Special Reports



A Tour d'Horizon of forty nations in transition
In replacing the cold war division based on the original opposing capitalist-communist ideologies, now there is only one by which all nations are measured, that of a western-model liberal democracy, combined with a free-market economy, creating the Rule of Law. This, the mandate of the people freely given, in itself is far from perfect in practice, given the power of money to influence, but which nevertheless for want of a better, we hold to be the defining concept. Perhaps only 25% of the world's nations, excluding the mini-states, have achieved a recognisable version of that desirable outcome. Many others are in transition with this objective - we report many here each month. 

But there is also an identifiable opposing group, perhaps half of all the worlds' nations. Here the aim of achieving economic success is held in common with all others, but there is no acceptance, apart from 'lip-service' that their citizens should be the arbiters of the mode or membership of government, or that their rulers be held to account by regular and genuine elections. Instead, these nations are about perpetuating the power of each current ruling clique. RUSSIA remains the exemplar and de facto leader of a discernable group of former Soviet regimes, which we also report here, resisting by various means the real devolution of power. They are supported by China that makes no pretence of being a democracy, being in perfect harmony with their objectives. 
It can perhaps be described as the top-down totalitarian part of communism, discarding the failed economic ideology, which was its original justification.

Of course, apart from those former communist states to whom this applies, there are many nations around the world exploited by a ruling elite which regard the affairs and wealth of their little piece of the globe as being (their) family business. Our readers will find that it is easy to see nations in transition from the former communist group to the family-business category - KAZAKSTAN is a famous example, now well placed to enjoy Saudi-type wealth. 

Then there are the simple failed states, sometimes extremely dangerous to the world like NORTH KOREA; or to their own citizens and neighbours like Somalia, and others, which appear inherently unstable, and some like giant African post-colonial states with a tiny elite, whose squabbles sometimes collapse into long and brutal civil wars. 

Our forty New Nations reports can be seen to neatly divide simply into two categories, those that adhere to the Rule of Law and… the rest. Within them, there are different stages of political evolution, but there is a immense difference between the democracies, and the outright tyrannies and faux-democracies that continue to represent an uncomfortably large number of our total. This is so marked, that in place of the military/ideological/ economic competition of the cold war, the Moscow - Beijing sponsored non-democracies are becoming a coherent whole, the Shanghai Security and Co-operation Group apparently being such a body, representing an alternative where the interests of the ruling cliques are paramount. Whilst pretending to hold national elections, there is not the slightest chance that the electors could replace the ruling clique with any other alternative.

Nations in transition include such as INDIA and SOUTH AFRICA, both of which were not deeply involved in the east -v- west confrontation of the Cold War. Both have immensely risen in stature since the end of world communism. As our SOUTH AFRICA report tells, since democracy came to the African continent, that nation has made great strides in its economy and there are many grounds for optimism. An uneasy chequered democracy complicated by the black -white factor took a major step forward last year when a top ranking politician, the Vice-President no less, heir apparent for the presidency, was fired for his deep implication in a major corruption trial (since when he has been accused separately and charged with rape). This triumph for the rule of law reaching so high (in Africa 'Big Men' have always been untouchable), is so remarkable that it is worth this retelling. Africa must loom larger in this century than last and SOUTH AFRICA looks set fair to lead less developed neighbours.

INDIA with some grounds to be optimistic about it's long term obsessive relations with Pakistan, which have previously, to a large extent neutralised it as a world player, is emerging from all that. INDIA is recognised as a future giant, not only in population terms, but both by other Asian countries as well as by the west, as a political and economic counterweight to ambitious China, at the other end of Asia. 
INDIA is a military power with reach, and unlike many developing nations of the east is remarkable because in new technology it is innovating, not just copying, and already is a focus of excellence in the world of computer software. In addition, it's ancient culture is penetrating a west now largely at peace. Gandhi was once asked what he thought about western civilisation. After musing a while the mahatma replied, "It would be a good idea". His all-pervading influence on the founders of this giant nation was reflected in SOUTH AFRICA by the admirable Nelson Mandela. These simple facts point up the absolute significance of the quality and integrity of leadership, here ….and everywhere!

Others of our 'forty,' include the three Baltic states: ESTONIA, LATVIA, and LITHUANIA, formerly All-Union republics of the Soviet Union, that within just a few years have made themselves over, been reclaimed by western Europe, and now are in both the EU and NATO. Other successes are the Visegrad states: POLAND, the CZECH Republic, SLOVAKIA, and HUNGARY. All these after forty five years of communism, are now members of NATO and the EU. ROMANIA and BULGARIA the two south- east European former soviet satellites, are now completely focused on gaining entry to these clubs and are having more of a struggle to qualify not because of any residual communism, but because of an older plague, that of high level crime and corruption. No one should underestimate the daily hardships their citizens have suffered, indeed continue to suffer as one system gives way to another. 

