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10-08-2015, 00:00

THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

It is strange that at about the time of a new century the world moves in a different direction, not exactly in 1901 or 2001 but close to it. New directions were charted in 1789, 1914 and then twice in the last century, in 1945 and the mid- 1990s. As the twenty-first century unfolds, the threat of great global wars over ideological and power conflicts has passed and with it the danger of a nuclear holocaust. Conflicts have not suddenly disappeared – far from it, but they are contained and unlike 1914 or 1945 are not spreading globally between the most powerful nations. Bilateral wars will continue to break out especially on the African continent, but the international community has the means to end them if it so wills. The loss of human lives will occur far more through internal wars and ethnic hatreds and if the international community does not step in these can still cause hundreds of thousands of deaths as in Rwanda. The ‘war’ on terror, the so called ‘clash of civilisations’ is of an entirely different order. Because the casualties are in the West with death tolls in the tens or hundreds – the Twin Towers so far uniquely in the thousands – this ‘war’ attracts more attention than the hundreds of thousands in the Sudan or the estimated 4 million over the past years in the Congo. Disease, hunger and the lack of a tolerable human environment in many parts of the world cause continuous suffering and mortality. Compared to the blood-soaked twentieth century no wars between nations are being fought in Asia, the Americas and Europe. In the new millennium the downturn of the world economy from its low point in 2001 has been overcome. But the World Trade Organisations talks – the Doha round in September 2003 – made no progress in liberalising trade further. The rich and poor countries are at loggerheads. The European Union and the US would not abandon export subsidies of farm products, the most contentious issue. Rich countries subsidise cotton, crushing poor West African growers. The US appeared to be determined to protect its cotton farmers. The concessions by the US and EU were too small to satisfy the poor countries. Then in the spring of 2004 the EU offered major concessions and the US promised to match them. Suddenly prospects improved. Global freeing of trade is being supplemented by regional and bilateral deals. The upturn in world trade in general has benefited both rich and poor. The improvements of two countries have pulled the rest of the world forwards – the US and China. The possibility of a recession in the US in 2000 and 2001 was avoided by setting interest rates at the lowest point ever. Consumer spending and housing allowed the economy to grow by a modest percentage, but as it is the biggest economy in the world even a small percentage translates into a large absolute amount of goods and services. George W. Bush has benefited from the upturn. The good feeling at home, and greater confidence in his firm leadership in the fight against terrorist groups outweighed dissatisfaction with developments in Iraq. Bush won the elections for the presidency in November 2004 convincingly against Senator John Kerry, the Democratic contender. It was a victory not so much for conservatism or the moral Christian alliance, as for a decisive leader. But the US is clearly geographically divided. At least there was no repeat of the uncertainties of 2000. Across the Pacific, China has maintained an astonishing rate of growth. The Chinese way has been to open the economy to foreign investment, to join the World Trade Organisation and, with the advantages of its vast supply of cheap labour and lack of concern for the environment, to become the ‘workshop of the world’ in many branches of manufacture. As Japan and the West outsource production and invest in China, the rate of growth is continuing as the vast country is perceived to be stable. Stability is secured at the expense of democracy. The Western clamour for reform soon subsided after the Tiananmen uprising, China is too valuable a trading partner. China is also appeased by the Western rejection of Taiwanese independence, potentially the most inflammatory issue in the eastern Pacific. The US has an undertaking to defend Taiwan against an attempt by the People’s Republic of China to take the island by force. This provides the US with leverage and restrained Prime Minister Chen Shui-bian whose party narrowly defeated the more moderate Kuomintang in the March 2004 elections. In facing North Korea, a military state with nuclear capability, the US has found in China a useful partner counselling restraint on North Korea’s leader. China has become a respected global partner integrated in the world economy. There are still huge problems. The glittering wealth of Shanghai and coastal China contrasts with the poverty of much of the hinterland. The sector of state firms remains uncompetitive, but progress has been achieved. Over the decade employment in the state sector has been halved, though it still accounts for a third of all urban employment. The Chinese banking system sits on top of a huge non-performing debt that in a normal market economy would have led to a financial crisis. Corruption remains widespread, it matters who you know. The leadership papers over the contradictions between the official ideology and realities. Thus in the supposedly communist state privately owned businesses increase year by year by 20 per cent creating employment and drawing in investment. The leadership supports the private sector, recognising that the future of China depends on it. In March 2004 private property rights were declared ‘inviolable’. What is left of the former Marxist state is the one-party system. Hu Jintao replaced Jiang Zemin as party chief in 2002 and president in 2003. His style is more in conformity with a modern leader, dispensing with a fawning media. The Chinese people enjoy greater personal freedom. But the reform of the party, despite Hu Jintao’s call encapsulated in the exhortation of the ‘Three Represents’ that the party should ‘represent’ advanced productive forces, advanced culture and serve the people, remains no more than a vague aspiration. The leadership fears that genuine encouragement at the grass roots of electoral choice, even within the party would open the floodgates. The pressures for reform come from the intellectuals, a small group that can be contained. The Chinese leadership is not prepared to take risks when so much progress has been achieved. Higher living standards have engendered compliance with the system, protected by a large army. The new urban middle class is content to enjoy the fruits of their enterprise. While Japan’s annual economic growth remained sluggish, about a fifth of China’s, its economic output (GDP) is five times as large as China’s with a population of 127 million compared with China’s 1,300 million. Japan’s economy is the second largest in the world