In 2014, four large democracies in the Global South will organize general elections: Brazil, India, Indonesia and South Africa. During election years, policy makers tend to focus more on internal challenges and less on foreign affairs. Neither outgoing leaders nor recent winners are likely to propose important international initiatives. My guess: Indonesia and India will see leadership transitions. Brazil and South Africa will reelect Dilma Rousseff and Jacob Zuma, respectively.
Crunch time in the Global South
9. The future of internet governance
After the spying revelations that dominated the global debate during the second half of the year, the future of internet governance will be discussed at several international fora, including the UN, during the coming year. Brazil and Germany have taken a leadership role by drafting a resolution that promotes the right of privacy in the internet, and Brazil will organize a summit in April in São Paulo. Laws that seek to keep data in-country could threaten the cloud system – where data stored by US internet firms is accessible from anywhere in the world. My guess: China and Russia will propose rules to increase government control over the internet, a move that is unlikely to find much support in the rest of the world.
8. Where are the BRICS?
In 2014 the United States will add more to global economic growth than China (at market exchange rates) and Japan will add more than India. Growth in Brazil and South Africa is poised to remain low. In the midst of all the gloom, the BRICS grouping will hold its 6th Summit in Brazil and launch the BRICS Development Bank, marking the most important step towards institutionalization in its young history. Still, most observers will remain skeptical about the grouping’s future, particularly now that growth rates are unimpressive. My guess: Intra-BRICS cooperation will continue, though most of it under the radar, ranging from issues such as agriculture, education, public health to voting behavior in international institutions.
7. Will Iran join the international community?
The historic interim agreement concluded in late November between six world powers and Iran is an important step in the right direction. The West will provide “limited, temporary and reversible” relief from some economic sanctions, and Iran will not only stop its work on nuclear weapons, but revert some of the steps. The political leadership in Tehran accepts a more intrusive inspection regime; this makes the deal very different from the one reached with North Korea in 2005, which the Koreans broke. Reintegrating Iran into the international community would transform politics in the Middle East, making US support for an Israeli attack against Iran unlikely. A deal could possibly help obtain Iranian support to broker a peace deal in Syria. My guess: Guarded optimism is permitted and Iran may see a reduction of its painful isolation from the international community.
6. What’s next for Syria?
As the civil war in Syria continues, the United States and Europe have three priorities: a negotiated peace agreement to end the violence; a reduction of Iran’s influence in the region; and the removal of Bashar Assad. My guess: Obtaining all three will be impossible. Since stopping the carnage is most important of all, a peace accord will, if reached at all, most likely involve both the Syrian President and Iran.
The BRICS and R2P: Was Syria an exception?
5. The Global Protests
After the massive protests that shook Brazil and Turkey, where will they continue in 2014? Particularly countries with a growing yet angry middle class that do not invest enough in education and infrastructure are at risk. Protests against austerity measures (such as Spain), corruption (as in India and China), police violence (U.K.) and oppression (Egypt and Russia, among others) will become ever more frequent as technology allows protesters to organize very quickly, leaving policy makers with little time to prepare. Host countries of big political summits and sporting events face additional risk of widespread protests. My guess: Brace for protests across the world, including Brazil (though not as large as in 2013, since Brazil’s World Cup triumph will limit public rage there).
4. Africa’s rise
Africa is the last economic frontier of the global economy. It possesses 40 percent of the world’s raw materials and 60 percent of its uncultivated arable land. No other continent has developed as rapidly in the last decade as Africa, where real economic growth was between 5% and 10% per year. When the Cold War ended, just three out of 53 African nations had halfway functional democracies. Today, that figure is 25 out of 54. More than 300 million Africans are now part of the middle class, roughly the population of the United States. No important global actor can afford not to build a strong presence in Africa. My guess: As growth in South Africa falters, fast-growing economies such as Angola, Nigeria and Ethiopia will seek to play a stronger role in international affairs. Africa’s role in global affairs will increase further.
3. Can Merkel fix Europe?
As the economic crisis lingers on in Europe, all eyes are on Germany. Angela Merkel is demonized across Europe for her determined enforcement of austerity. Critics say Germany is too austere, too insistent on fiscal consolidation even in recession, too prone to put the burden of adjustment on deficit countries, too dominated by lawyers, not economists. She keeps pointing out that Europe has 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its GDP and 50% of its social spending, and that it cannot continue to be so generous. My guess: Germany’s chancellor remains overwhelmingly popular at home and is set to remain so next year, so very little indicates that she will change her strategy vis-à-vis the EU.
2. Will China liberalize?
After a promising start, the world will expect Xi Jinping to implement the reforms announced in 2013 and continue his battle against corruption and better public services. Furthermore, the world’s largest economy in waiting has to leave Deng’s model of cheap labor, capital and focus on export markets behind. Wages are increasing, capital is becoming too expense, and domestic demand will have to pick up in order to keep economic growth as high as it used to be over the past decades. For the first time since the 70s, many argue, playing it safe means undertaking some more substantial economic reforms. The Central bank is expected to formally launch financial liberalizations in the new Shanghai free-trade zone in early 2014, with the hope of soon extending the reforms to other parts of the country if the trial run proves successful. My guess: Despite continuing protests in many parts of the country (against corruption, pollution and censorship), the reforms will succeed and China will grow at 7%.
1. The US is back on track
While long-term predictions about China’s rise remain valid, the United States’ economic recovery (partly driven by shale gas) is likely to provide policy makers in Washington with additional assertiveness in international affairs. My guess: If history is any guide, Obama will focus more on foreign affairs in his second term and seek to build a global legacy. That may include attempting to follow-up on the Iran deal, adopting a more reasonable Cuba policy and building a stronger presence in China’s backyard. In addition, the United States may take important steps towards promoting free trade across the Atlantic and the Pacific, mediate tensions between China and Japan, end the war in Syria, and even try to bring Israel and Palestine to the table.
The 10 Issues to Watch in International Politics in 2010
10 Issues to Watch in International Politics in 2012
Book review: “Taming American Power” by Stephen Walt