Speaking recently, UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond explicitly called upon Germany to help ‘deliver more useable firepower to the NATO alliance’ and Europe, adding that the Second World War had happened a long time ago. Stan Boardman would no doubt be incredulous at such a statement, probably screaming ‘The Germans? They bombed our chippy!’ It is also safe to say that anyone else who was affected by Hitler’s destructive war machine and racial policies would be distinctly unimpressed too. However, with the imminent collapse of the Euro and a US military pivot to Asia only months away is it time for Germany to substantially increase their military capabilities in a bid to offset a rapidly weakening European NATO?
On the face of it there doesn’t seem to be much need. As the world’s foremost military power the United States has taken an active interest in the military protection of Europe since the Second World War through the operation of a large network of bases and training facilities. Additionally, both Britain and France feature fourth and fifth respectively on lists accounting for global arms spending. As usual though, statistics and broad foreign policy statements do not tell the whole story.
Whilst big spenders, the literal ‘bang’ that Britain and France gets for their ‘buck’ has diminished distinctly since 2010. Grappling with huge structural deficits, the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review announced eye-watering cuts which resulted in the early retirement of a British aircraft carrier capability, serious reductions in mechanised infantry and compulsory redundancies for thousands of highly trained soldiers, airmen and sailors. Furthermore, further announcements by the Ministry of Defence have highlighted the need to shed another 4000 posts by 2017; such cuts no doubt shattering the illusion that Britain can unilaterally project anything more than a few missiles around the globe.
Likewise, whilst grappling with their own financial difficulties the United States has also been forced to make some tough choices. Recognising the dramatic rise of a resurgent, territorial and potentially economically unstable China, President Obama recently announced a new American foreign policy doctrine – one in which American military power is directed away from Europe and towards Asia. Indeed, the Americans are canny enough to realise that the 21st Century will belong to Asia, not Europe. Ultimately this means that Europe is no longer completely protected by the United States.
Whilst politically damaging for European outsiders such as Britain, the shedding of NATO military resources and an American pivot to Asia is more worrying for Europe and the future of a young, incoherent and militarily weak European Union. It is an unmistakable historical fact that Europe has only known continued peace and prosperity for as long as the NATO alliance has enabled stability within Western Europe; as a former Cold War battleground and largely responsible for two World Wars the European borders are among the most politically unpredictable and volatile regions on the planet.
To find evidence of this you do not have to look far. For instance, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia created a multitude of problems for the European Union which were made more so complex by limited European firepower and an almost complete lack of support from Washington for a prolonged military operation.
Likewise, continued Russian support for the morally bankrupt, repressive and repulsive Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad despite massive international pressure highlights the issues that the European Union is likely to face in the future. Bordered in the East by Russia and former Soviet Bloc states, the European Union will no doubt be expected to respond to further Russian provocations now Moscow is awash with cash due to a current commodity boom. Additionally, with further ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions predicted in the Middle East it is almost a certainty that European military forces will be required to undertake combat roles with increasing frequency. A NATO strengthened by Germany would undoubtedly help to ease pressures on both American and European allies.
After reading the above you would be forgiven for thinking that I am an arms dealer in favour of creating a ‘fortress Europe.’ However, whilst amusing, such assumptions would be incorrect. As the most populous country with the largest economy in Europe, Germany increasingly finds herself as the leading European power to which all others seek guidance and support. Indeed, all recent European economic solutions have focused upon using the strong German economy as a base for either bailouts or recovery options. Ensuring that Germany has the military firepower to match economic and political capabilities is only fair.
And as the strongest and richest Eurozone nation, the colossal might of the German economic machine could be used to ensure that even when other NATO allies are sacrificing military units the security of Europe is not affected. Undoubtedly, a strong European economic recovery would no doubt greatly benefit from a continued secure, stable and confident Europe, supported by a strong and confident Germany.
Everyone deserves a second chance, right?
Home to an estimated 500 000 penguins and until recently Prince William the Falkland Islands have an undeniably rich military history and even rich biodiversity. Uninhabited by humans until the 16th Century, the ownership of the islands has been bitterly contested for generations between European powers in their quest for Empire and riches.
Situated only 300 miles from the Falkland capital Stanley, Argentina has regularly peddled the claim that the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas in Argentina) and their inhabitants belong to Argentina. Although vociferously refuted by the British government Argentina has refused to modify its stance throughout the years on such grandiose claims; this infamously culminating in the unsuccessful 1982 invasion in which 649 Argentinian and 255 British military personnel lost their lives.