after that of the US. But Japan has contributed little to global growth. Is the once dynamic tiger permanently slowed by old age? Since 1990 an upturn was anticipated almost every year and never happened. In 2004 the economy finally did manage to perk up, not spectacularly, but for Japan in comparison to earlier years a steady growth of 1.5 to 2 per cent a year would mark a significant change. What has also begun to change is the political system dominated for most of the post-war years by factions of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In the past, policy conflicts were fought out within the LDP by the most powerful factions, the prime minister was usually a front man of short duration and disposable. Junichiro Koizumi is the first ‘modern’ leader who has courted the people and made good use of the media, a personable and striking figure with his coif of hair, youthful in his sixties compared with his tired predecessors, and nicknamed ‘Lionheart’. His notable achievement when he first became party leader and so prime minister in 2001 was to face down the factions and to rely for his political power on ‘people power’ and the electoral system. He promised deep reforms of the economy, privatisation, competition of business at home, reform of the banking sector and an end of the wasteful corruption and public spending. But the Japanese people are afraid of change and the inevitable loss of security it entails, deploring rising unemployment and fearful of restructuring. In the domestic economy only comparatively small progress was achieved, while efficient big business which exports to the world did not wait on government reforms to maintain its competitiveness. Koizumi’s popularity was put to the test in the November 2003 elections to the lower house. Despite fears of his promised ‘structural reforms’, the LDP remained the largest single party with half of the 480 seats. But another new feature has been the emergence of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) as a credible opposition party. The gain is the evolution of a two-party system strengthening democratic choice. Koizumi’s other aim is to shed Japan’s subservient international pacifism in the face of North Korea’s military threat – North Korea not only has developed nuclear weapons which Japan has forsworn, but missiles which it demonstrated could reach Japan. A symbolic step of his new thinking was to deploy a small force of troops of the self-defence forces outside Japan in southern Iraq. The signs are that Koizumi will not be another in a long line of short-lived prime ministers. South Korea, once Japan’s follower in economic development, contrasts with Japan in having undertaken radical reform to restructure its economy with spectacular success. After the dip in 2003, the economy is growing strongly dominated by restructured efficient big business, the chaebols. But politics are more tumultuous. After one year in office the opposition parties impeached President Roh Moo Hyun on the flimsiest of pretexts in March 2004, a gambit that backfired when in the national elections the following month his Uri Party was returned with an increased majority. With a four-year term and a working majority Roh is in a position to push through promised reforms but so far has lacked the determination and steadiness to achieve much. For South Korea the nightmare remains – the militarised North which the South has tried to placate with aid. Possibly even in the North in 2004 tiny shoots of change have begun to sprout to bring the country out of its isolation. North Korea’s nuclear plans create the most uncertainty and tension in the region. Philippine democracy is in a parlous state. The people’s choice of president has, in the past, proved unfortunate. President Gloria Arroyo’s qualifications as a sound economist seem less important than the handsome media image of the best known B-film actor, a Mr Poe, totally inexperienced in politics. Memories of the impeached predecessor of President Arroyo were enough, however, for the majority to vote for her. The better news in 2004 is that a peace deal might be done with the Muslim separatists on the island of Minndanao and their assurance that their links with al-Qaeda will be severed. Voting for changes of government in elections, however imperfect the process, has become the norm in Asia except in China and North Korea and in Pakistan, which has more a tradition of military rulers than democratic elected ones, as well as in Myanmar. Indonesia went to the polls in April 2004 with President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of the nation’s founding father, hoping to maintain her position. The Bali bombing in 2002 demonstrated that Islamic terrorists are active. Despite the economic recovery bringing Indonesia back from the brink, she is blamed for a lack of determination to stamp out corruption. Elections in 2004 voted her out of office. In Malaysia there have been no great changes since Mahathir’s retirement. The once-popular deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim remains in prison. Here there are more elections and calls for an end of corruption, inevitable when one party and one leader holds power for two decades as Mahathir did. With the rest of Asia, Malaysia’s economy too has recovered. The two most important countries of southern Asia, India and Pakistan are moving toward peaceful coexistence, working for a compromise on Kashmir after coming close to war at the close of the twentieth century. The declaration in 2004 of the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, that he would not permit any territory of Pakistan to become a home for terrorism broke the stalemate. The danger of a conflict escalating to a nuclear exchange drew the political leaderships on both sides back from the brink. Nuclear weapons cast a black shadow over the world but the hope must be that Alfred Nobel’s dream that the destructive capacity of mankind would be so great that there would be no alternative to peace will be realised. Dynamite and the weapons of two world wars were not sufficient to deter, but no two countries possessing nuclear weapons have ever fought each other. Alliances and friendships internationally are based less on what countries have in common than in identifying common enemies. When the president General Musharraf seized power in 1999 he first backed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan but then changed sides two years later and became America’s ally. This earned him the enmity of Muslim radicals of the Pushtun minority he had earlier supported. But he struck a deal with moderate Islamists that would enable him to remain president until 2007. With the backing of the army and adroit politics, which enabled him to persuade parliament to allow a military-dominated National Security Council to be created, he will remain in power unless assassinated by an extremist. Internationally, with its successful nuclear weapons programme and the secret spread of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, Malaysia