The world today is in more than one sense unrecognisable to the world of half a decade ago. The global economy is struggling, the rightness of the free market is in question, the Middle East; once a bulwark of strained and negotiated peace, is experiencing an upheaval the likes of which it has not seen in over a generation. The Age of Reagan/Thatcher/Friedman (take your pick) is over, and where the next generation leads is an open question. Could 2013 be the beginning of a new age: the age of
polarisation, of the divergence of common thought amongst nations and peoples?
In Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun one of the most large-scale wars in recent history with Gaza. Known for his hawkish stance in comparison to many of his dovish predecessors, the looming election in January may constitute one reason why he has decided so decisively to go to war. However, Netanyahu is not alone. Both the military and former PM Ehud Barack, now Defence Minister, is on his side. Opposition politicians have also backed him. Though Miriam Ziv, Israel’s Ambassador to Canada, says that a ceasefire is both desired by Israel and that it would be ‘a willing participant’, this perhaps marks the beginning of a period of renewed hostilities between Israel and the Gaza Strip, the former of which suggested that it may send in ground troops should a truce be unable to be reached. Though the region has never been quiet, it may see a renewed sense of polarisation if these matters are not resolved to the extent that there can be relative peace again.
Egypt, the self-professed intermediary, is making one of its first real forays into regional politics since the election of its new President, Mohammad Morsi, both condemning Israel’s strikes and attempting to act in the efforts of procuring a truce. Israeli officials admitted that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi in Egypt have altered considerations in their dealings with Palestine. Once an area of imposed workability by the West through a series of dictators and a steady cash flow, the Middle East now seems increasingly restless as Israel seeks to assert its authority and the region as a whole moves onto a more febrile and polarised stance.
Wen Jiabao, Chinese Premier, highlighted that the relative peace in East Asia has been conducive to its opportunity for economic growth. However, the induction of Xi Jinping as President will prove a further test for the region’s biggest player. With a growing middle class who have seen a relative slowdown in growth and in a country still plagued by dissidence to the more repressive parts of their nation, the next phase of China’s evolution may be bumpier than its last. Issues in the South China Sea over possession of certain islands still plague the PRC, but they are determined not to make it an issue. However, with China’s unparalleled rise somewhat stalled, thoughts may well turn to some of the unresolved disputes in the area, and within China itself.
2013 will see the launch of both Chinese and Indian space probes, and these two BRICs may be jostling for control, both economic and political, in their respective regions and across the globe. With the re-election of Vladimir Putin Russia saw some of its strongest demonstrations in years. Now seemingly frozen in state but retaining strong economic clout thanks to its oil and gas reserves, the largest country in the world may be seen in 2013 as looking inwards at an again increasingly agitated and polarised public.
In Europe the great economic struggle will continue. But, as has already been seen with the election of the Socialist François Hollande as President of France, the once homogenous consensus at the upper echelons of Europe is breaking down. Greece remains in turmoil, fierce cuts hit Spain, and as the EU heads back into recession the continent seems increasingly fragmented. Keynesianism; once thought dead and buried has reared its head and the tax-and-spend-versus-austerity debate will no doubt rumble on in a polarised Europe in 2013.
In the UK, a country in which the phrase ‘Trade Union’ has become something of a dirty expression, a small but dedicated group are calling for a general strike. The
Government meanwhile is pushing ahead with its program of austerity; cutting funding whilst simultaneously cutting taxes for the wealthy. The opposition Labour Party is calling for a more Keynesian approach of a stimulus package to jumpstart the economy. Ed Balls and George Osborne have sparked up as much of a rivalry as Ed Miliband and David Cameron, perhaps more so. Harriet Harman, resident Lib Dem-bater, completes the trio to show a newfound division in British politics. On the streets the general public argue as in Europe and the US that the crash was not their fault, and that they begrudge paying the price for it. The term ‘Banker bashing’ has entered popular culture.
It is unclear what 2013 will bring, and one can never say until around this time next year. But the global consensus, once well-acknowledged from California to Tokyo, now quivers. Across the world a newfound sense of arguing the toss has arisen; of the idea that there may be more than one choice and that making the right one is more crucial than ever. Whether this will colour the politics of the next year and those to come, or whether it will fade away as a blip, has yet to be decided. Until 2013: Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.
-Netanyahu, Clinton: State Department Photo by Michael Gross
-Vladimir Putin: Presidential Press and Information Office, www.kremlin.ru.
-Francois Hollande: Jean-Marc Ayrault