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The biggest national security threats of 2017 will linger into the New Year. Here's why.


The old New Year's adage, "in with the new, out with the old," doesn't necessarily apply to the world of national security. In fact, the top four foreign policy issues to keep tabs on for 2018 are pretty much a continuation of prominent challenges the world experienced in 2017.

Buzzwords like "denuclearization" and "collusion" appeared to dominate America's foreign policy agenda, and experts believe not much will change for the New Year, minus a few caveats.

Here's a review of the top four foreign policy issues that will likely unfold in 2018.

#1: North Korea tensions

President Trump inundated headlines in August when he used defiant rhetoric to address North Korea's increased nuclear weapons buildup.

"They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."
President Trump

Despite this tough talk, tensions between the U.S. and North Korea continued to heighten--putting the world on edge and bracing for a rash, miscalculated decision from one or both of the countries. And by no surprise, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un continued to conduct nuclear missile tests--ultimately leading his country to fire 23 missiles, some with intercontinental range, since the beginning of 2017.

And a trove of economic sanctions on trade and officials hasn't exactly had the desired outcome. In his annual New Year's address broadcast on state television, Kim warned the U.S. that the country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not just a mere threat.

"The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table," Kim said during the speech, as translated by The Associated Press. "The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range. ... The United States can never start a war against me and our country," Kim said.

Kim Jong Un
South Koreans watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's address, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. The part of letters on the bottom "South Korea and U.S., Nuclear War exercise." and on top left, "Kim Jong Un delivers New Year's address." North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate.(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Going into 2018, experts say tensions between the U.S. and North Korea will continue to increase as the Winter Olympic Games take place in South Korea, though, Kim also said in his New Year's address that he's interested in possibly having talks with South Korea to send a North Korean delegation.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at Heritage, said, "There’s a lot of talk in the Trump administration, and we’ve seen it mirrored in public statements, of a possible preventive attack even if we don’t feel North Korea is about to attack the U.S. The administration is signaling it may initiate a military strike in a way--starting a war to prevent a war before North Korea completes its ICBM capabilities.”

#2: Russia collusion

Midterm elections are right around the corner, and that has some U.S. officials scurrying to amp up computer security in the wake of accusations that Russia meddled in the 2016 campaign season. But it's not only Russia intervention that has officials on edge. Tech giants, like Google, Facebook and Twitter still have yet to propose a permanent solution to the increased circulation on fake news stories on the web.

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And we can also expect to see a lot more from Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation looking into whether the Trump administration colluded with Russian officials. But what remains up in the air, however, is how President Trump will approach the probe in the New Year.

Leonard Steinhorn, a professor at American University, explained, "The real wild card for next year with Donald Trump is the Mueller investigation, the Russia investigation. As the heat gets turned on closer to the inner circle of Donald Trump, closer to the Oval Office, it's unclear what Donald Trump will do."

#3: Conflict in the Middle East

President Trump reversed decades-long foreign policy when he announced that he would officially move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The decision almost immediately worried officials who thought that the move would erase the possibility of achieving a two-state solution in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

WATCH: Why Trump's decision to move the U.S. embassy in Isreal is so controversial

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Also looming in 2018 is the ultimate fate of the Iran Nuclear Deal, which on the campaign trail, Trump vehemently argued against. In mid-January, the agreement faces new legal deadlines and Trump will have to decide whether to slap U.S. sanctions back on Tehran. That decision, though, may have newfound consequences, since Iran finds itself in the midst of ongoing protests. Civilians are taking to the streets to protest regime change, so any drastic changes could lead the country on a downward spiral.

And it's naive to ignore increased threats from the Islamic State, which continue to surface despite the group seeing substantial territory losses in 2017. All eyes are expected to be on the World Cup hosted in Russia, in which the group has already threatened to attack.

#4: China

The 45th commander-in-chief has wavered in how he approaches all things China. That's likely to continue in 2018, especially as results from two investigations looking into its trade and intellectual property practices.

And President Trump has repeatedly increased pressure on China to intervene in North Korea's nuclear buildup, but, so far, China hasn't cooperated. At the end of 2017, reports surfaced that China could be funneling oil to the regime.

But China has continued to deny claims that it's helping North Korea.

For the individual cases the media has reported, particularly the so-called suspected oil transfer on the high seas by a Chinese vessel to a DPRK (North Korean) vessel, China immediately carried out an investigation. In fact, the vessel involved has not docked at any of port in China since August," said Hua Chunying, spokesperson of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We never allow Chinese citizens and enterprises to engage in activities violating the UN Security Council's resolutions. China will impose serious penalties in accordance with the law and regulations on the activities that are proven to violate the UN Security Council's resolution."

Russ Read contributed to this report.

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