The legacy of 2013

by Roberto Savio | San Salvador, Bahamas, dec  2013 - At this time of hope for what the new year may bring, it would be useful to look at the legacy we carry with us from the year we leave behind. It was a year full of events - wars, rising social inequality, unchecked finance, the decline of political institutions, and erosion of global governance.

Perhaps this is nothing new, since those trends have been with us for a long period. But some events have a deeper, long-lasting impact. And, here, we will present them briefly, as a list to remember and to watch. They are not offered in order of magnitude, which is always a subjective decision.

1. Collapse of the Arab Spring. Egypt and Syria are diagrammatic enough to discourage other Arab countries from following. The internal struggles in the large and variegated world of Islam will take a long time to settle. The real challenge is how to use modernism as the element of viability in Islam. The coup in Egypt has given new strength to the radicals who do not believe in democracy, and we will never know if the Muslim Brotherhood could have run the country effectively, or if it would have failed (as is most likely). Outsiders cannot solve this conflict, as the case of Syria, which has become a proxy war financed by external players, clearly shows.

2. US self-sufficiency in energy. In five years the exploitation of bituminous sands will cut American oil imports in half, and if this trend continues the US could actually become self-sufficient in energy supplies. The impact on the price of oil is clear, and this will affect the strategic importance of the Arab world and petrodollar countries like Russia. American industry will receive a strong boost, but incentives for the development of renewable energy will decline worldwide.

3. The inability to reach a meaningful agreement on climate change. The failure of the last climate change conference in Poland demonstrates that there is little political will to reach a global consensus on ways to tackle this issue. Yet according to most climate scientists we are fast approaching the point of no return, with the prospect of irreversible damage to the global ecosystem. Meanwhile, French investors are buying land in the south of England to grow vineyards. And Iceland is besieged by investors (including the Chinese), who want to exploit a large land area where cultivation will continue to be possible. And all nations are gearing up for the exploitation of mineral reserves under the melting Arctic ice, which is opening up new avenues for marine transportation. This shows that the business world has a clearer appreciation for what is happening than governments, but also show a lack of vision of social responsibility.

4. American decline. President Barack Obama had to cancel his participation in the recent Asian summit because of the US budget crisis. But Russian President Vladimir Putin was able to attend, and he has been able to successfully manipulate events in Syria. Obama’s signature healthcare reform is in jeopardy, and Edward Snowden has shown the world that the US does not respect its own allies. Meanwhile, the Tea Party has been able to paralyze the American government, and bring the Republication Party to espouse a policy of public sector decline. People all over the world now consider the US an unreliable partner, in an irreversible crisis, with a president who makes a lot of promises with good words, but is unable to implement them. Nobody has been able to bring the financial sector under control, and scandals and gigantic penalties are a continuing reality. There is no solution in sight on Palestine, and the US faces great difficulties extricating itself from Afghanistan, while Iraq is reverting to chaos, and the talks with Iran are giving a strong boost to the radical Shia section of the Islamic world. The US is a country of great resilience, but the future does not look at all promising.

5. European decline. The past year was one of disunity in Europe, and the definitive ascendancy of Germany in European affairs. Only macroeconomics count today. Ireland is praised as the good example, after it brought its deficit under control. But at the micro-economic level, the damage to the social fabric can be dramatic. The same is happening with Portugal, and Greece is the extreme example. Greeks have lost 20% of their income, unemployment has risen to 21%, and more cuts are being demanded. This is not the place for an analysis of how Germany is helped by its policy, which undercuts others without any hint of solidarity, but in the May 2014 European elections, people are likely to vote in large numbers for the anti-Europe parties, which have sprouted almost everywhere, with the only exception of Spain. The Rajoy government, as the laws on abortion and public order show, are enough to the right to let space to a more right wing party. The weakening of the European Parliament will be with us for a long time, until Europe recovers some of the appeal that it has been progressively losing with its citizens.

6. Chinese nationalism. The new president, Xui Jinping, has in a few months assumed an authority unprecedented since the time of Mao and Deng. He is pushing the idea of a Chinese dream, to galvanize people under his leadership. This is based on the assertion of China as a great power commanding respect around the world. And bold steps have been taken to affirm Chinese territorial claims that have opened conflicts with Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. With the Japanese government now run by nationalist politicians, many analysts are now considering the possibility of a third world war beginning in Asia. In the 16thcentury China had 50% of the world GNP and there is a strong desire among the Chinese to regain their rightful place in the world. The defense treaty between Japan and the United States makes this a potentially global point of conflict.

7. Changes in the Vatican. The election of Pope Francis has brought a much-needed change of direction to the Catholic Church. The Pope is binging back a focus on people rather than the market, using terms like 'solidarity', 'social justice','exclusion' and 'marginalization', which until recently had all but disappeared from political discourse. President Obama has followed with a strong speech against the growing social inequalities in the US. And according to the London School of Economics, in 20 years Britain will return to the level of social inequality it experienced during the times of Queen Victoria. But Pope Francis is the only who denounces the dismantling of the welfare system which emerged during the Cold War. Let us hope that his call will help prevent the writing of a new Das Kapital, where the victims will not be workers, but young people.

Courtesy of Roberto Savio.

Roberto Savio is founder and President Emeritus of IPS-Inter Press Service and former Secretary General of SID. Roberto Savio's opinion pieces are published in Other News, a source of news and analysis that the commercial media routinely ignore.