TIME Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah’s Death Shows Saudi Arabia’s Declining Clout

King Abdullah, left, with then-Crown Prince Salman, right, in 2010.
King Abdullah, left, with then-Crown Prince Salman, right, in 2010. AP

The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has momentarily grabbed the world’s attention, but the real story is that his kingdom matters less than it used to

Ten years ago, the death of a Saudi king would have sent shock waves through Washington. Today, as the Kingdom recovers from the death of King Abdullah yesterday, Saudis don’t carry the same clout. In part, that’s because the U.S. is much less dependent on Middle Eastern oil than it was a few years ago, as U.S. companies have reinvented the way oil and natural gas is produced. Hydraulic fracturing has opened access to liquid energy deposits locked inside once-impenetrable rock formations, and breakthroughs in horizontal drilling methods have made the technology more profitable.

By the end of this decade, the United States is expected to produce almost half the crude oil it consumes. More than 80% of its oil will come from North or South America. By 2020, the United States could become the world’s largest oil producer, and by 2035 the country could be almost entirely self-sufficient in energy. Relations with the Saudis are no longer a crucial feature of U.S. foreign policy, and the surge in global supply, which has helped force oil prices lower in recent months, ensures that others are less concerned with the Saudis as well.

In addition, outsiders are not worried that King Abdullah’s death will make the Kingdom unstable. Newly-crowned King Salman is plenty popular, and other key players—Crown Prince Muqrin, National Guard head Prince Miteab, and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef—have pragmatic working relations with the new king and with one another. The succession process will appear uneventful from the outside, but Salman will spend the next several months consolidating his authority and building a stable balance of power among factions within the family and across the government.

Another reason the Saudis matter less: They’re now bogged down in the region. Saudi worries that Iran can make mischief even under harsh sanctions only raises fears should a deal be made with the West later this year over its nuclear program, which would ease those sanctions, Tehran would only become a more troublesome rival. But even if there is no deal and sanctions are tightened, Iran will probably become more aggressive to demonstrate its defiance, creating new headaches along Saudi borders.

How will the Saudis manage its local security worries? Along the border with violence-plagued Iraq, the Saudis are actually building a 600-mile wall complete with five layers of fencing, watch towers, night-vision cameras and radar. Terrorist violence in neighboring Yemen and the fall of its government this week add to the Saudi’s sense that their country is under siege. They’re building a wall along Yemen’ s border as well. Fights with ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will demand attention and money.

King Salman is 79, and he’s been central to Saudi policymaking for 50 years. One day soon, we’ll see generational change in the Saudi leadership. When that happens, we might see a fresh approach to the Kingdom’s two biggest problems: Its inability to build a dynamic, modern economy to harness the energies of Saudi Arabia’s millions of young people and its growing marginalization as an international political and economic force.

That day has not yet come.

Foreign-affairs columnist Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy. His next book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, will be published in May

TIME Davos

The 5 Numbers That Explain Davos 2015

Bremmer is a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at TIME.

From the outside, Davos doesn’t change much. Political and business leaders from around the world have again descended on this beautiful Swiss ski town for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. On the inside, however, each meeting has its own preoccupations and agenda items. Here are five numbers that underscore what’s new — and what remains the same:

1,700 private jets

This week, an estimated 1,700 private jets arrived in Davos, double the traffic in an average week. Available landing spots were scarce. For the first time, the Swiss Armed Forces opened a military air base to help manage the overflow. But this year, the cost won’t burn (quite) as badly: The spot price of jet fuel has fallen 50% in the past five months.

60 billion euros a month

On Thursday morning, Angela Merkel addressed the World Economic Forum, stressing that Germany “want[s] to remain a stable anchor for Europe.” She was upstaged by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, speaking from Frankfurt at the same time. He announced a larger-than-expected and open-ended quantitative easing program of 60 billion euros ($70 billion) a month. In response to his speech, borrowing costs in Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal fell to record lows.

9,000 Russian troops

Davos has never seen so many Ukrainians attend the conference, but they’re not there to celebrate their country’s success. Russia’s incursion pushed Ukraine’s GDP down nearly 10% in 2014, and industrial output fell almost 11%. The hryvnia has lost half its pre-war value and was last year’s worst-performing currency—unless you count Bitcoin. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine is 10,000 square miles smaller—and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claims that 7% of his country’s territory is effectively occupied. Nor did Poroshenko have much time to enjoy the Davos view: He left early to deal with a surge in fighting around Donetsk. Ukraine’s president also says that 9,000 Russian troops have crossed the border.

0 Voldemort references

At Davos last year, conflict between China and Japan was talk of the town. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying described the China-Japan relationship as “at its worst.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe compared China-Japan to Britain-Germany on the cusp of World War I. Leaders on both sides likened the other country to Harry Potter villain “Voldemort.”

