One of the questions we routinely get asked is "how is Stratfor different from the news?" The key really is in the name. Stratfor is a portmanteau of strategic forecasting, which is pretty much what we do in a nutshell. We look at the big picture and attempt to work out what's going to happen next. Naturally, it's a bit more complicated than that, but our unique methodology provides insights that put us ahead of the media curve. As our team puts the finishing touches on our forecast for the second quarter of 2018 — following on from our 2018 Annual Forecast — we thought we'd take the opportunity to review some of the things we correctly forecast that have since come to pass.
- China is entering a critical period of restructuring, which we said would compel President Xi Jinping to maintain unrivaled authority. He fulfilled that forecast last month when he lifted term limits for both the president and vice president of the People's Republic of China.
- India is teaming up with China's regional rivals to advance competing infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia and Africa and to increase security cooperation. The countries working with India to counter China's Belt and Road Initiative include the United States, Australia and Japan.
- We forecasted in December that the Trump administration would try to implement aspects of its protectionist trade agenda this year. The administration has since announced steep trade tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. As expected, lobbyists and Republican legislators concerned about the effects of a possible NAFTA withdrawal have pushed back on the administration.
- Despite encouragement from the United States, the Venezuelan government is not interested in holding competitive elections this year for fear it will lose power. Although President Nicolas Maduro announced elections will be held in April, he also banned leading opposition figures from running. This mega-election assures victory for the ruling party.
Middle East and North Africa
- The Iran nuclear deal (technically the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) still hangs by a thread. The U.S. sanctions waivers that uphold the deal have been extended through May 12. If Congress doesn't develop extra legislation to contain Iranian activity, the deal will fall apart.
- Turkey's primary goal in the Syrian civil war is to prevent a Kurdish statelet along its southern border. Operation Olive Branch began in January and is just the beginning of Turkey's efforts to achieve that goal. In Syria, Turkey is taking more risks, and in direct opposition to the goals of other actors in the conflict.
- To counteract Iranian influence in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states are providing economic support to Iraqi entities. This level of support is playing out in the media industry, where Saudi Arabia offered $10 million last month to support a Shiite TV station in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
- Meanwhile, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is making good on his promise of aggressive economic reform. Last month the Saudi cabinet approved a measure meant to unshackle skilled labor. This is in line with the Vision 2030 goal of developing a vibrant private sector.
- Throughout 2018, the United States will be increasing its pressure on Russia in many theatres, most recently by approving a $47 million arms deal with Ukraine. Such deteriorating relations will further strain the bilateral arms treaties between the United States and Russia, highlighted recently by Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement of a variety of new weapons and an expanded approach to Russia's defense strategy.
- After months of negotiations, Germany finally built a new government coalition, with most of the Social Democratic Party joining a government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
- We also expect long negotiations to follow the elections in Italy. The results have delivered a hung parliament and the process of forming a government is sure to take several weeks.
- For the United Kingdom, how to handle Northern Ireland is one of the most delicate remaining issues in the aftermath of the Brexit decision. Case in point: the first draft of Brexit terms, which proposed keeping Northern Ireland in the EU Customs Union, is already causing controversy.
- The regional competition between India and China is alive and well. China's growing influence in South Asia, which has historically been India's domain, has put both countries on edge. The crises in the Maldives last month is just the latest example of this growing tension.
- We knew it was unlikely African President Jacob Zuma was going to survive the year after last December's ANC party meeting. This was confirmed when the party forced Zuma to resign to make room for the new ANC leader, Cyril Ramaphosa.
To read what we expect to happen in the second quarter of 2018, check out our quarterly forecast, publishing March 12.