The ten crucial questions affecting the world in the year 2020

Soldier & Warsource: New Statesman
published: 5 January 2020

What will the upcoming year bring in world affairs? A presidential election looms in America; the wave of leaderless protests from Chile to Lebanon is rolling on; China’s rising belligerence is being felt on the streets of Hong Kong and in the expanses of cyberspace; regional tensions in the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and in east Asia all threaten to escalate into wars; Europe’s future remains uncertain.

Will 2020 be known for an explosion of conflict and instability, for a reassertion of norms and order, or for some as-yet unanticipated historical shift?

These matters too are uncertain to make firm forecasts possible, but you can try to identity the critical factor in each case. The below is my stab at doing so: a (non-exhaustive) list of big questions about the year ahead with the factors that will decide them and a prediction of how those crucial factors will turn out. I will return to these predictions at the end of the year to see how well I did.

Will there be war with Iran?
The issue: At the time of writing America has just killed Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s proxy forces across the Middle East, in a drone strike in Baghdad. Tehran has vowed “severe revenge”. This could accelerate the existing spiral of escalation, pulling in players like Saudi Arabia and Israel, and possibly lead to American air strikes on Iran and outright war.

The decisive factor: The Iranian leadership knows war with America would be catastrophic but believes (seemingly correctly, at least until now) that Donald Trump does not want direct conflict.

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