By and large the previous year was a year of crisis escalation, brought forth by the emergence of new sources of tension not only in diplomacy but also in actual military conflict. On the one hand, fresh sources of armed engagement and humanitarian issues had world leaders worried overnight (ISIS beyond Syria and Iraq, Russian intervention in Syria, migrant crisis in Europe). These events were not predicted before 2015.
2016 will be marked by an increase in local conflicts, like in Ukraine and in the Arabian Peninsula where the rift between Sunni and Shia Muslims will intensify. In fact, as of press time, Saudi Arabia has cut off all diplomatic ties with Iran, the latter infuriated over the execution of a prominent Shia cleric. It is expected to be joined by other Sunni majority countries in the Middle East. This year might just be the time for the spreading of these conflicts to more states.
The presidential elections in the United States will put on hold major foreign policy decisions, as the American public gets distracted by the convoluted race to the White House. As for the exiting American president, Obama will protect what he has accomplished in 2015, including the rapprochement with Iran and Cuba.
As the United States continues to be rejected in many areas of the world, the leadership vacuum that it will create will give opportunities to other major powers, and with it, a new era of anti-West geopolitics will emerge. The post-American century is an irreversible occurrence now as other major powers like Russia, China, and Brazil take on responsibilities beyond their typical spheres of influence. In the military sphere, Russia has re-entered the Middle East in a big way, while China will now formally launch the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), aimed at rivaling the IMF and World Bank.
The global economy is expected to be ‘disappointing and uneven’ in 2016 because of the continuing slowdown in China, sluggishness in world trade, the threat of rising interest rates in the US, the ongoing fall of oil prices, and the vulnerability of emerging economies to absorb economic shocks, according to the IMF.
General elections will take place in Taiwan, a Western-backed state that is unsure about its identity vis-à-vis China. The emerging leader might give Beijing fresh fears regarding the longstanding One-China policy. The UK public will go to the polls to decide whether to stay or leave the European Union, while in the Philippines, presidential elections will decide whether a future leader will continue to provoke China and further impress the United States for its own benefit.
Islamic State (ISIS) is expected to be put on hold territorially in Syria and Iraq, thanks to Russia’s military intervention. However, it might gain influence beyond the region as other terrorist groups (like Boko Haram in Nigeria, and other groups from Somalia to terror groups in South East Asia) pledge their allegiance to Daesh.
The United States and NATO will further infuriate Moscow as it decides on sending nuclear weapons to Poland, a former Warsaw Pact member. As a result of Washington’s antagonizing policies in Europe, Russia will further invest in its armed forces, which might trigger a new, expensive, and unnecessary arms race in continental Europe.
Europe’s most powerful leader, Angela Merkel, is expected to leave office after three successive terms. What this might mean for Europe is a change in policy towards Russia (sanctions), the migrant crisis, the German commitment to the entire Eurozone project and Berlin’s attitude towards economically and socially troubled states like Spain, Greece, and Italy.