It is difficult to believe how fast this year – which is approaching its end – has passed, but it is even more difficult to find out which of its events will proceed to the next year, and which of their complications and repercussions will extend for years to come.
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This year started with the first term of US President Joe Biden, an aged personality who believes in several noble values in a world that is solely governed by greed of control and expansion. Probably it is due to his old age that, over his first year as president – which is the most important one in terms of decision-making – he was not able to impose commitment to the reduction of global warming for protecting the environment, or to punish the countries that did not abide by that reduction – as he pledged in his electorate program. Accordingly, the global climate crisis will prevail for several years to come. Moreover, President Biden’s handling of other crises also lacked decisiveness. This goes for the Ukrainian crisis, and the Vienna talks on the Iranian nuclear file. His decision on the departure from Afghanistan – regardless of its chaotic images – might be the boldest decision he made thus far. However, the ramifications of that decision will last for several years.
During 2021, the international community has failed to reach an agreement on the reduction of gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, and this is warming the earth, changing the climate, and raising the water level. It was hoped that a reduction of the global temperature by 1.5 Celsius degrees would be achieved, but in vain. Hence, green activists will increase globally, and will step up their activities which might become more violent, and more effective on the political decision-making in democratic countries in the forthcoming years. Additionally, the global climate crisis will deepen divisions on the international arena with regard to environmental issues, as was apparent in the non-attendance of the leaders of China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey in the recent Glasgow climate summit, in October of this year.
Returning to US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and Taliban’s renewed takeover of that country, where the mightiest of armies and the most glorious of commanders were defeated upon its rigid terrain and massive mountains, one should recall that the US Army has left a large arsenal of weapons and ammunition behind at the disposal of the Taliban Movement, and the latter has become a power that should be reckoned with, especially in any potential wars with countries it has a vengeful legacy with. Such wars might be started by inciting local sectarian incidents that would quickly expand to regional wars. Hence, the current Taliban which is armed to its teeth with American arms will remain a source of instability and chaos for years to come.
Regarding the Iranian issue, the efforts exerted by the 5+1 countries in Vienna failed to reach an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program.
Besides, it became evident that Tehran is beating around the bush in an attempt to gain additional time that should enable its uranium enrichment program to reach a level that makes Iran a member of the international nuclear club. It is still possible that the participants in the Vienna talks might come out with an agreement just before this year bids us a farewell, but if not, then the next year will witness further tension and dramatic developments that would expand to the entire Middle East, especially in countries and areas dominated by Tehran, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, let alone the Gaza Strip.
At last, but never least, the Covid-19 crisis will also go on next year, affecting global growth at all levels. In its February edition, Forbes estimated that the pandemic will cost the world some $24 trillion, predicting that this cost will jump to $30 trillion by the year end, and this will affect all the world economies without exceptions. Moreover, with the constant mutations of the virus despite all the vaccination campaigns, the forthcoming years will bring swift alternations in lifestyle. The founder of Microsoft, US billionaire Bill Gates wrote: “Virtual communication in work institutions will become an irreversible reality, and it will develop to become three-dimensional with virtual meeting rooms and work offices. Additionally, it will change work processes, transportation, and travel methods of businessmen.” Eventually, all of this will also affect a number of services and related careers, as is the case with work offices of employees who now work from home, means of communication, aviation companies, hotels and cruise ships that will suffer from restrictions on travel and movement, not to mention a mass exodus from big cities back to the countryside, where spacious areas provide a friendlier atmosphere for living and work.
The current year, which is approaching its finale, might be best described as ‘the year of indecisiveness,’ since all the crises it witnessed will extend to the following one.
There are several issues that will still loom above our heads for long beyond the forthcoming year. For instance, Russia declared that it urgently needs a reply from the US on its security demands, again warning that it might resort to a military action if no political effort was exerted to reassure it. Earlier on, and while proceeding with its mobilization of military troops at the border with the Ukraine, last week Moscow has submitted some security documents that include negotiation points, including a proposal that the NATO pledges to abandon its activities in eastern Europe and the Ukraine.