Whilst still reeling from the events of 1982 Argentina is far from silenced. Indeed, Buenos Aires is currently engaged in a severe diplomatic (and increasingly confrontational) spat with the United Kingdom. Why?
At face value the answer is surprisingly simple. Rocked by domestic problems, Argentina under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has suffered from an agonising inflation rate that is among the highest in the world. Estimated at around 25% per year, only the modern day dictatorships of Venezuela and Belarus can compete in worldwide rankings. Furthermore President Kirchner has authorised a clamp down on Argentinian media by limiting the importation of newsprint to ‘authorised’ publishers and expanding controls over the content journalists can cover. And in a final draconian sweep Kirchner has recently introduced a new ‘Terror Law;’ this allowing the state to imprison people for up to 15 years when convicted for a variety of trivial ‘offences’ that range from marching in protests to pulling money from banks in a highly probable economic crisis.
Faced with such unpopularity and domestic criticism, the Argentine government has developed a novel solution which centres almost solely on the Falklands. Knowing that any rhetoric contesting the sovereignty of the Falklands maintains support, President Kirchner has chosen to whip up a frenzy of anti-British sentiment within Argentina.
Citing the recent stationing of Prince William in the Falklands as a Search and Rescue pilot, President Kirchner has lambasted the British government by declaring that such a stationing is a policy of militarisation by ‘a crude colonial power in decline.’ In retaliation UK Prime Minister David Cameron has blasted Argentina for pursuing a ‘policy of confrontation,’ simultaneously causing outcry in Buenos Aires by suggesting that Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands is a form of colonialism.
It should be noted that this diplomatic bickering is nothing new. Since the formation of the United Nations in 1945 Argentina has attacked Britain both diplomatically, economically and militarily. Likewise, the United Kingdom has largely done the same. However, what is concerning Whitehall this time is the ferocity and extent of Argentine action. For the first time since 1982, there is a fear that Argentina has lit the fuse of a political powder keg which has the potential to alter the balance of the entire region.
In addition to economic embargoes, diplomatic spats and legal intimidation, President Kirchner has succeeded in cajoling several high profile South American nations such as Peru, Chile and Brazil into an anti-British pact. For example, only last month it was confirmed that several South American nations had been persuaded to turn away Falklands-flagged vessels from their ports. Furthermore, in a recent high profile move Peru cancelled a scheduled visit by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose as an act of solidarity with Argentina in its dispute with the UK over the Falkland Islands.
Although the Falkland Islands are believed to be virtually impenetrable in Western military circles, the recent British Strategic Defence and Security Review undertaken by the ruling coalition government has no doubt emboldened President Kirchner’s resolve. Likewise, comments from high-profile Major Generals regarding current British Royal Naval capabilities have almost certainly not helped deter any Argentinian threat. For many though, the increased Argentine threats and blustering regarding the Falklands have little to do with past grievances or a lack of British military clout. Instead, the highly charged dispute has emerged due to the recent discovery of vast amounts of commercially viable oil – in 2010 Rockhopper Exploration announced that their preliminary Sea Lion well was commercially viable and that the oil was of a good enough quality to extract.
Showcasing the British ‘fair play’ mentality, the government had offered to share some oil revenue with the Argentinian government – even after the most recent threats. Of course, to a faltering Argentine economy playing hardball to get the best deal possible is a valid strategy. Flush with ‘free’ money, President Kirchner would be in a position to offer industry and individuals financial incentives as a means of ensuring political dominance. In a country with severe economic and political problems such an outcome would no doubt be extremely well received.
So, despite all the doom and gloom how is the situation likely to play out regarding the Falklands?
Well, it is blindingly obvious that the UK Government will not surrender the islands to Argentina without a fight. This is not only because the islanders have insisted on numerous occasions that they wish to remain British and under the protection of the United Kingdom, but also because no British government could survive losing the Falklands as they have become a totem of British foreign policy. David Cameron has more or less explicitly stated this policy by clearly maintaining that there will be no negotiation on the status of the Falklands. In the meantime Argentina is likely to continue their policy of confrontation for the foreseeable future, or at least until meaningful negotiations are entered into regarding oil extraction and the 30th anniversary milestone of the invasion has passed.
