The Russia – EU Summit and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan are just two of the foreign policy events to monitor in the year ahead.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Russian President Vladimir Putin, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L-R) attend a news conference during the Russia EU Summit in St.Petersburg on June 4, 2012. Photo: AP
Looking ahead to 2014, these are the political events that could shape both U.S. and Russian foreign policy in Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. Keep in mind, however, that U.S.-Russian relations do not always go as planned. After all, who could have predicted at the beginning of 2013 the Snowden Affair or that controversy over Ukraine would be a central issue in U.S.-Russian relations heading into 2014?
1. Russia – EU Summit
The event, scheduled for January, could rapidly change the foreign policy environment in 2014. The summit will either push Russian-European relations further toward a confrontation or it could halt these trends, demonstrating new prospects for cooperation. Unfortunately, the potential for confrontation has gone from a mere wisp of a chance to a more tangible possibility in light of the events in Ukraine. And, more worrisome, there is nothing concrete on the agenda for Russia to discuss right now with the EU.
2. Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters
This is an event that has been talked about a lot, but the closer it gets, the hazier it looks. If one considers that it means the complete withdrawal of all troops, along with the frequent misunderstandings between the Americans and Afghanistan’s Karzai, things may not go as smoothly as planned. It has long been clear that Karzai will not last long after the Americans withdraw and after the U.S. almost openly held direct talks with the Taliban, it became clear that his time to exit may come sooner than expected.
If the U.S. does abandon the Karzai regime, will the new regime be capable of external aggression? If yes, then in which direction? To the West, to Iran, or to the north towards the post-Soviet countries, which had unwisely believed that the United States came to the region for the long haul? And maybe they will decide to bite the hand that feeds them and will look towards Saudi Arabia? Russia's defense policy in many ways will be determined by the future direction of the Afghan regime.
3. U.S.-Iranian relations
Iranians hold posters of President Hassan Rouhani as they welcome Iranian nuclear negotiators on November 24, 2013. Photo: AP
It will not be until mid-year that predictions will be able to be made about the prospects for improved U.S.-Iranian relations. There is a lot at stake in the dialogue between Tehran and Washington, not only their bilateral relations, but also U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in general.
For example, if relations with Tehran will continue to stabilize, then it is possible we will see the Americans removing a politician like Benjamin Netanyahu from the political chess board. Washington would never leave a person in the game who could disrupt their fledgling strategy for the sake of a political career.
U.S.-Iranian rapprochement is a part of the larger strategic game played by the U.S. in the Middle East. But the big question is whether Washington has enough resources and internal political stability for this game. This will become clear in 2014.
4. Will the reign of Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan last?
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin following the fourth meeting of the Russian-Turkish High Level Cooperation Council in Strelna. Photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Gunnev
2013 was a time of rapid change in Turkey as it went from being practically a regional leader to a country standing on the verge of very serious political shocks. The events in December 2013 related to the arrest of politicians close to Erdogan on corruption charges mean that protests on Taksim Square have not ended.
They have just moved onto a new, much more heated level of elite confrontation. However, it is important to note that Turkey is a central element of all U.S. Near and Middle Eastern policies. And considering the worsening relations between Washington and Riyadh, it is the only relatively secure element.
Much of U.S. regional policy will depend on how actively the United States will support Erdogan, and most importantly, if they will give him carte blanche to purge the opposition with almost inevitable Pinochet-like tactics. Perhaps this will even affect the future of Saudi Arabia.
5. U.S. Congressional Elections
On Nov. 4, mid-term elections will be held for the U.S. Congress. These elections will hardly summarize the broader foreign policy dimensions of 2014. American politics have painfully broken away from worldwide political realities.
However, they will give an indication of the evolving situation in the strongest economy in the world and the strongest military power in the world. In this election, Republicans and, especially, members of the Tea Party movement, will have a decisive battle with liberal politicians. And liberals will have to show whether they have promising young leaders or if Barack Obama will leave a legacy of "after me, the deluge."
If the Republicans gain a decisive victory, they will impose a scorched earth policy. So, we should expect foreign policy antics in the vein of George W. Bush such as a significant ramping up in messianic rhetoric and its natural extension, an arms race.