Top 10 Issues to Watch in 2013: The Multilateral Arena

The Global Observatory, published by the International Peace Institute, has compiled a list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact global affairs in international peace, security, and development in 2013.

This list will be published in two installments: (1) the top ten multilateral issues in 2013 (below), and (2) the top issues in each region of the world.

In no order of priority, here are the ten key issues in the multilateral arena:

1. Attention shifts beyond the BRICS. While the “traditional” emerging economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS)—will hold their summit meetings in South Africa in March and in Russia in June, the attention of global leaders and investors will be on two other countries: Mexico and Indonesia. Mexico, despite the devastating drug-related violence in some areas, has a new government and will benefit from manufacturing facilities moving back to North America from China. Indonesia is in the midst of economic growth and has geographical proximity to big markets and a government that is becoming more active nationally and internationally. Politically, Indonesia is also becoming a more assertive player in the ASEAN region.


2. The climate warms as action stalls. With superstorms occurring with alarming regularity and 2012 named the warmest year on record in the United States, global warming will continue to be a part of the conversation in 2013. However, little or no progress will be made on global climate change mitigation. The next Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in eastern Europe in November. However, the real fight will be the conclusion of a new, legally-binding agreement—as outlined in the 2011 Durban Agreement—due in 2015. Central to creating consensus on any agreement is some shared understanding around “common but differentiated responsibilities” and the implications in terms of equitable distribution of the burden of emissions reduction. Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will produce its Fifth Assessment report in mid-September, which will provide an update of scenarios based on new science, better models, and a new status quo. A draft of the report was leaked early in 2012 and, regardless of the fact that “climate skeptics” have latched on to various findings as proof that climate change is over-hyped, the initial findings are not optimistic. If the World Bank’s recent "Turn Down the Heat" report is any indication, look for increasingly dire predictions as the expected warming range increases and multilateral negotiation stalls.


3. Cyberattacks increase amid attempts to “balkanize” cyberspace. Assaults on computer systems and networks have been taking place for more than a decade. However, it is only in the last couple of years that cyberattacks have become a cheap and plausibly-deniable weapon to use against rivals in state warfare. In 2013, nonstate actors are also likely to make more use of cyberattacks as the gap between the ability to conduct cyberattacks and the protection capacity of most organizations becomes wider. Cyberspace is also becoming a new area of inconclusive multilateral negotiations and international divisions. The recent World Conference on International Telecommunication convened by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) ended in a walkout by key delegations including the US, UK, and Canada. Contention hinged largely on whether the current governance structure of the Internet would remain largely decentralized or whether it would increasingly come under the purview of nation states and the multilateral system. This breakdown will probably result in attempts to further “balkanize” cyberspace by emulating tactics such as China’s “great firewall.” But such tactics will run up against the technical limitations of regimes that wish to maintain some degree of connectivity while maintaining control of content.


4.  Groundwork for the post-2015 development agenda continues apace. As the current framework for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) enters its last three years, 2013 will be a busy year for planning the next phase, culminating in a post-MDG summit at the UN General Assembly in September 2013. In the lead up, keep an eye on the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which is due to deliver a report to the Secretary-General in May 2013 after meetings in New York, London, Monrovia, and Jakarta. Meanwhile, the International Dialogue on Fragile States is developing its own indicators for measuring progress in peacebuilding and statebuilding at the national and the international levels, which will also feed into the post-2015 process during 2013.


5. The International Criminal Court inches into the Middle East. Will 2013 be the year that the court takes on a case outside of Africa? Perhaps. Most likely is that the threat of ICC involvement will become a tool for increased leverage over intractable conflicts in the Middle East. The new status granted to the occupied Palestinian territories by the UN General Assembly enables them to approach the ICC—either by joining as a member state or by giving the court jurisdiction over particular crimes in its territory. But the mere threat of ICC involvement is now set to become a key bargaining chip in the Israeli-Palestinian context in 2013, particularly with regard to settlements. Even if the court never takes on the situation, its potential to do so may also serve as a new point of leverage for the US to coax Israel away from additional settlements and into talks. At the same time, with options running out in Syria, the Security Council could ask the ICC to intervene there, or a new transitional government there could grant it jurisdiction. Action on Syria seems unlikely at this point, particularly after the granting of amnesty in the transition in Yemen and the continued tensions over jurisdiction in Libya after the fall of Qaddafi. Nonetheless, international and domestic actors could make more use of this tool to hasten the transition.


