Never make predictions, especially about the future. So said Mark Twain, Yogi Berra or Niels Bohr – or possibly all three.
But if you must, there are really only two options: play safe and go for the obvious, or come up with forecasts so giddily optimistic that no one will take you seriously.
Using the former approach, 2016 will produce more tragedy in Syria and Yemen, an uninterrupted stream of refugees into Europe, another iteration of the Grexit crisis, deepening drought in the Chinese east and American west, and further hacking misadventure on both state and corporate levels. And an awful lot of summits to try to deal with all of the above.
Corruption will continue to excoriate three-quarters of the world’s polities – leaving the vast majority of humanity disillusioned and increasingly unlikely to vote. The global economy is due another rout, probably starting in Asia.
But let’s leave room for a little optimism. There will actually be fewer wars in 2016 than for many years. And while the Koreas are unlikely to reunify, Cyprus might. Elections for two of the top jobs in the world – in the US and at the UN – could produce women in both for the first time. Science will tell us more than we ever knew about our ancestors, ourselves and our universe.
The powerful mixture of birth control and rising prosperity that levelled off birth rates in western societies in the postwar period will continue to take root in Africa, putting downward pressure on overall population levels. We might not get to 11 billion people after all.
And away from the headlines, the overwhelming majority of people will continue to lead decent, unremarkable lives undeflected by the pulses of pessimism that tend to pollute our overall sense of wellbeing.
Who knows, perhaps we will even start to realise that happiness does not reside in social media, and 2015 will go down as the year of peak-share.
Or maybe that’s just too over-optimistic.
The US election
Predicting the course of US politics over the next 12 months is a mug’s game. The battle for the White House – which has already been raging in the media for months – will undoubtedly dominate.
But it has barely begun in the minds of the electorate, who have until 4 November to make a choice that will reverberate around the world.
The Republican field has been led most recently by two improbable outsiders,Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who look as likely to eventually stumble as they ever have. So far, they continue to make fools of pundits who underestimate the anti-establishment groundswell.
Barack Obama’s natural heir in the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton, is a surer bet: safely ahead now of the leftwing challenger Bernie Sanders in the polls and showing more resilience in the face of once worrying email allegations.
Her vulnerability to Sanders’ more authentic populism remains troubling, however, for a frontrunner who lost to Obama eight years ago and has yet to ignite the excitement that a potential first female president might expect.
But on the assumption that harsh political reality will eventually overcome the anger on the right and idealism on the left, it is possible to see a plausible narrative emerging for 2016.
The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary in February will play their usual quirky role as starting bells rather than bellwethers in the long nomination contest to come.
The Tea Party champion Ted Cruz could upset Trump to win Iowa and begin the slow descent of the billionaire’s ego-inflated balloon. Marco Rubio stands a chance of beginning his ascent to the top of the polls by taking New Hampshire.
The Democratic race will be at its most competitive. Sanders may still take one or two early states before hitting the higher hurdle of Clinton’s “southern firewall” in March.
It is in these 10 Super Tuesday states that the Republican party machinery and money will begin to work its muscle too – rallying behind a candidate such as Rubio to appeal to the broader electorate.
Those months of fighting Trump will have taken their toll, though, and Rubio’s reputation as a pro-immigration unifier will have taken a severe pounding.
What is left of his youth and charisma will be pitted against Clinton’s experience and the chance to make history by electing both a woman and a tough commander-in-chief.
The best prediction is that these predictions will be wrong. My next best bet? Clinton pips Rubio in a squeaker.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2016 heralds the year of the monkey, an auspicious time for expectant parents hoping for quick-witted sprogs.
For the Communist party chief, Xi Jinping, who completes three years as president in January, the omens are less promising. Thus far, Xi has built a reputation as one of China’s most dominant leaders in decades: a super-sized centraliser whom headline writers call Big Daddy Xi.
He has set about restoring the Middle Kingdom to the centre of world affairs, pursuing an increasingly audacious foreign policy and attempting to reforge China’s role within the United Nations.
