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Lessons from 2008

Mark Urban | 18:00 UK time, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Year's end brings the inevitable navel gazing about how the world might have changed. Two things are very clear about 2008: that it will go down in history as a significant year because of the scale of the global financial crisis but also that 'the west' suffered more in this than the emerging economies.

In broad geo-political terms, power moved east in 2008. The USA or European Union will still wield considerable world influence of course. Equally, China, India and Russia have shown they are far from immune from global recession. But even taking all of this into account, the slow tectonic shift caused by growing western indebtedness and huge trade surpluses elsewhere has this year produced an earthquake in global power politics.

As for the plans to check the decline of the US or west more generally, stimuli like Barack Obama's proposed 'Green New Deal' are fine if they work as well as the 1930s un-green equivalent. If they do not, the new American administration or indeed the British government will simply have acted like debt consolidation companies -re-packaging ruinous personal or corporate losses into an ever larger national debt. This in turn will accelerate the decline of western societies..

Year's end brings the inevitable navel gazing about how the world might have changed. Two things are very clear about 2008: that it will go down in history as a significant year because of the scale of the global financial crisis but also that 'the west' suffered more in this than the emerging economies.

In broad geo-political terms, power moved east in 2008. The USA or European Union will still wield considerable world influence of course. Equally, China, India and Russia have shown they are far from immune from global recession. But even taking all of this into account, the slow tectonic shift caused by growing western indebtedness and huge trade surpluses elsewhere has this year produced an earthquake in global power politics.

As for the plans to check the decline of the US or west more generally, stimuli like Barack Obama's proposed 'Green New Deal' are fine if they work as well as the 1930s un-green equivalent. If they do not, the new American administration or indeed the British government will simply have acted like debt consolidation companies -re-packaging ruinous personal or corporate losses into an ever larger national debt. This in turn will accelerate the decline of western societies.

If this seems too pessimistic there are some other lessons from the turmoil of the past year. In the first place, Barack Obama's election victory showed democracy's ability to renew itself and presented a more charismatic and therefore influential model of leadership than one can imagine emerging in Beijing, Moscow or indeed Riyadh. What's more, it is the globalised nature of economic power that makes it hard to use.

China may be sitting on top of a vast pile of US dollars because of the long term trade imbalance between the two countries, but that means China has an interest in propping up the US currency and fears the recession there. In the long term, economic power can of course be converted into the technologies and other hardware needed to rest military dominance from the US, but this situation is still a long way off.

So, power moved east but probably not in a decisive or irreversible sort of way. Because of this the world is beginning to feel more multi-polar - the scope for US unilateralism is markedly reduced. And while we can also see a few winners in all this, it isn't clear yet how a world in which power is divided more easily, can be one in which it is wielded more fairly or effectively.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Mark:
    All great lessons that we in the world in 2008...

    Plus, also, the world economic downturn...which is going to be hard on many people.

  • Comment number 2.

    a long way off?

    the price of debt has meant the FO saying Tibet is part of china

    allowing the shadowy company based in Shenzen and founded by former People's Liberation Army officer and Communist Party member Ren Zhengfei to build BT broadband network when other countries, on security grounds, won't touch them with a barge pole.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24816607-25837,00.html

    the price of gordon's debt strategy already means its going to be more than money?

  • Comment number 3.

    What price war as an economic or political tool once more ?

    An acceptable way to divert public attention away from problems on the home front ?

    2009 promises to be a year of desperate measures. The end of Capitalism as we know it - maybe.

  • Comment number 4.

    Anything else happen in the UK or overseas diplo/defence arena in 2008 that we should know about over the last few weeks?

  • Comment number 5.

    Can't say I am more optimistic than Mark Urban but to be really bleak if the downturn affects China domestically (crashed share prices and unemployment with little state support) that may cause political instability in a way not seen since the sixties?

    Japan is struggling economically and India in a very worse case scenario could go to war with its nuclear neighbour Pakistan.

    Russia could be in conflict with Nato over Ukraine following on from the really appallingly badly handled Georgian situation.

    So on the bright side it may not just be a decline in Western society (as opposed to strengthening eastern societies?) in 2009 and beyond - the whole world may be facing climate change in a state of decline and turmoil without the ability to devote the resources needed!

    But we have Gordon Brown and the rest of the world doesn't. Hmmm.....




  • Comment number 6.

    We have just watched your piece on Newsnight and are totally disgusted with the lack of balance of reporting. You come across not as an impartial journalist but rather as a spokesman for the Israeli government who are murdering children, women and innocent civilians as you talk glibly about the festive atmosphere on the border and give more airtime to Israeli propoganda than to reporting the carnage they are creating. This typifies the whole Newsnight report and is utterly disgraceful, especially the attitude of Jeremy Paxman.
    Incidentally why does nobody ever point out that Hamas was democratically elected by the Palestinian people in 2006 elections, are widely-supported politically and are certainly not an isolated militant faction?

    Pat G

  • Comment number 7.

    I have to agree I am fraid with Pat G I have found recently that the BBC News and sadly newsnight has become rather biased in most of its reporting. Sadly though anyone who holds a different view to Israel is Anti Jewish not true, sadly lots of people especially those doing things that are wrong on both sides hate the truth and always try and stifle debate.

    The BBC has become so politically correct its fightening, not so long ago Newsnight was held up in high esteem for its hard hitting nature, for getting to the bottom of issues, for giving guests and especially politicians a hard time trying to get information out of them and real answers, now its like a wet limp lettuce leaf.
    As for Israel and Gaza why is it that Israel can do what the hell it likes and everyone turns a blind eye, it kills innocent people and despite what it says its still occupying Gaza, its coastal waters its airspace its exit and entrances, effectively starving its people to death, didnt that happen in the Poilish Ghettos? in the late 1930's and early 1940's? Didnt my Parents and Grandparents fight to stop this happening again? I am not anti Semtic I am not anti Jewish I have many Jewish friends some agree with me, what Israel is doing is wrong, and if we are not allowed to openly question it and compare it to other events in History then that is plain wrong too, the BBC and News night has indeed a duty to uphold independence and freedom of speach however uncomfortable it maybe, and to get at the TRUTH and put forward the hard hitting questions to all those involved. We all know where this will eventually end, Israel creates more radicals than it stops, the events in Gaza and Lebanon prove this time and again, until the UN or USA reign Israel in this will get worse, and in a very short time Iran will have its Nuclear Bomb and it will use it as it will say punishment for all what is happening now, and we will all pay the ultimate price for this folly, Israel needs to look back at first 1947 then at all the Land it took in 1967 give it back and try and secure a lasting peace before its too late for us all.
    Sadly Newsnight seems to have lost its way and should be addressing all of this on air sadly it does not anymore. It ignores anything that is seen as uncomfortable.

 

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