The Year Ahead? International

Crystal Balls…

It’s tempting to put forward predictions about what to expect over the next twelve months, even though predictions are almost always wrong – and only notable for the fluke occasion of coming true.

What does 2015 have in store for us?

What does 2015 have in store for us?

I’ll put forward some rather general predictions of what I expect to see in 2015, and I welcome readers own suggestions too.  Maybe a year from now we can look back and see how badly wrong or right we were!

International

Russia Versus West

I think the biggest focus of 2015, in terms of geopolitics, will be the continued cold war between the West and Russia, although I don’t really see this as approaching anything like we saw in terms of the West versus the Soviet Union.  Russia is a much weaker state than the CCCP ever was, and it’s really being hit hard by the drop in oil prices.  I see Russia’s actions over 2014 as primarily reactionary defensiveness, and I think that’s going to continue into 2015.  The West is encircling Russia and Russia will react to that.  The problem with a wounded animal, which I think can be applied to Russia, being taunted and bullied by the West, is that it’s actions can become increasingly unpredictable and dangerous.

Ukraine will remain the most obvious flash-point, followed by Syria.  I also expect new flash-points in the Caucases region and Central Asia.

Russia will consolidate its hold over eastern Ukraine and Crimea and seek to assert its power elsewhere too.  Moldova will be interesting, however I think Central Asia will be the main focus in 2015.  I also expect some developments in Belarus too, specifically some sort of attempted regime change and Russia seeking to counter that.

Russia’s not blameless – under Putin we’re seeing a strengthening of the police state there.  I just see the main antagonists here as being the West taking advantage of Russia’s weakness and missteps.  I think Russia miscalculated the West’s reaction to the Crimea issue, although I think Russia felt it was under an existential threat and acted defensively there, in reaction to the Western backed uprising in Kiev.

One key issue will be the Russian Far East in terms of its industrialisation and/or resource extraction to support the still impressive economic growth of China, and there’s also the key strategic question of the meeting of China, Russia and North Korea there.

North Korea, China and Japan

It may be simply the focus on North Korea from the whole The Interview incident, however I do feel this coming year will be dominated also by the issue of North Korea.  I think that’s going to be a huge military and diplomatic focus for the USA, although I feel the true target of such actions will be China, as the USA seeks to contain and control a potential rival.

China’s already stepped back from supporting North Korea – relations are now quite frosty and Pyongyang is instead developing greater ties with Russia (which itself might be strategically interesting going forward, harkening back to the Chinese-Russian rivalry of the Sino-Soviet split).  However, positioning resources to deal with North Korea also doubles to deal with China.  And with increased tension between Japan and China over territorial claims, and a resurgent hawkish Japan under Abe, well, I can see a new push by the US and its allies in the region to encircle and contain China.

To be clear, I’m not expecting war with China.  Maybe a developing cold-war like situation over the next few decades.  I’m just expecting 2015 to be a year of growing consolidation of forces against China, to vary degrees of overtness.

Da’ish & Syriana – MENA Generally

I think it’s obvious that 2015 will be also largely dominated by the war against Da’ish in Syria/Iraq, and, more widely, the growing rivalry between a Saudi-led ‘Sunni’ bloc against Iran and Shi’a Islam throughout the Middle East region.

While I expect Da’ish to be rolled back in some areas, this war is going to be a bit of a quagmire, and I see a real danger of mission creep here, sucking in more and more countries.  The impact of the oil price crash on Russia and Iran (two key supporters of the Syrian Government) will be interesting there, although I really don’t see Assad being defeated.

What I see as the most likely outcome of this year is a continued balkanisation of Syria, with a rump state of Assad continuing to hold on in the south-west, west and north-west of Syria, a continued presence of Da’ish and other forces elsewhere in Syria, a la Somalia.

I’d expect Da’ish to lose ground in Iraq, but expand into Jordan and – depending on Turkey’s actions – Turkey.

Yemen, while not directly part of the Da’ish issue, is a part of the wider Sunni-Shi’a proxy war, as is Bahrain.  I expect greater Saudi intervention there, in Yemen.

