The 2013 vintage in the peace vineyard
2013 has been a so-so vintage in the peace vineyard.
The Balkans saw improved relations between Serbia and Kosovo, progress by both towards the European Union and Croatian membership. Albania managed a peaceful alternation in power. But Bosnia and Macedonia remain enmired in long-running constitutional and nominal difficulties, respectively. Slovenia, already a NATO and EU member, ran into financial problems, as did Cyprus. Turkey‘s long-serving and still politically dominant prime minister managed to get himself into trouble over a shopping center and corruption.
The former Soviet space has likewise seen contradictory developments: Moldova‘s courageous push towards the EU, Ukraine‘s ongoing, nonviolent rebellion against tighter ties to Russia, and terrorist challenges to the Sochi Winter Olympics.
The Middle East and North Africa saw the transition to democracy in Tunisia slow, Libya stall, Egypt go into reverse and Syria deteriorate into a chaotic civil and proxy war. Russia, Hizbollah and Iran seem determined to stick by Bashar al Asad, while the US and Gulf states have given ineffectual assistance to the revolutionaries. Yemen made progress on its national dialogue, but the American drone war there continues apace. While Iraq‘s oil production continues to rise, its Shia-led government has lost the confidence of many Kurds, who are seeking to export oil to Turkey, and Sunnis, who are no longer as prepared to help fight Al Qaeda as once they were. Violence is increasing but still well below the level of 2006-8. Iran elected the most reformist–but still quite conservative–of its presidential candidates, who has embarked on a nuclear negotiation whose outcome is still uncertain. The Americans launched one more effort to resolve issues between Israel and Palestine, with most observers expecting a still born outcome.
Africa saw the spread of extremism into the Sahel, where with French help Mali managed to restore its authority in the north and conduct a successful election. But challenges remain, especially in Nigeria from Boko Haram and in Central African Republic, where rebellion and inter-religious violence are now endemic. The United Nations got more aggressive, to good effect, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo but was unable to forestall political and ethnic conflict in South Sudan. Zimbabwe and Somalia continue to suffer mismanagement and state collapse, respectively.
In Asia, Pakistan managed a peaceful, civilian transfer of power from one elected government to a successor but has still not ironed out its problems with homegrown terrorism, its tattered economy or relations with Afghanistan, which is facing a triple transition in 2014 to a new president, withdrawal of most American and NATO forces, and markedly reduced international assistance. Burma continues its transition, but its Muslim population faces brutal mistreatment. Feeling emboldened by economic growth, military strength and nationalist sentiment, China has been challenging its neighbors with territorial claims in the East and South China seas. North Korea has scared everyone in the region with its nuclear arsenal and its shaky dictatorship. Japan has frightened its neighbors with much less: the visit of its prime minister to a war memorial.
Other developments are also mixed. Fracking has helped the United States reverse the decline of its oil and gas production. It will soon overtake Russia as the world’s largest energy producer. This has implications for US policy in the Middle East that I will discuss with James Mina, a former SAIS student, in an article in Survival in January. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rose and global warming continued apace. Two big trade deals–one across the Pacific and one across the Atlantic–are in negotiation, but so far without the US Congress providing the president with the authority needed to conclude them. Edward Snowden’s revelations about National Security Agency surveillance generated a wide-ranging debate in the United States and abroad, but so far little change that we know of.
What am I predicting for 2014? It would be a miracle if all that ails this world were to improve. Some things look destined to get worse: the war in Syria, global warming, Muslim extremism, instability in East Asia. But this is not the worst of all possible worlds: inter-state wars have declined, more countries are governing themselves in ways that take into account the will of their citizens, the world economy is recovering, life spans are increasing.
Here’s wishing that you are among the lucky ones who partake of the positive developments, not the negative ones!