Although grim, this does not mean that we should expect a military confrontation. The dispatching of HMS Dauntless and unconfirmed reports that British submarines patrol the area are designed to deter aggression – not provoke it – whilst the stationing of Prince William on the islands for 6 weeks has given the conflict an international audience with a British bias. It is also worth noting that Britain and the EU are quietly making it known to Argentina’s South American allies that trade sanctions work two ways.
This is not exactly gunboat diplomacy. But it is effective.
It is 20 years since the Cold War ended in Europe with the total collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, high-level relations between the United States of America and Russia have eased considerably. In a situation that was unthinkable only 30 years ago, the United States is currently completely reliant upon the Russian Space Program to resupply the International Space Station with American personnel and equipment. However, with the imminent re-election of the political dinosaur Vladimir Putin and deep divisions within the United Nations Security Council over Syria and Iran, is the world sleepwalking into a Middle East centred superpower showdown?
British Foreign Secretary William Hague certainly thinks so. In a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph, Hague spoke of his fears that Iranian nuclear proliferation will lead to ‘the threat of a new Cold War in the Middle East.’ Political scaremongering aside, it is highly unlikely that long-standing enemies of Iran such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel would allow Iran to be the sole confirmed nuclear power in the region. Indeed, there has been frenzied speculation within the Western press that Israel is set to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities this summer. Worryingly, American intelligence chiefs have only been able to announce that ‘to the best of their knowledge’ Israel is not poised to launch an attack. For a country that values Israel as a close ally in the Middle East and has such an extensive intelligence network the world over, such statements are hardly reassuring.
It is also true that there is no love lost between the East and West. From the early 20th Century Russia has been a constant threat to Western prosperity and European ambitions, famously signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany during Europe’s darkest hour which among other things divided Poland and much of Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. However, recently it is the assumed international political unification of China and Russia which is giving commentators cause for concern.
For the people of Syria Russian and Chinese unity in opposing Western backed international action has had devastating repercussions. Despite evidence from the United Nations showing that an estimated 7500 civilians have been killed as a result of shelling and violence in key Syrian cities such as Homs, both Russia and China were the only two members of the United Nations Security Council to veto a watered-down resolution condemning President Assad and calling for him stand to stand down.
This lack of action has had dire consequences, and not just for the Syrian people who are now at the mercy of a reinvigorated and fearless President Assad. Already, political commentators are talking of a ‘proxy’ war; one in which Russia and China are supportive of President Assad’s regime on one side and the United States, European Union and Arab Nations (bar Iran) supportive of the breakaway Syrian National Council on the other.
Indeed, at the Friends of Syria Conference in Tunisia, William Hague confirmed that the United Kingdom was to officially recognise the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of the country. Furthermore, he promised that Britain would ‘intensify’ links with the Council – which at the moment is Syria’s largest and most developed opposition group. For weeks now, there have been rumours that foreign nations are interfering in Syria by supplying the opposition forces with weapons, training and in some cases men. Finally, Hague also fired a warning shot towards Russia and China by declaring that “”those who back the Syrian regime from now on will find themselves in an even more isolated and indefensible minority.” As any amateur historian will confirm, such ‘wars by proxy’ are typical of a ‘Cold War’ and indirect superpower showdown.
Additionally, aside from confrontation over Syria it is the recent actions of the Kremlin which has added to the speculation on whether we are sleepwalking into another superpower showdown. Despite repeated denials by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a meeting with security analysts and Putin near a nuclear weapons research centre was most revealing. When speaking, Putin stated that he did not see a ‘chill’ in relations with the United States. Somewhat paradoxically, he then went on to explain how Russia aims to increase defence spending and refrain from further nuclear missile reductions until conventional weapons can do comparable damage in a bid to compete with the United States.
So, is the world sleepwalking into a superpower showdown, centred on the Middle East? As has been stated before in this blog, the sphere of international politics is almost impossible to predict and to go any further than analysing the current trends and trajectories of possible outcomes would be foolish. However, what is certain is that the United States and Europe have been battered by an economic debt crisis, two exhausting wars and a ten year obsession with confronting Islamic radicalism. The political desire for any prolonged confrontation with a potentially formidable enemy is simply not present.
On the other hand, unlike the United States and European Union both Russia and China are awash with money. Possessing mammoth foreign currency reserves, Chinese investment is increasingly being sought to bail out a cash-strapped European Union. The political bargaining this brings should not be underestimated. Within Russia, high oil prices are being used to fund the renewal and expansion of the previously neglected Russian military, designed solely to offer an alternative to American influence around the globe.
