The year 2008 will be a defining one for the Balkans, especially in Serbia, the province of Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. With the status of Kosovo still pending but likely to end in a unilateral declaration of independence by the province's ethnic Albanian leaders, supported by western powers, bloodshed is likely. Serb and Albanian paramilitaries are already patrolling the "borders" and are ready to "defend their homeland" at whatever cost. The end result will echo across the region, igniting separatist Bosnian Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, writes ISN Security Watch senior analyst in Sarajevo, Anes Alic, executive director of ISA Consulting.
In the Middle East, the US will continue its clandestine war against Iran, encouraging Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq to engage in cross-border militant strikes, writes Dr Dominic Moran, ISN Security Watch's senior Middle East correspondent and the director of operations at ISA Consulting. Elsewhere in the region, US foreign policy is expected to experience little radical change, continuing support for Israel and allied Arab regimes to ensure domination of the Gulf. Still, says Moran, the November 2008 US presidential election will be pivotal, though any changes it may bring about will be witnessed in 2009 and the topic of next year's prognosis.
In Iraq, attacks on political leaders and security forces in particular look set to intensify in the south throughout the new year. Inter-factional conflicts will decide which Shia movements will win control of the southern Iraqi oil fields and infrastructure as well as of oil export and refinery facilities in Basra, writes Moran. The arming of tribal militias by the US could encourage the carving out of local spheres of influence and also destroy any hope for the emergence of a coherent federal Iraq and, in turn, empower radical Islamist movements.
In Afghanistan, any comprehensive solution will remain elusive in 2008, as the presence of foreign troops undermines the Afghan sovereignty, writes Moran.
In Africa, ISN Security Watch senior analyst Simon Roughneen says violence and suffering looks set to continue as peacekeepers and peace processes fail in Darfur, Somalia, eastern Congo, North and and South Sudan and northern Uganda. Specifically in Darfur, Roughneen says a “much-heralded UN/AU hybrid peacekeeping force looks set for failure.” Somalia is described as the greatest tragedy and most formidable challenge facing the world today.”
In Russia, the March 2008 presidential elections are unlikely to bring any form of political uncertainty, and Moscow will pursue an increasingly assertive foreign policy that will focus on strengthening its non-western groupings, writes Sergei Blagov, a senior ISN Security Watch analyst based in Moscow. The Kremlin's inner circle will remain in power in 2008, ensuring a stable political course. Russian economic growth will continue, especially with crude oil prices expected to remain high. Against this background of strong economic growth and political stability, observers will see the Kremlin grow ever more confident and assertive in pursuing Russian interests.
In other parts of the former Soviet Union - Central Asia and the Caucasus - key but largely predictable elections have either taken place in late December or are planned for the new year, writes Dr Stacy Closson from the Center for Security Studies (CSS) in Zurich. Closson discusses the disturbing pattern of single-party presidential systems, state electoral manipulation and suppression of civil society in the region. Throughout the area, any effort to protest the outcome of elections will almost certainly be limited by the state, and could become violent.
In Southeast Asia, weak states and decaying democratic institutions will pose a grave threat to the entire region and beyond, writes ISN Security Watch analyst Harsh V Pant from King's College London. The political crisis in Pakistan over the extension of President-General Pervez Musharraf's rule and the gathering momentum of radical Islamist forces will only intensify as the country prepares for January parliamentary elections, and democracy and stability are sure to suffer in the New Year. To have political currency in Pakistan, it is essential for leaders to demonstrate their independence from Washington. There is a danger that anti-Americanism will be further inflamed once democratic forces come into full play, writes Pant.
Latin America will see stronger regional alliances and some hot spots of friction, but perhaps more significantly, new levels of global access achieved by countries willing to risk trade and economic ties with the world's emerging heavyweights in the region, writes ISN Security Watch's senior analyst Sam Logan.
The year 2007 was one of geopolitical consolidation across the region, with most realizing that there is more in terms of trade and development than can be found in Washington alone. Any regional-level friction will be overshadowed by what looks set to be a year in which Latin America takes a strong step forward on the global stage as an important trade and economic partner for many countries, Logan says.
In the world of finance, emerging market institutions will pursue financial activism that will accelerate a profound shift in the distribution of financial power from "the West to the Rest," writes ISN Security Watch expert Nicola Casarini, research fellow at the European University Institute, Florence. In 2008, governments and central banks from the leading economies of the US, the Eurozone, China and Japan will step up coordination of efforts to stabilize financial markets, prevent major exchange rate fluctuations and avert a recession in the US, he writes.
Meanwhile, energy prices are likely to remain high - though rendered volatile by geopolitical risks and market speculations - due to increasing demand, while supplies remain constant and terrorism targeting energy infrastructure will pose a grave danger to the world economy, but the use of the energy as a weapon by the West and Russia is unlikely, writes ISN Editor Ken Egli.
Finally, where the EU is concerned, Center for Security Studies Deputy Director Victor Mauer says that "a crucial aspect will be whether Warsaw and London will agree to leave the brakeman’s cabin, stop regarding the integration process as a zero-sum game and instead begin to take on a leadership role themselves. Should such a change fail to materialize - and the proof will be seen within months in the ratification process that has just begun - the question of a two-speed Europe will arise sooner or later."