This year, though only 7% of Japanese and 8% of Chinese hold a favorable view of the other country according to recent polls, Xi and Abe are working to keep tensions in check. They’ll never be buddies, but both are leading domestic reform drives that require better relations between the world’s second and third largest economies.

67% of guestlist drawn from two continents

According to a new report from Oxfam, the world’s richest 1% own 48% of the world’s wealth—and will have captured more than half within two years. As many of these elites descend on Davos, the geographic makeup of the guest list is also unbalanced. North America and Europe account for 67% of Davos 2015 attendees, even though these continents are home to less than one-fifth of the global population. That said, Europe and North America still account for some 60% of the world’s GDP.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

China’s Bad Crowd

Bremmer is a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at TIME.

Beijing has fostered trade ties, but lacks reliable allies

As China continues its rise, Beijing will need strong allies. That’s a problem, because it doesn’t have any. True, China has become the lead trade partner for more than 100 countries around the world. But when it comes to the heavy lifting of great-power foreign policy, there’s a big difference between friends and business partners.

Which governments hold any sort of ideological affinity with China? Rogues like North Korea, Venezuela, Sudan and Zimbabwe top the list. Not exactly an all-star team of international influence. Nor can much good come to China from getting too deeply involved with those troubled countries.

What about Russia? Moscow can offer Beijing long-term energy supplies and help China contain the U.S. in Asia. But Europe, America and Japan will remain China’s largest trade partners for the foreseeable future. Russia doesn’t come close, and that limits China’s willingness to join Vladimir Putin in his efforts to antagonize the West. China and Russia also regularly jostle for influence in the Central Asian states that lie between them.

And there’s more for Beijing to worry about.

1 Venezuela is a basket case

In early January, China agreed to invest $20 billion to support the Venezuelan government. But Beijing may just be throwing good money after bad. President Nicolás Maduro’s approval rating has cliff-dived to 22%. The economy is in shambles, and the inflation rate is among the highest in the world. If oil stays cheap, Venezuela is probably headed for default.

2 Sri Lanka shifts direction

China’s heavy bet on its friendship with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa included more than $4 billion in Chinese-backed investments. In 2014, for the first time ever, Chinese submarines docked in Sri Lanka–at a Chinese-owned and operated port–irritating China’s rival India. But in a recent election, former Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena campaigned hard against Rajapaksa’s pro-Beijing policies and won, robbing China of a reliable ally.

3 North Korea is needy

No other country is more economically dependent on China, which provides nearly 90% of North Korea’s energy imports and most of its food supplies. In 2013, China accounted for nearly 80% of North Korea’s $8.6 billion in total trade. What does China get in return? Relative peace and quiet. For now.

4 Bad bets in Sudan

China put high stakes on Sudan in recent decades, spending billions on oil pipelines to bring crude from southern fields to northern ports that can ship it on to China. Then a civil war threatened China’s investment, and in 2011 Sudan split in two. Now Beijing must manage conflicts in oil-rich but landlocked South Sudan, where a surge in violence has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 1 million. A vanguard of Chinese peacekeepers arrived in early January, and some 700 Chinese infantry are due to arrive by April.

5 Cuba and Burma are making new friends Some of the most isolated regimes in the world are opening up–and trying to shed their dependence on Beijing. China is Cuba’s largest trade partner and its biggest creditor, but normalized relations with the U.S. could open the door to game-changing moves between Havana and Washington. China is still Burma’s largest trade partner and its biggest supplier of weapons. But since the country launched democratic reforms in 2011, players like Japan and Singapore have gained an investment foothold.

Foreign-affairs columnist Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy. His next book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, will be published in May

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Terrorism

5 Facts That Explain the Threat From Nigeria’s Boko Haram

A member of Boko Haram seen in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012.
A member of Boko Haram seen in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012 Samuel James—The New York Times/Redux

How an election, an energy crisis and Boko Haram’s willingness to kill more people than Ebola puts Nigeria's challenges in context

As the world responded to the Charlie Hebdo attack with a 3.7 million person march and the most tweeted hashtag in history, a surge in insurgent savagery in northeast Nigeria drew much less international attention — but was far bloodier. “Je Suis Charlie” has been the theme of the week, but we could just as easily say “Je Suis Nigeria.”

Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, wants to establish a caliphate of its own, and a weak Nigerian government is struggling to respond. Here are five facts that put the group’s atrocities in context — and show why we’re likely to see more violence ahead of Nigeria’s Feb. 14 elections.

