On the Horizon | What to Expect in 2020 Wilson Center Experts Weigh In | Wilson Center

On the Horizon | What to Expect in 2020 Wilson Center Experts Weigh In

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In a world marked by complexity, volatility, and a din of competing agendas, the Wilson Center is the nation’s indispensable resource for decoding today’s most pressing foreign policy challenges. Leveraging its global expertise and perspective, award-winning scholarship and analysis, and a fiercely nonpartisan spirit, the Center informs actionable ideas for policymakers across the political spectrum.

Wilson Center experts convened for a global roundup of what’s on the horizon in 2020—from Russia, to Asia, to the ongoing regional trade negotiations—and what economic, political, and security trends are emerging regionally and throughout the world.

Selected Quotes


James Dickmeyer

“One of the issues we’ll be probably looking at too is in the area of competitiveness. Does this take away some of the competitiveness that the auto industry has had by using North American platform to manufacture its vehicles.”

“Some of this is going to have to be worked out between the countries and figuring out: where do we go in our joint relationship as we face some of the challenges that China proposes.”

“Finally, you can’t talk about the U.S. and Canada without talking about the border […] Citizens that are there are constantly having issues with border crossings. Businesses constantly having issues when we have nearly $600 billion worth of trade and investment, much of which crosses that border physically, a big part of our economy depends on it working right.”

Cynthia J. Arnson

“On the economic side, after a decade particularly for South American economies of an economic boom fed by or led by the increase in commodity prices because of ferocious demand mostly by China. Those prices have collapsed.”

“According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, this has been, the years 2014 to 2020, have been the worst years of growth in 7 decades.”

“…According to the World Bank, the middle class grew by 50%. It was for the first time in Latin American history larger than the number of people in poverty. A lot of those gains have been falling back.”

“Another sort of unifying phenomenon has to do with politics. And it has to do with the gradual decrease throughout the hemisphere in support for democracy…”

“The United Nations pulled together a platform to try to assess all of the needs of the migrant receiving countries and by the end of last year only 52% of what they had requested has been provided by international donors by far the largest of which is the United States but those needs have only increased exponentially going into 2020.”

Duncan Wood

“On the economy, he came in promising that he would produce or deliver 4% economic growth in his first year. We don’t have the final numbers for 2019 but it’s probably going to be negative growth…”

“…Andres Manuel’s Social programs were beginning to deliver so checks were arriving in bank accounts. So the cash transfer programs were actually beginning to work. Combine that with the fact that Andres Manuel has increased the minimum wage in Mexico twice in his first 12 months in office and you can see that a large number of Mexicans feel that the economy is going better for them.”

“The major problem Andres Manuel faces and that he needs to resolve in the next 12 months, he has to define his strategy for fighting organized crime. He doesn’t have one at this point […] he keeps promising that a strategy will be forthcoming but we haven’t seen one yet.”

“In the election year that we’re facing I fully expect that certain candidates will go back to the Mexican issue and I think this time around is not going to be migration, because Mexico is cooperating; It’s not going to be NAFTA, because now we have the USMCA; It’s going to be drugs. And I think we’ve already seen how this plays out…”

Michael Morrow

"Africa is an ascending continent judging by its ongoing economic growth and political maturation. Economically speaking, 6 of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies over the last decade are in Africa, and a lot of that growth is driven by Africa’s Democratic youth bulge such that Africa will soon lead the world in the number of youth entering the work force.”

"The primary threat here is that the rise of these militant Islamic groups has made large swathes of that part of Africa ungovernable."

"In the Sahel, there are more than 20,000 international and local troops deployed to confront jihadist groups, but so far, neither military operations nor political negotiations have succeeded in arresting the worsening crisis."

Robert Litwak

"The U.S. drone strike killing General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on January 3rd has triggered a sequence of events that has brought the United States closer to war with Iran than we’ve seen in the last 40 years."

"Though these major developments heightened the risk of an escalatory spiral, they do not alter the fundamental structure of the crisis in which the United States and Iran have been locked over the past 4 decades."

"The administration policy is premised on the assumption that this maximum pressure will either coerce the Tehran regime into accepting its comprehensive set of demands or will force the collapse of the regime."

William Pomeranz

"It appears that President Putin did not quite get the On The Horizons in time, because on January 15th 2020, he changed the political timetable and Russia’s horizons by introducing a series of constitutional amendments, that on the surface, will reform Russia’s system of government as well as provide – more importantly for President Putin – a potential landing spot for him in 2024 when the second of his two consecutive terms ends."

"I think the crucial issue to watch in the short term is if any of Putin’s allies in the security services and in state business etc., see any signs of weakness. For if they do perceive that Putin’s position is weaker, they are likely to try and exploit this weakness for their own personal and professional advantage."