The Middle East is simply acting as a proving ground for a rejuvenated East and a tired, moralistic West. Much like post-war Europe, two opposing ideologies wish to control a region which is currently experiencing a generational upheaval. With Syria currently in a state of unofficial civil war, political instability in newly formed Arab nations and an increasingly isolationist Iran in continued pursuit of nuclear technology the pickings are potentially very rich for the victor. A similar situation in postwar Europe created a 40 year conflict, fought through proxy wars and an ever increasing nuclear arsenal.
Maybe the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists were right to move the doomsday clock closer to midnight after all.
There is a good chance that until Wikipedia and thousands of other affiliated sites held a one day ‘blackout’ on the 18th January not many people had heard of the controversial American bills SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act). Designed to do exactly what it says on the tin, the two acts are supported by a wealthy and increasingly politically influential Hollywood which appears to be unwavering in its desire to maximise profit and unwilling to alter its approach and embrace the benefits of the internet. Although now temporarily postponed, what exactly is all the fuss about?
Designed to combat copyright infringement and piracy, PIPA and SOPA would allow any American company, group or wealthy citizen the ability to shut down a website without due process when suspected of hosting copyrighted material.
It does not take a genius to work out that this would be bad news for the much vaunted Western guarantee; ‘freedom of speech.’ Whilst the acts have undoubtedly been introduced with the best of intentions in a bid to combat the estimated 95% of illegally downloaded music, the approach would be akin to cracking a nut with a sledgehammer. Or, as Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Digital Agenda Commission said on Twitter: ‘Speeding is illegal too, but you don’t put speed bumps on the motorway.’ In other words, the collateral damage for any action taken against a website would be enormous and out of proportion.
As a legal and technical nightmare for many large websites the proposed legislation is so unworkable in practice that it could force internet favourites such as Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and WordPress offline. Required to monitor every posted link and upload, American companies would be responsible for essentially policing the internet and all their users.
Within dominant and largely uncensored search engines such as Google, PIPA and SOPA have not been well received. In protest at the prospect having to regulate search results and remove links to foreign websites suspected of distributing copyrighted information, Google openly supported the thousands of websites that were ‘dark’ on the 18th January. Although still available, the Google logo was ‘redacted’ and links were given to users urging them to contact their local political representative to make their objections known.
Likewise, Wikipedia caused momentary panic to thousands of students through being one of the most popular websites to ‘go dark’ in protest at PIPA and SOPA. Whilst there were ways around this blockade, all java-enabled desktop users were greeted with a black imagine entitled ‘Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.’ In a related message, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales explained that Wikipedia was against the proposed legislation because it was ‘badly drafted’ and would be ineffective at preventing copyright infringement. Instead, Wales believes it would damage ‘the free and open internet’ as there was a possibility that SOPA and PIPA could be used as a stepping stone towards more repressive and controlling legislation.
It should be remembered that the World Wide Web is undoubtedly unique. Free from the control of any one nation, the internet is a lively area where any information, pictures and media can be shared seamlessly around the globe. Although daunting, this modern deluge of information has been invaluable to humanity. From enabling people to find the best car insurance deal to ensuring the survival of the Arab Spring protest movement through the use of social media, the internet serves as a tool of progression for mankind.
An attempt by the United States to enforce PIPA and SOPA would severely hamper this. Forced into a regulatory role, American companies would be required to censor the internet and as the world’s sole technological superpower this would naturally impact upon all other countries. For instance, France already has the Creation and Internet Bill whereby users are given a ‘three strikes’ policy when suspected of downloading copyrighted content before their internet connection is disconnected and disabled. Likewise, the United Kingdom has the largely hated Digital Economy Act, although this has yet to be passed into law due to a series of legal challenges.
Whilst there is undoubtedly a need to act against people who repeatedly distribute and download copyrighted content, the current brutal Hollywood-backed approach is not the correct course. In addition to charging a fair price to reflect the fact that consumers are no longer receiving a physical product when digitally purchasing media, governments around the world should begin to make better use of existing laws before bringing in draconian and overpowered measures such as PIPA, SOPA and the Digital Economy Act. As the world’s technological superpower and alleged guarantor of freedom, the United States must take the lead.