1. Shocking numbers in the news
On Jan. 3, Boko Haram began an assault on the town of Baga in Nigeria’s restive northeast. While the Nigerian government said 150 died in the attack, other estimates of the death toll ranged from hundreds to some 2,000 people. By some reports, 30,000 people have been displaced. On Saturday, a suicide bomb attached to a 10-year-old girl killed at least 16 people. Boko Haram also attacked a military base in neighboring Cameroon.

(The Atlantic, CNN, al-Jazeera, Foreign Policy)

2. Approval and elections
On the back of his successful handling of the Ebola crisis, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s approval ratings vaulted to an all-time high 74% in September. By December, this number had fallen to 55%, and in the northeast, Boko Haram’s stronghold, his approval fell 23 points that month.

Can the February presidential election even be held in Nigeria’s three northeastern states? Boko Haram wants to force the country’s electoral commission to cancel or indefinitely postpone the vote there. We’ll likely see at least some voting there, though only under heavy security, making it easier for losers to challenge the integrity of the results. In 2011, post-election violence in Nigeria killed 800 people.

(Premium Times, Human Rights Watch)

3. Boko Haram vs. Ebola
The West African Ebola outbreak has killed roughly 8,400 people so far. That’s by far the biggest Ebola outbreak ever, yet the Council on Foreign Relations has compiled data that links 10,340 violent deaths between November 2013 and November 2014 to Boko Haram–related violence. The conflict has displaced more than 1.5 million people, and with more than 20,000 square miles under its control, Boko Haram–held territory is larger than Switzerland.

(Council on Foreign Relations via NBC News, Ebola death-toll estimates via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BBC, Washington Post, Telegraph, the New Yorker)

4. The government’s energy headache
The major problems in Nigeria’s energy sector makes a robust and costly response to Boko Haram that much more difficult. A steep fall in oil prices — down more than 50% since June — is bad news for a country that relies on crude for 95% of export revenue and 75% of government revenue. Nigeria has also severe electricity generation concerns. Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, as of 2012, the country’s per capita electricity consumption was just 7% of Brazil’s and 3% of South Africa’s. Half of Nigeria’s 170 million people have no access to electricity whatsoever.

(The Economist, the Guardian, the U.N. Africa Renewal, Energy Information Administration)

5. A blind eye
President Jonathan has an election to win, and his government has been accused of underestimating deaths attributable to Boko Haram to deflect political criticism. Less than 24 hours after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, President Jonathan publicly declared it a “dastardly terrorist attack.” Yet nine days after the violence in Baga began, Jonathan has not publicly acknowledged that the attacks had even happened, though a spokesman for Nigeria’s Defense Ministry issued a statement questioning the “exaggerated” death-toll estimates, dismissing them as “speculation and conjecture.”

(BBC, the Atlantic, transcript of Jan. 8 campaign rally via Sahara Reporters, CNN, Foreign Policy)

Read next: Detained Washington Post Journalist Indicted in Iran

TIME France

5 Facts That Explain the Charlie Hebdo Attack

People gather to pay respect for the victims of a terror attack against a satirical newspaper, in Paris, Jan. 7, 2015.
People gather to pay respect for the victims of a terror attack against a satirical newspaper, in Paris on Jan. 7, 2015. Thibault Camus—AP

Immigration figures, unemployment numbers and an unpopular President all offer context to a terrorism attack

Wednesday’s attack on magazine Charlie Hebdo shocked France, but tensions with the country’s Muslim immigrant population have been building for years. It looks like these attacks were motivated by anger among Muslim militants that the newspaper had published cartoon images that mocked the Prophet Muhammad. There is no political or demographic trend that can explain such a cold-blooded murder, but the statistics below tell a disturbing story about how this crime will exacerbate already high tensions in France and across Europe, making life still more difficult for Muslim immigrants.

1. All-time highs for migration
Rising anti-immigration sentiment in France comes at a time of historic levels of human movement. There are now more than 50 million people around the world displaced by violence, the highest number at any time since World War II. All of this refugee movement is being felt along Europe’s borders. Frontex, the E.U.’s border agency, estimates that 270,000 people tried to enter Europe illegally last year, shattering the previous high of 141,000 in 2011, the year of the Arab Spring. In 2014, more than 3,000 migrants died in their attempts to reach Europe.

(Los Angeles Times, Frontex via CNN, Frontex via the Telegraph)

2. Painful economic realities … and misconceptions
Youth unemployment in France is over 24%. As high as that figure may be, another troubling statistic surpasses it. The average person in France believes that 31% of the population is Muslim; in reality, the figure is 7.7%. (Yet, even this much-smaller-than-believed Muslim population is still the largest in Europe.)

