Valdai Discussion Club studies in 2016
1. The future of the military operation in the Middle East: Expansion or limited success.
The fighting in the Middle East will continue and, judging by events occurring at the end of 2015, will have a tendency to escalate. In addition to the active hostilities that Russia conducts along with the Syrian government and Iran, as well as the United States and its allies, the Muslim countries soon to be mobilized by Saudi Arabia are now talking intervention as well.
The main questions for the coming months are: a) how the use of military force can change things, and b) if coordination of military operations among various players is possible in principle. The differences in the goals and objectives of external and regional powers have been deepening lately, which casts doubt on the feasibility of reaching at least a fragile agreement. The manner in which this conflict will be resolved is likely to shape not only the future of Syria and the Middle East, but also to become the model of settling future regional crises in general.
This trend will be the subject of Valdai Club studies as part of two programs:
"The Middle East: Arena of confrontation or collective action?"
"Problems of war and military security in the 21st century."
2. Elections in the US to define the behavioral model for the next few years
Presidential elections in the United States are bound to be not only rocky and dramatic, but also fateful in terms of future US policies on the international stage. Barack Obama's presidency was a time when the government sought to shift the priorities of foreign policy and adjust the methods of its implementation. The results are questionable. The White House tried to limit its interventions in crisis zones at a time when crises began escalating everywhere. An attempt to offset the decline in real activity with tough rhetoric has led to the impression of inconsistency and indecision. At the same time, Washington is obsessed with creating new levers to control the global economy, from transoceanic partnerships to leadership in climate negotiations. Overall, the Obama presidency is viewed (perhaps unfairly) as a failure in foreign policy, and the next president will be determined to distance himself (or herself) from the predecessor. The new president’s policy options could include a renewed attempt at liberal or neoconservative interventionism in the style of the 1990s - early 2000s, greater indoctrination; or a cautious foreign policy attitude and selective activity in certain areas. Many global trends will depend on which line prevails in the US.
3. TTIP future
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is the second large-scale trans-regional project (after the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and an obvious priority for the Obama administration. The initiative faces serious resistance from the European Union, but the White House is determined to complete the negotiations before the current government steps down. This is a fundamental point not only in terms of Obama's legacy, but also as a basis for future relations within the Euro-Atlantic community. In addition, the TTIP should become the second pillar of a new global economic governance. How TTIP fares in 2016 will determine the future of many processes.
This trend will be the subject of the Valdai Club study as part of the "Regionalization of the world and a new type of interdependence" program
4. Extension of EU sanctions against Russia vs. Moving on to build new relations
The relations between Russia and the European Union that have existed and evolved since the early 1990s are history, with no returning to the "strategic partnership" model as it was interpreted in the previous two decades. Yet, this is an important crossroad. Relationships can either continue to degrade and decline, or the parties can begin searching for new models of interaction – less ambitious but more focused on the bottom line and capable of holding economic ties together. The key factor to determine which option is chosen is the cancellation or retention of economic restrictions against Russia; this issue is bound to come up for active discussion by the middle of next year.
This trend will be the subject of study as part of the Valdai Club special project on Russia-EU relations
5. Progress or slowdown of the initiative to coordinate the Eurasian Economic Union project and the Silk Road Economic Belt; SCO’s enhanced activity following India and Pakistan’s accession
Objectively, the way things are going, a new commonality is emerging in Eurasia, derived from Russia's desire to balance its economic development, making it less dependent on the European Union, the need to stabilize Central Asia and China's turn toward the European market under the 'One Belt One Road' plan. The process was reflected in two major events in 2015: the agreements between Russia and China on the coordination of the EAEU and the SREB projects and India and Pakistan’s admission to SCO. The year 2016 should show whether these initiatives will be filled with practical actions or remain formal declarations, with all participants continuing to act according to their own ideas, without taking into account their partners’ interests and plans.
This trend will be the subject of study as part of the Valdai Club program "Eurasia in the 21st Century: Russia's new role and new prospects."
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.