It is a contested argument. However, we all forget that leaving problems to escalate from one year to the next year not only leaves the wound open, but makes it harder to close, particularly in regard to influencing the situation. Though the international players observe these developments as grave concerns, their experiences can only offer a familiar voice asking the stakeholders to remain calm. The Israeli-Palestine conflict, civil wars throughout Africa, the Kashmir issue, Tamil’s status in the United Sri Lanka, belligerent North Korea, Iran’s nuclear potential, governmental issues across Latin America, the worldwide war on terror, the shift of the old world order in the shadow of new rising powers, the impact of the Arab Spring, new tensions between the US and Russia, the Syrian refugee crisis, pandemic diseases, climate change, stalled WTO negotiations and many more keep the United Nations (UN) permanently engaged. Which issues did the international community consider more important than others and which remained untouched during the year 2016 will be discussed here.
This year the Israel-Palestine issue did not received more space in the agenda of the UN but was always present at the table. The recent abstention of the United States in the UNSC censuring the illegal Israeli settlements show that the long-standing approach of America in favor of Israel now is tilting. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was blindsided by this new shift, and spectators continue to contemplate why the US has broken its uncontested support for Israel and what the expected results might be.
No one dare talk of the Kashmir issue boldly, as it fuels the bitter relations between India and Pakistan. The reason for the estranged relations between India and Pakistan begins six decades ago at the partition of the Hindu-Muslim divide. Pakistan invaded Kashmir and was the aggressor in the situation. With no question surrounding India’s status as one of the new rising powers in the international system, seeking major influence within inter-governmental and organisational bodies is tensely anticipated. It seem Pakistan has not realised the reality of this issue, it can cry foul but it will not receive any support from any major Western players. This issue was not considered seriously by the international community for two reasons. First, India maintains that Kashmir is the internal matter of India and will only be resolved bilaterally with Pakistan. It claims that there would be no space for a third party. Second, India is the worlds largest democracy with a fast growing economy, as well as the largest importer of military procurements. India’s growth can be attributed to its friendly relations with major powers in the international system.
The agreement between Colombia and FARC would have ended one of the world’s longest, continuous conflicts in Latin American and set a precedent for resolving any deadly conflicts across the continent. However, Africa remains a continent plagued by suffering, and does not intend to copy the model and attempt to end any of their internal conflicts. Poverty, malnutrition, water insecurity and chronic diseases are threatening Africa’s communities. In addition, other issues like Boko Haram’s insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, ethnic violence in the divided Sudan, and Congo, Somalia, Mali and Algeria registered even more deaths from political violence in the year 2016. Recent reports say that Robert Mugabe, the 92 year old President of the failed state Zimbabwe will be in the race again to retain his presidential power. The UN and the US are concerned about the burgeoning issues across Africa but are unable to do carry out any action because of their focus on eradicating ISIS in the Middle East.
In Sri Lanka, the conflict between the majority of Singhalese and the minority Tamils and taking forward the new constitution of united Sri Lanka will be a burning domestic matter. The post-LTTE regime and the continuous presence of Sri Lanka’s military throughout war-torn regions makes the deprived minority people more vulnerable and poses a serious threat for their peaceful living. Further, the government’s concern to monitor and if needed thwart the regrouping of the LTTE would be understandable but the internal security matters should not endanger to its citizens. The crucial factor here would be an investigation by the UN body regarding the Human Rights violations, torture and unlawful killings during the final seven years of the war, and to apply pressure to the Sri Lankan government for further actions and a follow up. However, the resistance of Colombo in addition to the rivalry between India and China granted free bail to Sri Lanka in Indian Ocean security challenges.
At the Paris accord on Climate Change at the end of 2015 and the follow up in 2016 by the UN, the US sought a Chinese pledge. This was in order to give a chance to the citizens of the world and for the biggest polluters to guarantee change in the face of the real threat of global warming as well as the responsibility to save it. So far, “120 Parties have ratified of 197 Parties to the Convention” (unfcc.int) thus the Paris Agreement was fully supported and entered into force in 2016, received as a very positive message to all environmentalists, climate change scientists and anyone affected/worried about the consequences of pollution.
The deadlock of the WTO Doha Round talks means there will not be negotiations in 2016 due to the inability of the international community. This is not good news to the developing world, as this is the only rules based organisation which gives support to small states. The deadlock must be reversed to give an opportunity to every human being who have the right to live in this world equally. The failure of the WTO in boosting regional trade pacts would be a loss for developing nations. In 2016 the WTO was able to receive the required attention but will get the right consideration in 2017 if the Director General of the WTO, along with the new US administration, the EU, China, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and other major players collectively stand to provide a chance for future negotiations.
