All I want for Christmas is... five answers
1. More cohesion in NATO?
According to the balance-of-threat assumption the lack of unambiguous threat decreases cohesion of military alliances, whereas the free-rider problem increases in inverse proportion. Even if one doesn't consider the geostrategical mischief of NATO eastward expansion there is nevertheless another problem. It seems to be clear that the Europeans reducing their military expenditures as well as Uncle Sam tired of his burden are not able and willing to pay for worries of Eastern Europeans.
Accordingly, the next year should provide an answer for the following question: Is fear of Russia and percieved threat in Europe sufficient for increasing defense capabilities of the European NATO members in the first place? If not, recent events in Ukraine could merely remain a favorable opportunity for NATO bureaucrats to pretend the alliance still matters, whereby the renewed Russian military doctrine is not that bad. NATO is the number one threat. Anyone surprised?
2. Shall the Islamic State survive?
Undoubtedly, the Islamic State is not just a 'so-called' state. It is not just another hit-and-run bunch of fanatics pretending to be 'biggest and baddest dudes on the block'. Recruitment of new jihadi fighters all over the Europe highlights this point. Moreover, IS is indeed some kind of state in that it exercises some state functions.
For instance, 'jihadi bureaucracy' is apparently able to raise taxes (in form of protection money) and provide health insurance, allowances for newly married and compensations for families of killed and captives. Another striking feature of IS is that they have financial adjustment system according to which reacher regions share their budget surplus with poorer ones. In sum, social expenditures sometimes exceed military spending.
One reason to be optimistic about addressing the IS problem is that there is a 'coaltion of the unwilling' which is nonetheless appearing more assertive than its more 'willing' counterpart back to 2003 in Iraq. No wonder since the threat for other states in the region is formidable. On the other side, the new Iraqi government shall be one of the major pieces of the puzzle since it has to become a better alternative for Iraqi Sunnites. Concentrating power in the hands of Shia Iraqis (sectarianism) has never been a good strategy. Finally, air strikes can halt or pull the IS back at best. At worst, one can fail as the U.S. did in Vietnam. You just cannot combat these guys from the sky!
3. Whither Afghanistan?
Well, it's pretty simple. A president of Kabul is not a president of Afghanistan. Almost entire south-east landstrip of the territory is facing considerable or high security threat, terror attacks have been carried out in the Afghan capital regularly even in the presence of ISAF. Targeted drone strikes have not been able to change this constellation. How is the newly elected Afghan president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai to prevent, it appears, the unpreventable?
4. Will a new climate change agreement be signed next year in Paris?
The 20th Conference of the Parties to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima in December 2014 left observers with mixed emotions. On the one hand, the bilateral climate agreement between the United States and China - the number two and number one pollutants on the globe respectively - on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions brought hope that a breakthourgh in negotiations was within reach, so the parties can agree on a new agreement next year.
Indeed, Obama set a new target to cut U.S. carbon pollution by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. China committed to peak its CO2 emissions around 2030 while striving to peak early, and boost its share of non-fossil fuel energy to around 20%. Unfortunately, the outcome fell far short of initial expectations, and there is nothing new about that.
Firstly, U.S. and Chinese committments didn't result from the blame put on them internationally. Given the 'shale revolution' in the United States, Obama can afford to close one or two (hundred) coal power plants whithout much pressure, whereas China is coming to realize that it is a bad idea to drown its human capital in smog and gases. Regime stability may be at stake. Moral: the bilateral agreement doesn't cost much, whence the willingness.
Secondly, the core UNFCCC principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' continues to divide (roughly) North and South. Notwithstanding the fact that no-one seriously disputes historical responsibility and guilt of Western industrial countries in provoking climate change, the division of Parties to the Convention into Annex I, non-Annex I and Annex II is increasingly contested due to skyrocketed carbon emissions in China or India in the last two decades. Shall Western countries agree to raise financing for Adaptation Fund or Green Climate Fund, if there is no chance to bind polluters from developing world to cut their emissions? The logic of relative gains dictates the opposite.
5. And finally: Will the U.S. and Cuba become friends?
The recent initiative of President Obama to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and to open an embassy in Havana after more than a half-century of embargo was big news, even if the Cold War is gone. Obama's Realpolitik is becoming more and more apparent. Values in foreign policy are put in the back seat. As Obama put it, 'We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests'. There is evidence that his 'new thinking' can succeed.
For more than a generation, Republicans have offered a consistent hard-line anthem against the Castro regime, endearing themselves to the politically potent bloc of Cuban-Americans who fled from Cuban revolution. But those animosities have given way as younger voters with family ties to Cuba but no direct memories of the island under Fidel Castro have been more willing to support Democrats.
That is, the struggle for voters begins. Given possible candidacy of Bush the Third in presidential elections 2016 who is closely tied to 'hispanic' voters, the 'pivot' to Cuba seems very promising. But here's the very last question: Why are Republicans so eager to oppose?