In September, the Chinese president celebrated his apparent supremacy by throwing a bombastic military parade at which nuclear missile launchers and thousands of troops paraded through Tiananmen Square.
Yet for all Xi’s swagger, there was mounting evidence in 2015 of his weaknesses and those of the 87 million-strong party he leads.
There was the mismanaged stock market rout, an affair so badly handled that Xi reputedly lambasted top financial officials.
There were the catastrophic Tianjin explosions – a tragedy some described as a Chinese Katrina – which devastated lives and exposed deep-rooted problems of government corruption and incompetence.
All the while, lurking just beneath the surface, was the near constant rumbling of political intrigue that has long threatened to tear the Communist party apart.
Those rumblings will intensify in 2016 as rival factions step up their opposition to Xi’s anti-corruption campaign and his stewardship of a rapidly sagging economy.
Facing growing political pressure from within, Xi will look to foreign policy and his domestic security apparatus to ensure public support.
He will stoke up nationalism by further ratcheting up tensions in the South China Sea, already the scene of a controversial island-building campaign that has put Beijing and Washington at loggerheads.
He will continue to escalate his war on corrupt Communist party “tigers” – aiming to snare perhaps his biggest victim to date in the second half of the year.
Jubilant couples will pack maternity wards as China enters the year of the monkey. But for Xi it threatens to prove an annus horribilis.
By this time next year, Britain may very well have voted to leave the EU. There is, of course, no certainty about this. But let us consider the evidence.
First, the timing of the vote. Most observers agree that David Cameron will not delay his long-promised referendum beyond next year, because he has nothing to gain from it.
Neither France nor Germany will be making new concessions in 2017, because both will by then be embroiled in big elections. So best get it over with: in September, probably.
Next, the nature of the debate. The in and out campaigns will argue numbers – how many jobs might be saved by staying, how many immigrants kept out by leaving, what will be the impact on GDP – but for many voters, Europe is not about numbers. It’s a question of belief. This is a debate largely impervious to fact.
And those who believe Britain would be better off out are edging ahead. Look at the polls: a year ago, the stay camp was in front by margins of up to 25%. That gap has now narrowed to between two and four points, and three of the past eight polls have the leave camp ahead. The trend seems clear.
The unspoken assumption may be that most “don’t knows” will back the status quo, but precedent shows that when a vote is about the EU, voters lash out. Here, Ukip won last year’s European elections; on the continent, every recent referendum on an EU issue bar one has ended in a no.
What’s more, in none of those countries were the press and governing party even remotely as Eurosceptic as in Britain. In the UK, the stay campaign is swimming against a decades-old tide of populist anti-EU sentiment relayed by an influential wing of the Conservative party and much of the media.
The prime minister has succeeded in reducing what he wants in the way of reform to a bare-bones list of demands, many of which the EU may even agree to. But the real issue is whether those demands will satisfy his own party, and succeed – even temporarily – in turning back that Eurosceptic tide.
With record numbers of EU citizens arriving in Britain, further Schengen zone terror possible, a second summer of refugee and migrant chaos probable, a well-funded out campaign gathering pace, and much of the media having made up their minds, it will be a tight vote.
Until Cameron, his cabinet and, perhaps more crucially, Boris Johnson say soon, often and unequivocally that Britain’s future depends on its remaining in the EU, I know where I’d put my money.
Vladimir Putin’s 16th year in charge of Russia is perhaps the most unpredictable yet. The air force is engaged in an operation outside the borders of the Soviet Union for the first time in a generation, Russia’s proxies in Ukraine have been left in the uneasy limbo of a semi-ceasefire, and the Russian economy is creaking as oil prices stay low.
creak：吱吱嘎嘎地勉强行进。The story creaks along to a dul conclusion.
Here’s how Vladimir Vladimirovich might imagine a dream year as he’s drifting off to sleep in his palatial residence: Russian jets continue pounding all manner of rebel groups in Syria while the Kremlin vaunts its anti-Islamic State resolve.
Irritation in the west turns to grudging respect and an agreement with Putin that Bashar al-Assad will remain in charge as the best of a set of bad options.
