Jane McClenahan writes: As we move into 2014, I’d like to share a few things I’m following this year. It’s a list to encourage discussion, is far from exhaustive and is shamelessly biased towards my own interests.
Firstly looking to Russia. Or perhaps more accurately to President Vladimir Putin. What does the year ahead hold for him? 2013 was a mixed bag. Relations with the West and the United States in particular, took a downer affected by Edward Snowden, the upheavals in Ukraine and Syria, and gay rights inside Russia itself. Yet Putin saw the developments in Syria as a diplomatic coup for himself, and by definition an embarrassment for President Barack Obama. The start of the Sochi Olympic Games in February must be giving him some sleepless nights, especially following the dual bombs in Volgograd last month. Does his recent release of long-time political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky herald a new openness? Or is he merely flexing his much shown muscle to prove he can use his power if and when he desires? Is his apparent desire for a new Empire realistic or is it the hallucination of the leader of a crumbling state? You can read Lilia Shevtsova’s assessment here. His current presidential term runs to 2018.
To Russia’s east, relations between two of the world’s biggest powers look set to cause more unease in the East China Sea. China and Japan clashed repeatedly in 2013 over sovereignty of the Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands. To date, this has been limited to shows of strength. But could China move to more active military presence? Until now it has concentrated on internal security. Japan, constrained to self-defense since its defeat in World War II, has tentatively begun to increase military spending, as its government pursues a more nationalist agenda.
Meanwhile 2014 is set to be a crucial year for Myanmar. Since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in 2010, the country’s leadership has been lauded for opening politics up. However, the country is struggling to achieve peace internally in Kachin state in the northeast and to improve relations between groups in Rakhine in the south. Both conflicts severely blot Myanmar’s copybook, with presidential elections approaching in 2015. Also, a recent World Bank report showed Myanmar remains one of the very worst countries to do business in. The Economist has a summary here.
South Africa watchers are concerned for the future of the country following the death of Nelson Mandela in 2013. Dissatisfaction with President Jacob Zuma came to a head when he was loudly booed at the Mandela memorial. Worse came with the country’s largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers, withdrawing support from the African National Congress. Could this be the beginning of a split in the party of liberation? Indeed, could this be a good move, breaking the ANC monolith and leading to a more rounded democracy to tackle the huge economic and social challenges which face the country?
Internal difficulties in South Africa could gravely affect the country’s role regionally. Both South Sudan and the Central African Republic remain dangerously unstable. 2014 is the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. A timely reminder, as if one were required, to look again at how it happened and see what lessons can be learned. Its name hangs over present discussions on CAR and South Sudan.
Anniversaries are beloved by journalists and politicians alike. The largest commemorations this year will be for the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Already there’s a bonanza of new books examining the buildup to the conflict. If you thought it was too long ago to matter for current events, read here for a robust debate in Britain and this piece in Der Spiegel.
Later in the year, Brazil moves to the central sports stage hosting the World Cup. The preparations have been dogged by reports of delays in building the new football stadia and improving infrastructure. Most recently, FIFA President Sepp Blatter criticized the country’s preparations for the event, saying it was the worst prepared country he had seen since he joined football’s governing body in 1975. Half the stadia weren’t completed by FIFA’s December 31 deadline. Despite Brazil being a football-mad nation, there have been widespread protests about the cost of staging the world’s most prestigious tournament. Protestors have threatened more demonstrations in June during the World Cup itself.
I’m not going to list all the elections of 2014. James M. Lindsay of the US think tank the Council on Foreign Relations provides a useful list here.
Jessica Tuchman Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace gives her Washington perspective on the world for 2014 here.
BBC Radio’s Owen Bennett-Jones discusses the year ahead here with some of the corporation’s top correspondents – diplomatic correspondent James Robbins, North America editor Mark Mardell, chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and chief business correspondent Linda Yueh.
And a few more things to ponder: What will happen to Edward Snowden? Will he move to Germany? What more revelations could he have about the National Security Agency’s phone monitoring?
Can Pope Francis keep playing a blinder? Is he really the new face of Catholicism?
Is MINT the new economic flavor? Economist Jim O’Neill, who brought us the BRICs, explains why Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey are the emerging economic giants here.
Mexico and Nigeria are struggling with grave internal security problems – Mexico as a result of gangs, often drug-related, and Nigeria with the Islamist Boko Haram group in the north. Turkey is split almost down the middle between reformists and traditionalists – as shown in Istanbul demonstrations.
And will Scotland vote for independence on September 18, 2014? My view, for what it’s worth, is no. But, in the best tradition of British politics, the campaigns will get pretty nasty. You can read more here.