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January 2005 Country Archive



We review 2004 and the year ahead for our forty new nations - they interact with many more - with the seasonal theme of hopes for peace. For us, that is ineluctably linked to hopes of democracy - it being rare indeed for democracies to make war against each other.
Starting with the infamous "Axis of Evil," the story for IRAN is that the European big three have plumped for the concept, in Churchill's phrase, that "Jaw Jaw, is better than War, War."  Maybe Cheyney, Rumsfield and Condaleeza don't think that, but the fact that Tony Blair is engaged in this with Chirac and Schroeder, makes it harder for them to get George.W.Bush to repudiate the European initiative. 

NORTH KOREA : Apocalypse… not yet, would be our judgement!  Whatever the temptations in east Asia for Washington's hawks, western Asian problems are going to fully exercise the administration for the immediate future. But Kim Jong-Il should seriously row back on further provoking Japan, where he is required to explain the fate of a dozen or more young Japanese abducted by Pyongyang agents over 20 years ago. In our world view, based on the nuclear and geopolitical issues as we explain, few confrontations have stakes as high as this one on the Korean peninsula. Check out our analysis and remind yourself just what hangs on this!

IRAQ of course, about to experience its first national election, carries the hopes of everyone except the jihadists, for a successful beginning to the long haul towards establishing a fully representative democracy. What an outcome that would be, with no Arab country even approaching the western norms of democracy. We can but hope, but we anyway report and analyse the realities on the ground, as of now. The jihadists of course aren't going to get their dream of a bin-Laden caliphate, but that won't stop them from killing and maiming a lot of people, mostly fellow Moslems, as opportunity occurs. But will IRAQ get its democracy? This will emerge over the coming months. 

Two former communist countries have seen in December a seismic shift in their future governance.  UKRAINE has been high up in the world news, less so ROMANIA, but they too have had elections that have dislodged the communist apparatchiks who in the nineties merely dropped the old ideology and party label when it became clear that this was the way to hang on to power. In a sense this was all inevitable. The communists had arrogated all political activity to their party alone, so it meant that when the old politics failed with the collapse of the USSR, the only experienced politicians and industrial managers were indeed the apparatchiks. The Baltics alone did quickly break with the old regimes, ESTONIA from the outset ruled that former communist politicians were barred from political life.  The communists in LATVIA and LITHUANIA had to move out of the way, although some of those who had been valiant in resisting the Russians, were able individually to win in free elections. But with the people-power of the Orange movements, UKRAINE and ROMANIA now join the three Baltics and GEORGIA in demanding a new kind of politics, free and responsive to the public, not just the historic hierarchy of the apparat, be they politicians, oligarchs, or the ubiquitous officials accustomed to 'top-down' rule.

Of the fifteen former All-Union republics of the Soviet Union which are reported here, five have now cast off the hegemony of Russia in favour of representative democracy, and AZERBAIJAN in favour of the pockets of its ruling clan, who sharing no border with Russia feel safely insulated. We look at all of them through the prism of what prospects for an orange upheaval, which in the CIS is synonymous with independence from the Russian empire. This leaves Russia plus eight only, in various degrees of economic and political thrall to Moscow. 
Where might the Orange banners next appear? Our Predictions:  ARMENIA, KYRGYZSTAN, BELARUS - truth to tell, highly unlikely any of them, but each capable of a surprise. Then there are the central Asian 'stans ruled by tyrants certainly, but given accidents, anno domini, the fickle finger of fate; (did somebody say poison?) the succession to any of them from this time on, could be orange-banner time.  

RUSSIA itself is clearly returning to state control of the commanding heights of its economy which is a matter for them to decide, but they are, as well, creating further controls on the people's already limited political rights. President Putin ends the year regrettably the wearer of a black hat. Any lingering hopes that he was in reality a good thing for the world, after his role and that of his team in UKRAINE, and the repressive measures we describe in RUSSIA itself, have now largely dissipated. To what extent he is a good or a bad thing for Russia, depends on what view one holds on the desirability of the elements of democracy:-  political and personal freedoms, a free media and the absence of public corruption (our sister web site, in its current Democracy Check, rates Russia at 116th out of 149, against just these criteria). But if his objectives were truly, as he told a western journalist after his successful re-election, that his overarching objective was to lift the Russian people out of poverty, then that would certainly be a worthy aim and enable more understanding of his questionable methods. What is hard to take is his using the courts and the taxation system with an air of rectitude and a facade of financial probity, to punish his political enemies, who may or may not also be malefactors, and yet to tolerate rampant corruption at every official level, starting within the Kremlin. Official corruption is after all, stealing that same Russian people's money and a strong leader like him would have a better chance of resolving it once and for all, if he was disposed to do so.  