(Eurostat, IPSOS MORI, Bloomberg)

3. Anti-immigration goes mainstream
Approval for Marine Le Pen’s Front National, an anti-E.U., anti-immigration party, has steadily risen. In 2010, 18% in France said they agree with the party’s ideas. That number has grown each year since, reaching an all-time high of 34% in the most recent TNS Sofres poll. In European parliamentary elections back in May, the Front National took first place in France with 25% of the vote.

(TNS Sofres , Ifop via Le Figaro, BBC)

4. All-time lows for a French President
President François Hollande’s approval ratings have dipped as low as 12%, the lowest tally ever for a French President. (According to more recent figures, they’ve “rebounded” to 15%.) The President has pledged to step down and not seek re-election in 2017 if he can’t curb unemployment. Currently at 11%, the unemployment rate is almost higher than his approval ratings.

(BBC, France24)

5. Passports — and lack thereof
As of August 2013, France had the third longest wait time in Europe for immigrants seeking naturalization: an average of 14 years. According to U.S. counterterrorism officials, there are more than 3,000 ISIS recruits believed to hold Western passports.

(Los Angeles Times, France24)

TIME risks

These Are the Geopolitical Risks You Won’t Have to Fear in 2015

Militant Islamist fighters wave flags as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014.
Militant Islamist fighters wave flags as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province in Syria, June 30, 2014. Reuters

TIME's foreign affairs columnist lists the global threats that everyone is scared of—but that you shouldn't be

Sometimes, the future can be easy to predict. The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) will continue to terrorize the Middle East and North Africa. Vladimir Putin’s Russia won’t back down in Ukraine or quit lashing out against the West. And of course, there will also be plenty of geopolitical risks that will come out of nowhere, like the sudden volatility in global oil markets.

Yet sometimes the biggest surprises are the false alarms—the overrated risks that end up nowhere near as disastrous as everyone assumed. They’re what I call a ‘red herrings’: risks that are largely expected to materialize, but that I predict it won’t pan out in 2015.

In a world where we get whipsawed by headlines and hyperbole, risks both real and overblown, it’s important to make bold predictions for some of the so-called major threats that won’t disrupt the world—at least not the way we think. I’ve outlined the biggest four.

1. The Islamic State

In 2015, the influence of ISIS will continue to grow. It has become the most powerful terrorist group in the world, eclipsing al-Qaeda, with funds and fresh recruits flowing in rapidly. As a brand, as a terrorist organization and as a regional menace, ISIS is on the rise.

But as a sovereign state, ISIS will not achieve similar success in 2015. The group will fail to expand the territory under its direct control, and it’s even likely to cede ground in Iraq and Syria. The U.S., potent Shia militias, Kurdish peshmerga forces, the Iraqi army and Sunni tribal forces will combine to contain the Islamic State’s power over the next year. Even though its influence will prove long-lasting, ISIS will not replicate the stunning military successes it demonstrated in the summer of 2014, nor create a caliphate that can be sustained over the long term.

2. Asia Nationalism

In Asia, strong, nationalistic leaders can seem like a geopolitical disaster waiting to happen. Take Japan and China, with their conflicting claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. The animosities run deep: in a recent Pew Research poll, only 7% of Japanese held a favorable view of China, while just 8% of Chinese viewed Japan positively.

At least for 2015, however, pragmatic restraint should prevail. Stronger, more popular leaders in four of Asia’s key economies—China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and even Indonesia’s new President Joko Widodo—all have their hands full with long-overdue economic reforms. With their focus turned to home, they have good reason to avoid foreign distractions, improve their regional economic ties, keep security relations in balance and contain any inevitable flare-ups. There will be scuffles, but don’t expect soaring tensions between the economic powerhouses of Asia.

3. Petrostates

There’s no way to ignore the relentless slide in oil prices, which have fallen by more than half since June. For consumers enjoying cheaper gasoline, it’s a welcome relif. For countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran—authoritarian petrostates that rely on oil exports as an economic lifeline—there’s a growing expectation that both their geopolitical weight and even their internal stability could be severely compromised in 2015.

It’s unlikely to happen. We’ll probably see a modest recovery in oil prices, but even if we don’t, massive cash reserves give many of these countries a lot of room for maneuver in the short-term. After all, Saudi Arabia has contributed to the oil price collapse by opting against a production cut. Nor will their foreign policies budge much: cheaper oil won’t make Russia pull out of Ukraine or Iran accept worse terms in nuclear negotiations. The notable exception is Venezuela, which may very well default if oil prices remain low. Yet in 2015, don’t expect petrostates to die out.

4. Mexico

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has his hands full. He’s fighting off accusations of financial impropriety involving his wife and his finance minister. Economic growth has been anemic. Many Mexicans, outraged by the murder of 43 college students who were handed over to drug lords by a local mayor, feel that the government hasn’t lived up to its commitments to improve security.

