Countries like the United States, Russia, Turkey and Germany will probably receive a lot of media attention in 2018. However, there are many other countries worthy of note in the coming months. Similar to last year, we once again present to you eight countries that should not stay under the radar this year. Today, we discuss four countries – next week we will publish the second part. (Featured Image © PhotoGraham)
Armenia’s Flirting with both Moscow and Brussels – Jan-Hendrik van Sligtenhorst
From its independence in 1991 onwards, Armenia’s foreign policy has been pragmatic at best. It’s geographic location (neighbouring both Azerbaijan and Turkey) urges Armenia to uphold good relations with Russia. Unlike Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, Armenia refrained from signing the Association Agreement with the EU back in 2014. It did so under Russian pressure, and joined the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) instead.
The landmark agreement between the Armenia and the EU demonstrates the continuation of Armenian balancing between Brussels and Moscow
However, it never neglected relations with the EU. At the Eastern Partnership Summit of November 2017 in Brussels, Armenia signed the so-called Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA). It is the most comprehensive agreement Armenia ever signed with the EU, but it can nonetheless best be described as a compromise between Armenia’s commitments towards the EAEU and its European ambitions. This landmark agreement demonstrates the continuation of Armenian balancing between Brussels and Moscow.
In this context, it is worth noting that the new Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which connects Europe and China while bypassing Armenia and Russia, has the potential to isolate Armenia. Diversifying friendships could be an attempt to escape isolation. Nevertheless, Armenia will not abandon Russia, as it still depends on Russia for its security. How will Armenia further its current flirting with both Russia and the EU – and how will Russia and the EU respond?
Destabilizing Food Shortages in Niger – Naomi Vleugels
Niger can be hit with food and nutrition insecurity from June 2018 onwards, which would magnify existing challenges and lead to a deeply affecting crisis for a vast part of its population.
First of all, the food and nutrition insecurity itself. Besides the impact on human consumption, the secondary effect of a food shortage is difficulties in feeding livestock. The agricultural communities could be hit double, as they would also be losing an important means of income.
Tackling the upcoming food and nutrition crisis in Niger and its wider region is fundamental in assuring that the human, economic and security situation will not worsen
Secondly, in a region that is already destabilised by extremist groups, food insecurity makes matters worse. Although a variety of factors explain why people are drawn into extremist groups, a main contributing factor is poverty and food and nutrition insecurity, in turn, strongly contributes to that factor.
Thirdly, Niger is an important transit country for migrants and Nigeriens migrate easily themselves. Food insecurity is a very strong push factor for migration, so it would impact the already complex cooperation with the EU.
Tackling the upcoming food and nutrition crisis in Niger and its wider region is fundamental in assuring that the human, economic and security situation will not worsen. It should be the start of an integrated, international and ambitious effort in advancing the region’s prospects.
The Economic Case for Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia – Jorn Vennekens
Saudi Vision 2030 was first announced by the Saudi government in 2016. Their plan is to diversify the oil-dependent economy and improve their global economic standing. Necessity rather than opportunity lay at the heart of this decision: hit by plummeting crude oil prices in 2014, the Saudi government has since increasingly struggled to keep its budget deficit under control.
In a country marred by strict gender segregation, it appears that the government is finally tapping into the economic potential of its well-educated female citizens
Among the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 is to increase women’s workforce participation from 22% to 30%. In a country marred by strict gender segregation, it appears that the government is finally tapping into the economic potential of its well-educated female citizens. Perhaps economic opportunity will prove to be an important boost for the rights of Saudi women.
The road ahead remains bumpy: while the driving ban on women will be lifted mid-2018, a lot more must be done. Most notably, male guardianship continues to serve as a roadblock. Furthermore, the inclusion of women will require a costly revamp for many companies, and changing laws will have little impact without a cultural shift about women’s position in society.
It will be interesting to see whether women’s workforce participation has increased by the end of 2018, and whether any further legal changes will have taken place.
The Balancing Act of South Korea’s Moon Jae-In – Myriam Vanvinckenroye
The Olympic Winter Games in South Korea’s Pyeongchang, have given occasion to a breakthrough in the relations between North and South Korea. The Panmunjom hotline has recently been reopened with the North, which then agreed to send a (symbolic) delegation to the Olympics.
China welcomes this de-escalation of tension between the two Koreas. Seoul has great interest in economically engaging with Beijing once again, after the THAAD dispute and the imposition of Chinese sanctions.
If South Korean actions would be perceived as leaning more closely towards Beijing, this could cause deepening concern over time in Washington
Still, President Moon Jae-In feels trapped in a larger power struggle between the United States and China. If South Korean actions would be perceived as leaning more closely towards Beijing, this could cause deepening concern over time in Washington. Trump will not allow any division or perceived weakness in the US-ROK alliance, as it could immediately be used by Kim Jong-Un to his own advantage.
Moon’s balancing act will be crucial for the peninsula, but his room to maneuver depends on domestic political imperatives and foreign policy issues outside the control of his administration. To assess the success of Moon’s efforts, it will be interesting to see South Korea’s stance on the upcoming US-ROK combined military exercise, which will be held during the Paralympics in March 2018.