The Danish physicist Niels Bohr is supposed to have said something along the lines of: Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.
But despite the warning’s obvious wisdom, busying ourselves in prediction is inescapable whether it’s in selecting a spouse for life or a rapid route to work in the morning.
International security is no different.
So while publicly playing a potentate of prognostication may be perilous, it seems that now is a good time to make some plucky predictions about what we’ll face on the foreign front in 2015.
For instance, there’s Russia. My sense is the Kremlin has no intention of caving on Crimea and won’t be cowed by punitive sanctions, collapsing currency or plummeting oil prices.
Besides keeping the eastern Ukraine rebellion at a low boil for leverage with Western-leaning Kiev, Moscow will seek to increase its influence and complicate U.S.-NATO interests globally.
Then there’s Iran. After more than a year of nuclear talks — actually more than a decade if you want to include all talks — there’s still no deal.
For reasons similar to Russia, Iran is facing tough economic times. Despite this, Tehran will play hard to get, believing that Washington wants a deal more that it does.
Of course, if the talks fail, then what?
And don’t think that “The Interview” cyber-fistfight with North Korea will just quietly go away like some bad, Hollywood “B” movie script.
Rather, unable to stand toe-to-toe and trade Internet punches with Washington, Pyongyang will almost certainly insert some missile mayhem and or nuke naughtiness into the evolving cyber-drama.
What about Syria, Iraq and the Islamic State? Between Iranian involvement, the rise of Iraqi Shia militias, the Syrian stalemate, Islamic State brutality, and so on, this mega-mess won’t be tidied up anytime soon.
Closely related is terrorism. Al-Qaeda and its ilk are running amok from Africa to Asia. Besides local fights, Islamist extremists will target the West, including inspiring returning and homegrown terrorists to do their dirty work.
And we just closed combat operations in Afghanistan in favor of a training mission; Afghan forces are questionable against a not-yet dead Taliban/Haqqani Network insurgency.
The question is: Will Afghanistan be a sequel to the “movie” we’re seeing in the Iraq after our pullout there? What effect will it have on neighboring Pakistan, a country on edge from its own Taliban?
China will also vex us in 2015. It’s happy to see America strategically distracted outside East Asia and will take advantage where it can, such as by consolidating questionable territorial claims with its mounting military might.
And, oh yeah, reforms in Cuba will go nowhere fast despite U.S. diplomatic recognition — if that actually happens.
Of course, there will also be events that completely surprise us — and those that shouldn’t have surprised us, but did. Predicting the course of events is a human endeavor after all.
The bottom line is that the international landscape will be a geopolitical minefield full of hotspots and flash points — an unfortunate prediction that doesn’t seem very difficult at all.
- Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
Originally appeared in The Boston Herald