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What, where and who will be important in security in 2011?

Take three questions about what will be major security issues next year. Ask four experts and commentators. Collate the results. And what you have is a varied insight into how different groups, ages and nationalities see the next 12 months unfolding. We present the results here.

Leo Cendrowicz writes for TIME magazine

Leo Cendrowicz

Which area (either geographical or thematic) do you feel will pose the biggest security threat in 2011?

The biggest threat to security in 2011 will be nuclear proliferation. This has been a concern for many years now, and – one hopes –the threat will not be realised in 2011 or beyond. A comprehensive multilateral strategy to allow nations safe and secure access to civil nuclear power is essential. Last year’s nuclear arms cutting deal between the US and Russia after months of negotiations, was hugely significant. Over several decades, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council distributed some 20,000 kg of highly enriched uranium — enough for 800 nuclear weapons — to around 50 countries as diverse as Australia, Jamaica and Vietnam. But the real fear is that nuclear material falls into the wrong hands. While there are other security headaches across the globe, they are elevated to a terrifying level when combined with nuclear weapons, be they religious fundamentalism (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan), state authoritarianism (North Korea), militants (Hamas, Hizbollah), or even piracy (Somalia). The activities of Pakistan’s A Q Khan show that some rogue – or semi-official, according to one’s perspective – scientists have few scruples about proliferation.

Who do you feel will play a pivotal role in foreign relations in 2011?

Barack Obama. It might sound obvious to name an American President, and it’s not as if he hasn’t already made a mark on the global scene. But after the midterms, he will find more time to spend abroad. Even if his brand seems diminished from two years ago, he can still be remarkably effective. And despite much talk of the rise of rivals – like China and India - no-one commands world attention like Obama.

Will security and international relations be better or worse by the end of 2011 - and why?

Some trends and phenomena will make the world safer, others less so. The reset with Russia appears to have tentatively calmed relations with this most prickly of countries. But solutions to troublespots like Iran and North Korea seem as elusive as ever. Piracy around the Horn of Africa has been in retreat, but cyberattacks are on the rise. Al Qaeda looks like it is in abeyance at the end of 2010, but should another atrocity occur – say, on the tenth anniversary of September 11 – it would no doubt return to the top of the policy agenda. The key barometer will probably be Afghanistan: Obama has promised to begin withdrawals from July 2011, but what if security on the ground is no better than in 2009, before he announced his surge? Does he stick to his pledge and essentially accept that the mission has failed, or does he dig in and stay the course?

Lawrence S. Kaplan, Georgetown University and Emeritus Director, Lyman. L. Lemnitzer Center for NATO and European Union Studies, Kent State University

Lawrence S. Kaplan

Which area (either geographical or thematic) do you feel will pose the biggest security threat?

Iran and Korea are candidates for the biggest security threat in 2011. The former's continuing path toward nuclear capability could trigger a military response from Israel or the United States. North Korea's provocations in the Korean peninsular could provoke war with South Korea that would involve China and the United States. But the most likely security threat is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both are weak states riddled with corruption and threatened by the Taliban. The collapse of the Karzai government in Afghanistan would have a devastating effect on NATO's presence in that country, accelerating the disengagement of NATO allies and jeopardising the Alliance's plans for resolving the war. Pakistan may be even a greater threat, not just from the Taliban, but in case of a scenario involving a failed government succumbing to an Islamist opposition in possession of nuclear weapons. The impact of this nightmare scenario would be global. India, the other nuclear power in South Asia, could initiate a nuclear war; China, with its increasingly assertive role in Asia, would be likely to involve itself in any Indian-Pakistan war; and the United States, with its stake in a peaceful Western-oriented Pakistan, would be entangled in this conflict.

Who do you feel will play a pivotal role in foreign relations in 2011?

The logical candidate to play a pivotal role in foreign relations in 2011 is the United States. It remains the world's only superpower. Still, there is a question whether the United States will be the central player in the coming year. It has lived beyond its means over the years. The dollar as the world's standard may be replaced by a rival currency. While its military arm remains powerful, planned reductions in the Pentagon's budget will limit its range. The most serious impediment may be a weakened Obama administration foreign policy. China could assume that pivotal role. As the world's most populous nation, it has produced its second largest economy, with prospects of accelerating its growth in 2011. Its ambitions range beyond Asia in its search for raw materials - to Latin America and Africa where it has had profound effects on the societies of those continents. Potentially, China could be a mediating factor in regional conflicts, particularly with its influence in North Korea. But it could also be a destabilising force in its challenges to Japan and Taiwan, as well as the use of its currency to flood foreign markets with artificially priced goods. Whether or not its role will be positive or negative in 2011, it will be pivotal.

Will security and international relations be better or worse by the end of 2011 and why?

The state of the world in 2011 may not differ much from 2001. If there is a difference, it probably will be worse, depending upon the outcomes of current crises - in the European Union, Pakistan, and Korea. Iran may be the focus as it develops its nuclear programme. Yet there are mitigating elements that may blossom in 2011. The most promising may be Russian-American agreements over the terrorist threat in general and over Iran in particular.

Dr. Bates Gill is the Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and co-editor of a recent volume entitled, 'Governing the Bomb: Civilian Control and Democratic Accountability of Nuclear Weapons'.

