There’s violence, and then there’s geopolitics. A bombing in Kenya is not the same as a bombing in Damascus; both are evil affairs, but one annoys a state while another could potentially topple it. This is where geopolitics collides with morality. Morally speaking, a murder of one vs. the murder of millions can be argued to be equally evil. Or, perhaps, volume counts: to kill ten million in a famine could be worse than shooting a man in a robbery. Motivation, too, factors in: powerlust is a greater sin than regular lust, some may argue.
But geopolitical importance ignores what’s right and focuses on scale. To whit: the murderous little band of the Lord’s Resistance Army is geopolitically insignificant because that murderous little band, despite their atrocities, cannot currently establish a state, overthrow a state, or affect worldwide trade. Meanwhile, the Islamic State, despite being just as nasty as the LRA, is a geopolitical threat of a much larger scale because they threaten to do all three.
So with that filter, what then will matter in 2015? Much can happen; hardly anyone foresaw the Russians grabbing Crimea last spring. But based on the tensions we have now, here are the news stories worth keeping tabs (and the ones to ignore) on if you want to understand 2015’s coming geopolitics.
Watch: Ukraine, Donbass, Moldova, Bessarabia, and everywhere else the Russians are suddenly all uppity
It’s impossible to predict with any certainty what the Russians will do in these regions, but what is certain is that Russian actions within them will define 2015. Will the Russians push to grab more territory? Will there be an out-and-out war between the vastly superior Russian military and the God-willing-the-West-gives-them-guns-in-time Ukrainians? If there is, it will be over one of these regions, and it will open the door to further geopolitical wrangling both this year and next. If not, it will signal a new status quo with the Russians, who will be content to deny Ukraine the ability to join NATO while not being willing to fight a war to bring them back into their fold.
Click the link on: the Islamic State, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey
The Islamic State will be vying hard with Ukraine for being the most significant geopolitical event in 2015. Should IS rearm or regroup and make a successful push on Baghdad, Aleppo, or Damascus, everything will go straight to Hell. Uprisings will be the rule rather than the exception; the nasty pot of violence in the Sinai will be repeated elsewhere. This week’s attack on a Saudi border post is an escalation that few can afford to ignore; does Saudi Arabia have an IS Fifth Column? Many signs point to yes.
Meanwhile, what happens in Syria no longer stays in Syria. Key to ending the Syrian civil war will be Turkey. Should Turkey sit on its hands, the civil war will drag on. But should Ankara rouse its army, conditions will change rapidly.
Less important will be American military actions. The American public has no stomach for another ground war over the same territory; involvement will be limited to advisors, air strikes, and anything else that can be done on the cheap. In other words, the U.S. alone will not bring peace to Syria nor destroy IS this year. That’ll be someone else’s job.
Keep an eye on: America and Iran’s nuclear deal
This deal – if it holds and is successful – will fundamentally alter the way the Middle East works. It will mean Iran will moderate and either disarm or moderate its own proxies throughout the Middle East. It will upset Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states something firece, but they will be unable to do much besides complain.
The United States will, so long as everything else remains constant, continue to apply pressure on Iran until Tehran comes to terms with America’s superior power. This nuclear deal is one such opportunity for the Iranians to do so; the signs are good that Iranian elites will take it. But even if they don’t, Iran is still, in the wider and longer sense, on the back foot against the Americans.
Such a New Middle East will in many ways resemble that of the Cold War. Americans allies in Turkey, Egypt, and Iran will anchor peace; Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will play second fiddle (and the Gulf states will lose their strategic importance if Iran ever joins the American-led world order); the rogue states and actors of the region will be rounded up and wiped out by overwhelming forces. That will be a long story, but a key part of it accelerating is Iran’s relationship in 2015.
Monitor: the wobble of the European Union
The EU is the greatest geopolitical project of the 21st century – an attempt to bridge the many, many differences between states that once attempted to annihilate each other. The Great Recession is over, but the EU is not out of the woods, with Greece looking shaky, Spain still in trouble, and Germany looking less and less sturdy. Moreover, the rise of Euroskeptic parties from Britain’s UKIP to Greece’s Golden Dawn could force conservatives on the continent to try to race for the exit to win elections. Should that happen, it would mean the end of the EU and set European unity back decades – even, perhaps, reigniting some of the old rivalries buried by World War II and kept in check by the United States.
Eyeball: the price of oil
From Russia to the United States to the Venezuela, the price of oil, should it remain low, will be a boon to the West and a dagger in the hearts of its enemies. If Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates continue to keep on pumping, it will help support Western economic recovery while throttling budgets from Tehran to Moscow. Those American foes will then have all the more incentive to come to the bargaining table. More than that, long enough and low enough prices could halt America’s shale energy revolution.
Be wary of: China and its many territorial disputes
China’s economic miracle is about to pop, and when it does the temptation will emerge for Beijing to pick squabbles over economic reform in order to shore up support. There are plenty to choose from: Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States all have various forms of beef with China. While World War III is deeply unlikely, China following Russia into autocratic madness rather than committing itself to proper political and economic reforms is not impossible this year.
Don’t bother with: Af-Pak
Afghanistan and Pakistan will be a sideshow in 2015. The Taliban insurgencies in both countries are nowhere near toppling either government; Afghanistan’s Western allies will remain in country and will keep a Western-aligned government in power in Kabul, while Taliban atrocities in Pakistan are slowly but surely turning all but the most hardcore idiot Islamists against it. It’s deeply unlikely anything of great geopolitical significance will emerge there in 2015.
Ignore: everything related to Israel or Palestine
While headline grabbing, nothing that happens between Israel or Palestine will be geopolitically significant this year. That’s a minor turf war that goes to way too many peoples’ heads; no great power will rise or fall based on who controls the Holy Land (and never historically has).
Forget: North Korea, unless it collapses
Every threat, nuclear test, and missile barrage that comes from North Korea is yet another sideshow. North Korea doesn’t have the power to remake the geopolitical landscape outside of utter chaos; either it starts a war that it loses, or it collapses in on itself. But should it continue to muddle along, you can be forgiven for not bothering to monitor that situation.
Did we get it? Is there more?
Let us know in the comments what you think should be watched this year!