BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Mark Urban
« Previous | Main | Next »

What does 2011 hold for the world?

Mark Urban | 17:16 UK time, Tuesday, 4 January 2011

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

What does 2011 hold for the world? It's a huge question, of course. You can look at it in so many ways too - whether it's the political, military, cultural, economic, or even sporting world.

It is interesting though how far these very different streams of life intersect, as global power moves east and the world becomes more "multi-polar".

If you head for Mumbai this April for example, you will find the Cricket World Cup taking place in a city that's also famous for its movie industry, where the memory of the 2008 terrorist attacks will trigger a massive security operation - and it's happening in a country that is set to overtake China in its economic growth during the coming year.

There are other places too where the different strands of international activity will intersect, underlining the growing influence of certain key players, all of which (with the possible exception of Brazil) lie to the east of London.

Turkey will play host to talks later this month aimed at solving the Iranian nuclear stand off. That's an indicator of how they seek increasing international influence, at the same time that their economy is growing well and patterns of regional influence are changing.

One of the most salient things to emerge from the Wikileaks cables was how far the Middle East is struggling to deal with burgeoning Iranian influence.

Not only did we discover that key Gulf allies wanted the US to bomb the Iranian nuclear programme, but we also learnt of the American's inability to stop long range missiles being transferred to Hezbollah, how worried the Lebanese government is by that militant movement setting up its own shadow state with Iranian help, and that the Saudi foreign minister suggested sending an Arab brigade to Lebanon (with Nato backing!) to confront Hezbollah.

What all of this underlines is that we need to add to our traditional, "will America bomb Iran this year?" type question, one about whether Iran will use its growing influence to provoke confrontation in its own national interest.

This is one consequence of a more multi-polar world in which new actors exert their influence.

I was surprised last summer in the West Bank when one rejectionist of the American-sponsored peace process who I was talking to declared there would be no reconciliation between Hamas in Gaza and the PLO leadership because Iran was using its power to prevent this.

The question of how far Iranian power can be contained through sanctions or other diplomatic means has become complicated in part because of that country's close relationship with China.

They are now major trading partners, and that limits the degree to which China will agree to any measures, for example in the United Nations Security Council, that are aimed at Iran.

It is of course the great power of the Chinese economy that provides the strongest eastwards force in world affairs.

One of the biggest questions of 2011 will be whether leaders in Beijing start to exert their influence more on the international stage.

The issue of whether their currency, the yuan, should be allowed to rise higher against the US dollar is of course primarily one of trade, but will tell us much about whether these two great nations are heading on the path to co-operation or confrontation.

China accepts in principle that the yuan needs to rise, but worries about the political as well as the economic effect of being seen to cave in to US pressure for a big alteration.

We've seen from the recent confrontation with Japan over the boarding of a fishing vessel, that China is increasingly sensitive about any kind of international humiliation.

Where does all this leave the "old powers" of the US and Europe?

Pushed out of the international driving seat more often, and, if they are not careful, surprised more often by world developments.

A more multi-polar world may seem fairer - particularly after a decade when the US was regarded as a sole "hyper-power" - but it will certainly be harder to read, and even to describe.


  • Comment number 1.

    Iran, while an FO obsession, is no real threat to the uk. Simon Gass said why he is critical of Iran "The British Government" he vows, "will continue to draw attentions to cases where people are deprived of their fundamental freedoms." Really? Yet the FO is so silent on the case of Israeli state funding for the the King's Torah which is a book of bigotry not just against arabs but us? So silent about those the case of Brits who illegally fight in the IDF [perhaps committing war crimes/crimes against humanity?] never asking for a list of their names? Simon recently got a gong for his 'good work' against Iran? 'Off message' Frances Guy probably won't.

    China is a direct threat. We are in an idealogical war. Also given

    .."Beijing has successfully developed, tested, and deployed the world's first weapons system capable of targeting a moving carrier strike group from long-range, land-based, mobile launchers," confirms Andrew Erickson, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College...

    it makes that kind of gunboat [and military naval strategy] obsolete? China won't be the last to have missiles that can blow carrier task forces out of the water?

    The australian chinese defector said there were a 1000 chinese spies in australia so one might assume that number [or more] in the uk? With the PRC view that every 'citizen a soldier' pressure on people with relatives back in china to 'help' gather information means they have a big potential army in the uk?