and to North Korea in return for North Korean missile technology, Pakistan should have been branded a ‘rogue state’. But as an essential US ally in the ‘war against terrorism’, hunting bin Laden, no sanctions will be inflicted, nor will the human-rights records be challenged by the West. Common enemies make for strange bedfellows. India began its marathon elections in the spring of 2004. The Congress Party, which previously ruled India, has made a comeback with a young Ghandi generation set to revive its fortunes. Hindu extremism has marred the otherwise successful coalition government led by the Hindu nationalist BJP. India’s prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has presided over an economic boom in 2003 and 2004 that has benefited 300 million urban middle-class Indians. But India has two faces. Rural India lacks electric power, adequate roads, medical and social services and the majority living in the countryside have secured little benefit from the boom that is raising living standards for others. In a result that surprised the pundits, Sonya Ghandi, wife of the assassinated Congress prime minister Rajiv Ghandi, won the elections then unexpectedly withdrew leaving the premiership to Manmohan Singh. Congress won through support of the rural power who did not benefit from the growing prosperity of the urban middle class. India’s population growth still outstrips the creation of new employment and foreign investment; though this has increased strongly compared with the earlier years of stifling planning, it is only a fraction of investments flowing into China. Still there is in the twenty-first century hope where there was little before the last ten years. The same cannot be said of India’s neighbour Myanmar where the ruling military have no intention of relinquishing power to Aung Sun Kyi the popular dissident leader of the repressed National League for Democracy. It will not be given the opportunity to repeat its overwhelming success in the 1990 elections and has suffered various forms of restraint and arrest ever since. Even so, in Asia the rulers are beginning to win more acceptance. Afghanistan on Pakistan’s border has remained divided into warlord fiefs. The ravages of twentythree years of conflict cannot be quickly repaired. The leader Hamid Karzai has persuaded Afghan representatives to approve a new constitution for an Islamic republic. It looked fine on paper but expressed aspirations rather than reality. The national army is too weak to control the country, the US forces are essential to bolster some security and, for the poverty-stricken Afghans, opium poppies are the most reliable cash crop. But the first democratic elections in October 2004, though flawed, showed that the Afghan people were keen to go to the polls, including, for the first time, women. Karzai, the interim leader, was elected president. Progress has been achieved. Afghanistan requires massive foreign aid, not enough will be provided as the Western focus has shifted to the Middle East. Since the end of the Cold War Latin America too is no longer, in Western eyes, a crucial region and battleground. The principal Western interest in Latin America is financial and trade based. The long-term aim of the US is to create an inter-American free trade area. But fears and suspicion of US dominance remain an obstacle. Instead, larger trading blocs have been created among Latin American states, such as Mercosur and the Central American Free Trade Area, which may eventually act as stepping stones to a continental-wide free trade area. In South America, Chile is the only country to have a free trade agreement with the US. In the north, Mexico and Canada remain closely linked in the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA). More than four-fifths of Canadian exports go to the US. Radical change in Canadian politics after the retirement in December 2003 of Jean Chrétien is not on the cards. Jean Chrétien’s government brought Canada a decade of growth and prosperity. His long-time finance minister Paul Martin, leading the Liberal Party, became his successor. He has proved disappointingly lacklustre. The Quebec issue is dead for the foreseeable future. Mexico has not undergone the radical change expected after ending PRI’s monopoly of power in the 2000 elections. The PRI was able to win back seats which enabled it to block the reforms President Vicente Fox would like to legislate. By 2005, with his term of office drawing to an end, domestically he is unlikely to achieve much. Meanwhile, the president is anxious to maintain good relations with the Bush administration which received a setback when, despite heavy arm-twisting, Mexico was not willing to back Washington and London’s efforts at the UN to secure a second Iraq resolution unequivocally justifying the invasion. The increasing importance of the Hispanic vote in US elections helps to smooth relations between the US and Latin America. Bush’s efforts to legalise the Mexican immigrants appeals to the Hispanic voters and improves relations with Mexico. There is plenty to ruffle them still as Latin American politics in Brazil and Venezuela capitalise on anti-American feeling Brazil is the giant among the Latin American states with a population (179 million) almost five times as large as Argentina’s (39 million) and an economy more than three times the size. President Luis Inàcio Lula da Silva, promising a new fair deal, was brought to power by the poor. His left-wing credentials have not made him an obvious partner of the US which, through the International Monetary Fund, can exercise financial muscle to facilitate or obstruct loans. Nor is Lula da Silva an obvious disciple of IMF remedies – cutting government deficits, responsible finance and freeing trade and competition. Nevertheless, in his first two years of power the president began to tackle Brazil’s ills; the need to bring down inflation and to curb profligacy by imposing high interest rates. Better credit rating and a weaker currency have boosted Brazil’s exports. None of this has immediately helped the poor, one in eight are unemployed. The rewards lie in the future as the economy resumes growth and investor confidence returns. Inevitably, the president’s popularity plummeted. Argentina could hardly fall lower than it did in 2001. President Néstar Kirchner gained popularity in threatening not to repay Argentina’s private creditors and the IMF at the expense of bankrupt Argentineans. But wiser counsels prevailed. Agreement was reached with the IMF in 2004 and a new loan secured and negotiations continued with private investors. Fortunately, the economy grew strongly in 2003 and 2004 and, with a determined president willing to reform, the future began to look much brighter. Chile is the one South American state that is close to the US. The country continued to be ruled by the centre-left after the fall of Pinochet in 1990. Though human rights are secure, democratic parliamentary rule suffers from the lack of a credible