The second Iraq war, the repercussions of the ‘Arab Spring’ followed by civil war across North Africa and the Middle East has caused serious damage and disasters to humanity. The struggle to wipe out ISIS in Iraq and Syria fuelled the biggest refugee crisis the world has witnessed since World War II. The continuous clash between the US and Russia over Syria ceasefires and the battle for Mosul and Aleppo has devastated the country without any immediate redemption. Though the international community was concerned, the ego’s and power struggle between the US and Russia was the main reason behind the delay to bring all parties for ceasefire discussions.
The threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of deadly terrorist groups and proliferation of nuclear material within failing states is a serious issue which hurts everyone in the world. Last year alone, various tests were exercised by North Korea, and though its weapons capacity is contested the main point is that the tests were successful. North Korea is demonstrating its nuclear might with the protective shadow of China. No one is willing to address and/or challenge China’s influence, powers and relationships in the region. Why is this?
The pact with Iran surrounding nuclear material was a necessity as there was no alternatives that pursued the right direction. Which way this option proceeds lies in the hands of the new US president. Hopefully, Iran and its people will enjoy the outcome of the pact and it can be viewed as a positive message. With more investments predicted for Iran, the international community should keep a watchful eye on Iran incase these are viewed as funding opportunities to strengthen their nuclear option in the future. To counteract this, Iran should be guaranteed a security shield to protect them from another nuclear state or threat in their region.
After imposing sanctions on Russia as punishment for the Crimea issue, tensions between the US and Russia have been renewed and registered at a new level. The US administration should not forget that pushing Russia towards the East is a big challenge in that it has the possibility of strengthening the relationship with China. Hacking the US election system, President Barak Obama’s reactions to expelling 34 Russian diplomats from the US, as well as Trump’s response are sending dangerous messages. Instead of retaliating, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s silence troubled every one. Which way the US will move and why remains to seen. The important aspect of this and the biggest worry would be the future and risks of cyber-security and the impact it can have on the international stage.
Silent issues are appearing quickly, particularly after the announcement of Trumps election win. His phone call with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-disturbed and shocked China. Trump’s olive branch towards Putin and open talks with Ing-wen will be a gateway to isolating China but also poses serious challenges to the new UN Secretary-General.
Ban Ki-Moon the Secretary-General of the UN is now completing his 10-year tenure. Now, the new Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has “pledged to make 2017 a year for peace.” He has experience in the UN as a High Commissioner for Refugees and as prime minister of Portugal. What the international media and diplomats have commented about the incoming secretary general are positive and widely endorse him as the right choice for this post. Let us hope that he will oversee all the important issues, give immediate attention to deadly issues and will work along with the international community to make a consensus in resolving conflicts and bring peace to this world with a stern hand.
International relations and its issues can not be limited or restricted. They are constantly changing and evolving, and the international community needs to be more resilient and adaptive in order to function at its highest capacity.
The UN has the institutional framework which, empowered by international law and the Geneva Conventions, can take the lead in finding solutions for any conflicts across the world. However, every IR scholar knows that without the backing of the US the UN’s stance would be powerless. Moreover, to carry forward the any proactive UN role the United States support can not be compromised. With unexpected events taking place in the US, president-elect Donald Trump would be the first leader in the history of US politics to be openly disliked by state leaders and his own citizens. With organised rallies, the appearance of posters stating ‘He is not my President’ and a number of debates across social media, serious questions are being about Trump’s presidency.
Though President Barak Obama was praised for his orator-ship, he could only impact minimum issues and some critics state he did not reach his expectations in the year 2016. However, his strong stance on non-intervention, withdrawal of the US military from the Middle East will stand strongly for him in the future. At the same time, the new president-elect of the US is already impacting the world stronger than ever. Russia is happy about the election results as Trump is batting for Russia. Would this mean that the new US policy will attempt to dismantle Russia-China relations? China is not happy about the new US president-elect. India has no opinion but there are expectations for closer ties with the US because of Prime Minister Modi and Trump’s shared policy disarray and inconstant personality traits.
The more international issues are in rise the intervention of the US president with rational act would be crucial for resolving conflicts. So far, Trump has not shown any maturity in his statements on global affairs. Contested statements in his name make the global stage more confusing and reduce his image as a trustworthy global leader.
Will the important global issues that remain unresolved or not a high priority in the year 2016 receive attention from the new US president in the New Year 2017? This has no immediate answer. The UN and the US are strongly expected to lead the way for useful solutions to the global problems. We have crossed the year 2016 with some achievements but not with great disappointments. Hence, we have hope that the international community will fight to save humanity from the natural and manmade disasters.