Despite the storm clouds, though, it should be a reasonably positive year for Mexico. Pena Nieto still has the popularity and the determination to push forward with economic reforms in the telecom and energy sectors. The President’s weakness has mainly benefited the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN), which generally supports his agenda. If he can make progress on his reforms, it will have a huge impact on Mexico’s productivity and competitiveness, which will help attract large-scale investment from abroad. Combine that with an economic rebound in the U.S. as well as improving cross-border trade, inbound investment and tourism numbers, and Mexico could be a bright spot for 2015.

* * *

Of course, for every false alarm, there are plenty of real and underappreciated threats. If pessimism suits you better, my last column focuses on the ten biggest risks of 2015.

TIME World

These Are the Top 10 Geopolitical Risks of 2015

Protesters hold a banner as they march during a demonstration against the visit of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 11, 2014 in Athens.
Protesters hold a banner as they march during a demonstration against the visit of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 11, 2014 in Athens. Milos Bicanski—Getty Images

TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer provides a guide to the global storylines of the year, beginning with an unstable Europe

International stories rise and fall so quickly in today’s media. On Monday, it’s civil conflict in Ukraine. On Tuesday, it’s the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). By Wednesday, the headlines are on to something else. Amid the global whiplash, it’s easy to lose sight of the larger picture. So as the new year begins, it’s useful to take a broader look at where these stories are headed—and to track the next wave of market-moving surprises in international politics.

Every January Eurasia Group, the political risk consultancy I founded and oversee today, publishes Top Risks, a roundup of the geopolitical trends we consider most likely to change our world in the coming year. This ranking reflects our forecast of which global storylines are most likely to play out over the next 12 months, which will have biggest impact on the markets and politics—and where we can expect surprises.

In 2015, political conflict among the world’s great powers is in play more than at any time since the end of the Cold War. U.S. relations with Russia are now fully broken. China’s powerful President Xi Jinping is creating a new economy, and the effects will be felt across East Asia and the rest of the world. Geopolitical uncertainty has Turkey, the Gulf Arab states, Brazil and India hedging their bets.

But the year’s top risk is found in once placid Europe, where an increasingly fractured political environment is generating new sources of conflict.

1. The politics of Europe

European economics aren’t as bad as they were at the height of the eurozone crisis in 2012, but the politics of the continent are now much worse. Within key countries like Britain and Germany, anti-EU political parties continue to gain popularity, undermining the ability of governments to deliver on painful but needed reforms. Friction is growing among European states, as peripheral governments come to increasingly resent the influence of a strong Germany unchecked by weak France or absent Britain. Finally, a resentful Russia and an aggressive ISIS will add to Europe’s security worries.

2. Russia

Sanctions and lower oil prices have weakened Russia enough to infuriate President Vladimir Putin, but not enough to restrain his actions. Moscow will continue to put pressure on Ukraine, and as a result, U.S. and European sanctions will tighten. As Russia’s economy sags, Putin’s approval ratings will depend increasingly on his willingness to confront the West. Western companies and investors are likely targets—on the ground and in cyberspace.

3. The effects of China slowdown

China’s economic growth will slow in 2015, but it’s all part of Xi’s plan. His historically ambitious economic reform efforts depend on transitioning his country to a consumer-driven economic model that will demand levels of growth that are lower, but more sustainable. The continuing slowdown should have little impact inside China. But countries like Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and Thailand, whose economies have come to depend on booming trade with a commodity-hungry China, will feel the pain.

4. The weaponization of finance

For the moment, the American public has had enough of wars and occupations, but the Obama administration still wants to exert significant influence around the globe. That’s why Washington is weaponizing finance on a new scale. The U.S. is using carrots (access to capital markets) and sticks (varied types of sanctions) as tools of coercive diplomacy. The advantages are considerable, but there is a risk that this strategy will damage U.S. companies caught in the crossfire between Washington and targeted states. Transatlantic relations could suffer for the same reason.

5. ISIS, beyond Iraq and Syria

ISIS faces military setbacks in Iraq and Syria, but its ideological reach will spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa in 2015. It will grow organically by setting up new units in Yemen, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and it will inspire other jihadist organizations to join its ranks—Ansar Bayt al Maqdas in Egypt and Islamists in Libya have already pledged allegiance to ISIS. As the militant group’s influence grows, the risk to Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt will rise.

6. Weak incumbents

Feeble political leaders, many of whom barely won reelection last year, will become a major theme in 2015. Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan will each face determined opposition and formidable obstacles as they try to enact their political agendas.

7. The rise of strategic sectors

Global businesses in 2015 will increasingly depend on risk-averse governments that are more focused on political stability than on economic growth, supporting companies that operate in harmony with their political goals and punishing those that don’t. We’ll see this trend in emerging markets, where the state already plays a more significant role in the economy, as well as in rogue states searching for weapons to fight more powerful governments. But we’ll also see it in the U.S., where national security priorities have inflated the military industrial complex, which now includes technology, telecommunications and financial companies.