opposition. The two most turbulent countries of the southern hemisphere were Venezuela and Haiti. President Hugo Chavez’s Bolívarian revolution resulted in catastrophic strikes and opposition and a campaign to oust him by democratic means. From a low base Venezuela’s economy has begun to recover and Chavez in 2004 convincingly won a referendum confirming him in the presidency. In Haiti in 2004 Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from power by a violent rebellion. A UN force with US and allied troops restored order, but the roots of violence and the abject poverty of the mass of population remain even when the troops depart. So what is happening in Latin America? Has the new century broken the mould of the old? In one way it appears to have done so, elections and democracy are the norm; the rise of commodity prices fuelled by China and the world recovery have lifted the economies from the abyss. But the very dependence on commodities makes Latin America vulnerable to the next downturn. Bust may follow boom again. The overwhelming majority of the people live in poverty which provides no stable foundation for democracy as desperate people turn to charismatic leaders who, in turn, stimulate repression of rights. Latin America depends on the judgement of private investors and the willingness of the US to risk the funds of the International Monetary Fund. The massive aid needed is not forthcoming. Below the surface the new century marks more continuity than change. The real lift-off lies in the future. No continent’s misery has been greater than that of Africa or, more accurately, sub-Saharan Africa which comprises most of the continent and its people. Somalia has been practically left to fight out its own warlord wars. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe has made a mockery of democratic rule and civil rights. Distributing the estates of the white farmers to some 134,000 black Zimbabweans without adequate training has reduced Zimbabwe from an exporting country to one dependent on foreign aid to stave off famine. In acting as he did, encouraging violence against the white population, he completely reversed the role he played when first coming to power. Zimbabwe has been suspended from the Commonwealth, but enjoys the protection of South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki. Without more aid millions of Zimbabweans face starvation which may force Mugabe to moderate or even hand over power. Brave Zimbabweans who formed the Movement for Democratic Reform, a dwindling group who are beaten up and persecuted, continue to chal- lenge Mugabe. The first treason trial in October 2004 of their leader Morgan Tsuangirai collapsed; his conviction on flimsy evidence Mugabe probably had decided would unnecessarily outrage international opinion and create a martyr; Tsuangirai faced another trial. Mugabe’s control is so complete that he probably decided the Movement for Democratic Reform no longer was a threat to him. Zimbabwe can hardly sink lower, there remains only the hope that when Mugabe goes, the stricken country can begin to recover. The vast Congo is not under the complete control of Kinshara and rebels hold sway in the east on the borders of Uganda. War, disease and poverty, by the end of 2005, will have killed 4 million, half of them children. Every year hope is renewed that the Arab Muslim north of Sudan will reach a settlement with the rebellion of mainly black Christians and animists in the south but the conflict has continued. Peace can come none too soon after forty years of war and 2 million dead victims. It has come tantalisingly near with the help of the UN. In 2004 a new rebellion broke out in western Sudan in the Darfur province bordering on Libya and Chad with over one million peasants fleeing the fighting. Arab militias backed by the government burnt their villages, terrified the black African Sudanese, murdering 50,000. Aid agencies struggle with inadequate resources in the refugee camps in Chad where thousands have died from disease and malnutrition while the UN threatens sanctions, diplomats talk, and no country wishes to intervene seriously. These are all major catastrophes against which the casualties in Iraq pale, but they are in regions less important to the powerful nations of the world. Against the wars that persist, the threat of the devastation wrought by AIDS looms even larger. In Africa as a whole the infection rate had not lessened by 2005. More than 25 million are estimated to be HIV positive. In the worst affected countries a third of the adults carry HIV and in Botswana it is nearly 40 per cent. Wars and migrant labour have spread disease, and poverty and lack of health care have led to early death, especially of the young productive population. In Malawi, for instance, there is only one doctor for every 50,000 people and only one dollar is allocated for health spending on each person. Clean water and sanitation are lacking. AIDS is the biggest threat to Africa’s future; tuberculosis, malaria and malnutrition still unnecessarily claim lives. For the past few years President Mbeki has been in denial about the true cause of AIDS and drugs have only recently been made available on a wider scale. In standards of living for the majority of the people Africa has gone backwards. The last two decades have been catastrophic for much of the continent. Is, then, everything gloomy? There is also better news from the continent’s most populous countries south of the Sahara, South Africa and Nigeria. As South Africa moves into the new millennium Thabo Mbeki was elected in democratic elections to a second term as president. Who would have forecast that racial harmony would follow the oppressive decades of white rule? It is a remarkable achievement, Mandela’s legacy. Huge challenges remain, reduction of unemployment and the need for better educational opportunities and social care to stop the decline of living standards among the poor. The white South Africans are largely responsible for economic growth though a black middle class is increasing. With the blessings of internal peace South Africa’s future begins to look brighter. In Nigeria democratic rule was re-established and the cultural and ethnic rifts had been contained by President Olusegum Obasanjo, elected for a second term. The rise in the price of oil has benefited the economy but not the poor majority. Much needs to be done to root out corruption and persevere with reforms. Corruption has blighted Nigeria for decades, the oil riches reaching the few at the expense of the many. Oil too should have lifted Angola, now at peace, out of the devastation of decades of civil war, but again corrupt dealings by the few remain a barrier to improving standards of living. The West may help to raise Africa out of the depths with aid, more importantly by reforming its own farming subsidies, but in the end it will be up to African leaders and African enterprise to fashion a better future. During the last decade of the twentieth century attention in Europe was focused