If one place has borne the brunt of international lawlessness over the past year it is Yemen. Fighting started in late , after Huthi rebels expelled the internationally recognised government from the capital. Western powers largely endorsed the Saudi-led campaign. In late , Yemeni militias backed by the UAE surrounded Hodeida, a Huthi-controlled port, through which aid for millions of starving Yemenis passes. The coalition appeared determined to move in, convinced that taking the port would crush the rebellion and make the Huthis more pliant.
But the consequences of such an offensive would be almost unimaginable. On 9 November, the U. There are other glimmers of light. Once the Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives in January , they could move more aggressively in this direction.
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That and more will be needed to end the Yemen war or at least avoid it taking another turn for the worse. All parties — the Huthis and their Yemeni adversaries, but also the Saudis and Emiratis — seem to believe that time is on their side. But the ad hoc nature of the decision—seemingly made without looping in top officials—and the spectre it raises of the U. In , the war exacted a higher toll than at any time since the Taliban were ousted from Kabul more than seventeen years ago. A three-day ceasefire in June, which the Taliban and the government enforced and which prompted joyous celebration by fighters and civilians alike, offered a short respite, though fighting resumed immediately afterwards.
Taliban fighters now effectively control perhaps half the country, cutting off transport routes and laying siege to cities and towns. A sharp uptick in U. In September, Washington appointed the veteran diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad as an envoy for peace talks — a welcome sign that it was prioritising negotiations to end the war. Taliban leaders appear to be taking the talks seriously, though the process is stuck over their continued insistence that the U.
Withdrawing 7, troops in itself will probably not be militarily decisive: U. Indeed, there could be value to the U. All sides understand that a rapid pullout could provoke a major new civil war, an outcome nobody, including the Taliban, wants. With a U. Neighbouring countries and others involved in Afghanistan — notably Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and China — all want the Americans out eventually, but none of them wants a precipitous withdrawal. They may be more inclined to support U. Its timing appeared to catch everyone — from Khalilzad and top U.
The fact that it was not coordinated with Khalilzad meant that the envoy could not extract any concessions from the Taliban in return for such a key pledge that partially addressed their core demand. In Kabul, the sense of betrayal was palpable. A few days later, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani nominated two hard-line anti-Taliban officials as his defence and interior ministers, suggesting a move away from his compromising tone of the past year.
But that was always an uncertain bet. The standoff between China and the U. Still, rhetoric between the two is increasingly bellicose. If relations, already at their lowest ebb since the Tiananmen protests almost three decades ago, continue to deteriorate, the rivalry could have graver geopolitical consequences than all of the other crises listed this year. In a deeply divided Washington, one position that wins bipartisan consensus is that China is an adversary with which the U.
Most U. In reality, China likely has no short-term desire to fundamentally challenge the world order.
But Beijing is ever readier to throw its weight around in multilateral institutions and its region. In Asia, it expects a Chinese sphere in which neighbours are sovereign but deferential. Mounting U. For the two superpowers, pooling efforts to end crises has never been easy. An increasingly bitter rivalry would make it much harder. China would be less likely to back either tougher sanctions against North Korea, if stuttering talks between Washington and Pyongyang break down, or U.
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Risks of direct conflict remain slim, but the South China Sea is a troubling flash point. The past two decades have seen occasional run-ins between Chinese forces and U. Beijing stakes claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea, stopping mere miles from the Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Philippine coastlines, and has aggressively built bases on strategic natural and man-made islands. China wants what the U. Others, of course, see it differently. The smaller South East Asian nations object, and some look to Washington for protection.
Beijing and Washington could reach some form of trade deal in the months ahead, which would help ease tensions. But any respite is likely to be short-lived. On both sides, leaders believe a long-festering geopolitical and economic clash has reached a point of rupture. Much like , presents risks of confrontation — deliberate or inadvertent — involving the U. The first three share a common view of the government in Tehran as a threat that has been emboldened for too long and whose regional aspirations need curbing.
For Washington, this has translated into withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the restoration of sanctions, more aggressive rhetoric, and threats of powerful retaliation in the event of Iranian provocation. Riyadh has embraced this new tone, and — mainly in the voice of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — suggested it will fight back and seek to counter Iran in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, and even on Iranian soil.
