The crystal ball is always hazy when Gorilla has a look, but here are some important issues that will have more than a little impact in 2012:
Euroland Meltdown: They may be able to muddle through for another year, but the fundamental imbalances between Germany and the rest of Euroland remain unaddressed, while borrowing costs for all continue to rise. Greece will exit the Euro, with the Portuguese, Irish, and Spanish not far behind. All bets are on if both Sarkozy and Merkel lose their elections.
Arab Springing: The real question is whether or not the nascent Arab Spring movements will come to countries where the West has real (read: oil) interests: Bahrain and the other Gulf States plus Saudi Arabia. So far, these nondemocratic countries have been able to buy off their populations, but the combination of aging leadership and vast youth unemployment could well become toxic.
Environmental Change: A major catalyst on the downside for the global economy. It’s tempting to put global warming in the same non-issue category as unemployment, since very little of substance is being done by anyone to address the problem. On the other hand, more violent weather is, like protofascist movements in Euroland, not something that can be ignored without cost.
The Winding Down Of Pointless Wars: It’s clear that there’ll be both negotiations and a swift exit from Afghanistan, on or before 2014. It’s also clear that the US military isn’t ready to overthrow any more tiresome regimes anytime soon. The international community’s policy is evolving from “protecting civilians” to “stand by and deal with whoever’s left”; civil wars will continue but the appetite for involvement in them will decrease.
Wild Cards: The failing states of Pakistan and Mexico. What happens there will intrude, possibly in a more direct and violent way, on the West’s hit, hope, and ignore strategy.
Gorilla says: “Two words that may sum up 2012: Northwest Passage!”