The 2018 Midterm Elections
U.S. history can be divided into periods of strong and weak presidency, guided by the balance of power between the president and Congress. Donald Trump's term in office has thus far been characterized by a weakening of presidential power in the country, and this is due primarily to the personality of the U.S. leader. The American elite have not accepted Trump as their president. Trump, in turn, does not accept the peculiarities of the U.S. political system, attempting to impose his own rules of the game and adjust the system to suit himself, which will simply not work. Another factor that gets under the skin of the American establishment is the "Russian train" chugging along behind the president. Even when the Republicans dominated both the House of Representatives and the Senate up until November 2018, the Republican President and Congress could not come to any kind of mutual understanding or coherence in their work. There were numerous examples in 2018 of the executive branch reigning in the legislative branch, which demonstrates just how deeply the United States Congress distrusts the incumbent President. Many of these examples concern decisions made with regard to relations with Russia.
The midterm elections held on November 6, 2018 were the biggest domestic political event for the United States last year. Trump hailed the election results as a "tremendous success," even though his party was only able to win a majority in one of the chambers, namely the Senate, with the Democrats winning a majority in the House of Representatives.
We do not know how long Donald Trump will remain president, or whether or not he will be able to secure relative independence from Congress. Nor do we know who his successor will be, or indeed when they will take over. Events could unfold in one of three ways:
1. The incumbent president is impeached and removed from power before 2020 (the Democrats could potentially launch the impeachment process). Much will depend on the findings of the investigation into "Russian interference" in the U.S. presidential elections, which are due to be presented in 2019. However, in order for the impeachment process to begin, two thirds of the Senate have to approve it. It is unlikely that the Republicans will allow the president to be impeached, although the process may very well drag on and end up costing a sizeable amount.
2. A new president is elected in 2020.
3. Trump is re-elected president for a second term in 2020, although this is unlikely. Key Foreign Policy Events of 2018 and their Possible Consequences
1. Challenges to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime and Arms Control
In May 2018, Donald Trump announced his country's withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran (JCPOA), an agreement that was the result of many years of multilateral diplomatic negotiations. This step has economic and political consequences and carries security risks for Iran, the Middle East, the individual parties to the agreement and the global community as a whole. One consequence is the negative impact that this will have on the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The undermining of the JCPOA weakens the ability of the global community to counter the threat of nuclear weapons being used in the region, or indeed in the world as a whole.
In October 2018, the Trump administration announced its intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), an integral part of the arms control regime. It is hard to say right now whether or not the United States will actually pull out of the INF Treaty. As a rule, updated agreements are preceded by consultations and negotiations. No such negotiations are currently taking place. It is possible that we could see a scenario similar to the one involving the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) in 2001, when the United States announced its unilateral withdrawal from the agreement, making true on its promise the following year.
The arms control regime is in crisis. This is largely due to the fact that the configuration of powers has changed dramatically since its formation; new types of weapons have appeared, not all of which fall under existing treaties. The likely withdrawal of the United States from the INF Treaty complicates the situation. The fate of another treaty that is also part of the arms control – the New START, which expires in 2021 – is also in question. If we allow this agreement to expire in 2021, then, for the first time since 1972, there will be no restrictions on nuclear arsenals, and a vacuum in the arms control regime will appear. And there is no way of telling how long it will last. The existing regime needs to be adapted to the new conditions, but probably not by destroying it completely.
Nuclear risks have grown steadily over the past few years. This is a paradox of the 21st
century. In the 20th
century, a certain system and culture of dialogue in nuclear sphere existed, despite all the difficulties in bilateral relations. At a certain point, the situation changed dramatically, due both to the increasing complexity of the political situation and to the change in the general attitude towards nuclear weapons, which have come to be seen as something abstract, incapable of causing harm, as they will never be used – not on purpose at any rate. The risks arise not only and not so much because of quantitative indicators, but rather because the system of nuclear arms control is idle and there is a lack of transparency and trust among states and their leaders, a lack of dialogue on nuclear security at all levels.
People today have a fundamentally different understanding of the scale of the danger posed by nuclear weapons compared to those who lived during the Cold War era. There is a potential risk that the next generation of leaders will devote less attention to issues of nuclear arms control, having only an abstract view of what nuclear weapons actually are. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to prevent a complete collapse of the arms control regime and the irreversible breakdown of nuclear relations, as well as to increase public awareness about nuclear weapons and the dangers they present. 2. A Long-Awaited Summit
One long-awaited foreign political event last year was the presidential summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump that took place on July 16, 2018.
