Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

The World Didn't Change Much in 2019. That's Bad News for 2020

| Dec. 31, 2019

Several important events occurred this year, but few did anything to significantly alter global trends.

It's hard to think of worthy candidates in the category of "most significant foreign-policy event of 2019." Pick your poison: the Hong Kong protests, the whistleblower revelations that led to the House of Representatives voting to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump, the Amazon and Australian fires, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's electoral triumph, or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's march toward a new and narrower conception of Indian nationalism.  Or if you prefer to look on the bright side, maybe you'd cite the U.S. stock market, the record number of women sworn into the 116th Congress, or the progress made in addressing diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Ebola.

But when it comes to foreign policy, the most significant feature of 2019 was the persistence of the status quo. Trump's boorish antics continued to alarm and kept the chattering classes busy, but 2019 was a potential turning point where most aspects of world politics failed to turn. I'm by nature a bit of a Burkean conservative, but this degree of stasis may not be a good thing.

Consider the following:

NATO: Despite Trump's bull-in-a-china-shop approach to "diplomacy" and French President Emmanuel Macron's diagnosis that the alliance was experiencing "brain death," NATO managed to survive its 70th birthday mostly intact. For all of Trump's bluster, the U.S. military presence in Europe is larger now than it was when he took office. NATO's years may still be numbered, but as 2020 approaches the center is still holding, which means much of Europe remains unhealthily dependent on U.S. protection....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“The World Didn't Change Much in 2019. That's Bad News for 2020.” Foreign Policy, December 31, 2019.

The Author

Stephen Walt