The year 2009 was overshadowed by war and terror, the impact of the global financial crisis and the controversy over climate change, but the challenges that lie ahead for 2010 suggest that it is unlikely to be a much quieter year for the global media machine. The aftermath of the financial crisis continues, key elections loom in major countries and uncertainties are building in political hotspots.
◆ Economic Woes in Dubai, Ukraine
Dubai, which created a booming financial center and flash leisure hub in the desert, shocked the world on Nov. 25 when it sought a freeze on the repayment of US$26 billion of outstanding loans. Abu Dhabi came to the rescue with $10 billion, but Dubai's debts remain risky unless creditors take aggressive steps to reschedule outstanding loans. In Ukraine, the possibility remains of a debt moratorium being announced as its economy contracted an estimated 12 percent in 2009. Spain, Greece and Ireland, whose governments racked up huge fiscal deficits, could also prove a drag on the European economy.
◆ Elections in the U.S. and U.K.
U.S. President Barack Obama's Democratic Party is widely expected to be defeated by the Republicans in mid-term elections on Nov. 2, 2010. If the Democrats lose, then Obama's reforms will face serious setbacks, and his foreign policy objectives will lose momentum. General elections in the United Kingdom, scheduled sometime in the first half of 2010, could see the conservatives regain power after 12 years in the doldrums as the country suffers what so far has been an 18-month recession -- the longest since World War II -- and as public sentiment worsens over the drawn-out war in Afghanistan. A Tory victory would make the U.K. the third major European power to be controlled by conservatives following France in 2007 and Germany in 2009.
◆ Rising Global Tension
China and the U.S. are engaged in war of attrition as Washington pressures Beijing to revalue the yuan. The degree of cooperation between the two countries has a direct impact on issues ranging from the North Korean and Iranian nuclear standoffs to the expansion of free trade. Tehran's nuclear weapons program is a major issue. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen told AP on Dec. 21, "My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results. However, should the president call for military options, we must have them ready." If Iran continues to ignore the warnings, then stability in the Middle East would suffer yet another blow, while global oil prices would rise.
◆ The Fate of the Ailing Dictators
If the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il suffers another blow, the North will find itself in the throes of a struggle for the succession, and this could have major repercussions for the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. Kim's physical condition may determine whether North Korea heeds calls by the international community to scrap its nuclear program. Cuban leader Fidel Castro (83), who has been bedridden for more than a year, is thought unlikely to survive another year, and his death would remove a constant thorn in the U.S.' side. When his brother Raul, considered a pragmatist, officially comes to power, relations with the U.S. could shift from an ideological to a practical focus.
◆ Uncertain Days for Pakistan, Venezuela
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, a major ally of the U.S. in its campaign to fight terror in Afghanistan, faces overwhelming pressure from the country's Supreme Court to resign over allegations of corruption. There have been repeated threats of a possible military coup. Zardari's resignation could complicate U.S. President Barack Obama's war on terror and strengthen radical Islamist forces in central Asia. Venezuela's leftwing President Hugo Chavez, a vocal opponent of the U.S. at the head of an oil-rich country, faces a crisis in his leadership due to declining oil prices and rising inflation. There is even talk of a military coup as discontent rises over his autocratic leadership style. If he were to fall from power, Latin America would lose a figurehead in efforts to stand up to U.S. dominance.