However, this does not mean to say that other countries should be afraid to act and seek a solution. Whilst usually lamented for being nothing more than a place for endless discussion, the European Union has been surprisingly decisive when the freedom of the internet is discussed. In a recent resolution that was almost certainly aimed at the United States, the EU stressed a ‘need to protect the integrity of the global Internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names.’
In response to this resolution and a tidal-wave of public anger since January 18th, the United States Congress announced on January 21st that both PIPA and SOPA were to be suspended, pending further investigations. It seemed like the world finally had something to thank the European Union for. And then the secretive global ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) was signed in Tokyo only five days later by the very same European Union.
Let round two begin.
Largely ignored by the mainstream media, a recent Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) report has shown that in terms of the world economic league table rankings, Brazil overtook the UK in 2011 to become the world’s sixth largest economy. Whilst disappointing for Britain, other key European countries suffered a similar fate. By 2020 Germany, Italy and France are also expected to slide significantly down the league table, having been overtaken by the rapidly emerging Asian ‘tigers’ and BRIC countries. Aside from the obvious dent to national pride and international economic influence, what does the report mean for the future of the United Kingdom, Europe and the Western world?
When considering Western decline, most concerning for Europe, America and Japan is the spectacular rise of two BRIC countries; Russia and China. Largely reliant on natural resource exploitation for predicted future growth, Russia is both a past adversary of the West and a likely future one. Recent Russian defence spending has focused on enlarging the armed forces to cope with high unemployment, joint military manoeuvres with China and an increasingly bombastic international role culminating in the now largely forgotten 2008 invasion of Georgia.
Unlike Russia, China is not particularly resource rich. Despite this, the official Chinese military budget has increased by nearly 200% since 2001; this being fuelled by exceptional double-digit economic growth throughout the decade. Unofficially, the budget is rumoured to have increased by an even larger amount. This budget amplification has enabled the Chinese to design and produce advanced stealth fighters, create a naval base in the Seychelles to directly threaten India and purchase rusting Russian aircraft carriers. Again, similar to Russia, China has become increasingly vocal within international politics by peddling ludicrous territorial water claims and adopting an ever more offensive posture with regards to Taiwan.
When Russian and Chinese investment is contrasted with severe Western military budget cuts (including those recently announced by the United States) and combined with increased international posturing, commentators are rightfully concerned that the West faces a tough choice; to either submit to the new economic powerhouses or invest in the military and suffer from increased debts and economic stagnation. Furthermore, it is a certainty that at some point this century the United Nations Security Council will have to be overhauled to reflect modern day politics; this likely costing the West dear in terms of their previously almost unrivalled control of international affairs.
Faced with the CEBR report, continued Chinese and Russian intransigence combined with military expansion, a stubborn economic financial crisis and a continuous slew of disappointing economic data it would be rational for Western politicians to panic at the prospect of a century increasingly dominated by a series of unstable, unmanageable and untested countries. Especially countries ever more flush with cash and lacking a fondness for quaint European traditions, American excess or Japanese electronic domination.
However, this predictable panic is often unnecessary. Since 1945, the UK has been suffering from a slow international decline as the Empire has been gradually disbanded; a direct result of having fought and shouldering the burden of two devastating world wars. Despite such decline, this has not meant an end to peace and prosperity for the British people. Instead, decline has been ‘managed’ to ensure that aside from brief periods in history, British military power and influence around the globe has remained constant, national security has not been threatened and living standards have generally increased, decade after decade.
If managed correctly, many commentators are confident that gradual Western economic decline is not necessarily the doomsday scenario that scaremongers predict. Whilst international politics and conflict is inherently difficult to predict, unbiased observers are able to see that economic decline does not always correlate with a demise in international influence, foreign policy or military power. Provided that investment is made in the right areas, the British – and in some respects, Western – role in the world as nations of highly educated and skilled designers, service sector workers, high-end manufacturers and engineers can only complement non-Western economic growth. Indeed, the rapidly growing countries of Asia and Latin America need our skills and expertise as much as we need their natural resources and mass produced factory goods.
