Peace, War or Chaos?: The 5 Big National Security Challenges of 2018

Russian Marine Corps conscripts stand in formation in front of Soviet Navy flags as they take the oath in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol

Will North Korea conduct an atmospheric test? Will the frozen conflict in Ukraine turn hot? Daniel DePetris makes his predictions for 2018.

The Trump administration’s December 23, 2017 approval of lethal defense weapons and anti-tank missiles to Kiev—a decision welcomed by bipartisan majorities on Capitol Hill—turns out to be a significant miscalculation. The Minsk peace process, which was already hanging by a thread, is now a relic. Russian President Vladimir Putin, realizing that Moscow cannot risk ceding more ground to the Ukrainian army during a time when he is seeking his fourth term, redoubles military assistance to the separatists to cancel out whatever capability Kiev receives from Washington. The line of contact is no longer a buffer zone, but an active battlefront.

The death toll increases on all sides and hundreds of thousands of civilians are displaced as Russian-supported separatist units attempt an assault on the port city of Mariupol. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Macron increasingly blame Washington’s arming of the Ukrainian military as the impetus behind the upsurge in violence. The Donbas returns to full-scale armed conflict, complicating any improvement in the U.S.-Russia relationship besides cooperation on case-by-case intelligence sharing on the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

A year from today, I could very well look back at this list and be proven completely wrong. In many cases, particularly on the Mideast peace process and Ukraine, I hope I am. On others, like a Donald Trump-powered diplomatic initiative with the North Koreans, hopefully the prognostication proves to be something more than a shot in the dark.

Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.

Image: Reuters