8. Saudi Arabia vs Iran

The rivalry between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia is the engine of conflict in the Middle East. Given the growing reluctance of Washington and other outside powers to intervene in the region, increasingly complex domestic politics within these two countries and rising anxiety about the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, we can expect Tehran and Riyadh to use proxies to fuel trouble in more Middle Eastern countries than ever in 2015.

9. Taiwan/China

Relations between China and Taiwan will deteriorate sharply in 2015 following the opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s landslide victory over the ruling Nationalist Party in local elections this past November. If China decides that its strategy of economic engagement with Taiwan has failed to advance its ultimate goal of reunification, Beijing might well backtrack on existing trade and investment deals and significantly harden its rhetoric. The move would surely provoke public hostility in Taiwan and inject even more anti-mainland sentiment into the island’s politics. Any U.S. comment on relations between China and Taiwan would quickly increase resentment between Beijing and Washington.

10. Turkey

Lower oil prices have helped, but President Erdogan has used election victories in 2014 to try to sideline his political enemies—of which there are many—while remaking the country’s political system to tighten his hold on power. But he’s unlikely to win the authority he wants this year, creating more disputes with his prime minister, weakening policy coherence and worsening political unpredictability. Given the instability near Turkey’s borders, where the war against ISIS rages, that’s bad news. Refugees from Syria and Iraq are bringing more radicalism into the country and adding to economic hardship.

TIME Foreign Policy

America’s Uneasy Path Abroad in 2015

A U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walks with his rifle, after returning from a mission at forward operating base Gamberi, in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walks with his rifle, after returning from a mission at forward operating base Gamberi, in the Laghman province of Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2014. Lucas Jackson—Reuters

The U.S. is still the world’s leading economy, but its geopolitical clout isn’t what it used to be

America is not in decline. The U.S. will have the world’s most formidable military for the foreseeable future. Its economy remains the world’s largest, and its recovery will probably gather more steam in 2015. Its workforce is not aging nearly as quickly as that of Europe, Japan or China. No country has a greater capacity for technological innovation. Almost all the world’s biggest tech companies are based in the U.S. For next-generation cloud computing, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing and nanotechnology, bet on the U.S. America has an entrepreneurial culture that celebrates not simply what has been accomplished but also what’s next. There is every reason to be confident that America has a bright 21st century future.

But its foreign policy is a different story. American power is on the wane, a process that will accelerate in 2015. Power is a measure of one’s ability to force others to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, and there are now more governments with enough resources and self-confidence to shrug off requests and demands from Washington. There was never a golden age of U.S. power when an American President could count on other governments to do as he asked. But there are several reasons the U.S. is now less able to build coalitions, forge trade agreements, win support for sanctions, broker international compromise or persuade others to follow its lead into conflict than at any other time since the end of World War II.

First, there are a growing number of emerging powers that, although they can’t change the global status quo on their own, have more than enough power to ignore what America wants—and even to block U.S. plans they don’t like. For example, Washington can still tell governments of developing countries that access to capital from Western-dominated lending institutions like the IMF and the World Bank depends on democratic or free-market reforms. But the strongest emerging markets need capital less than they used to, and some of them are creating their own lending and investment institutions.

The BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—in 2014 launched a $50 billion development bank, an alternative to Washington-based lenders. The BRICS bank can’t by itself end U.S. dominance of the global financial system. But add the China Development Bank, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) and an expanding list of important regional lending institutions, and the world’s borrowers are no longer quite so dependent on Western lenders. The numbers tell the story. In 2013 the World Bank disbursed $52.6 billion. The same year, Brazil’s BNDES invested $85 billion, and its Chinese equivalent extended loans valued at $240 billion.

While emerging powers awaken, Washington’s relations with its traditional allies are not what they used to be. It was inevitable that as the Cold War receded further into history, Americans and Europeans would have less in common. Both are unhappy with Vladimir Putin and his assault on Ukraine, but Russia is not the Soviet Union. It’s not a global military power. European nations have far more economic exposure to Russia than America does, and Washington needs Putin’s help to get things done in other regions, most notably in the Middle East. Though the U.S. and Europe have coordinated their sanctions on Russia so far, we’re more likely in 2015 to see disagreements over how best to handle Putin.

Nor has it helped transatlantic relations that the U.S. National Security Agency was reportedly listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls and collecting Internet data, raising fears across Europe that U.S. information-technology firms have given America’s spy agencies deep access to European secrets. Last February, Merkel took the extraordinary step of calling for a European Internet, one walled off from the U.S. So much for free movement through cyberspace.