THE BALKANS have long been Europe's tinderbox - the spark that set off perhaps the worst war in European history 1914 to 1918, started with an assassination in Sarajevo in present day BOSNIA- HERZEGOVINA, perhaps fittingly committed by a fanatic Serb nationalist.

Heavily damaged by Nazi occupation during WWII then subject to Balkans-style communism, the six component republics federated as Yugoslavia have after years of hideous war, civil war and generally hateful ethnically-based violence become five separate independent republics: SLOVENIA, CROATIA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA, MACEDONIA, and the rump SERBIA-MONTENEGRO, itself possibly, likely even, to divide in the coming year.

Balkanisation, a familiar term in diplomatic circles, has possibly reached its apotheosis with the serious question of whether Kosovo, the largely ethnic Albanian province of SERBIA will be allowed full independence. If not - what?

ALBANIA, the former Roman Illyria, was until recently the poorest country in Europe - a threadbare baton now passed further east to MOLDOVA. A change in government may stimulate progress but there is a big overhang of crime-related activity. Albanian gangsters currently have a bad name in the context of people and drugs smuggling into Italy and other European destinations. Since Albanian politicians don't have a redemptive good name, there is an uphill struggle to take place there.

GREECE, sitting on the southern end of the peninsula is the putative leader of these disparate states. That certainly is a destiny they see for themselves. They have consistently supported the FYR republics, even SERBIA when that rogue nation had incurred the wrath of the NATO powers led by the USA. They had a guilt-charged spat with MACEDONIA over its name as a nation state, because over ninety years ago in the last war of Balkan independence against Ottoman Turkey, they tore off a chunk of historic slav Macedonia to become a Greek province, still of that name, and followed a strict Hellenisation policy to expunge the slav influence. Anxious today to head off any territorial yearnings for re-unification, they use every ounce of influence they can to have the new Macedonian state called at all times, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which for most of the rest of the world is just boring! 

BULGARIA, another nation with a lot of history is now at the crossroads, in that it is on the threshold of entry to the EU - the only show in town, for this nation. However although eventual entry is probable and several governments have made themselves unpopular with the electors by pushing through legislation to enable entry, the timing is now uncertain. Bulgarian governments seem unable to deal effectively with the criminal strata of its society and it shows! This is one country in particular when on the severance of its bonded status to the USSR, the local KGB went outright criminal with the single minded objective of fast enrichment. Its criminal links with the Russian and Ukrainian underworld attracted incomers, with the result that even the state has not yet discovered how to keep control over its overpowerful underworld. Unsolved contract slayings of prominent citizens - sometimes on the streets of Sofia, have damaged BULGARIA's prospects of joining 'the club' of law abiding EU states who frankly don't need members like this.

ROMANIA, with a population of over twenty two million is easily the largest of the South Eastern European states and one of the poorest. It suffered particularly from many years of mismanagement under the communist opportunists the Ceausescus, and since their violent deaths sixteen years ago, for years, further mismanagement was carried on by former members of their regime, tricked out in ill-fitting democratic robes. Driven from the headlines by the news of UKRAINE's Orange revolution, it was little noticed that 2005 saw a genuine new beginning here with the election of a new president, previously the mayor of Bucharest. He has made a complete break with the former communist clique in favour of rational policies in concert with those of the EU, which ROMANIA is destined to join perhaps as soon as 2007 if, and that remains a big if, they can meet the criteria and complete their qualifying legislation in time.

TURKEY, the former colonial power in the Balkans, now has a glimpse of possibly joining in the European game. Their businessmen, hedging their bets, have long been investing in BULGARIA and other south Balkan states, to get a piece of the EU economic action whatever the fate of the Turkish bid for full EU membership. After a crisis overcome at government level as to whether negotiations could even begin, that is already back at the crossroads because the very people in the EU who supported their application are the same as those who are most shocked at their bringing a criminal case against Turkish intellectuals whose 'offence' was to refer to the Armenian massacre of WWI and to the more recent deaths of Kurd nationalists. The EU is many things, a key element being that it is a club of members who accept, practice and insist on the tenets of democracy. They are set out in something called the Copenhagen criteria. Such liberal internationalists who welcomed Turkeys application on other grounds are not going to support membership for a manifestly undemocratic polity where free speech is not permitted if it disturbs long-held nationalist based propaganda, perpetuating false facts. 