on the wars in Yugoslavia. Now there is peace, not perfect harmony. In 2004, Kosovo and flared into violence to oust Serbian remnants there, NATO peacekeepers continued to ensure stability in Bosnia. The 17,000 strong force in December 2004 was taken under the command of the EU after a decade of peace keeping. Serbia post-Milosˇevic´ has not moved forward and is politically unstable, and relations with the West are soured over the one-sided war crimes trials they perceive. But nowhere in Europe in the new millennium is there war. The one war in which a European country is engaged is Russia’s conflict in Chechnya. Putin had declared it to be over but in reality peace has not come to Chechnya and Chechnyan militants have staged spectacular terrorist attacks in the heart of Moscow in revenge. The conflict spread to the Caucasus. Apart from Chechnya Russia has changed remarkably under the strong lead of President Putin. Putin’s handling won him popular support and a second presidential term in March 2004 against weak opponents. The imprisonment of the Yukos oil magnet Mikhail Khordorkovsky and control of the media show that he will allow no rival power basis and in the Duma Putin’s United Russia Party had won control in elections in December 2003. The world was reminded of the brutal struggle in Chechnya when terrorists occupied a school massacring children and teachers. In the aftermath Putin tightened his hold on Russia by insisting on farreaching constitutional changes: members of the Duma will be elected from party lists and not directly from constituencies and the eighty-nine regional governors will no longer be elected either but appointed by the Kremlin. With the rise in the price of oil and better budgetary controls the economy has recovered and stabilised. Relations with the West are good, and many contentious issues lie in the past, peace is essential if Russia is to continue to progress. Events in the Ukraine in November 2004 showed that differences, west and east, had not been totally overcome and could suddenly cloud relations. The Ukraine is a country with a population of more than 35 million, geographically and culturally split between the west and east; the west looking to the EU and the east to continuing close ties with Russia. The elections for the presidency underlined this division with Putin backing the pro-Russian candidate against the opposition. To ensure the victory of the pro- Russian candidate there was massive electoral fraud and he was declared the winner. People took to the streets in Kiev; people power prevailed once again. Compromise and unity are the most likely outcome after new elections; the opposition candidate won the rerun elections in January 2005. There is a long way to go to overcome Russia’s health problems, security with peace in Chechnya, ending the corruption, strengthening business law, and lifting all of the people out of poverty. Russia, though its democracy is flawed by Western standards, requires strong leadership and is moving in the right direction. For the great majority of Russian people decent standards of living, security and civil liberty are more immediately important than democracy. The continental European countries are all struggling to maintain the expensive burdens of a welfare state, the prospect of having to fund the pensions of an ageing population, and unemployment at around 9 per cent is too high in France, Germany and Italy and even higher in Spain. To regain more robust growth painful changes are needed. Britain stands out among the bigger European countries with low unemployment and reasonable growth. The policies of the centre-right government in President Chirac’s France, Schröder’s social democratic Germany, right-wing Berlesconi’s government in Italy and the new socialist government of José Zapatero in Spain do not differ that much, nor do the challenges facing them. In foreign relations they had parted company from Blair’s Labour Britain which had backed Bush’s policy in Iraq and shared its aims. In 2004 Blair’s reputation suffered from the difficulties the coalition ran into in Iraq and from the loss of credibility for going to war in the first place when no weapons of mass destruction were found or believed to have existed after the first Gulf War. Over closer union with Europe the majority of the British electorate remained sceptical and Blair’s belated conversion to allowing the electorate a say in a referendum was a further blow to the belief which had sustained him: that he was not like other politicians. Need for a referendum was the one issue on which the Conservatives would have enjoyed overwhelming support in a general election, and it was now snatched from them. It looked more like a cynical political manoeuvre than a genuine change of heart. Blair survived and Labour remained well ahead of the Conservatives as the next general election loomed. Tensions became more evident between Chancellor Brown and the prime minister as Blair embraced the ‘New Labour’ policies once more for an expected third term, thwarting the more left-inclined Gordon Brown. The Conservatives, meanwhile, had found an effective parliamentary leader in Michael Howard. Their problem was to find a cause, another mission, as Blair straddled the centre ground of policies. For Europe the culminating achievement in the new millennium has been its coming together into a peaceful partnership – the European Union. The divisions of Yalta, which left central and Eastern Europe in Soviet control against their will, have ended. The enmities of the Second World War finally lie buried. There is no more amicable and close partnership than that between Germany and France, overriding political differences. On 1 May 2004 eight continental European countries and two islands in the Mediterranean joined the Union. The largest and most important new member was Poland with a population (38.2 million) almost as large as Spain’s. With a failing government and a large farming population, joining will cause painful adjustments. None of the countries that join enjoy the full benefits of subsidies from the start or are completely free to seek employment in the West before 2007. There is particular anxiety that persecuted minorities, such as the Roma in Slovakia, will embark on mass migrations. Even though growth has resumed, all the new members except Slovenia will take decades to reach the living standards of the more prosperous West. The economics of all the new ten members – Slovakia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta, however, are growing faster than the stagnant continental Western countries. The free trade market has become the largest in the world. It seems inevitable that the twenty-five members will group themselves into different blocs within the EU. None of the new members, for instance, will join the Monetary Union in the immediate future. With a new decision procedure in the EU still to be worked out so that policy is not paralysed, new alignments will be formed. The draft constitution will require