The Top 8 Issues to Look Out For in World Affairs in 2016

 

2016 is set to be yet another challenging year for the International Community. We have listed our top 8 issues that we think will mark the 2016 Global Affairs Agenda and highlight their development and impact they may have on the coming years.

1. WAR ON ISLAMIC STATE (IS):

Despite its biggest breakthrough in 2014, IS showed clear signs of a slowdown in its expansion in 2015 -in fact IS lost territories during this year. With the formation of several alliances to defeat IS: That of Russia with Iran and the Assad's Regime, that of the Gulf States, Turkey, Free Syrian army Rebels, that of the US, France, UK, the Iraqi Government, Iraqi Kurds and others, that of the slightly less extremists terrorists such as Jabhat Al- Nusra and that of the Syrian- Turkish Kurds- progress in defeating IS seems more likely to happen.

However, whilst defeating IS seems the common goal for these alliances, where we find the ultimate conundrum is the vision for a post-IS Syria. The contradicting alliances all seem to have different visions of what post-IS Syria will possibly look like.

History teaches us “frictions and "incidents" will be imminent during the fragile coming months. To add an extra challenge to the mix is that of threats of further political divisions within Libya and Yemen. To stifle the growth of IS, different factions within these countries need to unite, rebuild their Governments and stop their countries from remaining as failed states, which at present provides an optimal environment for the growth of IS. How can this be achieved with mounting tensions emanating within the region.

2016 will see the region in general remaining highly volatile and unstable. The continued precarious nature of the occupied territory and growing tensions within the Saudi Regime may see a further advancement of instability within the region - resulting in disastrous consequences.

Africa has proven to be difficult in stopping the growth of IS inspired groups.  UNICEF stated that Boko Haram has forced more than 2000 schools to close in Nigeria and neighbouring countries stopping over a million children from going to school.Other areas where IS inspired groups can thrive include North of Mali, Somalia, North of Pakistan and South of Afghanistan. The recent attacks in Paris have confirmed the idea that there remains a significant amount of unknowns regarding how much of this phenomenon has infiltrated and spread across Europe and whether another attack on Western soil is anticipated in 2016. The war on IS will be far from over in 2016 and remain a high priority for the entire international community.


2. IRAN'S RE-INTEGRATION TO GLOBAL MARKET:

After years of negotiations, World powers; (US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany) reached a deal with Iran on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions. Negotiations began in 2006 and were concluded in July 2015 with the agreement that Iran would scale back its sensitive nuclear activities to ensure that it cannot build a nuclear weapon and the international sanctions on Iran would be lifted. 

Iran will now become the largest country to re-join the global marketplace since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The re-integration of Iran to the international scene and the normalisation of relations between Iran and the West will be definitely faced by complex issues for Iran and its international interlocutors as it follows decades of struggles. However, these agreements presents an opportunity for trade and geopolitical cooperation for both sides that can be capitalised on. 


3. UNITED KINGDOM MEMBERSHIP OF THE EUROPEAN UNION:

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has struggled to negotiate an acceptable deal to appease the euro-sceptics within his cabinet and party for the future of the UK’s membership to the EU with European counterparts.

2016 will be a crucial year for the UK - February will see the announcement of the deal struck between the UK and other EU Members of the future of the UK Membership to the EU.

With suggestions that several members of the Cabinet and junior ministers remain unhappy with this potential deal and may possibly resign from the Government if forced to campaign for the UK to stay in the UK, the future of the UK within the EU is uncertain to say the least. 

Given the division within the Labour Party and their inability to campaign as a solid unit, the weakening of the Liberal Democrats after the general elections- these add further burdens to the campaign for the UK to stay in the EU. The UK is a valuable member of the EU. It is the second largest economy in the EU, with the third biggest population and almost 50% of its trade is with the EU. Leaving the EU will certainly weaken both the EU and the UK and their global standings. Due to the significant economic impact of leaving the EU, there is considerable support for staying in the EU amongst the majority of the business community in the UK. 

If the UK leaves the EU, they risk raise questions on their permanent seat at the Security Council and also could prompt Scotland bringing the question of independence back on the table. 


4. RUSSIA ON THE WORLD STAGE:

Russia has somehow recovered from its worst days of 2014, which saw President Putin being shunned at the G20 meeting in Brisbane by World Leaders, leading him to leave the summit earlier than planned.  Russia has half buried the annexation of Crimea from the international agenda and has brought down its involvement in Ukraine from the top of the international agenda. 

