Hardly anyone would welcome the turn of global events at year’s end as having shown substantial improvement over the last twelve months. The events that initiated the New Year in January last, gave little indication that as time went on, any decisive improvements in conflicts or disagreements across the globe would find resolution. And this has largely turned out to be the case.
There are, of course, some indications of disturbances that seemed to suggest a worsening, that have turned into some kind of stasis, indicating little progress that can be termed as decisive. But, on the other hand, they have not caused further and deeper contention in terms of the attention of the countries of the globe as a whole.
Among these has been the situation of contention between Russia and its sometime ward as part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine. The major Western powers, and other member states of the United Nations have watched as Russia has continued to have a presence in parts of Ukraine, but the government of that country itself has proceeded, even when there have been minor skirmishes, to attempt to normalize its domestic relations with assistance from the major European powers. The result has been a continuing stalemate, as it is well recognized that the Russian leadership has been unable to come to terms with an entity that was part of the then Soviet Union, and had a prominent place in that state’s affairs.
In fact, the preoccupation of the European powers, for some months now, has been the mass migration of largely Syrian peoples fleeing their own country. That issue has been largely defined not simply as a situation of continuing conflict within Syria itself, but one that has spilled over from what can be described as a wider continuing Middle Eastern civil war (Iraq, Lebanon) now joined by Syria. But that Syrian attempt to evict President Bashar al-Assad has also come to be defined, particularly in the perspective of the European powers, as a substantial threat to particular countries of the European Union in particular, which have seemed to have no choice in keeping the borders open.
Indeed, in passing, we might say that the Syrian civil war has had a peculiar effect, unrelated to the turn of events in Syria itself, as the British government, though it might reject this interpretation, has seemed to use this issue to reinforce its own preoccupation with another issue, really alive since the start of West Indian migration to the United Kingdom in the nineteen fifties. This is the issue of the limits on a possible more extensive migration of European peoples into Britain, using the access of freedom of movement within the European Union itself. Prime Minister Cameron’s visit to European Union headquarters this week has emphasized this continuing British preoccupation.
The overflow of the Syrian civil war, now extended into a virtual military partnership, over the last few months, between the Western or Nato powers and Russia, has itself had the effect of diminishing the Nato powers’ preoccupation with seeking to pressure Russia on the Ukraine issue. The sight of cooperation between Russia and Nato in the bombing of the IS forces in that country has induced a degree of cooperation and discussion on global troublespots between President Putin and the Western leaders, essentially diminishing preoccupation with the Western sanctions on Russia. For President Obama and his colleagues have determined that in spite of other contentions, all hands have to be on deck on the Syrian issue, to the extent of ignoring Nato member Turkey’s attempt to initiate a contention with Russia.
Undoubtedly, at year’s end, the Nato powers have turned their minds towards turning the screw on the Syrian leadership with the cooperation of Russia, even as the issue of President Assad’s status needs to be resolved.
Nearer home, in geographical, though not in today’s global geopolitical, terms, the striking events of the year, which will certainly have implications for the new year’s regional and global relations, could be identified as the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, and the more recent elections in Venezuela and Argentina, as well as the severe economic difficulties which the government of Brazil has found itself in over the year.
In respect of Cuba, a somewhat surprising turn was the revelation that President Obama had definitively decided to seek to determinedly engage the Government of Cuba. It has done this in the context of the continuing effects of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and Russia’s effective turn to a capitalist form of economic relations, and the decision of the Government of Cuba itself to reorganize its long-held state-determined political economy, and engage the Western world, and in particular the United States, in some measure of reform of the economy. And of course, what has been decisively noted has been the initiative of the Pope in this widely approved development.
At year’s end, what is left to be seen is how the Government of Cuba pursues this new orientation, while sustaining its present political arrangements, particularly those relating to substantial state ownership of, in classical Marxist terms, the means of production, distribution and exchange, and a one-party dominant system. Undoubtedly, the Cuban leadership has observed the transition of the Soviet Union into a Russia decisively engaged in global capitalist relations, while sustaining a political system dominated by the Communist Party’s successors who have, of course, conceded to a multiparty system, even though still dominated by Putin’s substantial state-held power.
Observers have, of course, noted there has not yet been a decisive change, or amendment of power relations in Cuba.
The prospects are, even with the proximity of Cuba to the United States, and the temptation of that country to interfere, if not intervene, that the next few years will witness a delicate political dance between the two countries.
The defeat of President Maduro’s party in the recent parliamentary elections did not come as a surprise. Observers will certainly not have been surprised by the apparently limited ability of the President to engage the Venezuelan people and electorate in following his and his party’s, lead. Events in Venezuela will perhaps be the most watched in the South American continent during the coming year, one in which in the frenzy of the election campaign in the United States, the contenders there might well be inclined to respond radically to any perceived Venezuelan difficulties.
But from a United States’ perspective, the difficulties of President Rousseff in Brazil, relating not only to the functioning of the economy, but to challenges towards her participation in, and conduct of, government before, and during her accession to power, will certainly be of particular concern. It will be important to observe whether she and her party, with the assistance of former President Lula, will be able to contain popular discontent.
Observers of Latin American affairs will have taken note, at year’s end, of the presidential elections in Argentina which resulted in a decisive swing in favour of the opposition, and indications of changes in the economic affairs of the state. The opposition’s victory seems to presage an end to experiments there with populist forms of governance.
As now active participants in Latin American and hemispheric affairs, Caribbean leaderships will obviously be inclined to watch developments in some of these significant states in the hemisphere, even as they watch the political temperature rise in the United States with, at least up to now, a previously unknown political actor, businessman Donald Trump, seeming to set the pace.