Monday, 2 January 2012

A New Year Begins – but what else will be new?


As we end 2011 and begin another new year, the international security arena is filled with dangerous news. The European Union continues to give little indication of being capable of taking the definitive action needed to save the Eurozone’s currency and its economy from deepening financial crisis.  While the financial mess in the periphery of Greece and Portugal heralds the possible break-up of the Union, the weakness of Italy and Spain is of even greater concern.  If France was to falter, then the game is all but up.  This coupled with the anemic US economy and the threat of a Chinese slow down, raises the specter of a global recession.

Potential candidates to leave the EZ, the world’s current conflicts still rage and threaten global security.  The “Strait of Hormuz standoff continues as Iran films US aircraft carrier”[1] does not add to any sense of optimism. The US too, perhaps moved by its own financial crisis and desperate need to create jobs, decided to move on with $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military.  This is in spite of the apparent move by Prime Minister al-Maliki to build a one-party system with possible moves to establish closer links with Iran.[2] In the Korean Peninsula the hard line communist North Korea declares Kim Jong-un its new supreme leader in the presence of what the New York Times writer Choe Sang-Hun says was a crowd of tens of thousands, most of them uniformed soldiers, packed the plaza – named after…the North’s founding president, Kim Il-sung.[3]

The ‘old’ year of 2011 ended with three months of severe floods in Lao PDR, Vietnam Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines with two South East Asian countries worst affected. European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection agency estimates point to 4.5 million people affected in the Philippines and 5.1 million people affected in Thailand.[4] With the lives and property lost; the psychological impact of forced displacement and the wholesale destruction of livelihoods, the overall human cost cannot be estimated in words. The European Commission has already provided about 10 million Euros to help overcome the consequences of this flood. Indonesia has also been affected by severe floods causing thousands of displaced people.

What else needs to be overcome in 2012?  It is sometimes said that predictions are very difficult to make, especially about the future.  But what we can clearly say is needed is a more determined international community to respond to the challenges of climate change which, directly or indirectly, negatively impacts on these cyclical humanitarian disasters. Taking action is a moral as well as a political responsibility because, as the South East Asian floods testify, the poor and the disenfranchised part of the population are, more often than not, the main victims of natural disasters as they live in the least protected, more dangerous and vulnerable areas.  

The ‘old’ year of 2011 certainly marked a turning point in many important ways. First, the US finally withdrew its military from Iraq. This means Iraq can now enjoy sovereignty and make use of it as its government pleases. One troubling possible direction, however, seems to be towards more difficult ethnic-religious relations and potentially higher risk of civil war. The autonomous regions of Iraq may also feel inclined to distance from the Shi’ite dominated central government, thus making the cohesion of the state of Iraq and its sovereignty much weaker. Second, in Afghanistan, President Obama’s promise of a gradual or phased withdrawal from July 2011 may have begun, but the solution for the conflict remains a farfetched reality.

The love-and-hate U.S. – Pakistan bilateral relationship has no clear end in sight.  Pakistan’s threats to keep the state of affairs in its current dire state have eventuated and there appears to be nothing the US can do to improve relations. It seems that the Pakistani refusal to let go its leverage over the Taliban means that any real solution, if at all possible, will have to be one that safeguards the influence of Pakistan over the Taliban and Afghanistan as a whole. The dilemma for Pakistan is that the longer it maintains cooperation with the US, in the context of the war on terror, the weaker its chances to influence the Taliban become. Worse, the Taliban may even develop some capacity to destabilise the Pakistani government as the latest events appear to suggest. Third, debate about whether counterinsurgency (COIN) does work has reached a dead-end. Those against argue that the counterinsurgency military culture has to free itself from the conventional military paradigm and become informed by the existing reality of world politics.  In this reality the world is no longer under the empire colonial conjuncture leading to a need to focus on nationbuilding, statebuilding and real human development as the best strategic approach to solving post-modern conflicts. Nevertheless, the main theoretical hurdle remains the foreign occupation dilemma. No matter how well meaning the foreign forces pretend to be, they cannot wipeout the fact that they are occupying forces. The question therefore becomes whether the pre-emptive doctrine has any military validity.

