Here are the top 10 news stories to watch around the globe in 2011.
Iran's Nuclear Ambitions
The diplomatic efforts of the West to urge Tehran to abandon its nuclear efforts led to a fresh round of sanctions through the United Nations Security Council in June 2010, but only after the sanctions were watered down enough that veto-wielding members Russia and China would agree. Meanwhile, Iran has loaded its Russian-built Bushehr nuclear plant with fuel and it's expected to become operational soon. Tehran has scoffed at the effectiveness of sanctions, and The New York Times revealed at the end of December that the Treasury Department had approved some 10,000 exceptions to sanctions over the past decade. But Israel is running out of patience and a new Republican House in Washington could put pressure on the White House to act.
Sudan Referendum Fallout
Part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two bloody decades of civil war in Sudan was a promise that a referendum would be held to give the oil-rich Christian South the opportunity to split from the Muslim North. On Jan. 9, that day finally came, and impatient southerners flocked to wait in line at polling stations amid a jubilant atmosphere to begin the weeklong vote. But a sucessful secession vote isn't the end of the story. The referendum on the disputed border region of Abyei remains, and fresh conflict broke out here as the rest of the south voted. Oberservers warn of the potential to spiral back into civil war if the vote doesn't go the north's way. Advocates have warned of a Darfur-type genocide happening again.
Ailing dictator Kim Jong-il’s youngest son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, was made the equivalent of a four-star general in September 2010, just months after North Korea sunk the South Korean ship Cheonan in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors. In November, a Security Council report was released detailing brazen North Korean activities intended to circumvent multilateral sanctions and assist regimes including Iran in its nuclear program. On Nov. 23, the North fired a barrage of artillery rounds at South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, killing four and ratcheting up tensions on the peninsula to a level not seen in decades. Experts note these and other saber-rattling moves will intensify in an attempt to establish the heir's credibility.
Mideast Peace Process
With great aplomb, President Obama went in 2010 where most world leaders try with little success: forging Mideast peace. The last year showed that the White House has less sway over Israel, with highly publicized rockiness between the two administrations and Israel allowing a ban on West Bank construction to expire. Leadership of the Palestinian territories is also split with no mend in sight, with Hamas ruling Gaza and Fatah ruling the West Bank, making it more like a three-state solution with little expectation that Hamas will get on board. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed marathon, nonstop talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but the Palestinians have showed little enthusiasm for the offer.
New Congress Battles Obama
With sinking poll numbers and stubbornly high unemployment, President Obama's next two years will be with a Republican House and a diminished Democratic majority in the Senate. First on the agenda for Republicans will be attempting to repeal and then chipping away at the healthcare overhaul that used European nations as a model. Other presidential initiatives will also be up for rollback. The year also began with an assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) that brought up concerns about heightened security for lawmakers, with some casting blame on the vitriol seen in modern political discourse. And the field of which Republicans will challenge Obama as he seeks a second term in 2012 will begin to take clear shape.
Belt Tightening and Bailouts
Austerity measures may have sparked unrest in Europe in 2010, but many countries are entering the new year fixated on cutting spending to pull themselves out of the red and avoid needing wholesale bailouts like some needed last year. In May, the IMF and EU agreed to extend a $145 billion bailout package to Greece. In November, a $113 billion bailout package was extended to keep Ireland afloat. Just talk of a bailout for Portugal in the early days of the new year has put stocks on shaky ground, but the European Central Bank has been pushing Portugal to take the "rescue" out of fears that if they sink, neighboring Spain will follow. Portugal remains stubborn to help even as France and Germany put pressure on the country to take the bailout.
Iraq's Last Year to Get on Own Feet
After seven and a half years of conflict, President Barack Obama declared on Aug. 31, 2010, that U.S. combat operations in the country had drawn to a close. Operation New Dawn is working toward all U.S. troops leaving the country by Dec. 31, 2011. But after four years in exile, Shiite firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr rang in the new year by returning to Iraq -- with more of a political focus than a militia one, but still leading denunciation of America and sanctioning attacks on U.S. forces. All the while, he's advocating a more Islamic state and riling his followers. With religious minorities coming under increasing attack from al-Qaeda-linked extremists, the portrait of a post-occupation Iraq is shaping up to look quite perilous.
Terrorists Try New Tactics
Reports in 2010 indicated that al-Qaeda operatives had been given the go-ahead to launch attacks similar to the Mumbai spree -- young men with backpacks, arms, and multiple targets that they hit simultaneously -- in Europe; targets are believed to include airports and tourist attractions in England, France and Germany. But terrorism experts and security officials are sounding the alarm about smaller-scale terrorism using domesticated operatives who would raise less alarm. These "low-threshold" attacks would be less lethal, but more numerous and harder to prevent. Or, as CBS reported at the end of 2010, a method not yet used before, such as poisoning salad bars with ricin and cyanide.
WikiLeaks sprang onto the Internet scene back in 2007, but its three damning document dumps in 2010 sent Washington scrambling for cover and raised controversial questions about where the line is drawn between freedom of information and espionage. With co-founder and spokesman Julian Assange battling extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges, and WikiLeaks volunteers reporting that U.S. officials have subpoenaed information on them from Twitter, the site would appear to be on the defensive. But Assange and allies have vowed that the leaks will continue, and the next promised dump will target the U.S. financial sector. Attacks were already launched on companies that refused to process WikiLeaks donation payments anymore.
Russia Puts Up Its Dukes
Expect Moscow to throw its weight around in the new year. Russia already signaled that it was calling the shots when it leaned on the White House to push ratification of the New START nuclear arms treaty through the Senate, then its own legislators decided to put it off for a bit while they considered responses to American lawmakers' amendments. The Kremlin also isn't pleased with mounting criticism over backsliding human rights and press freedom concerns, especially as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin eyes the presidency again in 2012. The treaty's prominence in the news cycle at the end of 2010 ignited fresh suspicion in many minds about the intentions of the Kremlin, which continues its alliance with Iran and arms sales to Venezuela.