THE MIDDLE EAST
The issue of Syria will eventually play itself out with the departure of Bashar Al-Assad. This will happen in the short-term. Nevertheless the diplomatic anger and ill-will generated within and outside the UN by the failure of the Security Council to reach agreement to end the Syrian conflict will continue to cause long-term problems for the organization. Even if the Syrian opposition is more united at the moment than it was before, victory by the Syrian opposition may well trigger internal Sunni-Shia splits which could hamper recovery within Syria or, at worst, start another round of conflict. The split between Sunnis and Shias will remain a serious cause of internal conflict within Iraq.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the situation within Iran is another serious destabilizing factor which will be felt through 2013. Setting aside the presence of nuclear technology within that country, an ever present threat to Israel, the fact that a majority of the Iranian population does not support the current government, means that there will always be a high level of human rights oppression.
Continued Israeli expansion within the disputed areas of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories will remain a source of tension and conflict. To quote an un-named US diplomat, the two state solution “remains on life support but is not officially dead.”
In Asia, the main concerns will continue to be the political posturing in the China Sea between China, Japan and Taiwan over various uninhabited islands. There is every reason to believe that each of the squabbling nations has enough at stake, economically and politically, that they will not take wild risks. However, no nation having political and economic interests in the area (that is, most of the world’s major players) can fail to miss the point that China will eventually become the dominant military power in the region. This will not happen overnight but will certainly develop in coming years.
The other Asian issue likely to hit the 2013 headlines is the regional wild card of North Korea. Even though that country’s powerful backer, China, has a huge influence on North Korea, nevertheless, there are signs that all the regional players, as well as the major world players, see this issue as potentially hugely destabilizing. China itself is afraid that at some point large numbers of North Korean refugees, fleeing hunger or human rights abuse, or both, could destabilize the border region.
THE ROLE OF THE UNITED STATES
The rest of the world watches internal US politics with more than an occasional sense of disbelief. The sometimes poisonous internal politics of the US will likely have their primary effect on the US economy. However the fact that every other nation on earth – and especially Canada – has a huge stake in the US economy means that there will be a residual effect around the world. Other state and non-state actors will watch closely to see how distracted by internal politics the world’s only superpower becomes.
Nobody can deny that the US is still the world’s #1 economy (at least for a while longer) and that it is still by far the world’s predominant military power. For so long the US has been an example of good governance and economic and political freedom. While the current round of internal political squabbling may only be short term (for the next two years perhaps), the public image of the US will continue to suffer.