Anti-American anger in many European countries—which rose sharply during the presidency of George W. Bush, then eased with the election of Barack Obama—was tested by the spy revelations. It will be tested again by the Senate’s recently released torture report, which embarrassed a number of European governments that reportedly provided “black sites”—secret U.S. prisons—for use by the CIA. This can only make it more difficult for the next U.S. President to win support from European leaders for anything that wary European voters might not like. The country’s relations with Britain will suffer in years to come as it becomes clear that the U.K. will sharply reduce the role it plays in Europe or exit the E.U. altogether. Britain has given Washington much of its influence inside the E.U., and a U.K. outside Europe would weaken the alliance.

It’s also inevitable that the rise of China will fray U.S. ties with allies in Asia as the governments of these countries hedge their bets on U.S. staying power in the region. An ally like Japan knows that Washington is now less likely to intervene in its security disputes because the American public won’t support a lasting U.S. commitment to solve what are perceived to be other people’s problems. A Pew Research poll conducted in late 2013 found that for the first time in the half-century that Americans have been asked this question, a majority of respondents said the U.S. “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” Just 38% disagreed. More recent polls tell the same story. In a democracy, no President can sustain an expensive, ambitious foreign policy without reliable public support. In the U.S., this support is no longer there, and the world knows it. Short of another large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil, it’s hard to imagine anything that can restore public appetite for a more assertive foreign policy anytime soon.

For all these reasons, the U.S. will exercise less power in the coming years in nearly every region of the world, and we can expect a de-Americanization of the international system. But there are other forces at work as well. Some countries will make a more determined move away from reliance on the dollar. As the world’s primary reserve currency, the dollar has served for decades as the vital asset for central banks and commercial transactions of all kinds. Dollar dominance offers the U.S. important advantages. Its stability ensures that the country remains the safest port in any storm, attracting investment that keeps U.S. interest rates relatively low, despite the expansion of the national debt. It helps U.S. companies avoid the transaction costs that come with currency conversion and allows Washington to pay its debts by simply printing more money.

But dollar dominance is on the wane as China, Russia, Brazil and others move to denominate more of their commerce in other currencies. Five years ago, China conducted trade almost entirely in dollars. Nearly a quarter of that trade is now settled in renminbi.

At the same time, China has announced the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, an institution that will not require borrowing nations to uphold the environmental and labor standards that are conditions of help from Western capitals. China has also created a $40 billion Silk Road Fund that is designed to extend Chinese commercial influence across South and Central Asia and into Europe. Those initiatives will give China greater market power—and therefore political influence—with the governments of partner countries and will help Beijing escape the dominance of U.S.-mandated rules and standards. In addition, Russia and China are now talking about creating their own ratings agency to further diminish Western influence in their economies.

The emergence of new lenders and investors provides autocratic governments access to cash without having to promise democratic reforms. But diminished influence abroad is only part of the story. For many emerging states, partisan paralysis in Washington makes democracy a less than appealing path toward development.

Nor will it be as easy for the U.S. to build greater support for market-driven capitalism, particularly as China continues to demonstrate the growth potential of the state-driven variety. In 2015 congressional opponents of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, an 80-year-old institution designed to enhance the market power of U.S. companies operating abroad, will finally have a golden opportunity to kill it. At the same time, though much has been made of China’s economic-reform process, changes to China’s economy have less to do with privatization and more with making China’s enormous state-owned companies work more effectively.

American prospects in the Middle East are not, for the moment, very encouraging. The Obama Administration’s bid to make a deal with Iran to scuttle its nuclear program leaves the Saudis worried that the U.S. will lift sanctions on Riyadh’s bitterest rival, shifting the region’s balance of power in Iran’s favor. The continued erosion of U.S.-Saudi ties will persuade the Saudi royal family to run a much more independent foreign policy than it used to. For example, though technically part of a U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, the Saudis are not working as hard as they could to track funding and arms that militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria receive as they work to destabilize Iraq and Bashar Assad’s Syria. Even in places where the U.S. and Saudis have shared interests, the two countries are no longer closely coordinating policies.

The most direct challenge will come from China. Washington is still working to solidify its long-term commercial and security interests in East Asia via the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a colossal U.S.-led trade deal involving a dozen countries on either side of the Pacific. For the moment, this is not a deal that will include China and its state-dominated economy. That’s why China is working on an enormous international trade deal of its own. At a regional summit meeting in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a road map for the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). More than 20 countries have formally signaled interest in FTAAP membership. In fact, China—not America—is now the world’s lead trading nation. According to analysis by the Associated Press, in 2012 the U.S. was the largest trade partner for 76 countries, and communist China was the lead partner for 124.

