A ghastly year finally comes to an end

A ghastly year finally comes to an end
It was exceptionally painful to have been an Arab in 2016. In fact, it is not relatively less painful if you were a citizen of the world as you pay farewell to this ghastly year. The size and nature of misery that a large number of people have been suffering from, almost in every continent, but particularly in the Middle east, are unquestionably unprecedented. Stretching from Yemen and Iraq in the Gulf to Libya in North Africa, the bleeding sadly seems unstoppable.

Many world and regional powers are directly involved in this bloodshed, such as Russia in Syria, and Iran in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon as well as Syria. They seem to be playing their dirty war games in these areas, free from any serious pressure from the United Nations or even from global public opinion in general. Many legislative institutions across the Atlantic have overwhelmingly voted against direct actions or putting troops on the ground to stop the tragedy. Half of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, was left to remain under the worst-possible siege in modern history. How can this be allowed? Has the world gone mad?

In Syria alone, the destruction, the insane killing, the deprivation, the displacement of people and the expected loss of an entire generation are developments unseen since the Second World War. The UN estimates the death toll since 2011 at almost half a million. Nearly 11 million have been driven from their homes with almost half of them having been forced out of the country as refugees — among them, one million children.

These tragic events particularly underline the failure the UN Security Council’s five permanent members — United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. Only once since 1945, the UN had endorsed, way back in 1991, the US-led war to liberate the tiny Gulf state of Kuwait from the then Iraqi president Saddam Hussain’s invasion. This was very rare.

Unfortunately, no end for Syria’s pain seems imminent as the world itself is going through a transitional period of uncertainty.

Meanwhile, numerous and spectacularly dangerous events are taking place, including new alliances and unprecedented pacts (for instance, between Turkey and Russia), which are successfully competing with the traditionally established democracies in the West. Despite some intricate differences that are yet to be sorted out, relationship between the Turkish and Russian Presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, respectively, is an example of such an unusual alliance. Following the fence-mending, at the St Petersburg summit last August, the relations between the two countries have swiftly moved from confrontation and economic sanctions to one of strategic cooperation in Syria. Ankara and Moscow, who are backing opposing sides in the conflict, are to act as guarantors of the Latest ceasefire in Syria that was announced by Putin on Thursday.

However, how can the world retaliate against permanent members of the UN Security Council and prevent it from illegally bombing Syrian targets and taking over Crimea by force (in Russia’s case), and breaking international laws in South China Sea (in China’s)? Should we expect the western countries, including the other permanent members (US, UK and France) to do the same? If breaking international rules and long-established laws by one or more Security Council member becomes the norm, will the others follow suit?

By and large, western countries have long renounced the use of cluster bombs or mines. This kind of weapons have been freely and randomly used by Syria and Russia. We have also realised lately how limited the western ability is to respond to the recent Russian cyberattacks.

On other fronts, omens are not necessarily looking good. The West is currently facing unprecedented challenges since the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union. Economic stagnation in most of Europe, protectionism and populist rhetoric are hastily spreading in both sides of the Atlantic. Add to this the big question that is dominating debates across media: Whether Nato and the European Union will survive 2017 in their present forms!

US President-elect Donald Trump has made his views on Nato quite clear. He confirmed that future protection cost of US allies will be conditional on their paying more into the total Nato budget. Nato’s total fund currently stands at $ 900.5 billion (Dh 3.31 trillion) based on the members’ gross domestic products. While US contribution to that kitty amounts to $ 650 billion, there are 22 member-states that do not pay anything. Add to this, the rapid rise of the populist Right in several European countries. A series of elections in the Netherlands, Italy, France and Germany in 2017 will test the EU for the first time since it was established. The threats to the euro cannot be truer. Disintegration of the EU has become a real possibility following Brexit. Even the federal system is under severe pressure as it is the case in the UK, where Scotland and Northen Ireland seem to favour remaining in the EU, unlike England and Wales as the June 23 referendum revealed.

On the trade front, the situation is rather alarming. Since the Second World War, trade has been a tool for peace as the reduction of trade barriers has led to growth and prosperity. This is sadly under serious threat as the world seems to be heading towards more protectionism. Trump has reclaimed an old isolationist slogan for his presidential campaign, “America First”. In terms of international trade and relations, this means that globalisation is no longer the world order.

Let us just hope 2017 will not be worse.

Mustapha Karkouti (Gulf News; December 30, 2016)

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