New Year’s Eve blues
This is my last piece in 2013. As customary, I like to look back to gain hindsight for 2014. International politics was quite volatile in 2013 and provided various tell-tale signs to discern possible risks areas that will likely continue to affect the world in 2014. There have been many challenges that could develop into a game changer in international politics.
Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the volatile atmosphere of the Middle East has been the eye-catching issue in world politics. The ongoing civil war in Syria especially entered a new phase with the use of chemical agents on Aug. 21, which killed more than 1,400 people. Although the humanitarian conditions in the country has deteriorated to a heart-wrenching state, the reluctance of the international community, with the exception of Turkey, to get involved prevented outside intervention and gave another chance to a half-baked diplomatic solution. While the combined U.S.-Russia pressure convinced the Bashar Al-Assad regime to agree on elimination of its chemical weapons stock, this has not resulted in restarting the Geneva process between the conflicting sides. It is clear by now that the new year will not bring peace to Syria as the global powers continue with their bickering and regional states with their power struggles.
The endless problems of the Middle East, such as rising sectarianism and violence in Iraq, unresolvable Israeli-Palestinian disputes, unrest in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, as well as new rapprochement between Iran and the U.S. will continue to occupy the international agenda. What is more, the huge armament race in the Middle East, mostly ignored, both in conventional and ballistic weapons, is turning the region into a real powder keg. The latest news by the BBC that Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons, which are ready for delivery, highlighted the extent of the danger while the world has focused on the Iranian nuclear program. Saudis are also buying 15,000 anti-tank missiles, costing over $1 billion, in addition to the recent purchase of advanced fighter jets for $30 billion and a total of $75.7 billion worth in arms transfers from the U.S. between 2004 and 2011. One wonders; what sort of eventuality are they preparing for?
Besides the Middle East, the revelation of the widespread US surveillance activities, including listening world leaders, has created another headache for the Barack Obama administration. Domestic problems such as the budget crisis, the disclosure of secrets as well as international problems mainly stemming from the Middle East make it difficult for Obama to concentrate on the Asia-Pacific region in his second term as he promised.
Yet, with the onset of the new year, the U.S. might need to reorder its priorities. The nuclear test by North Korea in February, as well as estimates for its capacity to produce nuclear weapons, will force the U.S. to pay more attention to the region. Moreover, the announcement of the new air-defense zone by China, overlapping with existing Japanese, South Korean and Taiwanese ones, also demands attention. The U.S. responded to this by flying two B-52s over the disputed area without informing China.
On another stage, Russia is trying to regain its hold over its near abroad. In addition to political changes in Georgia, following its war with Russia in 2008, decisions by Ukraine and Armenia to join the Eurasian Custom Union, as well as the recent Ukrainian decision not to sign a deeper cooperation agreement with the EU signals such an outcome.
While realpolitik is taking the center stage in world politics, we should not forget to mention the likely impacts of natural disasters such as the typhoon in the Philippines and the loss of legendary leaders Nelson Mandela and Hugo Chavez in 2013.
Wishing you all the best in 2014.