By Tim Marshall
There will be no New Year resolution of the Syrian conflict but 2016 will see a mix of diplomatic activity and fighting on the road to a deal. This means there is unlikely to be a reduction in the flow of refugees and migrants towards Northern Europe which in turn will add to tensions throughout the EU and beyond.
Turkey is likely to finally summon up the political will and send a limited military force Northern Syria to establish some sort of buffer zone with the help of American air power. This will be supported by the European nations keen to see a ‘safe space’ for Syrians to reduce the number heading their way. However, there will still be huge numbers of people trying to get to Europe, with a possible increase from Afghanistan as the situation there worsens. A bottleneck is going to develop somewhere along the Turkey/Mediterranean/Balkans route. The pressure of refugees/migrants may destabilize Macedonia, Serbia, and Bosnia. Turkey’s moves on the Syrian terrain will be complicated by its concerns about the Kurds, nevertheless, a combination of Turkey, the US led alliance, the Iraqi military and the FSA will pile pressure on Islamic State. This is likely to result in a repeat of 2015 in which IS was forced onto the back foot and lost territory in Iraq and Syria. Whether Mosul can be retaken is an open question, but Islamic State is about to face its toughest year yet.
Because it will be so pressured, IS can be expected to lash out with terror attacks in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Turkey, Europe, and if it can be reached, the USA. If Islamic State continues to grow in Libya, and threatens the oil industry, a range of countries from Egypt to Italy are likely to intervene.
The combination of refugees, migrants, and constant terror threat is likely to continue the European’s slow swing towards nationalism. The Schengen free border area is unlikely to be fully reintroduced especially as German and French politicians will have at least one eye on their 2017 elections. If the British referendum on leaving the EU is held after a summer dominated by refugee stories, it will help the leave campaign. Prime Minister Cameron will win limited concessions from the other EU parties and try to sell these as a victory.
The Russians now have a vote in the Syrian crisis and a big decision to make. Having shored up the Assad government, do they now reduce their military footprint in Syria, maintain it, or increase it? The W&Y guess is for a limited increase. Moscow and Ankara can be expected to continue their diplomatic war with each other. Russia will simultaneously act to freeze the conflict in Ukraine in order to ease its way out of sanctions which because of the low oil price are restricting its budgetary choices. Having regained a serious foothold in the Middle East the Russians will continue to court the Egyptians. Freezing the Ukraine conflict does not mean that Russia will not still be viewed with concern by the European and Americans, and the eastern European nations will continue to press NATO to beef up defences.
India and Pakistan will continue to squabble over Kashmir but have the opportunity to co-operate over Afghanistan. There seems little to prevent most of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan from falling to the Taliban who are likely to make advances elsewhere. The Talibs will continue to confront the growing threat to them from Islamic State but that in turn will complicate the nascent moves towards a political solution with the government in 2017.
The price of oil is unlikely to rise significantly as the Americans continue to produce more energy, and, if the nuclear deal holds and sanctions are partially lifted, Iran will begin pumping and selling large quantities of oil on the world markets again.
The South China Sea will be a flash point for various Pacific countries including China and the USA. Each knows how it behaves will impact on its relations with the other nations. The USA will continue to re-assure the other Pacific states that it will stand by them, China will attempt to persuade them that in the long run they should come into Beijing’s sphere of influence. Japan will become more assertive in its foreign policy as its record spending on defence kicks in.
In Latin American the ‘Chavismos’, well beaten in last month’s election, risk tipping the country into widespread violence if they continue to contest the election results. Either way Venezuela’s economic crisis will continue. Cuba will continue to come in from the cold, but the US will maintain enough sanctions on Havana to ‘encourage’ reform. In Columbia there is a deadline of March for the government and FARC to reach a peace deal. At the moment this appears within reach.
The United States will be pre-occupied with its Presidential election and, for at least the first few primaries, continue to be transfixed by Trump.
….a few dates from hundreds…
Jan – Taiwan. Presidential and parliamentary elections
Jan – USA. State of the Union Address
Feb – USA. Iowa Caucuses. New Hampshire Primary
Feb – Bolivia. Referendum on whether President Morales can run for a 3rd term
Feb – Iran. Parliamentary elections
March – Germany. Regional elections
April – UK. 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare
April – S. Korea. Parliamentary elections
May – Philippines. General election.
June – Beginning of Ramadan. (6th)
July – Warsaw. NATO summit
Nov – US election (8th)
Dec – Rumania. General election
Happy New Year… good luck!