A former top political aide in both the Obama and Clinton administrations warns of several potential crisis areas to watch out for on the international stage in 2012.
In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, former U.S. deputy secretary of state James Steinberg tells Evan Solomon he is "deeply concerned" about five particular areas he thinks could turn out to be game-changers, not just for the U.S. and Canada, but also for the world.
1. The European Union
Steinberg will be looking at "the ability of the European Union, as a political entity, to take the kinds of decisions it needs to do, to stabilize the situation there, but also do it in a way that it so doesn't sow damage and hurt Europe and the rest of us."
According to Steinberg, there could "easily" be a crisis there "in the next year."
Steinberg asks, "Will Iran, in the face of sanctions, see that it needs to alter its approach or is it going to try and sprint to try and achieve a nuclear capability?"
There's "deep instability" in Pakistan, said Steinberg.
Steinberg wonders "whether the civilian leadership can maintain its control, how the government there will deal with the extremists in its own midst, and what that means for the security of their own nuclear capability."
Also, "what are the risks that their own instability will be transmitted to others in the form of conflict with India or in new terrorist attacks?"
Steinberg believes this is a stituation that "could evolve very, very rapidly and in very dangerous ways."
4. North Korea
According to Steinberg, Kim Jong-un "has been very cautious in the early going and the leadership seems to have rallied around him, but how stable is that?"
The question is, "Will there be a power vacuum or a conflict that leads to real divisions, even instability that could either lead North Korea to lash out against South Korea or the West?"
Or will there be "internal fighting that could jeopardize their nuclear capability?"
5. Public health
Finally, Steinberg warns the last thing we should all keep "in the back of our minds" is the "danger of a global public health crisis."
"The next avian flu, the next SARS, could be a game-changer for the world," said Steinberg.
James Steinberg currently works as Dean and Professor of Social Science, International Affairs, and Law at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.