Co-Founder at Lynx Global Intelligence
Little appears certain within the incoming administration, policy-wise. “Predictioneering” will prove especially difficult considering the president-elect’s lack of government service record, exacerbated by waffling on issues like climate change. For the purpose of analysis, let’s assume “conflict” a unitary measure*, which will either increase or decrease during the next four years.
Conflict around the world will decrease:
Trump has expressed a willingness to act in a way that appears pragmatic to some. His selection of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State is nothing less than an overture to long-standing geopolitical frenemy, Russia. In keeping with Trump’s assertions about Putin’s greatness, the choice firms up what looks to be a warming in relations between the two nations. While this may produce a peace dividend of sorts for both countries (especially Russia), it is precisely this selectivity in friend-making that could raise the specter of conflict elsewhere. Nevertheless, a focus on pragmatic, pro-business cabinet members is a plus. Pragmatism leads to compromise, avoiding conflict and war.
Conflict around the world will increase:
While a direct warming of relations with a former foe may prove beneficial in the short-term for Russia, the new relationship will come at a cost, certainly to those who inhabit Russia’s immediate periphery. As the residents of Crimea can surely relate, Russia’s willingness to use force covertly has not been meaningfully checked by the West. Residents in Syria will mirror that same sentiment, but regarding the overt use of violence to achieve political ends. The less willing a US president is to provide leadership that stands up to war crimes and the instruments of armed conflict, it becomes more likely nations will feel at liberty to commit such crimes. Globally, a selective preference for Russia as a partner will alienate the Chinese. China seeks pragmatic, long-term partnerships, not ignorance (see: Trump Taiwan call) or prolonged conflict. Preference towards Russian interests could come at the expense of relations with America’s second largest trading partner, China (following peaceful Canada at #1). Ignorance and a lack of respect for protocol, especially in diplomacy, raise both tensions and the risks a tactical mistake will be made, sparking war. That reality unfortunately promotes the idea that global conflict may increase in years to come.
*In reality, measures of human conflict as understood by scholars is a surprisingly complex measure. Everything from food insecurity to human rights abuses can spark conflict, which also varies in scale, latency and intensity.