6. Migration—linked to development—moves up on the agenda. In a globalized world characterized by unprecedented mobility, the second High-level Dialogue on Migration and Development will take place on the margins of the 68th UN General Assembly session in September 2013. This debate is expected to address a number of topics, including the contributions of diasporas to development, the promotion of legal and orderly migration that is protective of migrants’ rights, the mainstreaming of migration into the development agenda, and the strengthening of partnerships and cooperation on migration. While no binding outcome is expected from the forum, it offers a platform to encourage dialogue on a phenomenon that will have increasing importance in—and put increasing strain on—international relations in the coming years. Better integration of migration into the development framework is key to ensuring successful migration management policies and to defusing the tensions that massive population movements can trigger. Addressing the reform of migration policies is also likely to be on the US president’s agenda in 2013—further evidence of the growing significance of the issue at national as well as international levels.


7. The geopolitical dynamics surrounding natural resources intensify. Natural resources are an increasingly essential piece of today’s diplomatic chess game. The confrontation in the South China Sea, driven by access to natural resources, will continue in 2013. Regional instability fueled by fights to control access to minerals—as seen in eastern Congo with tin, tantalum, and tungsten, all used in electronics devices—will continue to bring misery to millions of people, and governments are struggling with how to manage their natural resources. In Mongolia, the mining boom will be in full swing, propelling this landlocked country onto the international stage (Mongolia has recently become the 57th country to join the OSCE and is chairing the Community of Democracies in 2013). US energy companies will look beyond their national market, which is now saturated, shifting attention to countries like India and China, where the product attains a higher price. And Russia will continue to benefit from its oil and gas leverage over Turkey, Ukraine, and much of Europe. In the climate and development context, the key question will be how clean natural gas really is. As emerging markets continue to industrialize, there may be a push for power plants and factories fueled by natural gas rather than coal.


8. Overlapping crises demand integrated international action. The fragmentation and stove-piped approach of international crisis response capacity will be further evident in 2013, when more crises will show the interconnection between security, development, and humanitarian challenges. What is on offer today—and will continue to be in 2013—promises only temporary solution. In Mali, the international effort is focusing on sending a multinational force to reoccupy the north of the country and fight terrorists, while humanitarian and developmental challenges loom large. In Afghanistan, the debate is concerned with how many American troops, if any, will stay beyond 2014, while governance issues remain unresolved. In Pakistan, military operations have displaced hundreds of thousands, while three successive years of devastating floods have threatened the lives of millions. In Myanmar, intercommunal violence in Rakhine state and the inability to sign a ceasefire in another ethnic conflict in Kachin state risk undermining the new path to peace, development, and government reform.


9. Drones and big data dominate the technology space. Two technological trends relevant to international peace and security are likely to intensify over 2013. First, look for an expanded use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, or drones. Militarily, drones will continue to provide a relatively low cost/low footprint method of engagement in hostile conflict theaters, and more countries will adopt this technology in 2013. However, obfuscated costs like civilian casualties (especially children) will also come progressively to the fore as UAV use increases. In addition, 2013 will see more non-military applications of drone technology: other areas that stand to gain from the effective application of drones include intelligence gathering, law enforcement, scientific, and environmental research; wildlife management; humanitarian logistics; search-and-rescue activities; and communications networks.

The second technological trend will be the growing application of fast-paced technological innovations to policymaking at both the national and international level. In particular, the “big data” revolution that so far has largely benefited the private sector is increasingly finding its way into areas such as conflict early warning and prevention, humanitarian action, and human development. Initial inquiries show that private companies may be quite willing to share their mobile phone data, for example, if it means helping to protect and grow their consumer base in fragile, conflict-affected, or developing contexts. The application of these tools has the potential to provide real insights into causes of crises and help the response capacity, mainly at local and national level.


10. UN peace operations face possible risks in Syria and a reassessment of goals in DRC. Events of the past year severely tested the limits of UN peacekeeping operations, and 2013 brings even greater tests. In 2012 the world body deployed a risky observer mission in the midst of the Syrian civil war, while the limitations of its mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were exposed by a rebel takeover of the city of Goma. 2013 could see a large-scale peacekeeping operation in Syria of up to 10,000 troops. Such a mission would, like the UN observer mission of 2012, carry a high level of risk to UN personnel. The performance and progress of the UN mission in Syria would also be closely watched even outside the region. Less closely followed, but perhaps even more challenging, will be the task of addressing the conflict in Mali. Here, the UN will be working with the African Union, European Union, and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) throughout 2013 to finalize plans for a mission to support the Malian army’s campaign against rebels and extremist groups in the north. Finally, following the recent events in Goma, 2013 should bring with it a fundamental reassessment of the goals and methods of the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, in the DRC.



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