The new year of 2012 will also see the continuity of the Chindian syndrome. The challenges China and India face in terms of economic sustainability are enormous. And whether democracy or autocracy is best suited to provide sustained development will continue to be the question. Time magazine provided, in its 21November 2011 issue, an in-depth debate about the pros and cons of the Chindian syndrome. What the debate does not provide is an analysis of external factors affecting the capabilities of these two giant states in terms of meeting their respective demands for survival as giant economies. 

The dependency on natural resources and energy supply, for instance, is a daunting challenge and the answer does not depend on either democratic or socialist approaches. Rather it turns on resource availability and competition with other states, particularly the US, as the cold war between China and the US in Africa testifies - where they desperately fight for control of supply from resource-rich countries like Nigeria and Angola. This reality is independent of political regimes or doctrines with the sustainability of economic development being determined by a dependable supply of energy sources. 

Therefore, in-depth debate about the sustainability of this flow of energy is first needed, before consideration of factors such as democracy or communism emerge as important determinants. When powerful countries become desperate for energy supply, they can declare such imperatives to be the national interest and justify the invasion of countries which hold such commodities. The US has practiced this in the past. During the war in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia decided to stop supply of petroleum to the US which prompted President Nixon to dispatch his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger to convey to the Saudi Arabian King that, in its national interest, the US would invade his country if it did not provide the US with petroleum.

Judging from the debates in 2011 about the future of the Kyoto Protocol, in which China underestimated the entire process of climate change in Copenhagen; instead of focusing on how best to ‘loot’ the energy supplies from Africa. And the US continued to arrogantly disregard the real issues pertaining to climate change (even though Al Gore won world recognition for his appeal to accept reality), 2012 provides the opportunity for norm clarification. How far the US and China are prepared to boycott the process of finding real solutions for climate change constitutes important debate. President Obama decided to pioneer the end of nuclear weapons, instead of the end of climate change hypocrisy. Perhaps a wise policy to opt for what is possible instead of what is impossible, as the case of the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs testify. The New Year, 2012, may bring about better opportunities to devise responsible policies to tackle climate change. First, there is the question of how to adopt policies which allow for cheaper, more affordable alternative sources of energy for the developing countries. Second, is the question of how to increase access by the younger generation to knowledge about alternative energy; and how to save energy before alternative sources of energy become available? Achieving solutions to these two questions may, eventually, bring about a better framework to address climate change.

May 2012 bring about new attitudes, ones more conducive towards real solutions to climate change, conflict resolution and nation and state building processes. Not necessarily final solutions but at least departing points to encourage serious thought about real solutions, rather than curtain dressing politics which insult the real needs of the poorest of the poor who are the victims of climate change. May 2012 also bring about smarter international politics, approaches which promote the empowerment of countries and peoples with the tools and know-how to ensure their countries’ survival. May 2012 also be the year where fighting poverty is no longer part of grandiose political and academic statements but that real practical steps can be taken which will mean creating sustained employment in poor countries; may 2012 be the beginning of a new form of cooperation between countries, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, where the ultimate goal is human development because this is, after all is said and done, the only answer to global security. 
Happy 2012!                    

[1] R Sanchez, “Strait of Hormuz standoff continues as Iran films US aircraft carrier”, The Telegraph, 29 December 2011, accessed 30/12/2011,
[2] M Schmidt and E Schmitt, “Weapons Sales to Iraq Move Ahead Despite U.S. Worries”, The New York Times, accessed 30/12/2011,
[3] C Sang-Hun, “At Huge Rally, North Koreans Declare Kim Their Leader”, The New York Times, December 29, 2011, accessed 30/12/2011,
[4] ‘South East Asia under Water’, European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, Brussels, European Union, November 2011

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I the photo with this article, Agio looks a bit like Rogerio. Time for you to wear long hair Agio! Hehehe