ratification and some ten members, including Britain, will submit the decision to a referendum. If one member state or more fails to ratify, the EU faces a new crisis. The new president of the commission José Manuel Barroso also faced the embarrassment, in November 2004, of having to withdraw the line up of his new commissioners, anticipating a European parliamentary rejection. Dropping two commissioners and realigning the rest won approval, but it was a significant victory for parliamentary power. Intractable differences have occurred before during the half century of the community’s existence and ways have always, in the past, been found to overcome them. When on 1 May 2004 all the ten new members celebrated their entry, there was one sour note. It was hoped that all the people on the divided island of Cyprus would agree to the UN-brokered peace plan to unify the government. The Turks said yes to the proposed settlement, the Greek Cypriots said no. They felt they had little to lose as the Greek Cypriot part of the island had been promised membership anyway. Not all of Europe is united yet. Bosnia remains under the control of an EU peacekeeping force; Serbian politics are turbulent and popular resistance to compliance to hand over the chief perpetrators of war crimes to The Hague court has impeded relations with the West. Milosˇevic´ who was sent to The Hague has inspired defiance rather than compliance. Bulgaria and Romania are not yet considered to be far enough on the road to reform and adjustment to become members and have been set a target date of 2007. But looking at the wider picture the transformation of central and northern Europe has been astonishing. The brutal communist dictatorships, secret police, the dead hand of state control, bureaucracy, class discrimination, and party regimenta- tion have been swept away. Civic freedom and democratic government, the basic requirements of membership, are being anchored in. Even with all the difficulties ahead still to be overcome, who can doubt that this is a better world for the people of Europe? The largest applicant of all, Turkey, with a population of almost 70 million, is keen to join but arouses the most contention within the EU. Ninety-eight of every hundred people living in Turkey are Muslims. Can a Muslim country be regarded as ‘European’? Should Europe remain a union of overwhelmingly Christian countries? That is the view of the former French president Giscard d’Estaing who chaired the committee drafting the proposed constitution. The centreleft government of Gerhard Schröder, however, is in favour. In this it differs from France’s right. With Muslim problems at home, President Chirac is more ambivalent. In ‘principle’ the EU is committed to admitting Turkey when all the conditions are fulfilled. Turkey is governed by a moderate Islamic party. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has legislated many reforms to meet EU standards. There are three major obstacles to be overcome. The economy is weak and unstable and the country is far poorer than the existing members; question marks over the durability of Turkish democracy linger; so as not to impede the entry progress, the once all-powerful army command has held back but continues to see itself as the guardian of the Ataturk legacy; the relationship with the Kurdish minority has eased with a lessening of their harsh treatment but is not completely solved. One big step forward was Turkey’s pressure on the Turkish Cypriot leaders to accept the UN plan even though it failed due to the Greek Cypriot no vote. The Greek mainland government acknowledged Turkey’s new stance and, once the most determined opponents to Turkey’s entry, have declared they will support it. Turkey’s possible membership still lies some years in the future. A democratic, Muslim, secular Turkey, would help to change any Muslim perceptions in the Middle East and beyond that a ‘clash’ between a Christian West and the Muslim world exists. A new pattern in global relations is emerging in the twenty-first century. There are increasing global interrelations, good and bad, such as trade liberalisation through negotiations at the World Trade Organisation, efforts to save the environment, the depletion of world resources in the sea and on land, refugees, human rights and the limitation of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. More global issues are dealt with by specific organisations and through UN agencies. Agreements are hammered out reconciling national interests. Peacekeeping, too, is an international concern but international action through the UN is dependent on none of the countries holding a veto blocking it. Then individual countries will act on their own or with partners even when they cannot secure UN backing – the Kosovo war and the war against Iraq are recent instances. No country will accept being blocked by disagreement on the Security Council if it believes rightly or wrongly that its vital national interests are at stake. That is a reality in an imperfect world. Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the UN has grasped the difficult nettle of reform. There is no African permanent member on the Security Council; neither India nor Japan have permanent representation, yet two European countries, Britain and France each have veto powers; Germany, much larger than either, has no voice. The distribution of power dates back to the end of the Second World War and no longer reflects the world half a century later. That weakens the authority of the UN, already undermined by Iraq, where the US and Britain led a war declared illegal by Kofi Annan. But Kofi Annan’s own standing has suffered from the massive frauds of the oil for humanitarian assistance to Iraq programme overseen by the UN, which enabled Saddam Hussein to skim-off millions to bribe and corrupt foreign ‘friends’ of his regime. Countries will take the lead in sending troops to regions of traditional concern or for humanitarian reasons later securing UN backing or acting for the UN. Britain undertook intervention in Sierra Leone, the US in Grenada, Haiti, Panama and Liberia. But countries will also simply be left to fight out each other’s conflicts, as during the wars between India and Pakistan, at best they will be offered diplomatic mediation. Nor is there any keenness to send troops to countries whose rulers perpetrate human catastrophes on their own people. The example of Rwanda was repeated in Darfur, western Sudan in 2004. There are no universal peacekeepers even though there is one country, the US, more powerful than all the others. The US neither has the resources nor is it willing to sacrifice young men and women to act as policemen everywhere in the world. So a pattern is gradually becoming clearer that harks back to the close of the Second World War. The idea of the regional policemen, then, was that China, Britain, the US and Russia would each be responsible for peace in their own parts of the world. Half a century later the ‘regional policemen’ are more numerous. Russia