Europe in 2011 was dominated by domestic politics. Faced with multiple macro-level challenges, from unstable economies to democratic deficits of the polity, leaders have repeatedly prioritised local concerns ahead of the multilateral. Underscoring all of this is a wider malaise. Research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, indicating that Brazil overtook the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy by GDP in 2011, appears to confirm that the West in general, and Europe in particular, is rapidly losing influence. The death in December of Václav Havel, a symbol of the remarkable transitions to peace and prosperity of Central and Eastern Europe of the last 20 years, appears to reiterate the wider depression.
Recently, the international community convened a special conference in Bonn to discuss their future commitment to Afghanistan. The emphasis was on transition. Western states want to hand over responsibility for Afghanistan’s security to the Afghan government, if possible, in the context of a peace deal with the Taliban.
The two recent explosions within the Iranian nuclear establishment are the latest escalation in the war that is being fought between Israel and the US against Iran. The war is aimed at delaying and if possible preventing Iran from successfully completing its Shahab3 ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme. The tools being used by the anti-Iranian forces are targeted assassinations, sabotage and cyber weapons. However, it is unlikely that the war will stop the Iranian intent to develop its nuclear and ballistic weapons. At best it will significantly delay and interrupt their development.
This Christmas the Colombian government is sending small shining spheres through the rivers of poor regions controlled by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). Inside each shining orb there will be a message: "Do not let this Christmas go by. Demobilize". This is perhaps the first time Christmas decorations have been used for counterinsurgency purposes. After the death of the top leader of the FARC, Alfonso Cano, during an army operation last November, the government hopes to reach a record figure for demobilisations of guerrillas during the festivities and the two following months.
In the decade since 9/11, much has been written about the alleged changes in the nature of insurgent and revolutionary movements. Many of these studies in fact base their arguments on an interpretation of the functioning of the global Jihadist movement. They boil down to a technical analysis of principles of insurgency and counterinsurgency, devoid of politics and ideology. The presently successful Arab Spring movements, which have eclipsed the Jihadist appeal in most of the Middle East, indeed do display some of these trends. Nevertheless, they also bear witness to the continued importance of politics and ideology. Their success is ultimately based on the mobilisation of widespread popular support through an appealing cause that taps into widespread grievances.
Dictatorships have generally withstood the test of time as a result of a series of myths perpetuated amongst the populations of their countries. These myths revolve around the unchallengeable power of the dictator and the futility of resistance. However, the Arab Spring is playing a key role in falsifying these beliefs, creating a watershed moment in history which will be remembered as the beginning of the end of dictatorship.
Tuesday 22 November 2011 saw the controversial and much dreaded Protection of State Information Bill (POIB) tabled before the South African Parliament. Spearheaded by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), its original objective appears to have been to replace the apartheid-era Protection of Information Act of 1982, so as to bring South Africa’s state information legislation more in line with the country’s Constitution and democratic principles.