A mechanism of official summits has been used as a platform for high-level U.S.–Russia relations since Cold War times. However, this mechanism failed to produce such a meeting following Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential elections. This can be put down to the domestic political situation in the United States, the complex international situation and the deep crisis in relations between Washington and Moscow. But it is precisely in times of crisis that meetings between heads of state are especially important. The political will of the two countries' leaders has been seen as a way to resolve a number of issues. Holding a summit could potentially open up a path towards the normalization of relations. But this never happened. Donald Trump has taken a number of steps to build stable channels of interaction with Moscow, but they have been blocked in Washington by those who are driven to continue and even intensify the destructive approach to relations with Russia.
For example, as early as August 2018, the U.S. administration announced a new package of sanctions against Russia, and in October it announced its possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty. Thus, the summit was followed exclusively by steps to aggravate the situation in U.S.–Russia relations. Based on this experience, little could be expected from possible upcoming meetings between the two presidents in 2019. 3. New Anti-Russian Sanctions
The anti-Russian sanctions announced by the U.S. administration in August 2018 were imposed because of Moscow's alleged use of a chemical weapon in Salisbury. Washington is currently preparing a second package of sanctions, the contents of which should be announced in 2019. In September, the President of the United States signed a decree that provides for sanctions to be imposed against foreign countries or organizations that interfere in U.S. election processes. 
The decree creates a legal basis for such steps to be taken if the U.S. intelligence community concludes that the election process has been compromised as the result of a cyberattack or by any other means.
The United States has thus laid the foundation for the sanctions policy to continue, including with respect to Russia, provoking the further deterioration of bilateral relations. Washington realizes that coordinated actions on the part of its allies are required if it expects to increase the effectiveness of the sanctions regime, and the European Union is one of these allies. 4. Transatlantic Solidarity
President Trump has repeatedly criticized the other NATO countries for not contributing sufficient funds to maintain collective security and defence, demanding that all member states increase funding to 2 per cent of their respective GDPs. During his speech at the NATO Summit held on July 11–12, 2018, Trump proposed that member countries increase spending to 4 per cent.
Washington's attitude to its international obligations is changing. The United States positions itself as the global leader. In the past, the country was prepared to bear the bulk of military spending within NATO, as it saw itself as the guarantor of its allies' security. The arrival of Trump, however, has led to security being treated as a service for which the allies must pay. 
Despite the consensus mechanism, all major decisions within NATO are taken by the United States. Trump is trying to fine tune the organization's activities so that they serve the interests of Washington. And he is doing so with little regard for the interests of his NATO allies, thus strengthening the imbalance within the organization. NATO is experiencing an internal crisis, and the future of transatlantic solidarity is in question. European countries make a lot of decisions under pressure from the United States and, what is more, the positions and interests of European countries do not always coincide.
The Brussels Summit Declaration noted that Russia's behaviour undermined international order. 
However, not all European countries agree that NATO's activities must be transformed in order to deal with the Russian threat. NATO's prospects during and after Trump's presidency will depend on the goals and strategies it chooses to adopt. The first question is whether it will focus on countering the threats that are allegedly emanating from the east, or rather on building a dialogue with Russian through the NATO–Russia Council (NRC). Second, will NATO expand its toolkit for tackling the new threats of the 21st
century (terrorism, migration, cyberattacks, etc.)?
An important event for relations between Russia and NATO in 2018 was the NATO–Russia Council meeting that took place on May 31, the first of its kind since the activities of the Council were frozen in 2014. Only time will tell whether or not this will turn out to be an effective communication channel. A regular communication mechanism is especially necessary during times of crisis in order to prevent an unintentional or accidental escalation; however, it was precisely during one a period of increased tensions that the work of the Council was frozen. 5. The United States and Syria
There is no consensus within the U.S. administration with regard to the policy in Syria, and there is no coherent Middle Eastern strategy. In January 2018, then U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a statement about the goals of the United States' presence in Syria, which did not fully match Trump's views on the issue. Tillerson talked about the three goals of the U.S. presence in the country: the fight against Islamic State, the containment of Iran and the creation of the necessary conditions for the removal of Bashar al-Assad as President of Syria. United States Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey (who was appointed in August 2018) later reiterated this position. In early 2018, Trump stated that he intended to withdraw American troops from Syria by that November, that is, in time for the midterm elections – a move that would improve both his and the Republican Party's ratings. No specific deadlines were officially fixed, so we cannot talk about Trump failing to meet them. Trump has referred to the situation in Syria as the "terrible legacy of Obama" and has set conditions for the United States' withdrawal from the country – namely the liquidation of Islamic States and the participation of the United States' allies in the post-war restoration of Syria. Allies in the region fear that after the United States leaves Syria their countries, and the region as a whole, will be exposed to greater threats, primarily from Iran.