In Kiev, infighting and corruption paralyse the government; the pro-rebel territories are pushed back into Ukraine but give Russia a permanent veto over Kiev’s policies; the west accepts this, forgets about Crimea and ends the sanctions.
Oil prices go up, the rouble stabilises and sky-high approval ratings last through the autumn parliamentary elections.
Putin’s beleaguered foes would suggest a different scenario: a fragile international alliance over Syria breaks down over obviously disparate aims, and western sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine are extended. The economy continues to tank, real wages fall.
Tank: (informal) To suffer a sudden decline or failure
The middle class, shorn of the weekends in Europe and consumer goods it was used to, becomes edgy, while workers pushed to economic dire straits begin serious protests – a flicker of which was visible at the end of 2015 as long-distance truckers went on strike.
Both of these scenarios are eminently possible; what actually happens will probably be somewhere in the middle. How Russia makes it through 2016 and beyond, until the 2018 presidential election when Putin is expected to stand again, will depend on so many things – from the oil price, to the prevailing international mood and Putin’s personal health.
Making predictions about Putin’s Russia is hard because the system is brittle and unpredictable. Events such as the revolution in Ukraine or the Turkish shooting down of a Russian jet can completely change policy vectors and outcomes.
Putin’s system, lauded by Kremlin strategists for its stability, is in fact remarkably unpredictable, partly because it is entirely dependent on the one man at the top of the pyramid.
Putin’s disappearance for a week in spring, and his aides’ refusal to admit that he had a bout of flu, caused unease and speculation that provided a glimpse into what could happen if the leader were ever seriously indisposed.
UN secretary general
By the end of 2016, there will be a new UN secretary general and there is a better than even chance it will be a woman, for the first time. Whether this will make any real difference to the world is unclear.
The job has been described as the “world’s chief diplomat” or even the “secular pope”, though in reality it is more akin to the manager of a posh restaurant. You get to rub shoulders with a lot of powerful people, but rarely on equal terms.
The incumbent, Ban Ki-moon, was chosen in 2006 in part because he appeared sufficiently unthreatening to the world’s major powers.
If the rules of the game remain unchanged, with the permanent five members of the security council choosing his successor in secret and presenting the result to the rest of the world as a fait accompli, we can expect a similar outcome.
There is a growing drive, however, to change the rules and throw the contest open to the light of public scrutiny. The 1 for 7 Billion campaign, backed by hundreds of NGOs, is proposing an official shortlist of candidates who will have to publish broad manifestos and subject themselves to questions.
The security council would still present a shortlist, but it would have to be a list of more than one. More than 170 million people around the world have signalled their support.
The idea is to produce someone who is less secretary and more general, with a broad power base and an independent mandate, rather than to be beholden to some murky backroom deal.
There are signs that the security council is beginning to take heed of the groundswell. In an initiative pushed by the UK, a letter is to be sent to the 193 delegations in the general assembly in the New Year inviting candidates and setting a timetable and format for the election.
Until then, the campaign among aspiring secretary generals continues to be a discreet affair, mostly played out in private by unannounced candidates behind closed doors in midtown Manhattan.
At this early stage, the conventional wisdom favours someone from eastern Europe (a region yet to take a turn in providing a secretary general) and a woman (all eight holders of the position thus far have been men).
There are a handful of names who fulfil both criteria, including two Bulgarians – the Unesco chief, Irina Bokova, and the EU’s budget commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva – as well as the former Croatian foreign minister Vesna Pusić.
符合要求的人有两个保加利亚人——联合国教科文组织总干事Irina Bokova，欧盟的预算委员Kristalina Georgieva，以及克罗地亚前外交部长Vesna Pusic。
Also thought to be in the running are Helen Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister who now runs the UN Development Programme, and Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister.
Not even the idealists in the 1 for 7 Billion campaign believe the permanent five are going to give up the veto and throw the vote open completely.
But the hope is that the major powers hit deadlock over their own favourites and find themselves unable to resist a genuinely popular choice thrown up by the general assembly. Whichever way it goes, it will be a critical year in UN history.