“Please, let this wretched year come to an end!”
I don’t know what it was for you like, personally. But 2016 was quite a horrible year for the world, overall. Even despite the statistical fact that we currently live in the most peaceful and least bloody times in recorded history, 2016 presented us with plenty of reasons to think that the world was going crazy.
Ceaseless bloodshed in the Middle East: Syria, Yemen, Libya, and to some degree Iraq. The international community still hasn’t managed to break ISIS, or find a way to counter the rising terrorist threat. The first signs of the Arab Spring were brutally stomped upon by various autocrats, despots and dictators. This will bring serious consequences. The whole region will become a source of political and societal explosion that will rock the world. A decades long war is very likely to loom ahead, with a nightmarish maze of tribes, clans and religions fighting each other to no end.
Europe is shaking as well. Waves of refugees and economic migrants keep washing ashore. The migrant crisis has shown that the words “European solidarity” is but a mere slogan, empty of meaning. The Brexit has started a chain reaction of accelerating dismantling of the very idea of a united Europe. The very core of the European project is now in question, and its main purpose, shared peace and prosperity. Europe feels like it doesn’t know where to go next.
What’s more, the former Soviet satellites are making a U-turn back to the nation-state, re-asserting their own identity in reaction to having been treated as second-rate citizens. Now that the balance of powers in West Europe will change from now on (what with the UK exiting the equation and leaving a void behind), some of the newer EU members will be asserting ever more influential positions, and largely setting the tone of the discourse, and influencing the new rules.
This process is being coupled with the ascent of populists virtually everywhere: Wilders is likely to take over in Holland, France is at the threshold of a revolution, either embodied by Fillon the Catholic and outright Thatcherite, or worse, Le Pen the quasi-fascist. There are elections coming up in Germany as well, although Merkel still looks like the front-runner (the Germans are still betting on stability). She’s likely to retain her position at the helm, but with significantly weakened influence, and probably at the cost of a tough coalition. The populists are also advancing in Germany, and they’ll be a big factor from now on. The swing to the far-right is felt ever more strongly there, and this could ultimately bring to a change of the guard in the longer run. For the time being though, that remains one of the few islands of stability. But for how long – no one can say. The Germans are already pretty angry with the whole migrant thing, especially after the outrageous behavior of some of those it had voluntarily chosen to welcome.
The big uncertainty comes from the Big Bro. Where exactly US president-elect Trump is going to steer international politics, remains a mystery. Will he be predictable? Can America’s allies rely on him? Or are international relations mere “business”, a “deal” in his eyes? Or maybe he would turn out a capable diplomat? Does the US still see itself as a leader in global politics, or it’ll continue the process of withdrawing from international matters and losing influence, but this time willingly? And who would fill that void, and how? Wouldn’t that be a retreat of democracy, and a chance for various despotic systems to assert themselves? And most importantly, will America continue to consider itself part of an alliance, of the Western world, or it would choose to shut itself from the rest of the world, close itself within, look inside, and focus on “making itself great again”? In any case, 2017 is going to be a transition year. Transition to what, though – that’s the big question. And transitions are tough.
2016 also saw the revival of Putin’s Russia, despite the economic obstacles put by her rivals and the inherent structural disadvantages that define its economy and society. Russia is asserting its positions again, growing from a mere regional power (as Obama used to disparagingly characterize it), to a global player. Putin is actively meddling in the Middle East gambit, he’s also pressuring a number of European countries as well. The bad thing is, Russia doesn’t usually have the habit of using diplomatic means to meet its objectives – they’re too quick to resort to military solutions.
Russia is methodically and willingly, cynically practicing a sort of brutal violence that cannot be met with diplomacy – in Syria actively, and in frozen conflicts like Ukraine passively. Russia’s return to the world scene means a return of military interventions, proxy wars, regime change, and nation-building all across the world. The West has no other choice but to respond in kind, if it is to survive as a bloc. Again, Trump’s ambiguous position regarding America’s allies, is emboldening Putin, while causing concerns in the West.
Let’s not forget China, either. Their economic growth may’ve slowed down from its previous bombastic levels, but the thing is, China has matured, and set the stage for jumping to the big stage as well. They’re amping up their military presence in territories that they consider crucial for their geopolitical goals – and they’ll stop at nothing; they’ll gradually and methodically work to achieve them. This will cause another zone of geopolitical clashes, and a dangerous stand-off with other regional and global players.
Again, Germany remains one of the few bastions of stability and sanity (to some extent; though some might disagree, especially given the way they’ve handled the migrant issue) – and they might be compelled to take a more active role in settling things down, even if they don’t necessarily like this. On the other hand, such a more assertive Germany would inevitably cause other EU members to protest, and possibly react. All in all, it’s unlikely that we could find a single area in the world, which would boast of a more stable situation at the end of 2017 than the end of 2016. And the peaceful solutions to the problems seem to be slipping away at an alarming rate already.