2018 Global Outlook: Four dangerous dynamics in the Middle East
Early 2018 finds the Middle East at a singular moment in its history. It is hard to recall a period when so many fundamental geopolitical shifts have occurred just as societies, states and alliances in the region were all starting to fall apart. Four disruptive trends can be identified, any one of which would have sufficed to produce regional instability in the not-too-distant past. Today, their combination creates a formidable dynamic for armed conflict.
Opinion: A combustible pentagon in the Middle East
For security in the Middle East, the real Pentagon is not a building on the Potomac but the potential for a five-sided conflict involving Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Russia and Israel. To these forces on the ground, one can add two players by remote control: the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The danger is not subsiding with Islamic State’s defeat and the reassertion of control by Syrian government forces. In some ways, it is getting stronger.
Will Kurdistan get a second chance?
The independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan was clearly a miscalculation by President Massoud Barzani. His assumption that Erbil could present a bill to Baghdad for services rendered in defeating Daesh was swiftly trumped by realpolitik. Now, the question is what can be saved from the debacle, and whether war can be avoided in Kurdistan itself.
The contours of a future Middle East emerge
Events are moving fast in the Middle East. The hoped-for rapprochement between Russia and the U.S. that could bring an end to the war in Syria appears to have collapsed. Growing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia could spark a war at any moment. But the most explosive issue for this region of minorities is the prospect of independence for Iraqi Kurdistan.
GIS Dossier: Iran’s rise
Iran has methodically built up its influence in the Middle East to become one of the most important powers in the region. It has a growing foothold in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Qatar. Its rise has inflamed tensions with Saudi Arabia, while a nascent rapprochement with the U.S. has withered under President Donald Trump. It is stepping up military interventions abroad, but remains deeply divided at home. This edition of our Dossier series reviews how Iran got here and our experts’ predictions about what this means for the region and the world.
Decarbonization and global instability
The fight against climate change is currently focused on managing demand and increasing production from non-fossil-fuel sources. But those efforts disregard the strategic interests of major oil- and gas-producing states that depend on exports. Until those countries have an alternative for economic development, keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius will remain a pipe dream.
Iranians at odds as succession looms
Hassan Rouhani’s reelection as Iran’s president was greeted with euphoria by his reform-minded supporters, but has only sharpened divisions in a deeply polarized country. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei may be frail and ailing, but he still dominates the Islamic Republic, and his conservative supporters are well-positioned to steer any succession. The new U.S. administration’s attempts to isolate Iran will only strengthen them.
Russia losing the new Great Game
Chinese leader Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow last month brought a raft of investment deals, suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin is successfully executing his version of a pivot toward Asia. But appearances deceive. The Sino-Russian "strategic partnership" is not an agreement between equals, and Russia has lost the upper hand in Central Asia.
The many faces of ISIS
If we want to know what will happen to Islamic State (ISIS) after the death of its first “caliph” and the loss of Mosul and Raqqa, we must first understand what it is. There is not one ISIS, but at least four. Each will require different handling once the caliphate is shattered and scatters.