Top 10 Global Predictions for 2016

12/28/2015 07:33 pm ET | Updated Dec 28, 2015
  • Ari Zoldan Ari Zoldan is the CEO of Quantum Media Group and Chair of the Media & Development committee for The Zahn Center for Innovation at City College. He is a regular on FOX, CNN, CNBC, and NBC covering technology, media and business trends, and he carries press credentials on Capitol Hill and the UN.

In 2009, as Russia was trying to emerge from recession, few would have predicted that five years later Russian soldiers would be making moves into Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea. The Cold War was history, as our President reminded in 2012 when he told Mitt Romney the 80's were calling to ask for their foreign policy back.

A few exceptions stand out. Geopolitical forecaster George Friedman is one, who wrote in his 2009 book, The Next 100 Years, that "Russia will be concerned with recovering influence and effective control in the former Soviet Union, re-creating the system of buffers that the Soviet Union provided it." Friedman explained, "If Russia is a united nation-state, where will its frontiers lie and what will be the relationship between Russia and its neighbors? That question will represent the next major phase in world history--in 2020, and in the years leading up to it."

At the time, the 2009 forecast seemed unfathomable, but today, it's a geopolitical reality. Friedman has accurately forecasted a number of other world events including China's economic troubles and the recent deal made between the United States and Iran. Conventional wisdom suggests one cannot predict future global events but a few, like Friedman, have demonstrated with the right formula, you can.

"Professional forecasting is done with hugely varying degrees of success and the geopolitical type is challenging often because of a reliance on second- and third-hand data and a widespread tendency to project the analysts' own cultural values," according to Jeff Ballabon, CEO of B2 Strategic (www.b2strategic.com) who holds appointments at the Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy and the London Center for Policy Research. "There's also a bias by many users towards analyses that confirm pre-existing ideas, which skews the market. Forecasters whose methodologies have proven accurate over time, rather than merely reassuring or convenient, are of immense value to corporations and policy-makers."

Given the historic, unsettling activity that we're seeing globally and Friedman's forecasting track record, I was curious about what he sees ahead for 2016. Now the Chairman of Geopolitical Futures, an online subscription-based service that forecasts global events for the public, Friedman shared the company's predictions for the New Year.

Here are the top 10 predictions from the 2016 forecast:

1. The Islamic State Will Seek to Expand While Suffering Some Tactical Setbacks

According to Friedman, IS will serve as the Middle East's chief proverbial thorn in the region's side. While they may suffer tactical setbacks, he expects them to expand their activities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya as well as sub-Saharan Africa and southwest Asia.

"IS will be able to hold on to most of the areas it currently controls and even push into areas that are either held by the regime of Bashar al-Assad or by rival rebel groups. The United States, which has underestimated IS' capability, is unlikely to yield any desired results in 2016 ... The United States will seek to limit Israeli actions against the Islamic State in order to avoid generating a unified response in the Islamic world in support of IS."

2. The U.S. Will Counter the Islamic State as Turkey Emerges as a Middle Eastern Regional Power

As IS seeks to expand, the United States will seek new ways of countering the group. Friedman predicts Turkey will be the key to a new strategy elevating their status while the Turks keep a wary eye on what Russia is doing in Syria.

"In the coming year, the United States will adopt a new strategy towards the Islamic State that depends on existing viable nations in the Middle East to deal with the terrorist group. The four major states in the region that surround the territory of IS - Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel - do not want to engage in the conflict but the U.S. will attempt to induce at least one of them to assume the burden of defeating IS and stabilizing the region. We expect that Turkey will be the one compelled to take action to defend its interests in Syria, with the support of the Americans.

"The Turks, concerned by the Russian presence in Syria and other issues including the decline in the global price of energy, will move closer to the United States and more hostile to the Russians."

3. Russia and the Ukraine Make Peace ... Sort of...

2016 will be the year that Russia and the Ukraine come to an agreement - the details unclear. American allies in the region won't like it, but Germany will be "delighted," according to Friedman.