Dr. Bates Gill

Which area (either geographical or thematic) do you feel will pose the biggest security threat?

Geographically, the greatest security concerns will likely arise from a swath contiguous with the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (including Sudan, Somalia, Yemen) and arcing to the northeast to encompass Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and into the Caucuses and Central Asia. In addition, societies and individuals will continue to face protracted and destabilising violence and threats from non-state actors—terrorist organisations, militias, criminal actors. Where these two concerns overlap we will see the most significant security challenges in 2011. Major conflicts between states seem unlikely—though in the absence of an effective international response, warfare between Sudan and a newly-formed state in south Sudan may prove that prediction tragically wrong. But broadly speaking, violence and violent threats will be primarily perpetrated against innocent civilians, mostly by non-state actors, but by states and their proxies as well, and mostly within states in the context of domestic strife and rivalries.

Who do you feel will play a pivotal role in foreign relations in 2011?

Many persons—both high officials and as yet unknown individuals—will have an impact on global security and make the international headlines in 2011. But a pivotal role on a range of pressing security issues will certainly be played by Hu Jintao and the collective top leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—though they themselves would prefer that we not see things that way. Beijing may wish to “keep a low profile” in pursuit of a “harmonious world.” But the country’s increasingly complex and ever-growing diplomatic, economic and security interests means demandeurs both at home and abroad call for Chinese action. Decisions taken by Hu and his colleagues will be of critical near- and longer-term importance, for better or worse, for outcomes in Sudan, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan among other hotspots. Moreover, the small group of gentlemen who head the CCP will take decisions on both domestic and foreign policy challenges which will shape China’s emergence as a great power—responsible? constructive? assertive?—the implications of which will profoundly (though perhaps quietly at first), affect global security in 2011 and beyond.

Will security and international relations be better or worse by the end of 2011 and why?

The global security situation will get tougher and more problematic over the course of 2011. With the global security situation characterised by increasing “diffusion”—diffusion of hard and soft power across major states in the international system, the proliferation of weapons and sensitive technologies, and the steady devolution of violent means into the hands of non-state actors—already-frail and -failing institutions intended to address such regional and international challenges will find themselves all the more unable to do so. These trends have been in motion for a number of years already, and have been further exacerbated by the global financial crisis, economic stagnation, and subsequent austerity affecting much of the globe which has weakened the capacity and will of major players—especially those in the West such as in Europe and North America—to play a greater and more effective role as underwriters of global and regional security. For 2011 and beyond, the international community will likely face the difficult consequences of weakening global security governance in an increasingly insecure world.

Thomas Renard is Research Fellow, Europe in the World Programme, Egmont – The Royal Institute for International Relations and

Senior Associate Fellow, Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation

Thomas Renard

Which area (either geographical or thematic) do you feel will pose the biggest security threat in 2011?

There are two major topics that will continue to rise on the security agenda in 2011 which pose very different kind of threats (one is a “traditional threat”, the other a “new threat”) and must be dealt with differently. One topic could fit into the “rogue nuclear regimes” category, with a particular attention to the evolution of domestic and regional situations in Iran and North Korea, but also following closely what is happening in Pakistan regarding the safety of their nuclear sites.The other major topic is cyber security, as we were recently reminded by Wikileaks. We are only starting to measure and understand how vulnerable we are to cyber attacks, where those attacks come from (states or small groups), and what their potential targets can be. On the one hand, the nuclear threat appears more significant: it can trigger arms race, facilitate nuclear proliferation, destabilise fragile regions or even, worse case scenario, lead to nuclear escalation. On the other hand, there is a chance that the situation remains more or less stable on that front whereas we can be certain that cyber attacks will not stop and their scale and frequency could even increase, with consequences yet to be evaluated.

Who do you feel will play a pivotal role in foreign relations in 2011?

In a global environment increasingly characterised by interconnectedness and multipolarity, almost no issues can be dealt with unilaterally. In this respect, the US will have to share the burden of global stability with a growing number of actors, including emerging powers (e.g. China) in the context of most issues, but also with leading powers (e.g. Brazil or Turkey) regarding some specific issues, and even – at times – with regional organisations (e.g. the EU).

China and Russia will both play a pivotal role regarding the two threats mentioned above (nuclear and cyber). This role could be positive (for instance if China and Russia engage constructively with the Korean peninsula and Iran respectively) or more negative (for instance in the case of more cyber attacks emanating from China and Russia – note that whether those attacks are commanded by the government is not really the issue here).

Will security and international relations be better or worse by the end of 2011 - and why?

The continuous decline of American hegemony (in terms of relative power and in terms of absolute legitimacy) is certainly a worrisome trend for international security. Indeed, the US is no longer the lonely superpower, but increasingly shares global power with emerging actors (although it still dominates mostly international affairs). This has at least two foreseeable consequences on international security: 1) the US will act as the global benevolent superpower less often than before (because it simply does not have the luxury to do so anymore, its international policy having now shifted to a new mood, more competitive and less altruistic) which will inevitably render the resolution of global issues more complicated; and 2) given that the US cannot (or does not want to) act as the “global cop” anymore, who will do it? When there is no one to deter regimes or groups from pursuing their evil plans, or to bring order back in times of crisis, then chaos is unleashed and can proliferate quickly at local levels or, worse, to entire regions.

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