According to experts, the plan to wind up the American presence in Syria is an attempt on the part of Trump to formulate what he sees as a balanced formula for the "sufficient presence" of the United States in the Middle East, whereby a reduction of its allied obligations will not lead to a loss of influence in the region. 
The main issue of U.S. politics is still to contain Iran and limit its influence. In autumn 2018, the United States Department of State announced that Iran's presence in Syria was hindering the United States' chances of defeating Islamic State. It would be fair to say the United States will not pull out of the Syrian conflict any time soon, at least until the end of Trump's term in office. Speaking at the UN headquarters in September, Trump called for the global community to put pressure on Tehran to change its policies. It is likely that, in the short and medium term, the United States will step up the pressure on its partners so that they fall in line with the U.S. policy towards Iran.
Russian and American experts are pessimistic about the prospects of a relatively quick resolution to the Syrian situation and the achievement of long-term stability in the country. The expectation that Syria could become a kind of arena of cooperation between the United States and Russia never panned out. However, despite the lack of full-fledged cooperation and the very different opinions on the issue of Syrian settlement, the United States and Russia do have certain tasks that, if carried out, would serve interests of both sides. We are talking in particular here about the preventing the revival of Islamic State and avoiding a military conflict between Iran and Israel. 
Russia and the United States have the opportunity to influence the various sides in the Syrian conflict, and from this point of view, working together would go a long way to resolving the Syrian crisis. 6. The New United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA)
On September 30, 2018, the United States, Canada and Mexico concluded negotiations on the signing of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA). While Donald Trump described the USMCA as a "completely new agreement," it is in fact an updated version of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that leans more heavily towards the United States. Mexico was forced to make significant concessions, Canada less so. On the other hands, experts have states that the two countries managed to avoid the worst option – the unilateral exit of the United States from NAFTA and the imposition by the American side of a 25-per cent import duty from Canadian and Mexican cars and parts. 
With the signing of the USMCA, the United States succeeded in strengthening the North American integration bloc. A new provision found its way into the agreement, something that had never previously been found in a free trade agreement: any member state that intends to conclude a free trade agreement with "non-market" states is required to inform the other member states beforehand. The United States includes China, among other countries, as one of these states. 
If the contents of the proposed agreement with the "non-market" state are not to the liking of the other USMCA members, they can pull out of the Agreement while maintaining a free trade regime with the remaining member. By including this provision, Washington eliminated the chances of China signing an agreement with Canada or Mexico to localize production in one of those countries in response to U.S. sanctions and to gain indirect access to its market.
Washington is planning on concluding trade agreements with the European Union and Japan in the coming years. It is clear that the United States will ensure a similar provision is included in these agreements. Experts believe that the United States will behave even more harshly in the future, pursuing its own trade interests in other parts of the world. With the signing of the USMCA, the United States is counting on the support of Canada and Mexico in a possible trade standoff with China. 
Donald Trump is interested in creating an "economic front" to oppose China. 7. The Ongoing Trade War with China
The trade war between the United States and China gained momentum throughout 2018. Trump has repeatedly made it clear in his statements that he intends to win this confrontation. The United States demands transparency from China, respect for the rule of law and the fundamental principles of global trade, and an end to the practice of violating intellectual property rights. Other demands relate to the political and military spheres and are not entirely acceptable to China, and this creates the prerequisites for a prolonged conflict.
It is likely that it will become the norm in the short and medium term for the United States and China to be locked in this conflict, although this does not mean that compromises on individual issues will not be made. China is willing to make certain concessions, but it is not prepared to abandon its development goals or going against its national values. The long-term goal of the United States is to block the ability of Beijing to increase its economic, political and technological superiority in the world. ***
In the event that the United States gets a new president in 2020, or even before, there is no way to know now what his or her attitude towards Russia and the possibility of building relations with the country will be. Right now, the image of Russia in the United States is decidedly negative – it is perceived as a country that interferes in the electoral process of other states, carries out cyberattacks, flouts international law, annexes parts of other countries (in the case of Crimea) and uses chemical weapons (in Salisbury). Constructive interaction with Russia is unlikely as long as this image exists in the minds of the U.S. political elite, congresspeople and senators.
The United States will continue to act as the world leader on the international stage and will continue to steer a course towards global dominance regardless of who the president is after 2020. This is the long-term strategy.