Michael Sfraga

“We know that our oceans are warming globally, but in the arctic, the landscape there is warming more than twice as fast as anywhere else […] which means the sun’s rays are absorbed far more in the Arctic Ocean than they were before […] which leads to a decrease in sea ice. This is called a positive feedback loop. This is not positive; it’s actually negative for the global environment, certainly for the arctic […] we have threatened communities in the United States arctic in Alaska where over three dozen communities are in need of being relocated in the next five to ten years.”

“We have a new ocean opening, a fourth coastline the United States must protect and defend. If you think about the Arctic Ocean, think about a new ocean, along with the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic, the United States now has a fourth coastline along the state of Alaska. This has many implications for homeland security, our national defense, and so on, so we need to take a look at how we defend and protect our homeland in the far north.”

“We see a rise in Russia’s interest in the north. In fact, 20 percent of their GDP and as much as 30 percent of their exports come from the arctic with the help of Chinese investment. Because of western sanctions, they’ve had to look elsewhere; they look to China, and China has been a very willing partner.”

Robert Daly

“My big question for 2020 is does this view that it [China] is an existential threat become broadly socialized over the coming year? To date, this is a bipartisan Washington view that has not yet taken root in American businesses, in American universities, and in American communities.”

“China faces many domestic constraints—aging population, debt, corruption, pollution, rich-poor disparity—all of which could put the brakes on China’s development, and China, more importantly, is constrained internationally. Not only […] does it have fourteen nations on its land borders—four of which are nuclear, one of which is North Korea—it also has a very daunting maritime periphery. But we’ve seen over the past year that China is having a hard time exercising its governance, getting the policy results the Communist Party would like even on the periphery that is either Chinese or is controlled by China.”

“The question the U.S. faces as we put technology and innovation at the center of U.S.-China competition is, can the United States continue to have the world’s leading innovation system if we cut ourselves off from the world’s biggest market and its greatest source of financing and talent?"

Abraham Denmark

“What we saw last year was a sudden and unexpected flare up of tension between India and Pakistan with India conducting the first airstrikes inside Pakistan since 1971. We also saw India revoke the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir; we saw other instances of India passing laws inside India that threatened regional issues as well as Pakistan beginning to make some slow minimal progress in terms of addressing some domestic security issues—obviously a long ways to go, but still making progress.”

“They [Asian nations] have traditionally relied on American dominance to preserve a liberal international order, the operating system that has allowed stability and prosperity to flourish in Asia, while at the same time they have been increasingly engaged with the Chinese, trying to create economic benefits from the rising China, also trying to keep the Chinese relatively happy with them so that they don’t incur Beijing’s wrath.”

“You get to the point now where if you go into Asia, most Asian countries, and you sit down and ask them point blank if the United States and China go to war whose side are you going to be on, most of the time you’ll hear, ‘Both. We’ll be on the U.S. side and on the Chinese side.’ Even countries that are allied to the United States—Japan, South Korea—are engaging more and more. They’re trying to engage the Chinese out of concern primarily about uncertainty about the sustainability or reliability of American power.”

Jean H. Lee

“Despite the threats that we saw in the end of 2019, I think he [Kim Jong-un] has invested so much in that relationship with Donald Trump that he still wants to see if he can make it work. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to provoke in the meantime, to pressure President Trump to come to his side of those negotiations.”

“The 70th anniversary of the Korean War, the outbreak of the Korean War, takes place in June […] This is also about U.S.-China; the Korean War is partly about that. It is a Cold War conflict that has persisted to this day and that North Korea has used strategically to its advantage. I do think that Kim Jong-un was hoping and wanted some sort of a deal to mark that anniversary as a victory. Not sure he’s going to get the deal that he wants.”

 “South Koreans are very interested in trying to figure out how they fit into that competition, that strategic competition. How do they fit into Indo-Pacific strategy? So, quite a lot of our discussions in South Korea have been about perhaps, I could say, advising South Korea how to see themselves in the larger Asian context, trying to carve out a path for themselves where they remain allied with the United States, but can also perhaps broaden their interests in the region so that they don’t feel like they have to choose between the United States and China.”





  • John Milewski

    Director of Digital Programming; Moderator, Wilson Center NOW


  • Cynthia J. Arnson

    Director, Latin American Program
  • Robert Daly

    Director, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States
  • Abraham Denmark

    Director, Asia Program
  • James Dickmeyer

    Acting Director, The Canada Institute
    Canada Institute Advisory Board Relations Coordinator and Global Fellow State Department Officer; Former U.S. Consul General, Toronto. Working on the North American Leaders’ Summit.
  • Jean H. Lee

    Director, Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy
    Journalist and former Pyongyang Bureau Chief, Associated Press
  • Robert S. Litwak

    Senior Vice President and Director of International Security Studies
  • Michael Morrow

    Senior Diplomatic Fellow
    Senior Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State
  • William E. Pomeranz

    Deputy Director, Kennan Institute
  • Matthew Rojansky

    Director, Kennan Institute
  • Michael Sfraga

    Director, Global Risk and Resilience Program and Director, Polar Institute
  • Duncan Wood

    Director, Mexico Institute