Moving to North Africa, the Saudi-installed dictatorship of al-Sisi will seek to reinforce its power, and possibly distract attention with an expanded counter-insurgency in the Sinai and intervention in Libya, supporting the faction led by General Haftar.  Conceivably Egypt might also turn its attention to long-running territorial issues with Sudan too, and there’s been long-running tension between Egypt and countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia over matters affecting the Nile.

Libya will continue to be balkanised along the lines we saw in Somalia for years (and still today).  I can easily see some break-away states along the lines of Puntland and Somaliland, mostly being enclaves (or buffer states) supported by Tunisa, Algeria or Egypt.  I find it unlikely that Libya will end its chaos this year, or even this decade, and it will continue to be a source of instability for North Africa and the Sahel region.

Algeria is a big question mark.  I find it unlikely that Bouteflika will remain in power for much longer – many would question if he’s even in power as is.  The transition to a new leader can have consequences for the entire North African and Sahelian region, notably as relates to Morocco and Mali, as well as Libya.

Americas

I expect Cuban-US relations to continue to develop, albeit rather rockily.  I don’t see a smooth transition to normalisation.  Cuba itself will be going through some key economic reforms this year, and I expect a key focus will be monetary reforms – unifying the Cuban peso and the Cuban Convertible Peso into a single currency.

The Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, meeting in 2011, designated 2016 as the deadline for some key economic reforms.  As such, 2015 is a key year for Cuban reforms, and I’m hoping to devote quite a bit of detailed attention to Cuba over the next twelve months.  The 2015 summer Summit of the Americas will be a key public highlight to watch too, with Cuba likely to attend for the first time.

Another key story of 2015 will be Venezuela.  Since the death of Chavez the new President, Maduro, has struggled to maintain hegemony there, both internally within the PSUV (Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela) and nationally.  The riots of 2014 shook the government, and the recent collapse of the oil price cannot but help cause economic problems for the government – which in turn will have social consequences.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all at an eruption of new Opposition led protests there in 2015, and possibly even a coup attempt.  Friction between Maduro and Cabello (Speaker of the National Assembly) might be exploited here too.  2015 is going to prove a difficult year for the Bolivarian revolution, and there’s a chance of a counter-revolution there, which will have consequences throughout the region.

I do believe the decades-long war in Columbia has a good chance of coming to an end this year though.  I fully expect attempts to sabotage this by hardliners on both sides, however I’m optimistic that the civil war will end and this will greatly change the dynamics of Columbian politics – as well as the region overall.

Brazil still has a lot of unresolved issues from the riots last year in the run-up to the World Cup.  While President Roussef was returned to power, she’s got a lot of work to do to restore confidence with the people.  I don’t see a resurgence of the riots of 2014 this year, but I think the problems that led to them will remain and leave open the potential for a resurgence of these insurrections in some form sooner or later.

Matters in Guyana will likely come to a head in the next six months.  President Ramator used an obscure constitutional provision to suspend – without dissolving – parliament in November.  This was done to prevent a likely no-confidence vote by the Opposition.  Guyanese politics remains racialised, split between the Indo-Guyanese party of Ramator’s PPP and the Afro-Guyanese Opposition APNU.  The current crisis largely came about by a new 3rd Party, the AFC, which drew on supporters from both the PPP and the APNU in an attempt to transcend Guyana’s racial politics.  I expect a new election before the summer, and the decades long rule of the PPP to be replaced by a coalition between the APNU and the AFC.

Canada will see a federal election in October 2015, and this dominate the news for September too I reckon.  I am pessimistic at the potential for the NDP to remain the Official Opposition, or to form the Government.  Hypothetically I could see a Liberal-NDP coalition government, but I expect the Progressive Conservatives to retain power at the federal level.  If there is a change of government, I think the Liberals will return rather than the NDP assuming power.

The USA – and likely Bermudian political discourse as a result – will be consumed largely by the focus on the 2016 Presidential elections.  Jeb Bush is emerging as the early contender for the Republican Party (very early days yet!).  Other likely Republican contenders are Chris Christie (New Jersey Governor) and Ted Cruz (Texan Senator and Tea Party candidate).

