Editorial : January 2016
The Year In Retrospect
Dr. Rasheed Hasan Khan
It was a year which saw its share of disasters. The year 2015 will conjure up the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The surge of Islamic State, the flowing blood of the Shia-Sunni divides across the Middle East, seem inconceivable without the invasion by the US-led coalition of the Middle East. The sanctimonious insistence on removing various regimes and poorly thought out strategy has proven calamitous.
An exemplary illustration of this problem is the Syrian conflict, which in 2015 moved into its next, ever more dangerous phase. Countries such as the United Kingdom extended their strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria after parliamentary debate. Russia joined the conflict in dramatic fashion, claiming to strike Islamic State targets while also targeting anti-Assad forces. Having failed in Syria, diplomacy has also retreated in the face of facing one of the most prominent consequences of the war: refugees. Millions have been displaced, and have trekked across continents, and sailed across seas. Thousands have drowned. Countries such as Australia and Hungary have respectively sought fortress reactions, be they turning back the boats or sealing off the borders. Others, such as Germany, have preferred accommodation.
Not all international relations ended in blood or stalemate. The dark chapter regarding Syria should also be read alongside the deliberations over Iran’s nuclear program. The US and Iran, accompanied by China, Russia, France, UK and Germany, were finally convinced to come to the table, one which culminated in the July deal that ostensibly limits Teheran’s pursuit for a nuclear weapon in exchange for lifting sanctions. Cynics, mainly among the Republicans in the United States Congress and Israel, were not convinced, desperate to see Iran bounded and bowed.
Others will prefer underlining the environmental accord of COP21, the Paris meeting that saw a mixed, albeit global attempt to forge an agreement limiting the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Differentiation, as ever, remains the big problem, and whether 2015 is the year when the human race chalked up an environmental victory, or failed to avert impending catastrophe, will have to be written.
2015 will be one of those years where terrorism continued to receive major attention. The ledger was certainly crowded: spectacular attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria; assaults in France by Islamic State militants; continued bombings in Iraq, to name a few. The motivating fear in many countries has been Islamic radicalization at home, though it is one often disengaged from the foreign policy dimension of governments.
The response to this phenomenon has varied, but what is evident is an internationalization of the surveillance state. If 2015 is to be a year of any significance in that regard, the erosion of civil liberties, across a range of areas, must be one of them. Civil liberties have suffered in Australia, Britain, France and Canada. Legislation stripping the citizenship of dual-nationals has passed. The mania for data retention and pushing Internet Service Providers into the role of deputized police over content is a trend that sees no sign of abating.
Finally, two points on economics and sovereignty. The European Union, to take a most obvious example, continues to stutter towards doom, showing how a broad-based continental program was high-jacked by a bank-based, financial philosophy obsessed by austerity. It has seen the most grisly of capitulations by Greece and the railroading of its financial independence before the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. Will 2015 be the year the EU began penning its obituary?
A second and not unrelated point. Those of the neoliberal persuasion would have been delighted by the continued push of the technocrats, typified by the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement between twelve countries that nets the Asia-Pacific economic zone in an effort to combat China. The “free trade” rationale suggests why 2015 is memorable from one, distinct perspective: the relentless, estranging rise of the corporate shadow state over the legislative competence of people’s representatives.
While twelve parliaments and assemblies will be busy implementing the text in the forthcoming year, the casualties are bound to be severe. Environmental protections, the prices of pharmaceutical products and biologics, and the role of copyright and intellectual property, will all feature in some form. And if companies are dissatisfied with the policies of signatory states, they will be able to sue on lost profits. A true recipe for disenchantment and one for continued skepticism in 2016.