2018 arrived, bedecked with the necessary colours and glitter of New Year’s Eve celebrations and filled with worldwide hopes for a year better than the one that passed. Of course, peoples and nations are not equal in their optimism and pessimism.
There are vast gaps between North and South, First Worlders and Third Worlders, and industrialised nations and agricultural nations or those that depend on their natural resources.
This said, mankind as a whole has some cause for hope. For instance, as we cross the threshold into the new year, indicators point to higher growth rates in the global economic environment. This means increased international trade, higher demands for energy and primary materials and, given the international division of labour, increased mutual dependency between countries.
Also, oil prices have reached a reasonable point for both producers and consumers. At the time of writing, oil cost $65 per barrel, which is not as high as those peak years when the barrel cost $114 and not as low as it was a year ago when it stood at $30.
At the current level, it is neither too burdensome for business and investment ventures that naturally entail fuel and energy outlays. Nor is it too burdensome for oil producing nations where national deficits present an obstacle to growth.
This optimistic outlook is informed by rapid growth in the US and Europe and, on the whole, by the fact that the world appears to have emerged from the 2008 financial crisis and is poised for a major economic boom.
Of course, we need to consider more than the global economic condition, as crucial as it is. Other aspects may be more important, such as international security. This, too, is not that bad.
There is no “international” war at present, except perhaps that in Yemen which, in essence, is a civil war with an admixture of proxy war on behalf of Iran. At the same time, there are international alliances that had been inconceivable not all that long ago. The Iranian-Turkish-Russian alliance to salvage the Syrian regime is a case in point.
So too is the tacit alliance between this threesome and the US in order to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group. True, the collapse of the self-acclaimed “caliphate state” has not brought an end to the IS phenomenon, but IS members and terrorists in general are on the run, scrambling for new places in which to impose their terrorism or outsourcing it to “lone wolves”.
As brutal as it is, the “war against terrorism” cannot be compared to wars between nations. While the terrorist phenomenon has been described as “global”, this adjective is more in the nature of a metaphor for its reach.
Many countries have not been effected and while the victims are numerous, their numbers cannot be compared to the tolls of world wars which numbered in the millions. In addition, there is tangible international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and in other areas.
As 2017 drew to a close, the world seemed tense and sharply divided as the result of Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Fourteen countries stood against the US in the Security Council and in the General Assembly only eight out of 128 nations sided with the US.
Nevertheless, after a very short period of time — before the year was out — there was a sign of unity as all 15 members of the Security Council voted in favour of the US-sponsored resolution to impose harsh sanctions on North Korea.
It is interesting to compare this moment to that in 1950 at the time of the split between the north and south of Korea and between the communists and their enemies, precipitating the US intervention in Korea, followed the Chinese intervention and the eruption of a three-year long brutal war. This time, China and Russia sided with the US or, otherwise put, the erstwhile pillars of the Cold War stood together.
In fact, despite frequent talk about the revival of the Cold War between the US and Russia and China, it is important not to overlook the crucial cooperation between these parties in many areas, not least of which is Syria, Iran and counterterrorism. International relations experts agree that the world is no longer based on a bipolar order, as was the case in the Cold War. But nor is it monopolar, centred around the US as the sole superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Not only security realities but, also, economic and technological realities underscore the fact that we are now living in a multipolar world characterised by numerous and proliferating forms of international cooperation. Perhaps 2018 will make this clearer and perhaps the emergent forms of cooperation will affect the management of the war against terrorism, conflicts in the Middle East and the conflict in Ukraine as well.
The positive security and economic dimensions of the picture are bolstered by the huge technological boom that has been described as the “fourth technological revolution”.
From the vast expanses of the macrocosm to the microcosmic spaces of cancer cells, there is hardly a place where this revolution has not had an impact, giving mankind in general, and industrialised nations in particular, amazing powers and potentials.
It is impossible to predict where this revolution will lead in terms of inter-human and inter-societal relations, but judging by the previous industrial revolutions, it will not treat all peoples and societies equally. For the moment, however, it thrust into 2018, heralding new transformations in modes of production, communications and interactions with the aid of everything from artificial intelligence to smart weapons.
As our Arab region crosses into 2018, it breathes in relief at the defeat of terrorism in Mosul and Raqqa, at the decline of the secessionist trend in Iraqi Kurdistan and at signs of the revival of normality in Iraq as a whole. In addition, the reformist trend in the region has gained fresh impetus with recent transformations in Saudi Arabia which, in the new year, will find new ways to manifest themselves.
While the sudden changes in the kingdom occasioned worldwide amazement, the reform trend has extended to many other Arab countries, if at diverse paces. We see the signs of this in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait, Bahrain, Tunisia and Algeria, all of which are moving towards more open markets, more encouraging investment climates, and implementing the hard decisions that should have been taken many years ago. The UAE is in the vanguard here and stands as a model for other Arab countries.
If the controversy surrounding Jerusalem, which dominated the end of the foregoing year, was cause for pessimism, the new year offers reasons for optimism in many other areas.
*The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly newspaper