Nikos Konstandaras NIKOS KONSTANDARAS

Back to normality or full speed ahead?

COMMENT

The crucial question for 2018 is whether we will see a return to some kind of normality or whether our planet will forge ahead into uncharted waters.

TAGS: Politics

2017 turned out to be one of those rare years where predictions were justified: US President Donald Trump was predictably unpredictable and provocative; China’s and Russia’s leaders cemented their power and their countries continued to gain influence in areas that were the United States’ exclusive domain; Europe remained steady on its unsteady course – avoiding some mortal dangers, such as the election of an extreme-right French president, but still being tested continually by domestic political differences. The past year confirmed the fluidity of international politics that was marked by Trump’s election in 2016. The crucial question for 2018 is whether we will see a return to some kind of normality or whether our planet will forge ahead into uncharted waters.

The longer today’s situation lasts, the greater the danger of damage being irreversible. Let us consider an example of a country close to us: In Turkey, if President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not change tack, the injuries to the justice system, to academia, to the press, to society that are already greater will be so much worse as to need decades for the country to recover – if we were to assume that it did want to go back to where it was before the damage. At another level, 2018 will show whether special counsel Robert Mueller has collected enough evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election to force Trump either to give up the presidency or, because so many close to him have been compromised, into submitting to a kind of guardianship. The Senate and House of Representatives elections in November, also, may lead to the Republicans losing control of Congress, which would, also, curb Trump's excesses. In any case, Trump appears determined to keep disrupting the social state of his country and to isolate it internationally with unilateral decisions and revoking of agreements. At the same time, Russia has established itself in the Eastern Mediterranean, having helped Syria’s Bashar al-Assad remain in power, placing Ankara under Moscow’s influence while maintaining good relations with Iran and with Syria’s Kurds. When a country displays muscle and appears credible, others will align themselves with it (even if opportunistically), notwithstanding serious problems with other allies.

Washington is in danger of giving up this credibility. Perhaps that is why Japan is thinking of converting at least one of its helicopter carriers into an aircraft carrier, obtaining such a vessel for the first time since World War II. It seems that the United States’ close ally does not feel sufficiently secure now that China is increasingly active in disputed areas. Tokyo’s concern about Washington coincides with Chinese President Xi Jinping declaring at his party congress in October that his country is entering a “new era” in politics and power. China is developing new trade routes while simultaneously sowing alarm among its neighbors with its military activity. At the same time, China is believed to fear North Korea, where dictator Kim Jong-un is on a collision course with Donald Trump. Western analysts, too, worry about an “accident” with a nascent nuclear power. An arms race in the region would be equally dangerous. An arms race with an unfocused and unpredictable United States could be catastrophic.

In Europe, the German parties’ difficulty in forming a coalition government after last September’s elections has left Europe’s most powerful member and the European Union without a clear sense of direction. French President Emmanuel Macron has a vision for a stronger Europe but nothing can be done about this without Germany’s wholehearted agreement. The Italian parliamentary elections may cause severe new problems if centrist, pro-EU parties do not win. Britain has been sucked into a vortex of navel-gazing as no one knows what good can come of the Brexit vote. Some Central European countries are testing Europe’s principles of solidarity and the rule of law.

In this world, where nothing is certain, Greece must find its way. We will achieve nothing if there is no radical change in political mentality: We will not leave behind the bailout and its demands, nor will we have growth, nor will our diplomatic problems be solved, nor will we regain a sense of social security and the potential for prosperity. 

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