her inability to present a clear and coherent vision is serving to polarise Britain further and is denting confidence in her personal ability to steer this political process through.

Her detractors in the European Union are likely to be incensed at any sign of indecision. They will undoubtedly flex their muscles in the hope of avoiding a situation where other countries opt to leave the EU.

However, the EU itself is in dire need of some energy and direction. The strong diverging views between those who want an ‘ever closer union’ and those who favour a more inter-governmental model are fuelling deeper rifts in the Union.

As this debate rages, the EU is failing to provide a cohesive narrative and vision around which a common shared future can be built.

Ultimately, the greatest setbacks of 2018 will surface due to the ongoing crisis in decision-making. Decision-making, unlike leadership, is concerned solely with solving problems; defining and determining the challenges, providing alternatives, listing priorities and implementing solutions.

In the quest for creating ill-conceived grand visions, many political leaders ignore this most vital of functions. The manifest incompetence of recent years played into the hands of autocrats and, in some cases, fuelled their rise. Politically, being seen to do something counts more than the principles underpinning actions and the bland normality which ensures stability.

In 2018, the decisions which have been postponed for so long will come to a head. If political leaders fail to make key decisions, they might find themselves in a situation where others – less desirable political actors – would have already decided for them.

André DeBattista is an independent researcher in the field of politics and international relations.

[email protected]

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