The U.S. will remain the world’s most powerful nation for years to come, but that status doesn’t carry as much weight as it used to. Advantages enjoyed for decades are fading as new powers push for new rules and standards—in international politics, the global marketplace and online. Globalization will continue to spread new ideas, speed the flow of information, lift nations out of poverty and drive global consumption. But it’s less likely than before to promote American values and an American worldview.

Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy

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This Isn’t A Cold War. And That’s Not Necessarily Good

Ukraine Pro-Russia
A member of a newly-formed pro-Russian armed group called the Russian Orthodox Army mans a barricade near Donetsk airport on May 29, 2014 in Donetsk, Ukraine. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

Four key reasons why the Ukraine crisis doesn't fit that description--and why that means the situation will deteriorate.

Since the Ukraine crisis began, many Western pundits have argued that we are headed toward a second Cold War—a worry echoed a few days ago by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev when he declared: “We are slowly but surely moving toward a second Cold War, which no one needs.

I’ll say it definitively: This is not a cold war, nor will it become one.

A cold war involves two blocs, fighting tooth and nail over something that really matters, seeking two competing outcomes, with no space in between. There are four clear reasons why the Ukraine crisis doesn’t fit that description … nor will it.

First, the Europeans do not fully support the Americans. They would love to see Ukraine oriented toward Europe, but they don’t want to fight over it. The Germans resisted even throwing the Russians out of the G8, a largely symbolic organization. When it comes to retaliation that truly matters, Russia offers trade, banking, industry, real estate, natural gas; the Europeans will not support strong sanctions because they do not want these relationships to implode. Poland and the Baltic states might be calling for tougher NATO action, but they are in the minority. If this situation gets worse, the U.S. will struggle to drum up European support.

Second, the Chinese don’t particularly support the Russians. Yes, Putin took a triumphalist trip to Shanghai last week, signing a $400 billion gas deal. But that in no way suggests that the two countries are becoming political allies. On Ukraine, the Chinese didn’t support the Russians in the United Nations Security Council; they abstained, which was a slap in the face. The gas deal, which had been in the works for ten years, finally resolved because the Russians got desperate and sweetened the deal. The Chinese are more than happy to take money from anyone who will offer it to them. They want to work with everybody, and keep their options open. They are the prime beneficiaries of the Ukraine crisis as long as they remain on the sidelines—and that’s exactly what they intend to do.

Third, the Russians are simply not that powerful. Over the last 25 years, Russia has been steadily declining—demographically, economically, diplomatically, geographically, and militarily. Growth is slow—they will be in a recession this year—and taking over a big part of Ukraine would prove even more expensive. When you look around the world and ask who Russia’s allies are, you come up with a shabby list: neighbors like Belarus, rogue states like Venezuela, and individuals like Bashar al-Assad, and Edward Snowden. That’s not a portfolio to bet on. And that dynamic is very different from the Cold War. Russia can cause a lot of trouble in its backyard—in Ukraine and Moldova—but that is not the same as saying they’re going to invade a NATO state like Poland. Hilary Clinton and Prince Charles have drawn a comparison to Hitler and the Sudetenland—and that’s ludicrous. Putin might be a bad guy, and he might be doing things we don’t like, and he might disregard human rights. But he doesn’t have the capability to become Hitler. Economically, he can’t get it done.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, the Americans don’t care enough. Ukraine is not something we get worked up over. President Obama recently said that Afghanistan is not a perfect country, and we’re not going to make it one. You can insert Ukraine into that same sentence. We are aggravated at the Russians, and we are ready to ramp up sanctions. But how much are we really prepared to do? We said that the Ukrainian elections were pretty good from our perspective. Well, there were no elections in Crimea, and most of the polling stations in Donetsk and Luhansk were closed because of Russian militants; I personally would not call that a successful election. Of course, that’s only if you care about the territorial integrity of Ukraine. If you don’t care, and you’re just trying to ensure the Russians don’t cause too much of a mess, then calling this election a success is a smart move. Ukraine is not an ally, and we’re not prepared to go to bat for them.

So a Cold War this is not. But here’s the problem: that’s not necessarily a good thing.

When you look at the current situation, some of the same attributes that disqualify it from being a Cold War also make it likely that the situation will deteriorate. For crises like Ukraine—as well as the conflict in Syria, and others like them—there is no resolution coming. They just aren’t sufficiently vital to prompt a collaborative solution among major powers. Many players benefit from remaining on the sidelines; others just aren’t threatened enough to act. In a world without global leadership—not even conflicting global leadership from competing US-Russia camps–many conflicts will burn brighter for longer. And new ones will arise. There simply are not a lot of countries out there that are willing to push back.

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and a global research professor at New York University. You may follow him on Twitter @ianbremmer.

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