still controls a vast land of different peoples and cultures, NATO has replaced Britain and links Europe and the US, the European Union is emerging with its own rapid reaction force, but China is reluctant to act as a policeman outside its borders; it has enough problems at home. African countries cannot do so even if they want to unless given financial and logistical support. ‘Ethical’ or ‘moral’ foreign policies have not dominated international action and are unlikely to do so in the future. In the sub-Sahara, South Africa is another reluctant participant; in West Africa, Nigeria has led a West African joint effort as it did from 1990 to 1997 in Liberia and again in 2003. The West African force, too, lacks resources but on occasion the US will provide a logistics and financial backup while rejecting a leading role. There are no set patterns in some regions of the world where no force of ‘regional policemen’ can be formed because they are too divided. If at the same time it is a region of vital interest to one or more of the powerful countries of the world the outcome is even more difficult to predict. The most volatile area fitting this characterisation is the Middle East. The international vacuum is partially filled in the Middle East by the US and partners willing to act with it. But much will depend on the outcome of the US-led intervention in Iraq where the peaceful evolution of some form of democratic government is threatened by the resistance of militant Sunnis. In the new millennium the hope is for the peaceful resolutions of conflicts and regional actions in line with the ideals of the United Nations. Inevitably realities will frequently fall short of high ethical purposes. The dangers to peace have radically changed. The shadow of nuclear holocaust between the Soviet Union and the West has been lifted. Today technological weapon advances allow small groups of terrorists to inflict injury to every country on the globe. It will always be possible to inspire groups to identify hated enemies and to brainwash individuals to accept that any means are justified to hit the targeted enemy. Martyrdom for a cause has become more widespread, born out of frustration and hatred from Chechnya to Israel, New York to Nairobi. Al-Qaeda has been the focus of the war against terror. In fact, hundreds of groups act on their own or in loose touch with each other. It is not a war that has a definite start date or will end on a day with a surrender. It is a continuous struggle on two fronts – to try to remove the causes where there is a will to do so and to strike against terrorists to reduce their destructiveness. The struggle with terrorists and their ‘successes’ makes headlines but the direct loss of life has run into thousands over a decade not comparable to the wars of the twentieth century with the deaths of millions. The nightmare scenario of the future is that a terror group could obtain nuclear or biological weapons of mass destruction. A foretaste was the attack by one group with nerve gas in the Tokyo subway or Saddam’s use of killer gas against the Kurds. For several years before 2003 a Pakistani scientist Abdul Khan, through a network of agents, distributed nuclear know-how and even components to build a bomb to Iran, North Korea and Libya, and other countries as well. More immediate is the danger from a nuclear ‘dirty bomb’ far easier to construct. Striking successfully against terrorists in hiding protected by sections of the local population has always proved to be extraordinarily hazardous and difficult. Such conflicts all over the world can continue for decades. When leaders of countries support them, the blunt instrument of war as in Afghanistan can hinder the terrorists’ ability to strike but not to inspire others. Sanctions are another weapon which in the end proved effective in Libya. It is justifiable to end a history of the world with more positive reflections. During the century that now lies behind, wars and tyrannical regimes resulted in the deaths of at least 200 million people, most of them civilians, and even more millions suffered injury and loss. The century that saw so much material progress for the survivors was a graveyard for others. The threat to life has been reduced to a fraction of the cataclysmic total of the twentieth century. Europe, in the past a cauldron of wars, is peacefully coming together for common purposes. Russia has ceased to be a threat and, in turn, has ceased to feel threatened by the West. The alliance of NATO against the Soviet Union has been transformed into an association with it. The Balkan fires have been smothered. There are dangers in Asia. India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, are still unable to settle their Kashmir dispute, but the nuclear stand-off, like a mini-Cold War situation of mutual assured destruction, makes their leaders draw back from the brink. Their economies are growing though many obstacles to more rapid development persist. Perhaps the most unexpected change has been the global integration of China just a decade and a half after the brutal Tiananmen suppression. The Chinese people enjoy more freedoms, as long as they accept the control of the one-party communist leadership. The most severe curtailment of personal freedom was the draconian one child per couple policy to limit population growth. Its success is leading to relaxation. The Chinese army is the regime’s safeguard of internal control and is not intended as a means of external aggression. Bitter ideological differences with Taiwan have been papered over internationally and the war of words has remained just that. The Japanese people who, alone, have suffered the devastation of a nuclear attack, like the Germans, have purged themselves of ambitions of war and aggression. Though their economy has stagnated for a decade, Japan remains by far the wealthiest and most powerful economy in Asia, an important partner of global economic health. The superiority of a market economy over rigid communist state control, of representative institutions over tyranny, is demonstrated by the contrast between South Korea and North Korea. North Korea, with a nuclear programme and a millionstrong army, is a threat, but the North Korean regime is isolated, economically a disaster, and desperately needs Western help and relief: a ‘rogue state’ that is being, and has to be, contained. Tyrannical regimes have become the exception and are no longer spreading like cancer across the globe. The benefits of the market economy and governments accountable to the people are becoming dominant. Possibly it is a hopeful pointer to a better future globally that some conflicts which only a short while ago seemed incapable of any resolution have ended in a truce in regions widely apart. The fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers ended in 2002, the IRA ceased its bombing and violence in Northern Ireland in 1994, and the conflict between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China remains a war of words; in the Sudan