I hope that 2006 might return to the optimistic multilateralism of the 1990s. TheHuman Security Report published in October, showed the end of the cold war and the new international humanitarianism brought a decline in wars and the number of people killed in them. Long-running wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, southern Sudan, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Aceh have paused, in part due to greater international attention. If we look at the proportion of people killed in wars as a share of the world’s population, the 21st century may rank as the most peaceful in history.
Yet that is not how we in the west experienced this period. This was the post-9/11 time of terror and the “war on terror”, when we found ourselves to be targets both at home and in Afghanistan and Iraq. In what Manuel Castells calls the “happy 1990s”, the United Nations and international NGOs were seen as legitimate actors, offering assistance without becoming part of the problem. That innocence was lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. The so-called international community has been subsumed by American unilateralism. Suicide-attacks, kidnapping and hostage-taking are directed against American and international forces, aid workers as well as ordinary civilians.
Have we passed the point of no return? Could hurricane Katrina and the growing opposition to the war in Iraq change US policy? Many are calling for a political solution in Afghanistan and Iraq. A Shi’a-Sunni coalition government, influenced by pressure from women’s groups, might be installed. The British might pull out of southern Iraq in part because of overstretch. Blair might give way to Gordon Brown who is committed to poverty reduction and economic development in Gaza. The Israeli Labour Party might do better under its new leader as the ageing Sharon and Peres lose public confidence. Iranians might reject their leader’s extremism and moderate forces favouring nuclear negotiations might regain the initiative. Europe might be more united and offer an alternative to global unilateralism. And in the middle east and Britain, Muslim voices that support ijtihad – the use of reason and human interpretation – might sway those currently influenced by more absolutist positions.
I dread in 2006 that none of the following happens. Bush and Blair stay in Iraq and the violence gets worse because the Sunnis do not get an effective voice. John Bolton scuppers United Nations reform. Blair refuses to give way to Brown and tries to undercut Cameron from the right on security and immigration, and pursues new dogmas of “reform”. Likud rather than Labour benefit from Sharon and Peres’ ageing, and a Likud dominated government attacks Iranian nuclear facilities. European governments remain divided about agriculture, Turkey and their external role. The Muslim communities in Europe feel more alienated and attracted to nihilistic causes. And we neglect global warming, new diseases and natural disasters thus creating a world with fewer wars, but where no region can protect itself from pervasive everyday violence.