1-7-15 – Looking Ahead at 2015–What Will it Bring?

By John J. Metzler

Bennington, VT–It’s time once again to peer into the crystal snow-globe to try to decipher and predict what we may expect ahead in 2015.  After a dangerously tumultuous past year, the dust has yet to settle on a score of crises ranging from the man made chaos of the Middle East to the medical Ebola emergency in West Africa.

Tragically an arc of crisis spans the Middle East/South Asia while Syria and Iraq remain in the epicenter of the conflict pitting Islamic extremism against some sort of secular rule.  Syria’s civil war continues unabated with over 200,000 killed in a battle between the authoritarian Assad regime and an sectarian opposition of largely fundamentalist and jihadi groups.  Millions of Syrians have become refugees and ten million more displaced persons in their own country.  The conflict churns on, the humanitarian toll grows, while the chances of an enduring political settlement seem slim.

Iraq too saw an upsurge in violence with the massive, and largely unanticipated, offensive by Islamic State terrorists in the Spring which has returned northern Iraq into the crucible of crisis.  Sensing the vacuum of no U.S. security forces in Iraq, due to the Obama Administration’s strategic ambivalence and the rank incompetence of the Malaki government, the Islamic State struck  and nearly toppled the Baghdad rulers. American advisors and air strikes alone to stop IS may not be sufficient.

In both Syria and Iraq, the silent victims of the conflicts remain the ancient Christian communities, along with Kurdish and Yazidi minorities.

A wider lens shows the dangerously destabilizing inflow of refugees into tiny Lebanon which will threaten stability; a third of the country’s population is comprised of refugees. In all these cases, it’s the children who suffer the most.

Let’s not forget the central role of Turkey, long a reliable stalwart country who has since slipped deeper into the entrenched authoritarianism of President Erdogan’s rule.   Though Turkey has offered admirable aid to refugees from the nearby Syrian conflict, the Ankara government remains unpredictable and worrisome.

Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan are threatened by entrenched insurgencies.  Wisely, the U.S. will keep a small military force in Afghanistan as a visible and potent commitment to not letting the country slide into the arms of the Taliban.

Europe has seen its share of crisis too.  Over the past year, armed conflict, not seen in the fifteen years since the end of the Balkan wars, has now returned to Ukraine. The tug of war between the central government in Kiev and a gaggle of Russian supported separatist militias has brought armed conflict to the doorstep of NATO.

The Ukraine crisis is far from over.  Significant German diplomacy to defuse the crisis has helped, but Putin has not yet blinked.  Bringing Ukraine into closer alignment with the European Union is politically prudent though putting it on the path to NATO membership is decidedly problematic.

U.S./Russian political ties have reverted to a Cold War-lite posture and American and European sanctions have done little to quell Moscow’s neo-imperial ambitions.  Yet, do we wish to follow the self- fulfilling narrative of deteriorating U.S. relations with Moscow?  The wild card in the Russian equation is not so much Western pressures prodding Vladimir Putin as much as the downward spiral of petroleum prices which have robbed energy rich Russia of its cash-cow.  Russia faces recession.  Ironically, Putin may be stopped not by Western diplomacy, nor military posturing, but by the invisible hand of the markets.

East Asia naturally has its predicable flashpoints. Both Beijing and Tokyo have dialed down the rhetoric over the disputed Daiyutai/Senkaku islands but China’s wider view extends deep into and over conflicting claims in the South China Sea.   Beijing looks at these international waters as its self-proclaimed “Mare Nostrum.” And Obama’s much-heralded “Pacific Pivot” policy appears to be adrift.

The horrors of West Africa’s Ebola epidemic seem to have been contained through quick and focused international action and enduring medical cooperation.

In North America the big issue will be giving the long-awaited green light to the economically necessary Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to American Gulf ports.  Whether Obama vetoes what is expected to be Congressional approval of the Keystone pipeline, remains uncertain.

The geopolitical scene exhibits challenges to a dangerous power vacuum created by the Obama Administration’s political myopia and rhetorical hubris. And the world slouches ever so confidently into deeper mediocrity and the risky consequences of wider instability.

Allow me to wish my readers a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2015!

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues.  He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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