It has taken leadership in the Syrian civil war and the war on IS with a potential to work together with the West to defeat IS and secure a political transition in Syria. Russia has had a balanced reaction to the downing of its warplane by Turkey. The economic recession in Russia hit rock bottom in mid-2015. Lower oil prices, a decline in real wages, the weakening of the Ruble and the impact from economic sanction continued to weigh on the Russian economy.

With the extension of EU and US sanctions and continuing decrease of oil prices, the potential additional production from Iran may suggest that 2016 will be another year of challenges for the Russian economy. Russia may either limit its international involvements to match its economic resources or it may respond more aggressively claiming its economic struggle is a result of unfair sanctions and been targeted by the west. Russia will remain unpredictable in 2016.


All  the opinions expressed are those of the author in this article and do not represent those of The Global Diplomatic Forum. The Diplomatic Digest is an independent and neutral page that is aimed at generating debate around key international topics.

 

 

 

5- SOUTH CHINA SEA:

The South China Sea is one of the world's most heavily trafficked shipping routes and believed to have major untapped natural energy deposits. Territorial disputes involve both Islands and Maritime claims involving several countries including in addition to China, Brunei, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam. The conflicting claims over strategically and economically important South China Sea blocks attempts of China to normalise its relations with Southeast Asian nations. Rival countries have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries, but tension has steadily increased in recent years. Freedom of navigation in the region is also a contentious issue, especially between the United States and China over the right of U.S. military vessels to operate in China's two-hundred-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Frictions have sparked concern that the area is becoming a flashpoint with global consequences. The risk of conflict in the South China Sea is significant and will be one to be watched in 2016.

Given the growing importance of the U.S.-China relationship, and the Asia-Pacific region more generally, to the global economy, both the United States and China have a major interest in preventing any one of the various disputes in the South China Sea from escalating militarily.


6. LAST YEAR'S IN OBAMA'S PRESIDENCY AND US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS:

During Obama's Presidency, the US restored its relations with Cuba after 54 years in which they had been severed and also the US led the negotiations with Iran to strike a deal on its Nuclear programme. During his last year, the Obama's administration is expected to have a last go at the Middle East process after the failure of the last attempt of 2013-2014. 

There are suggestions that both EU and US officials are keen to have The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) signed before the end of Obama's Presidency. After the signature of the Trans-Pacific Pact (TPP), it will be interesting to witness the US management of tensions at the South  China Sea. 2016 is also a year of Presidential elections, which often marks some changes in US relations with the world. Some of the republican candidates have expressed some extreme views regarding US policies towards Mexican migrants, Muslims, African Americans and China. The world will observantly watch the elections and be wary of the potential risk of having a US president with fascist views. 


7. CLIMATE CHANGE AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PARIS AGREEMENT:

At the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. Although the agreement is due to enter into force in 2020, 2016 will be the year to set the momentum and action plans for the implementation.  In this year, countries will formally enshrine their climate action plans in the coming months once they formally join the agreement.

More than 185 countries responsible for over 95 percent of the world's climate pollution announced specific national emissions reduction plans for climate action after 2020.  When countries formally join this agreement, starting as early as next April, they will include emission reduction commitments in the Paris Agreement. 

Countries will not wait until 2020 to begin to deviate from their current trajectories in order to meet their goals for 2025 and 2030, just as the private sector will not wait until 2020 to invest in the development and installation of low carbon technologies upon which the national pledges are based. The agreement marks the first time that countries formally propose national pledges that cover a timeframe beyond 2020, but the implications of these targets for policy making and investments are immediate. 2016 will set the first benchmark of the implementation of the agreement.


8. DO OR DIE FOR THE BRICS:

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) are leading emerging economies and political powers at the regional and international level. The acronym (BRIC) was originally created in 2001 by Jim O'Neil to highlight for the first four countries and South Africa joined in 2011 in the summit in China. 

The summit in July 2014 saw BRICS leaders approving the creation of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB), which would fund long-term investments in infrastructure, and more sustainable development. The progress of this project is still slow compared to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launched by China that took off in a quicker way. With economies of Brazil and Russia are expected to have a rough year in 2016 and China and India to have a slight slow down of its recent growth rate, the BRICS risks to continue the 2015 trend of slight loss of momentum shown in previous years.

This has raised scepticism towards the BRICS and the NDB. However, the 10- point initiative agenda for closer collaboration among the group of emerging countries and hit out at the west for imposing “unilateral sanctions" -announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose country will host the summit in 2016- has brought back some momentum of the prospects of the group.  

2016 will be crucial in the development of the group as a homogeneous major player in the international scene in international development and global security or it will prove that the group is no more than a talk shop which will disintegrate sooner than expected.