Whilst the CERB report is undoubtedly a blow to British and Western visions of self-importance, I can still see one reason within the report to be cheerful. Apparently, should the predictions turn out to be accurate the British rate of economic decline will not be as quick as that of our closest continental neighbour and age old national adversary, France. By 2020, the United Kingdom will have come from behind to beat the French to eighth in the global pecking order, and by quite a considerable margin too. Now that is a cause for celebration. Someone pass the Chardonnay…
It was back in 1987 that Turkey first applied to become a member of the European Commission. Situated at the fringes of Europe and with a blend of Western and Eastern cultures, Turkey is a cultural melting pot at what is often referred to as the ‘crossroads of the world.’
Whilst much progress towards Turkish European Union membership has been made, a recent diplomatic spat with France has highlighted the problems facing Turkey and a liberal European Union only too well. As reported by BBC News, the French National Assembly passed a bill on the 22nd December 2011 criminalising denial of the 1915 – 1916 Armenian genocide, of which the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) was the chief protagonist. Whilst the bill is unlikely to be passed by the French Senate, the sabre-rattling has been highly successful in highlighting an issue that EU negotiators would rather ignore, gaining the attention of Ankara and bolstering support for President Sarkozy from the sizeable Armenian population within France.
The Armenian Genocide is not the only historical grievance that European countries have with Turkey. Whilst the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus occurred over 35 years ago in response to an alleged Greece Cypriot coup, Cyprus is still divided along a United Nations monitored Green Line. Although several solutions have been offered and a recent, high-profile ‘Kofi Annan’ plan endorsed by Turkey, the United Kingdom and United States was produced, an agreement between the Greek and Turkish governments has yet to be reached. For many European countries, Turkey’s history is a sticking point; and unfortunately for Turkey a sticking point that will hinder full European Union membership until errors are recognised and apologies are made.
Although important to some Europeans, history would appear to be irrelevant for a sizeable section of the Turkish population. In 2004, a poll taken among Turks placed support for EU membership at 73%. By 2010, this figure had declined to 38%; interviewees citing growing economic prosperity and hopes of greater Turkish significance in the region as reasons for the lack of support. Whilst support for full membership has undoubtedly declined, it is likely that support will once again increase as the European economy recovers and the current rose-tinted view of the Arab Spring darkens. Similarly, it is predictable that the resulting Turkish advances for a fast-track membership will be welcomed by an EU hoping to use Turkey as a bridge to influencing euphoric and naïve governments set up in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Aside from historical and public support issues, Turkey has primarily been withheld from full EU membership because of the failure to adopt and adhere to the 35 chapters of the ‘acquis communautaire’ – in effect the EU Law which all member states must abide by. For instance, considerable efforts are still required with regards to agricultural and rural development, the environment and ensuring implementation of legislation allowing female equality. Despite the best efforts of negotiators, negotiations have stalled several times due to Turkish intransigence and it is still unclear as to whether these obstacles and other considerable hurdles can be resolved within the next decade.
So, will Turkey ever join the European Union? At present, there is no reason why it should not, and it is highly likely that Turkey will join the EU in the not too distant future as European leaders take measures to maintain political, economic and military influence when faced with the growing might of a resurgent Asia. Likewise, the push from European leaders for diversification of energy suppliers will only become stronger as time progresses and Russia becomes more erratic, this forcing Turkey into the spotlight due to Turkish geographic location and proximity to Middle Eastern oil and gas pipelines.
Additionally, despite tough-talking rhetoric from France and Germany, Turkey enjoys substantial support for integration from the United Kingdom, United States, Spain and Italy. France has also recently watered down amendments to the French constitution that called for a public referendum when Turkey is eligible to succeed to the EU; instead choosing to leave the decision to elected officials.
The only certainty with regards to Turkish membership of the European Union is that Turkey will not be fusing with Europe within the next decade. This is due to two reasons – one being that Jose Barroso, President of the European Commission has stated that succession will not be possible until at least 2021 so that differences can be resolved, and two being that the European Commission is currently distracted with the on-going Eurozone economic crisis. Rightfully so, the EU should ensure that the status quo is stable and free from further shocks before adding more strain to an already fragile system with a country such as Turkey that will no doubt require substantial economic, political and agricultural assistance in the early stages of integration.
However, despite this positive outlook it should not be forgotten that the EU is currently in severe trouble. Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are at risk of economic collapse, their political collapse already complete. In the face of economic disintegration intense political negotiation designed to find a solution has only produced bickering and deadlock; this resulting in a failure to produce any long term plan to soothe global financial markets and bring down borrowing costs to a manageable figure.
Such a peculiar political situation begs the question – if European leaders are unable to negotiate constructively and agree over a matter survival now, will they ever be able to agree enough to allow a controversial Turkey to join the EU?
