If 2010 was the year of U.S. efforts to promote global cooperation, then 2011 will be the year when those new coalitions thrive or fall apart. The European Union will be strained by cost of its bailouts. In East Asia, North and South Korea will test the ability of Pacific nations to put aside their differences--exacerbated by a rising China -- to cooperate in deescalating a conflict that verges on all-out war. In Afghanistan, the U.S. military's call to push into parts of Pakistan could threaten to splinter the war's already fragile international coalition. As for Iran, the world's leadership from Washington to Brussels to Beijing appears bent on deterring Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but it's not clear if negotiations will work.
But 2011 will also be defined by lone nations dealing with difficult internal struggles. Sudan's referendum on succession could split the country in two, hopefully ending the years of conflict and genocide but possibly creating a new set of problems for both North and South. Democratic Iraq will face the challenge of governing and retaining security as the U.S. force withdraws. Elections in Egypt, Turkey, and Nigeria will test those countries' institutions and political freedoms. Haiti and Pakistan will continue working to recover from 2010's devastating environmental disasters.
The biggest stories of 2011, however, will probably be unexpected, just as they were in 2010.