TURKEY has achieved a breakthrough in its long haul, (and still with a way to go), to complete the eighty year old plan of its visionary 'father of the nation', Kemal Ataturk, to become a secular and European state. By receiving the formal nod for entry talks from the nations of the European Union in December, a major bridge has been crossed. With 25 members, any of which could have vetoed, many with historic reasons to feel no warmth towards Turkey, whose Ottoman empire dominated South east Europe and the Balkans for half a millennium, the greatest indication that the time may indeed be right, is that Greece not simply allowed this to happen, but in fact supported the application. There is a Cyprus question to be resolved, which has usually been misrepresented in the western media as the outcome of Turkish bullying and invading the innocent island state. Innocence there may well have been on the part of the ordinary citizens who did the suffering, both Turkish and Greek Cypriot, but the Athens of the Greek colonels had at the least, an equal share of the responsibility for that armed incursion. Latterly, Greek Cypriot government leaders have exercised the politics of the forked tongue, in the face of UN and EU attempts to moderate the dispute, by which means they largely 'conned' their way into the EU.

INDIA, the worlds largest democracy, saw the ousting in a model democratic election of the 'hinduvata' based BJP, replacing them with a secular government. This promises to repair the damage done to religious tolerance, and has rebuilt hope for a truly secular India. Relations with neighbouring Pakistan, whilst far from untroubled, have nevertheless improved with the advent of a new pragmatic joint approach on the Kashmir confrontation. Peace here now looks more, rather than less likely and given that they are both nuclear-armed nations, that is seriously important for mankind.

LIBYA, perhaps the original "Rogue state," has been transformed during 2004, although its unreformed roguery currently registers an unresolved failed assassination attempt by Libyan agents, on the Saudi Crown Prince. Respectability, if not of a moral kind, has re-entered its political life, as Libya has rejoined the comity of nations, and BIG OIL is being pumped again. 
SYRIA has extended peaceful overtures and offered negotiations with no pre-conditions, so far not reflected by the Israeli Prime minister, but taken seriously by Israel's president.

Early indicators of peaceful change can be seen in our report on ARMENIA in its frozen relations with TURKEY.
SERBIA, for long Europe's problem state, is showing signs of seeking to be included with those Balkan republics currently outside the EU, but wanting in. 

We report VIETNAM, a nation nearly destroyed by a war that finished thirty years ago, but which now deserves attention. We describe the past year and what is to come, across the spectrum of this plucky nation's policies and relationships. 

In summary, in 2005 it is clear that the rules of the new world order are at best indistinct. In these circumstances the greatest threat to 'Peace in our Time,' seems to lie in the dangerous pre-emptive doctrine of George W Bush who is yet to impress, with Palestine - Israel still a mess; and the 'War on Terror' stalled with the top al-Quaeda chieftains still at large and widely expected to return to new outrages.  IRAQ, formerly a tightly ruled dictatorship, no longer dangerous to its neighbours, has now become a magnet and a training ground for international terrorists, as AFGHANISTAN, his one relative success, so recently  was.

The other important plank of US Foreign policy - energy protection, still seems light on the oil supply that the US must ensure. Saudi Arabia looks to be in a continuing state of low intensity civil war, but the Caspian to the Mediterannean 'Baku-Ceyhan pipeline' now begins to look real. West African oilfields are clearly exciting; Libya will be coming on-stream; Russia, intent on being as big a player as any, is churning it out, and the world price is high enough to stimulate the multinationals to invest, to explore, and to build transcontinental pipelines. It all adds up to more action on the geopolitical front - and more for us to analyse.  

Publisher - Clive Lindley

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