the Muslim government in the north ended the war in the south by negotiation with the help of the UN. The fears that population growth which passed the six billion mark at the turn of the twenty-first century could outstrip the planet’s resources have once again been found to be misplaced. Although the world’s population astonishingly doubled in just the last forty years the increase has slowed. There is, in the twenty-first century, a growing awareness of dangers ahead and the world leaders are making efforts to meet them. Standards of living are rising, though unevenly in different regions; they are accelerating faster in the developed world with the gap between rich and poor widening. That issue, too, is on the world agenda. This disparity, more than wars and persecution has led to the enterprising seeking better opportunities and a better life for themselves and their families. Opportunities for migration to the developed world for those without means of skills in demand are severely restricted. The poor countries suffer from the brain drain of, for instance, the skilled and doctors and nurses they have trained at home who fill the gaps in developed nations, but no one wants large numbers of unskilled. The only way in for the great majority is to take advantage of international obligations for countries to accept people in danger of harm in their own countries – these are the asylum seekers. Large numbers apply annually to Western European countries which are unwilling to absorb them and try to distinguish between those genuinely in danger and those who are not but are seeking a better life, the so-called economic migrants. Thousands of tragedies result daily. Governments find themselves under popular pressure to limit entry though historically immigrants have benefited the countries they enter once they have been able to establish themselves. The perception is that they cost the state money and use resources already inadequate for the indigenous populations. Often of different race and culture, they start as strangers who have to assimilate and it is difficult for many to accept those different to themselves. The influx of migrants, whether Mexican in California or Afghans in Britain, is a major domestic issue. Actually in a global perspective the numbers are minuscule. Even adding illegal immigrants, the eight wealthy countries between them receive less than 400,000 applications, reject most and, with illegal immigrants, probably absorb less than half a million in a population of over 600 million. Medical advances are able to keep pace with diseases, though remedies are not available everywhere. That lack, too, is slowly improving. Racial discrimination has not ceased but has lessened and is recognised for the evil it is. Has the world become a better place in the new century? The global response of generosity to help the victims of the earthquake in the Indian Ocean, which struck with especially devastating force the Aceh province of Indonesia and the Tamil region of Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004, showed that on occasions when the world’s media are fully engaged, common feelings of humanity break through. The death toll on that single day reached at least a quarter of a million and millions more lost everything, perhaps just one member of a family survived with tens of thousands of children orphaned. Nature cannot be tamed, but the death toll of man’s conflicts exceed many times those of nature and attract less attention and response from the wealthy nations: the millions of dead in the civil wars of the Congo, the millions in the southern Sudan, which hopefully can make a UN brokered peace reached in January 2005 work, while in the western Darfur region more than a million have fled and tens of thousands have been killed and there is no end in sight. There are too many conflicts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East raging simultaneously for any one nation, even the most powerful, the US and allies, to engage simultaneously. The role of the UN is dependent on the backing of its members especially the permanent representatives of the Security Council. The UN has often shown a readiness to agree on resolutions, to offer peacekeeping international forces, on occasion to impose sanctions, to act as mediators, to provide humanitarian aid, all functions of great value, but can rarely agree to intervene with military force. Nations pursue their self-interests above common global goals unless the global goals are perceived as in their own interest. Nor can governments set themselves against the popular will for the more than a limited time even in more authoritarian societies. There is no prospect for universal peace, but the possibility of warfare on a global scale between the most powerful nations of the world, which caused such human and material ravages during the course of the twentieth century, has receded. Peace is the only option between nuclear armed Russia, the US, China, and Europe, global trade a necessity for their mutual prosperity. Representative government based on the consent of the people, however, remains far from universal. Europe is no longer the cauldron from whose centre global wars have spread, but it is at peace, bound by treaties requiring respect for human values and backed by economic union and law. For peoples in the greater part of the world the future holds the promise of better times even in the less developed and poorest regions. But there is a long way to go before basic human rights are enjoyed by all and poverty, disease and the millions of unnecessary deaths they cause no longer blight the lives of those not fortunate enough to be born in better governed and more prosperous countries, a long way to go before a meaningful global community emerges. Millions the world over follow the teachings of the Catholic Church and were affected by the death of the Pope, John Paul II in April 2005. He had made a huge impact on their lives. What is his legacy? John Paul II condemned artificial birth control and the use of condoms to combat the plagues of Aids; the priesthood remained celibate and male; homosexuality continued to be morally unacceptable; in all this he followed the traditional teaching of the Church. Power was centralised in the Vatican to ensure conformity to doctrine. John Paul II was revered for his moral strength and clarity, his courage resisting communism in his native Poland, his outreach visiting every continent despite failing health, his condemnation of centuries of persecution of the Jews, his conciliation of other faiths sharing common foundations. His death attracted pilgrims in unprecedented numbers and marked the end of an era. In a world far from perfect and scarred by many conflicts the words of Nelson Mandela ring out as a fitting inspiration for the new century: No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, they can be taught to love for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

 

 

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