    Peace doesn't drop out the sky. It is built. The fruit of morality is law that keeps the peace. So a Govt policy to ignore law [of contracts] is immoral and anti peace. Which is the result of habitual bad thinking that leads to defective character.Thus bad thinking, defective character China respects no copyright law, patent law, human right law, environmental law, employment law etc proving itself immoral thus an enemy to those who do believe in law as the basis for peaceful interpersonal transactions. China's State actions are therefore not peaceful and it is a mistake to think their character is so.

    So the likelihood is that those foreign based agencies and their blatant and not so blatant proxies in the uk as immoral forces who are anti law and anti human rights for all will get further gains in the uk and seek to further disturb our peace?

  • Comment number 2.


    I found your piece a lot better crafted than 'enhanced Urban', Jaunty.

    As I read, it was borne in on me that the underlying theme is DYSFUNCTIONALITY. It is a description of global error, brought about by the immature madmen who rise to power in all the war-mongering states. (Roll on, Chilcot.)

    In Britain, the same authority that stops me from doing violence to the Newsnight studio (punishing me INDIGNANTLY, should I try) kills Johnnie foreigner WITHOUT COMPUNCTION just for being similarly 'misguided'.

    Is there a philosopher in the House? Does NO ONE out there realise that, until the asylums are taken back from the lunatics, A GLOBAL ASYLUM is not a smart construct.

    Is it me?

  • Comment number 3.

    Firstly, you have to watch this Wikileaks stuff; just because it's being leaked, or some dimwit said something, doesn't mean that it's true. Like all news, it must be verified, or at least written as "unverified". e.g. Wikileaks cable - Middle East struggling with Iranian influence.
    Wikileaks cable - key Gulf allies wanted the US to bomb the Iranian nuclear program.
    We cannot know, only Julian Assange knows, who backed these leaks, who may be controlling these leaks, and what is being left out. Wikileaks could be a sceme out of Israel or the United States, or another country(s). How would knowing the country (for example) change our perspectives to the leaks?
    Anyway, here are my little predictions for 2011:
    1. Facebook will go public and make the current $50 billion dollar valuation look like a bargain, but this profiteering will be restricted by baby-sitter Goldman-Sachs, a company which keeps many secrets, many of them vile.
    2. Twitter will be sold, most likely to a media company like CNN.
    3. Social media technologies will start to consolidate. Only the strongest will survive. My guess - Facebook & Twitter will survive but not Foursquare or MySpace.
    4. 50% of companies block social media in the workplace. Expect this number to increase as social networking becomes more and more recognized as an addiction.
    5. Folks will learn to plug their computers into their high-definition televisions, watch online content and GARBAGE THEIR CABLE TELEVISION SERVICES. Watch cable-television service costs drop like stone.
    6. As for Turkey, there'll be elections this summer that will end up with the victory of the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The AK Party’s electoral superiority will be around 50% over the Republican People’s Party (CHP). With the Kurdish problem, preparations to draw up a more liberal constitution will follow.
    7. Turkey’s economic boom will continue to outpace Europe, but prospects for joining the European Union will be frustrated due (let's say) to a little bit of prejudice in Europe.
    8. Turkey will pursue its diplomatic and economic outreach; it will try to build an economic and transportation highway grid among Syria, Iraq, Iran and possibly Pakistan.
    9. Item "8" will be seen as Turkey’s disloyalty to the Western alliance. However, Turks will continue to see this good foreign policy, independent of the US.
    10.The Middle East will pass another year without the prospect of peace. This means US President Barack Obama will hardly deserve his easily won Nobel Peace Prize. Israel will not give up its settlement program as it distances itself from a two-state solution.
    11. Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah will heighten and may not stop short of another war. Violence will mark the Middle East.
    12. Security in Iraq will hardly improve. Political and ethnic rivalries will continue.
    13. The American dollar will be replaced by basket currency as the world's reserve currency. This will particularly in volve the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

  • Comment number 4.

    The power is shifting East. Well it is and it isn't. I see more re-alignments and partnerships developing over the decade. To get to the chase Three major blocks, The West. US, and a consolidated Europe after the Euro crisis forces greater Union. The Muslim block led by Iran Pakistan, Turkey and possibly Egypt. China of course with some reluctant SE Asia states.

    India, Brazil and Russia will float as wild cards. What does it all mean. Well for a start lets hope they stay friends because as enemies none can win or lose a conflict.




Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.