What’s in store

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)
Eric Hobsbawm
22 December 2005

Events are unpredictable, but trends are not.

In 2005 natural disasters were more destructive than those caused by humans: the tsunami, Asian earthquakes, hurricanes and Aids killed more people and destroyed more property than human conflicts. Nobody can predict whether this will continue but we shall certainly pay a rising price in 2006 for our failure to deal with the effectsof uncontrolled economic growth on the environment.

The global decline of warfare continued in 2005, in spite of Iraq and Darfur, but it brought no diminution of human suffering. The number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons – 70-80% of them women and children – has shown no sign of decrease over the past few years, and, even in the Sudan, the number of those dying from malnutrition and disease is probably twice as large as those dying from violence. This situation is unlikely to improve in 2006, though major armed conflicts, while not impossible, are not very likely. Iraq has probably limited Washington’s taste for armed aggression. The casualties of global terrorism will remain statistically negligible.

An unusual number of national policies and international projects failed in 2005. The USA suffered severe setbacks both in Iraq and Latin America, the European constitution lies in ruins, while the unlimited expansion of the EU to any country other than Russia is treading water, as is the reform of the union’s finances. So, thanks to the resistance of the major developing countries, are the WTO negotiations, and, for different reasons, the attempts to deal with global warming, and to reform the United Nations. 2006 is very unlikely to bring a major breakthrough in any of these fields.

On the other hand, in economics and diplomacy, south and east Asia, south America and, thanks to oil and Putin, even Russia had a good 2005, though at the cost of steeply rising economic inequality, seen especially in China, the new century’s outstanding success story. In 2006 a common alignment of China, India, Brazil and Russia may prove to be a more effective restraint on US ambitions than a troubled European Union.

From the point of view of democracy, the major positive developments to be expected in 2006 should derive from the spectacular advances of internet communications which are increasingly beyond the effective control of either national governments or other centres of monopoly power, and from the resistance of law courts to political pressures in the developed countries, but unfortunately not (yet) in most of Africa and Asia. On the negative side we expect continuing corruption and spreading xenophobia, backed by anti-immigrant controls.

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