2010 is sure to be busy on the news front. Stay ahead of the headlines by keeping tabs on these world news stories that are sure to heat up as the months continue.
Will Tide Turn in Afghanistan?
U.S. President Barack Obama vowed at the beginning of December 2009 to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in the first six months of 2010, with an eye on beginning withdrawal from the fragile country by 2011. The contribution by NATO allies remained up in the air until a Jan. 28 meeting in London, and other variables -- ranging from corruption in the Kabul government to a promised April 2010 offensive in the country by the Taliban -- put the surge-and-withdrawal strategy at great risk. Many political observers on the left and right doubt the ability of increased troop levels in such a short timeframe to achieve the security and development goals necessary for the country to not fall to radical Islamists again as soon as allies pull out.
Pakistan in Peril
It didn't end with the election of Benzair Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari. In fact, the young Zardari government faces not only constant opposition from former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but the stability of the civilian government is threatened by extremist elements within the country. The civilian government in Pakistan has not had a strong record to begin with, and add in extremist elements within the military ranks that could splinter and align with the Taliban (making their presence known in increasing terror attacks) in great enough numbers to seize power. This would not only cause immeasurable damage to the NATO effort in Afghanistan, but put extremists in charge of the nuclear arsenal.
The Islamic Republic gleefully snubbed a Dec. 31, 2009, deadline to accept a U.N.-brokered agreement that would have seen Iran's uranium shipped out of the country to be returned as nuclear fuel rods. Not only was Iran defiant, but began 2010 by issuing a one-month ultimatum of its own to the West: Accept Iran's conditions for externally processing uranium, or Iran would simply begin producing its own nuclear reactor fuel. Talk of additional sanctions against Iran continue as the international community favors pursuing a diplomatic approach to the nuclear program, which Iran claims is for peaceful energy purposes, but there is little doubt that the Islamic Republic is buying the time it desires through its standoff with the West.
U.S. Midterm Elections
President Barack Obama began his first year in office with his Democratic Party controlling the House and the Senate. But a series of challenges into his term -- ranging from foreign policy to recession to pushing through domestic agenda items such as healthcare reform and climate-change legislation -- heightened public discontent, as seen everywhere from poll numbers to the conservative "tea party" protests that sprung up across the nation. The Republican Party, however, faces formidable challenges itself in terms of low congressional approval ratings and raising enough funds to win big at the ballot box. The results of midterm elections will be seen as the first referendum on the Obama administration, and the world will be watching.
Power Shift in Britain
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been skating on thin ice for a while, finding lukewarm receptions to his initiatives such as the "Global New Deal" to lift the world out of recession. He faces his first test with the voters on or before June 3, though, when he faces two other party leaders who have been nipping at his heels: Conservative Party's David Cameron and Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg. The election fervor has been building ever since the snap election that wasn't in 2007, and since that time the Conservatives have been gaining ground against the ruling Labour Party in polls. The election will also come just after the Afghanistan troop surge (with some 500 extra British soldiers) and amid Brown's efforts to battle climate change.
Terror Fight in Yemen
Yemen springing to mind as a terrorist staging ground is nothing new: think of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden. But the Arabian Peninsula nation sprang back to the forefront of the news in the last days of 2009, when a Nigerian man who had spent time reportedly immersing himself in Islamic extremism in Yemen attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines planes from Amsterdam on Christmas Day. The attack was linked to cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi, who had also had contact with accused Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan. Yemen responded with raids on al-Qaida hideouts, legislators and pundits mused about Yemen being the next major front in the war on terror, and the U.S. and Britain pledged anti-terrorism aid.
South Africa is fired up to host the World Cup between June 11 and July 11 at 10 venues in nine cities around the country. It's the first time that the tournament has been hosted by an African nation, and President Jacob Zuma in his new year's address hailed this as "the most important year in our country since 1994" (the first democratic elections after the fall of apartheid) and described the football tournament as "the greatest marketing opportunity of our time." But the World Cup faces both security challenges (from both terrorism and a sky-high crime rate) and logistical nightmares of transportation to and from the venues, and critics contend that South Africa is ill-equipped to deal with either.
2009 may have been the year that the global recession bottomed out, as world leaders pulled together to discuss how to spur recovery and prevent another such recession from happening again. As governments discuss tighter regulation of financial markets as preventive measures, though, job recovery should be difficult to come by in the coming year, and some areas won't see jobs return in 2010. In the United States, there is still stimulus money yet to kick in even as lawmakers debate the merits or necessity of another economic stimulus package. But even though slow recovery doesn't translate to no recovery, politicians will still likely feel the brunt of constituents' frustrations as the recession effects uncomfortably linger.
North Korea's Next Move
Kim Jong-Il spent most of 2009 a) trying to prove he was alive and well, and b) saber-rattling with a new administration in the White House and conducting atomic exercises instead of returning to six-party talks. But the country's new year's message was about extending another olive branch: "The fundamental task for ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the rest of Asia is to put an end to the hostile relationship between the DPRK and the USA," said the statement, which also uncharacteristically avoided potshots at South Korea. The reason may be more economic than peace-loving: There will be no desire to end isolation as long as Kim is in power, but they likely can be bought to stall their nuclear program.
Trouble in Latin America
Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez rang in 2010 by mocking a Newsweek prediction that he would be toppled by a coup in the new year and that his mentor Fidel Castro would die. But sound bites aside, Venezuela ended 2009 in a recession, with 27 percent inflation, a drought, and government-imposed electricity rationing. If Venezuelans weren't fed up with Chavez's curbs on free speech and free press, a country wracked by crime and inflation will heighten tensions. 2009 also saw Honduran President Manuel Zelaya ousted by trying to push a Chavez-style referendum that would have extended his term limits. Sides have been draw between the leftist and center-right Latin American leaders, and the showdowns should be aplenty in 2010.