Israel has focused on Syria, where it has regularly struck Iranian and Iranian-aligned targets, but it has also threatened to target the Iranian-backed militant group Hizbollah in Lebanon. So far, Iran — confident in long-term trends and deterred by the possibility of retaliation — has opted to hunker down. While it has resumed missile testing, and the U.
But as economic pressure builds on Iran, this posture may not last. Moreover, the risk of an accidental clash originating in Yemen, in the Persian Gulf, in Syria, or in Iraq cannot be discounted. The main source of tension, so far, has been the U. Those leaders also seem to be hoping for a one-term Trump presidency.
This calculus could change. While U. Even if they comply with nuclear constraints, the temptation could grow in Tehran to make Washington pay a price for its actions by taking aim at its presence in the region, for example by encouraging attacks by Iraqi Shiite militias against U. Any of these conflicts could escalate. Yemen is arguably the most dangerous.
Should a Huthi missile inflict casualties in a Saudi city or if the Huthis target international commercial shipping in the Red Sea — a move they have long threatened to make — the conflict could enter a far more dangerous phase. In Syria, Israel has so far been adept at striking Iranian targets without prompting a wider war. Iran, no doubt aware of the potential cost of such escalation, calculates that it can absorb such attacks without endangering its deeper interests and longer-term presence in Syria.
But the Syrian theatre is congested, Iranian forbearance is not limitless, and the likelihood of a miscalculation or an attack gone awry remains a risk. Hanging over these dynamics will be continued reverberations of the October assassination of Khashoggi.
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The murder amplified criticism in the U. These feelings will intensify next year as Democrats assume control of the House. One can only hope this leads to stronger U. As came to a close, it looked as if the Syrian conflict would continue along the same path. It seemed that the regime of Bashar al-Assad, with Iranian and Russian help, would win its battle against the opposition. The war against the Islamic State would approach the finish line. Foreign actors would maintain a fragile equilibrium in various parts of the country: among Israel, Iran, and Russia in the south west; Russia and Turkey in the north west; and the U.
It was unclear how 2, U. The fight against the Islamic State is not over, but it need not require maintaining U.
Should disorder ensue, the Islamic State could seize the opportunity to stage a comeback by regrouping and recapturing some of the territory it has lost over the past two years. In short, the real question for the U. Both the U. Averting this scenario will require Washington and Moscow separately or in tandem to persuade Turkey not to launch an assault on YPG-held territory, to persuade the YPG to lower its armed profile, and to facilitate a deal between Damascus and the YPG that entails the return of the Syrian government to the north east coupled with a degree of Kurdish self-rule in the area.
Such an outcome would simultaneously allow Syria to restore its sovereignty, reassure Turkey by limiting YPG authority and firepower, and protect the Kurds from military attack. It might be too late to achieve this goal.
It is not too late to try. Nigerians will go to the polls in February to elect a president and new federal legislature, and again in March to choose state governors and lawmakers. Nigerian elections are traditionally violent affairs, and conditions this time around are particularly combustible. The presidential contest between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and his main rival, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, will be hard fought. Such protests have a troubled precedent: demonstrations after the polls morphed into attacks on minorities across northern Nigeria in which more than people died.
The election comes atop other challenges.
Levels of violent crime and general insecurity remain high across much of the country. Civilians in parts of the north east bear the brunt of the brutal conflict between government troops and a resilient Islamist Boko Haram insurgency. Though that bloodshed has calmed over past months, it has frayed intercommunal relations — especially between Muslims and Christians — in those areas, which are likely to see fiercely fought elections, as ballots from there could swing the national presidential vote.
Already, politicians are stoking divisions for political ends, including by using inflammatory, identity-based language against rivals. The immediate priority for the government must be to avert an election crisis by beefing up security in vulnerable states and taking steps to ensure that security forces act impartially, while all parties pledge to campaign peacefully and handle disputes lawfully. But it would be a necessary start. In September, President Salva Kiir and his main rival, the former vice president-turned rebel leader Riek Machar, signed an agreement to hold fire and rule together until elections in Most importantly, it has reduced violence.
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