Unhappy New Year: The 10 Geopolitical Risks to Watch in 2016
Photo: J.A. de Roo
2016 is looking like it might be a turbulent year. Rising populism, great power revanchism, the continued specter of terrorism, disputes over “cyber-sovereignty,” intensified regional turmoil, and dramatic shifts in the global economy presage unsettled times. Against this uncertain backdrop, here are the top 10 notable geopolitical risks to keep an eye on in the year ahead:
1) The rise of populism: The combination of the middle-class economic squeeze and Islamic extremism at home risks fueling the populist politics of xenophobia and anger surging across Europe and the United States. This could continue to weaken establishment politicians and empower those on the far left and far right, making both American and European foreign policies more unpredictable and diverting leaders from engagement abroad in favor of damage-control domestically. It could encourage greater insularity that would allow regional crises to fester.
2) A foreign policy reset for the United States: A major terrorist attack on the United States, along the lines of 9/11, could scramble the presidential race and force the Obama administration to reverse its current round of retrenchment to attack the danger abroad. This could transform the dynamic of international politics after seven years in which U.S. President Barack Obama has appeared content to lead from behind, or not to lead at all. Should Donald Trump or another outsider candidate prevail in the race for the Republican nomination, it will be partly a result of widespread anger and fear over the Obama administration’s perceived inability to keep America safe. Whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the contest in Nov. 2016, U.S. foreign policy is likely to return to its traditionally more hawkish, expeditionary orientation.