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Global Affairs

Trump, Brexit and North Korea: 2017 in Review

 6 min read / 

In the political world, 2017 has – in some regards – been a continuation of the year that had preceded it. North Korean aggression and nuclear threats have continued, the Middle East remains a heavily volatile region with continuing tension between arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia and Brexit proves to be as divisive for the UK as it had been in 2016 – if not more so.

However, whilst 2016 was characterised by the rising tide of populism – evidenced by the result of the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s victory – 2017 has seen developments in some of the world’s oldest problems (like Jerusalem) and some new ones (such as cyber attacks and cryptocurrencies).

The US was the main actor in global affairs this year. From pulling out of the Paris Accords to poking and prodding some of the world’s nuclear hornet’s nests, Donald Trump’s agenda seems to have one clear goal: to shake things up.

Following the firing of a ballistic missile over Japan, the international community roundly condemned North Korea for its aggressive actions. Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un kept tensions high, but continued their verbal war rather than going nuclear.

Main Events

January 2017:  Trump takes office

Donald Trump was officially sworn in as the 45th president of the United States following his surprise election victory in November 2016. His prioritisation of US defence, as well as an emphasis on protectionism, set a precedent for divisive policies during the year.

Following his inauguration, he has faced a barrage of problems – from a dramatic drop in popularity and the breakup of his White House team to the pending investigation into Russia’s meddling in the US election.

He has, however, delivered on some of his campaign pledges – as promised, he officially recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and withdrew from the Paris Agreement. Despite facing opposition from lawmakers in the US government, he attempted to repeal Obamacare and implement his travel ban.

February 2017: North Korea aggression

North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan, provoking worldwide condemnation and increasing tensions between Kim Jong-un and international leaders. Attempts from South Korea, China, Russia and the US to restrain the rogue nation and diffuse the conflict via diplomacy prove futile, as aggressions and threats continue.

March 2017:  Dutch elections

The centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), led by Mark Rutte, maintained its position as the Netherlands’ most popular party, though suffering a loss of eight parliamentary seats.

Geert Wilders’ nationalist Party for Freedom (PVV) continued the populist surge of 2016, gaining five seats and obtaining the second highest amount of votes.

March 2017:  Theresa May triggers Article 50

Theresa May’s Conservative government historically triggered Article 50, officially beginning the process of leaving the EU following the 2016 referendum.

The UK has two years to negotiate a deal with the EU, and the official date set for Britain to leave the EU is March 29th, 2019. There has been much speculation on whether May will walk away with a ‘Deal’ or ‘No Deal’.

April 2017:  The US goes on foreign offensive

President Trump took an aggressive stance in dealing with violence in the Middle-East. On April 6th, Trump launched 59 missiles at a Syrian airbase. A week later, the US released a MOAB – the largest possible non-nuclear weapon – on an ISIL base in Afghanistan.

The move prompted mixed reactions – Saudi Arabia stated that it was a ‘courageous decision’ and Israel said Trump had sent out a ‘strong and clear message’. Russia, allies of Syria, was not in agreement – Putin said Trump’s move was in violation of international law.

May 2017: Emmanuel Macron wins French election

Emmanuel Macron gained a comfortable victory over Marine Le Pen to become the new French president, accruing almost twice as many popular votes than the leader of the National Front.

The victory of the 39-year-old is seen to temporarily halt the wave of populism that had been prevalent throughout 2016.

May 2017: Trump sacks James Comey

Trump fired former FBI director James Comey, a move largely thought to be due to the on-going investigation into Russian interference in the US Presidential election.

The dismissal is one of several exits from the White House in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, with Michael Flynn and Sean Spicer being among those who departed.

June 2017: Trump withdraws from Paris Agreement

He said that the agreement would harm the US economy and that it would conflict with his ‘America First’ ideology. However, the US is not able to leave before 2020.

June 2017:  Conservatives slip in UK general election

Theresa May’s political gamble to call a snap general election in April backfired, as the Tories failed to amass the 326 seats required to form a new government.

May formed a coalition with the right-wing Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Critics stated that May’s lacklustre and lukewarm campaign, as well as the alienation of some of her core base, led to her receiving fewer votes than had been expected.

August 2017: Mass attacks on the Rohingya in Myanmar

The United Nations described this as “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is widely criticised for inaction in response to the attacks on the Rohingya.

September 2017: Merkel wins election, but far-right gains ground

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) maintained its position as the largest party in German politics in an expected electoral victory. However, it is CDU’s lowest vote share since 1949, having 8% fewer votes in 2017 than in the previous election.

The election was a strong outcome for the right-wing AfD, who became the third-largest party in the Bundestag with 12.6% of the vote, their best outcome in a national election to date. This is the first time a right-wing political party entered the German parliament since the Nazis.

October 2017: US and Israel withdraw from UNESCO

US and Israel withdrew from cultural organisation UNESCO, referencing an alleged anti-Israel bias by the institution. The move strains already tense relations between the US and the rest of the world.

October 2017: Catalonia declares independence from Spain

Catalonia briefly declared independence from Spain following a referendum in which 92% of respondents voted for the region to become independent. On the 31st of October, Spain imposed direct rule under Catalonia, and the Constitutional Court of Spain suspended Catalonia’s declaration of independence.

November 2017: Mugabe resigns as President of Zimbabwe

The 93-year old Robert Mugabe’s decision followed sustained pressure from the country – including a military takeover and an impeachment.

December 2017: The US recognises Jerusalem as capital of Israel

Donald Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a speech on 6th December 2017, announcing the US will move its embassy to the city.

The announcement prompted mixed responses worldwide; while Israel cheered the decision, Palestine stated the move would “destroy the peace process” and that the US would be “abdicating its role as a peace mediator”. The EU and United Nations Security Council largely condemned Trump, stating the move would exacerbate existing tensions.

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