The year is all but over, and it is time for the yearly summary. Last year I thought four things of particular importance for the then coming 2007, and it is now time to see what happened on those areas. They were Iraq, Iran, the European Union and its constitutional treaty, and the expansion of free trade.
Iraq has seen real progress. Local tribal leaders have turned against al Qaeda, and with general Petraeus actively working with them things have become more stable than a year ago. The added number of troops help, and if maintained, could lead to an Iraq peaceful enough to develop and eventually take over more and more responsibility for its security. Many things can obviously still go wrong — especially if a newly elected American president decides to get out as quick as possible, ruining what has been gained — but one can still be optimistic.
Iran, meanwhile, seems to have fallen off the agenda. This might be dangerous. The latest intelligence report admittedly claims that there is no current activity to gain nuclear weapons, but one should remember that this comes from the source that missed 9/11 and that felt relatively sure that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Also, with the instability in Pakistan, there are other ways the Islamic Republic could acquire nukes.
Last year I urged the EU to finally draw the correct conclusions from the French and Dutch rejections of the constitutional treaty, and pull back from the ambition of an ever closer union. This has not happened. Instead, Brussels marches onward, trying to sneakily adopt most of the treaty, part by part. This is not surprising, of course. If step after step continues to be taken in this direction, there is a risk that the project will collapse, becoming too unpopular. The risk, however, is small, and the interest in what happens in Brussels is minimal in spite of the fact that the EU increasingly have become a body that tries to regulate our behaviour and everyday lives.
Finally there is the matter of free trade, and 2007 has been a bad year. Protectionism seems to be stronger than in quite a while, and the most obvious example of it is the U.S. presidential election campaigns in which most candidates on both sides talks about “fair trade”, meaning higher tariffs on China, changed to or withdrawal from NAFTA, and other things in that direction. Economically this makes no sense, but it does win votes. The main exception is John McCain, and to some extent Giuliani and Romney. If 2008 will see more of protectionism, the world will be a poorer place for it.
Added to all this are the developments in Pakistan and Russia. Where Pakistan is headed, nobody knows, but the situation is clearly very dangerous. An islamist government possessing nukes, presents obvious dangers, as would a government more hostile towards its eastern neighbour India — a country also in possession of nuclear weapons.
In Russia Vladimir Putin has continued on his path away from democracy, while getting ever more anti-Western in his speeches. He has essentially appointed his deputy prime minister, Medvedev, to be president next year when Putin’s term expires, and Medvedev in turn has asked Putin to be his prime minister. The opposition is weak, and the media to a large extent controlled by the Kremlin. I see little cause for optimism.
This may all sound very pessimistic, but — if the last few decades provide any guidance — the world will overall probably turn into a slightly better place next year, just as it has this year. More people will be lifted out of poverty, with the aid of the free trade that we do have, and due to liberalisations in the economy in poor countries. Technology will continue to improve, hopefully providing us with cheaper and more efficient ways to deal with things like malaria and HIV/Aids.
The defining issues of 2008 will be whether the U.S. will stay in Iraq long enough to ensure continued relative stability; the outcome of the turmoil in Pakistan; whether the protectionist voices will be heard and tariffs increase; what happens in the Balkans over the next 6 months or so, when and if Kosovo declares independence. And, of course, the U.S. presidential election — among many things, expected and unexpected.
It has been fun to write on this blog in 2007, and I hope you have enjoyed it and will continue to do so in 2008. Happy new year!