What to watch in 2013 world news

December 7, 2012

Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own.

Online chatter and political dithering from every corner of the world can make it difficult to follow a narrative when it comes to international news. To cut through the noise, here are four important potential developments to watch next year.¬†Coming up in 2013: ‚ÄúDrug war‚ÄĚ frustrations hit a high, Syria groans on, U.S. foreign policy trips over its own feet, and war comes to a computer near you.

 

U.S. influence on drug policy goes up in smoke.

After six years of drug-related violence in Mexico that has terrorized local communities and killed at least 60,000 people, Latin American governments are fed up with the ¬†”war on drugs.” In 2012, the U.S. government’s no-tolerance policy was challenged both at home and abroad.

Next year, President Obama will face an ‚Äúunprecedented revolt‚ÄĚ by Latin American countries as their leaders begin to doubt U.S. policies publicly, Brian Winter writes for Reuters. Frustrations run high as cartels continue to rake in profits shuttling illegal drugs across the border to meet U.S. demand while citizens are caught up in rampant violence.¬†Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico in 2012 together¬†urged the UN to consider more effective drug policies, and Uruguay proposed legislation to legalize marijuana.

Meanwhile, in the 2012 U.S. elections, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, contradicting federal law and eliminating part of the market for illegal drug traffickers. Mexico‚Äôs new president Enrique Pe√Īa Nieto has promised to work with the U.S., proposing a shift in strategy from stymieing the smuggling of drugs to focusing on reducing violence. However, he has suggested that legalization in two U.S. states will require ‚Äúrethinking‚ÄĚ Mexico‚Äôs policy.

As leaders and their electorates become¬†increasingly¬†disenchanted with the U.S. campaign, Latin America is unlikely to acquiesce much longer. Watch for changing drug policies in the region as Washington’s influence wanes.

Who to follow: InSight Crime; The LA Times’ drug war project.

A soldier stands next to marijuana being incinerated at a military base in Acapulco, December 8, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

 

Syria stays a mess.

One of the most pressing concerns in the Middle East is the future of Syria, where rebel fighters seek to overthrow Bashar Assad‚Äôs regime in a bloody conflict that has killed at least 40,000 people since March 2011. Last year saw the failure of UN envoy Kofi Annan‚Äôs peacekeeping mission, an increase in the Syrian military’s use of air power, ¬†the creation of an opposition council, rebel advances to seize military bases and supply routes, and the flow of over 300,000 refugees across Syria‚Äôs borders. Regardless of whether the rebels succeed in ousting President Bashar Assad, the fighting seems unlikely to abate in early 2013. The outcome may well be a protracted, sectarian civil war. Unless the Assad regime employs its chemical weapons or commits a single slaughter on the scale of the 1982 Hama massacre, in which tens of thousands were killed, international powers will remain unwilling to intervene directly. However, should the opposition succeed in deposing President Bashar Assad and his regime, immediate concerns will include securing Syria‚Äôs chemical weapons, protecting minorities from abuses, and maintaining security forces in Syria.

Who to follow: Reuters; Syria Deeply.

Free Syrian Army fighters rest in Aleppo’s al-Huluk district, October 21, 2012. REUTERS/Zain Karam

 

The U.S. ‚Äúpivot‚ÄĚ to Asia stumbles.

Will the Obama Administration successfully pirouette its focus to Asia or find itself flat-footed in the Middle East? The U.S. would prefer to spend 2013 engaging Asia as part of its so-called foreign policy ‚Äúpivot,‚ÄĚ but pesky problems in the Middle East will continue to demand attention. As some observers noted, Clinton‚Äôs quick return from Asia to attend to the rapidly escalating Israel-Gaza conflict in November demonstrated the United States’ inability to move on while juggling a war in Afghanistan, political instability in Iraq, hostile relations with Pakistan, and counterterrorism missions, among other concerns in the region. Events that are likely to throw sand in the gears include a resurgence of Taliban influence in Afghanistan, particularly during the spring ‚Äúfighting season,‚ÄĚ as well as the delicate and controversial task of drawing down U.S. troops ahead of 2014. Forging relations with the nascent, largely Islamist-led democracies in the Arab world also will require political maneuvering. Syria‚Äôs civil war and Iran‚Äôs nuclear program also are likely to scream: Not so fast, Uncle Sam.

Who to follow: The Diplomat; FP’s Situation Report.

U.S. President Barack Obama pours water over a statue at a shrine as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles during their visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, November 19, 2012.  REUTERS/Jason Reed

 

War enters the digital era.

In 2012, numerous reports confirmed a new trend in covert warfare. The New York Times reported the U.S. had ordered a secret cyber attack on Iran‚Äôs nuclear facilities, a congressional report claimed China could target U.S. computer systems, and the hacker group Anonymous took credit for accessing inner workings of the U.S. Department of Justice. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in October painted a doomsday scenario of a possible ‚Äúcyber-Pearl Harbor‚ÄĚ perpetrated by countries such as China, Russia, Iran, or extremist groups. These reports are surely the tip of the¬†iceberg, and in 2013 U.S. intelligence will continue to work toward defending against and preempting such attacks.

However, while cyber war is waged in the shadows, traditional warfare may become much more transparent thanks to social media. Previously inaccessible leaders and conflicts that played out behind closed doors are now more public than ever. In the recent Gaza-Israel conflict, for example, both sides and outside observers tweeted, blogged, and Instagram-ed updates in real time. Leaders, too, will become increasingly forward-facing. No longer staying above the fray, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and the Pope were the latest public figures to join Instagram and Twitter, respectively. Going forward, some spats between politicians and embassies will develop in full public view, offering viewers a chance to chime in and better understand relations between officials and their countries.

Who to follow: Gerry Smith at HuffPost; Wired’s DangerRoom.

U.S. Marine Sergeant Michael Kidd works on a computer at ECPI University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, February 7, 2012. REUTERS/Samantha Sais

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