From the Democrats Hilary Clinton is the main name being bandied around, although I think Elizabeth Warren is a more likely candidate (I think Ms Clinton’s opportunity is passed).  I can see Andrew Cuomo (NY Governor) as also a contender.  I don’t see current Vice President Joe Biden as a contender myself.

One interesting dynamic will be the independent – and socialist – Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont.  He could very well run as a Ralph Nader type candidate for the US Green Party (or as a general independent), or agree to run on a Democratic ticket (either as a direct presidential candidate or as a vice-president ticket).

The Occupy movement has been sort-of reborn by the recent civil rights insurrections in the USA, and this may well push US politics to the left, at least from the Democratic side, and make it possible for a socialist such as Sanders, or a leftist liberal like Warren to make headway.

Africa

I’ve touched on Africa somewhat above regarding North Africa.  I think the Sahel region will continue to be unstable as a result of fall-out from the Western-backed overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya and Western support for the dictatorship of al-Sisi in Egypt.

I expect the Ebola crisis to largely end by summer 2015, but there’ll be long-term consequences for those West African nations most directly impacted.  These will be primarily economic, but it’s possible we’ll see new conflicts in the region too.

I think the big story of Africa in 2015 will be Nigeria.  The ongoing insurgency of Boko Haram will continue to widen and likely draw in neighbouring countries into a regional war.  Nigeria itself goes to the polls to elect a new president in February (expect Boko Haram to launch attacks during it), and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the military – with a history of coups and demoralised by the fight against Boko Haram – considers some form of coup.  The Opposition All Progressives Congress is fielding former military dictator Buhari after all, and the military might consider him a better leader than the incumbent President Jonathan.  Add into the collapse of the oil price, which will greatly impact Nigeria, and Africa’s most populous country looks like it will have a very unstable 2015.

I expect Somalia to increasingly return to normal, with a Western-backed (particularly using Ethiopian and Kenyan proxies) government increasingly asserting control.  Al-Shabab is increasingly militarily defeated, but will retain its capacity to harass the new authorities.  Whether the new Somali Government can reunify with Puntland and Somaliland will be an open question however.

I expect the civil war in South Sudan to be largely resolved this year, likely through intervention from regional military powers.  Kenya and Ethiopia may play a key role there.

I think there’s still a lot of ongoing issues in the Central African Republic that can threaten the entire region.  The CAR has essentially been split into two, along sectarian and ethnic lines, and I can see that easily flaring up again, and even leading to regional wars.

Europe

I’ve already touched upon the West-Russia issue, and that’s of course going to dominate Europe in 2015.

Another key aspect will of course be the spectre of the ‘Grexit’, with Syriza likely to come out tops in the snap elections to be held in Greece later this month.  I don’t think they’ll get enough seats to complete a Grexit, but I think even them forming the government will have ramifications for the EU – and world finance.  The Greek economy itself is relatively insignificant to the EU, but the fear will be a domino effect, with Syriza like parties, such as Podemos in Spain, benefiting politically, or with a Grexit the logic of capital will lead to further EU exits (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, etc).  At the very least, Syriza threatens an alternative to the austerity model, and this alone will lead to hostility from the rest of the EU to Greece.

Another story of Europe will be the continued rise of extremists parties, such as UKIP in the UK, but also the National Front in France and the newly emerging Pegida movement in Germany.  A key theme of these groups is immigration anxiety and Islamophobia.

The UK General Election in May 2015 will of course dominate headlines.  Labour is set to be wiped out in Scotland, which greatly undermines the potential of Labour assuming power, however the news isn’t great for the Tories either, and the LibDems are likely to be greatly reduced too.  I’d expect either a minority Labour government propped up by a combination of the LibDems and the Celtic nationalist parties (the SNP and Plaid Cymru) or a full-on coalition government along the same lines.  How stable that will be and whether we’ll see a second UK General Election sooner than 2020 is an open question.  I do see UKIP winning seats, however I don’t see them winning enough to prop up the Tories in some sort of coalition.

Of course there’s a lot more international matters likely to feature over 2015, however this article is long enough as it is and I’ve only sought to cover what I see as the key things to look at for 2015.  What do you think?

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