Home > Opinions
A year of turmoil and despair
  Written By: Pascal Boniface, Special to Gulf News
  Article Date:
December 22, 2008


It would be hard to say that year 2008 has been a positive year from an international perspective even with pink tinted glasses. Since the beginning of this century when assessing the previous year, it is clear that good news outweighed the bad news.

The scarce hopes existing at the end of the year have been smashed by realities of the following months. Meanwhile pessimistic perspectives has been unfortunately confirmed. Just to take two examples, we could say that the Annapolis conference was a ray of hope at the end of 2007, when the US President George W. Bush said that a fair peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be reached before the end of his mandate. For sure only naive people believed this pledge, and no progress has actually been made.

On the other hand the Mumbai terrorist attacks in December raised the fear of an outbreak of violence between Pakistan and India or of violent intra-communities fights inside India. Indeed, terrorist attacks were also responsible for the assassination of former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto at the end of 2007.

This is the year of an awful and disastrous financial and economic crisis. This crisis is deeply rooted in the United States economy and, as a result, propagated to all other countries. When America sneezes the world catches a cold! As the American market is of the utmost importance for China's continuing growth, this crisis therefore had side effects on its economy. Incidentally, countries exporting to China would be affected. In the entire world the fear of unemployment and even bankruptcy is growing. The consumers are becoming more pessimistic which in turn is worsening the economic situation.

For China, this will shadow a successful year marked by the great success of the Olympic games. Beijing was the centre of the world and met the expectations regarding infrastructure, reception of foreign delegations and gold medal winning. It was a symbolic success, but symbols are important in a era of communication and image. It confirmed the surge of China in strategic and economic fields.

The fall of energy prices has hampered Russian ambitions. Nevertheless, Moscow put an end to the strategic humiliations that Russia suffered in the past years by defeating the Georgian army which the US equipped and trained for the August war. Vladimir Putin succeeded in the transition of power by securing presidency for Dmitri Medvedev, a close ally, who shares his view on Russian international status. Russia is still not popular in the world, but at least it is now respected and even feared.

Europe played well during the Russia-Georgia war and during the financial crisis. It succeeded in speaking with one voice and therefore has been correctly heard and played a more active role than usual. Europe has been even more noticed than the US President who appears as a lame duck. The vacancy of power in Washington enabled Europe to appear powerful. 2008 can be seen as the year when Russia, China and Europe asserted their influence.

But the most important event in 2008 has been without any doubt the election of Barack Obama. It gave back a smile to the United States. His victory is for sure important for internal political reasons, showing a tremendous progress on racial issues. But it is even more important for the world which is eager to break with Bush-era foreign policies. All around the world people are waiting for a less aggressive and less dangerous behaviour in international relations as well for a more multilateral US policy

But this event that everyone should be proud of should not create excessive optimism. It is due to a catastrophic situation that Obama has been elected. He has now to cope with a Herculean task. Whatever skills he possesses, he has no magic wand. He should address in the same time the economic crisis, the surge of unemployment, the US withdrawal of troops in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the renewal in Transatlantic relations in order to deal carefully with Iran. He also has to restore peace between Israelis and Palestinians (and preferably in the beginning of his first term not a t the end of the second one) while looking after the India Pakistan and the inter-Korean issues. At the same time, he will have to build relations with Moscow and Beijing, and deal with climate change and the international economic governance. Good luck!

And we must not forget that Obama has been elected as the US President, not as the United Nations President. Therefore, he will promote, first and foremost the US national interests. We hope that he will do it in a more clever way than Bush.


Dr Pascal Boniface is the founder and director of IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques). He has published or edited more than 40 books dealing with international relations, nuclear deterrence and disarmament, European security and French international policy.