Russian analyst Constantin Gavrielov said that the relations between the Russian Federation and the NATO have reached the moment of truth, pointing out that “everyone [inside the NATO] must comprehend well that the alternative will be a Russian military and technical reply.” In the same vein, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu declared that private US companies are preparing to stage provocations through the use of chemical material in the conflict governorate of Donbas, in the east of the Ukraine, adding that US troops are strengthening their presence along the border with Russia. Shoigu also noted that some eastern European countries are hosting US military units that sum up to around 8.000 soldiers who are serving rotationally.
Earlier on, Ukrainian Defense Minister Olexy Reznikov stated that Russia has deployed additional forces at its border with the Ukraine, adding that the latter is particularly concerned about 15 nuclear power units that provide the country with about half of its energy need, pointing out that any potential war poses a serious threat to these units reminiscent of the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima. Meanwhile, Reznikov opined that the Ukraine is not the ultimate objective of Putin, noting that if a war breaks out “then it will include all of Europe, and not just the Ukraine.”
Returning to Iran US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan presented his Israeli counterpart Eyal Holata with a proposal on a potential temporary agreement with Iran that entails releasing a part of the frozen Iranian assets in exchange for a 60 percent suspension of its uranium enrichment. It is quite obvious that Israel opposes such a temporary agreement, in fear that it might turn to a permanent one that would enable Iran to preserve its basic nuclear infrastructure, which is not surprising a concern, since it is also shared by other countries and US allies in the Arabian Gulf. At any rate, and in an attempt to protect its project, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the possibility of signing a strategic partnership treaty similar to that which Tehran has approved with China earlier this year.
Hence, Iran participated in the Vienna talk with a great deal of maneuverability.
To sum up, one does not have to be a political sciences expert to sense the rise of the Russian-Chinese-Iranian axis in defiance of the Post-Cold War’s world order, constituting the most important geopolitical development in the last decade. Besides, consecrating that axis through official relations and a mounting open cooperation between the three countries indicates their belief that unifying their powers will actively assist them in achieving both their common and unilateral goals. These goals include erasing the US Dollar as a global reserve currency, constructing the Russian Nord Stream Pipeline, annexing Taiwan in full by China, and emboldening Iran to proceed with its plan of becoming a nuclear power.
However, Iran is also facing complicated problems. For instance, many of its oil fields have become much less productive, dropping the daily production from 50.000 barrels to 1.000. Besides, at the start of last November, it turned out that Iran is in need of investments in worth of $160 billion just to avoid becoming an absolute importer of oil and gas in the future.
Regarding the Palestinian cause, last Monday the British daily Times reported on deep internal divisions among the factions of HAMAS, which was testified for by an explosion in an underground ammunition depot beneath a mosque in al Burj al-Shamali Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. HAMAS’s current leader Ismail Haniyeh has become affiliated with Iran. Hence, when Khalid Mishal, the former leader of HAMAS visited Lebanon after rejecting the movement’s accession to the Iran-affiliated regional axis, high-ranking Lebanese officials who are loyal to Hezbollah refused to meet him, in response to threats issued by the party which serves as Iran’s direct agent in Lebanon, and as the incubator of the ‘Iranian’ HAMAS. Hence, further power struggle inside the movement is expected to take place, which might entail launching rockets on Israel.
Coming to Syria, and on the sidelines of the Astana talks this week, Russian Special Envoy Alexander Lavrentyev said that the funds needed to rebuild the country are estimated between 600 to 800 billion dollars, and probably much more, adding: “It will be extremely difficult to overcome the current situation without an active support from the international community.” However, Lavrentyev mentioned nothing on the generosity of Russia and Iran, or on the fate of President Bashar al-Asad.
With regard to Lebanon, it suffices to state that the Shiite duet is attempting to rename itself as ‘the national duet,’ a dream it will never see come true, regardless of time.
Ultimately, and while attempting to review the events of 2021, it is quite hard to come up with final conclusions. This year has commenced with horrific scenes from the US Capitol, and is ending with looming hazardous wars, the like of which has not taken place since the Second World War. It is possible that the same trends of the last year will extend to the next one, leading to an era of darkness similar to that which prevailed in the last century, one we thought we had left behind for good.
In other words, and just like a calendar year, history does not stop at a particular climax, as it never revels its hidden surprises.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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