"As for Russia, it will agree to a settlement on Ukraine, whether formal or informal. Although the structure of the agreement is unclear, the conflict will be diffused. However, Russia's ultimate goal is to ensure its neighboring European countries, including Ukraine, remain neutral. Therefore, it will build up its military and the U.S. will be forced to continue to strengthen the containment line.

"American allies bordering Russia will fear a compromise with Russia on Ukraine could be a preface to a Russian-dominated Ukraine. However, Germany will be delighted to have the additional fear of a confrontation to its east eliminated. The rest of Europe, preoccupied with other problems, will be indifferent."

4. The EU Will Encounter Fragmentation Risks

The already strained refugee situation in Europe will only get worse as fears resulting from the Paris attacks lead to acrimony over border patrolling and increased EU member state autonomy.

"Europe's refugee crisis, complicated by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, will also deepen. The solution to this issue would be to create a single refugee policy and a force that can patrol Europe's external borders. However, this undertaking will be too large for member state[s], which do not want the responsibility of patrolling the borders of weaker countries, such as Greece and Hungary. These two crises, as well as Europe's failure to take the lead in brokering an agreement on Ukraine, represent the fragmentation that will dominate Europe in 2016. Member states will increase their autonomy and the EU's power will be diminished."

5. The U.S. Will "Bring Forces to Bear" in the South China Sea

China has a public relations campaign up their sleeve that might improve their image locally but will draw a reaction from the U.S.

"In Asia, China's current growing dictatorship will moderately intensify, as will the underlying economic problems that have already begun to surface ... The disputes over the South China Sea will not lead to significant conflict in 2016. However, the Chinese government will continue to use this issue to convince its population that it is still a dominant player in the region, despite slowing growth ... the U.S. will bring forces to bear as a demonstration against China's incursion but avoid engagement."

6. China's Economic Measures Will Have a Global Impact

When China makes moves to cure what Friedman characterizes as an "economic imbalance," it will have far reaching effects.

"China will take measures to control its economic imbalance, which will have consequences for economies dependent on exports to China ... This will be a year of great difficulty for the periphery of East Asia. Industrial exporters and mineral exporters will suffer the consequences of depending on China, where the once-booming economy is now in question ... In Africa, China's economic slowdown will negatively impact some countries on the continent ... Latin America will continue to endure and confront the negative financial impacts brought on by slowing Chinese demand."

7. 2016 a Year of "Redefinition" For Latin America

While 2016 will not be a breakout year for Latin America, it will be a year of redefining itself, as governments move away from left-leaning policies that help it set the stage for a potential surge in the region.

"Latin America will continue to endure and confront the negative financial impacts brought on by slowing Chinese demand, a stronger American dollar, economic reliance on raw materials exports and low commodity prices. The region's major left-leaning economies, namely Argentina and Brazil, will start making gradual political and economic reforms towards more center-right policies, such as opening up trade and gradually reigning in public spending. These reforms will make these countries more attractive destinations for foreign direct investment in 2016."

8. Venezuela to Play the Latin American Outlier

The only exception to the rule (#7) will be Venezuela, whose on-going 2016 volatility will prove to be too big a stumbling block for the country.

"Latin America will have one major outlier in 2016 - Venezuela. The country is an outlier due to the extreme, and often volatile, economic and political turmoil facing the country. This plight will continue into next year. Venezuela's government will most likely be in gridlock given that the opposition will be faced with the dual challenge of confronting President Nicolas Maduro and maintaining unity in the opposition coalition."

9. Focus of Financial Crisis Will Shift from Greece to Italy

Unemployment and loans will make Italy the "epicenter" of the financial crisis, shifting attention away from the Greeks.

"We forecast that the economic crisis will move from Greece to Italy, as Italy is forced to deal with high unemployment and mounting loans ... Germany has been dealing with the financial crisis in Greece by forging deals that the Greeks cannot and will not abide by. In 2016, the epicenter of this crisis will likely shift from the Greeks to Italy."

10. East Africa Will be a Bright Spot

There is good news for several regions of the world, including East Africa.
"Some African countries are experiencing the effects of declining prices for oil and other commodities ... North Africa will continue to seethe without dramatic change ... The economies of the East African countries of Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania will be a bright spot in sub-Saharan Africa ... where growth rates are high."

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