It would not be unfair to say that 2011 has not been a good year for many of the above. Due in large part to the actions of protesters participating in the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions across the Middle East and a renewed American determination to pursue terrorist networks with drone aircraft, several tyrannical regimes and terrorists have been ousted from power across the globe.
In the Middle East, what began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor in protest at the confiscation of his goods by local authorities led to wider political and social protests throughout Tunisia; this in turn providing the catalyst for similar ‘revolutions’ across the region. This series of events became known as the ‘Arab Spring’ and has since resulted in the downfall of the autocratic Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan and Yemini governments.
Furthermore, Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaida, was eliminated after a daring raid into sovereign Pakistani territory by US Navy Seals. The information gathered from Bin Laden’s lair in turn led to the death of high ranking Al Qaida leader Al-Awlaki in Yemen following a CIA drone strike; his demise severely disrupting Al Qaida’s operations in the Arabian Peninsula and having the added bonus of taking out an important American born, internet savvy jihadist recruiter.
So, at the risk of making a series of fanciful predictions akin to the one made by Yale University economics professor Irving Fisher in 1929 when he stated that “stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau,” are further dictators and tyrants likely to fall in 2012?
Unfortunately the short answer is no, there are not. Despite all international media attention currently being focused upon Syria and its authoritarian President, Bashar Al-Assad, the end result is unlikely to result in victory for the protesters and rebels. For instance, although in a recent ludicrous interview with the American network ABC Assad claimed that he was not in full control of Syrian security forces, the United Nations has since stated that this is unlikely to be the case and that troops loyal to Assad will continue to brutally clamp down where needed.
Additionally, unlike Libya, there is virtually no chance of Western nations imposing a ‘no fly’ zone to protect civilians and remove Syrian armour to the benefit of protestors due to a lack of political, financial and public support. Instead, the United Nations has chosen to pursue a policy of enacting sanctions – although such sanctions are doomed to failure since there is a crucial lack of support from both Russia and China, and also because Syria has been an international pariah for years and is therefore well-versed in dealing with Western threats.
Similar to Syria in some respects, the North Korean state under the ‘Supreme Leader’ Kim Jong Il is also unlikely to buckle soon. Isolationist, isolated and weak, the country is often referred to as a Stalinist dictatorship with one of the lowest human rights rankings of any country.
Despite such horrors and other issues such as a widespread famine and continued international pressure, the family dynasty has remained intact and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future – mainly due to the elaborate government controls on all aspects of North Korean life.
Presently, one of the only authoritarian countries showing signs of potentially abandoning autocracy is China. With the prospect of increased personal wealth and travel opportunities for millions of urban Chinese threatening the absolute authority of the Communist Party, the Chinese leadership has begun to slowly grant citizens more personal freedoms in a bid to retain control.
Even with such a small increase in personal freedoms it should still be noted that there is still complete government control of the media and political system. Political protesters and citizens routinely go ‘missing’ and many never return, often presumed to have been executed by the authorities.
Whilst still a cause for concern, if compared with the paths taken by other industrially advanced countries it is hoped that further Chinese economic development will fuel deeper international involvement and responsibility; this in theory leading to increased personal freedoms and an abandonment of authoritarian practices. It is unlikely however that this process will occur anytime soon, even if such predictions were to prove correct.
Despite what would appear to be an overwhelmingly negative outlook with regards to disposing of more dictators, tyrants and terrorists, the future is actually not as bleak as it may seem at a first glance. Not only are my predictions just that – predictions – but they are also based on rationale and logic; both these things are inherently difficult to apply to the constantly morphing world of international politics.
An example of this constantly morphing political world can be seen during the height of the Cold War when despite high-level meetings between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev no political commentator from either the East or West predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead, complacency and a purely accidental misunderstanding on the part of Soviet press secretary Günter Schabowski led to the downfall of Communism in Europe.
There are also far more dictators, dynasties, terrorists and tyrants remaining in the world than covered in this article; these including the governments of states such as Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Burma as well as the second in command of Al Qaida, Al Zawahiri. Each has their own unique circumstances and to analyse all would be a task of enormous undertaking.
And to answer the question posed earlier in the article? Yes, there are many despicable people and governments left in power and yes they will eventually fall. History has repeatedly proven this. All that remains to be seen is how, when and where.