UN Security Council: the Year Ahead

Arab spring to Arab summer?

The heat is still on in the Arab world, as aftershocks from the 2011 Arab spring continue to rock the region. Of particular concern are the deepening crises in Syria and Yemen. The conflict in Syria seems to be deepening as forces opposed to the government gather steam. Syria is increasingly becoming a pariah state, especially as the Arab League states have become the strongest proponents for intervention. If the situation worsens, the current gridlock in the Security Council may come unstuck as Russia and China are forced to reassess their positions. Meanwhile, the downward spiral in Yemen looks almost unstoppable. In the midst of a population boom, a shattered economy, a severe lack of water resources and almost impossibly weak governance capacity, the country is fracturing. Tribal groups are jockeying for power, while old tensions between the North and South simmer and the ongoing threat of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula looms large. The Security Council will have little choice but to take some action in Yemen in 2012.

South Sudan

The fledgling one-year-old country of South Sudan still remains very much on the life-support of the international community. Two decades of civil war have left deep scars in the social fabric of the country as inter-communal conflicts are on the rise and the Lord’s Resistance Army continue to terrorise the West Equatoria region. Meanwhile, the largest outside threat to the survival South Sudan is the old foe, the Republic of Sudan. At the heart of continued diplomatic quarrels and border skirmishes between the two is the dispute over the oil-rich Abyei region, which was taken by force by the Republic of Sudan in mid-2011. The region has been long overdue for a referendum to decide its future, but the fate of the region now lies in the hands of the two countries, who are far from reaching agreement. This is likely to result in increased military action on both sides.

Horn of Africa

The devastating drought and famine in the Horn of Africa in 2011 is continuing into 2012, despite dropping off our airwaves. Whenever a humanitarian crisis of such massive proportions occurs, there are always flow-on security implications. Somalia has been a disaster-zone for more than two decades now, but the level of starvation and displacement of communities was higher last year than ever before. The Security Council is highly reluctant to intervene in Somalia, especially as the United States still licks its wounds after its withdrawal in 1993, but the current situation is causing a rethink. Also, the huge displacement of people from Somalia into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia has destabilised areas of these countries, which are struggling with drought and famine themselves. This added stress could cause serious issues for Kenya as it heads to the polls in late-2012. This could see a repeat of the post-election violence in 2007, especially as underlying ethnic tension remains.

Other situations to keep an eye on

All eyes are on new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as he seeks to secure his power base. North Korea may come on to the Security Council agenda if Kim Jong-un chooses to assert his dominance through displays of his country’s military might.

Further south, in the South China Sea, tension is brewing between several states who have territorial claims to islands in the sea. In particular, China, Vietnam and the Philippines have been increasing their naval presence in the area, which has caused serious diplomatic conflicts. We could see small scale naval conflicts in the sea in 2012, but these are unlikely to be discussed in the Security Council due to China’s veto power.

Nigeria is also looking increasingly unstable, with sectarian conflict in the north of the country escalating. Conflict between Christians and Muslims is not new to Nigeria, but the increasingly widespread terror attacks by Boko Haram could ignite the volatile country, which has failed to invest its oil wealth in addressing the dire living standards of the bulk of its 170 million strong population.

Tensions have been high in the Strait of Hormuz in January, as Iran threatens to obstruct cargo passing through the area in response to increased sanctions from the EU and US. The incident is part of a wider dispute between Iran and the bulk of the international community about Iran’s nuclear programme. Talks between the P5 members of the Security Council and Iran came to a stalemate early last year. Iran is unlikely to follow through with its threats, but the continued posturing on both sides is creating a mini-Cold War type situation between Iran and the West.

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