SYRIA is a nation in trouble and the international climate is crowding in on the Damascus administration. One of these troubles is that the Asad government has few friends and very powerful enemies. Internally it is far from certain that Bashir al Asad is in the driving seat. The murders in Lebanon look to have happened in spite of, rather than because of him. As to US propaganda on the Syrian government aiding terrorism in IRAQ, there seems little common ground between Syria's secular government and the Al Qaeda Sunni fanatics who are inserted into IRAQ, and nothing for Syria to gain by helping them. Indeed 'godless' SYRIA has every reason to fear their attention once the coalition troops leave IRAQ.
Lebanon is another matter. Undoubtedly, members of the Asad family are seeking to continue to control Lebanon, by whatever means, and it may be that he is just not powerful enough to discipline or remove them. This story will run and run, but at some point perhaps in 2006, a crisis will emerge and then… 

LIBYA like North Korea, is a highly eccentric state and it's long term leader Colonel Qadaffi, is similarly as unpredictable as Kim Jong Il. There was a fanfare greeting LIBYA's 'return to the fold' because it is a big oil state and the US's top foreign policy is to secure energy for the homeland. Also LIBYA agreed to give up its nuclear ambitions despite the blandishments of Prof.AQ Khan, thus removing the need for the US to interdict. Then up pops an unacceptable piece of left-over police state rubbish, where six foreign contract nurses from BULGARIA and a Palestinian doctor absurdly found themselves sentenced to death for "deliberately injecting the AIDS virus into some sick Libyan children" in the hospital where they worked. Massive international pressure has been brought and over the Christmas holidays, the death sentences were quashed with a new trial ordered, but prior to that, these unfortunates have already been in prison under sentence of death, for many years! 

UKRAINE has had a momentous year following its Orange revolution which seemed, whatever else, to have made it de facto independent of RUSSIA, as well as de jure. This independence has resulted in the enmity of their former big brother, exemplified by the Russian use of the energy weapon which they have blatantly wielded for political purposes, as they recently did with MOLDOVA which was little reported, another FSU state that has broken away from Moscow's control.

UKRAINE has been dependent on Russia's state-controlled GAZPROM who have turned off the gas tap because the hapless Ukrainians were not prepared, or not able, to pay a more than four-fold increase in prices, and that without further negotiations! GAZPROM say it is about market prices, but neighbouring BELARUS gives it the lie. A docile satellite of Moscow, BELARUS is not facing any such economic racking on gas imports.

If Ukrainian independence can hold up it will be in geopolitical terms an immensely important reality, because it will have stopped in it's tracks the main Russian foreign policy objective, to recreate a Russian-led core of former soviet states, based on shared slavdom and the 'Russian idea.' 
It could be said that Russia's new top foreign policy objective is now to 'win back' UKRAINE and unseat Yushchenko. If Moscow's stooges get back in to power then RUSSIA's 'soviet re-union' plan becomes a real prospect

Moscow's project could be understood as the USSR without either the Moslem states, and the communist economic ideology. The question now is can Ukrainian independence hold through fair and honest elections, if people do not see tangible progress and indeed, feel better off? Putin is of course very aware of what a freezing winter will do to Yushchenko's popularity. But for him it is a real gamble. Yushchenko will not be slow to put the blame where it belongs and when old people and babies start to die from cold-related factors, Mother Russia will have been seen to act in a very unmotherly way and Putin may well be hated.

In geopolitical terms, the other major question for UKRAINE is whether it can realistically plan towards membership of the EU, which right now has more to do with European perceptions of themselves, than with UKRAINE's eventual fitness to join. Either way, UKRAINE is a pivotal state in terms of the configuration of a united Europe, or a revitalised, faux-democratic RUSSIA

MOLDOVA is a statelet (think Ruritania), once a full All-Union Republic of the Soviet Union, to whose western cities it played the role of market gardener and vintner. Tucked between ROMANIA and UKRAINE, both now benign, it has the world's only 'free and fair' democratically-elected communist government, after having tried various other versions which disappointed by their corruption and ineffectiveness. Currently the government is making a brave attempt to improve the lot of the people who hold the unenviable title of Europe's poorest nation. They are plagued by a breakaway 'unrecognised' republic Transnistria, infamous for its criminality in illegal international arms dealing, and drugs smuggling. It continues to exist only because Moscow wills it so, presumably for the fruits of its corruption, despite the good offices of ROMANIA and UKRAINE to broker a reunion with MOLDOVA

BELARUS, the other western slav state, is an unreconstructed dictatorship, Europe's last, and with a dictator absolutely ready, willing and able to spill his countrymen's blood in retaining his personal power. Although his regime completely fits the concept of a reunited 'Soviet' Union relying on Moscow, his is an uneasy relationship with the government of Vladimir Putin partly because he sees a much bigger role for himself than they do. With a ten million population, its importance in the reunion concept is minimal compared with UKRAINE's forty seven million.

The fourth putative member of a recast greater RUSSIA, is KAZAKSTAN. Unlike the others, RUSSIA itself, BELARUS and UKRAINE, KAZAKSTAN is not a slav majority state but does have a substantial slav and intermarried population. To describe inhabitants as Moslem after seventy years of communism is more of a cultural description than a religious one. Very many of the senior and middle management jobs are held by ethnic slavs and in all activities - civil and military, they are seriously significant. This vast central Asian state shades away from the steppe of southern Russia, before the mountain chains of the other FSU central Asian republics, further to the south. The ruler and his family are well entrenched and seemingly unassailable, looking forward to Saudi style wealth, and the booming economy, based upon oil and gas, reflects the happy fact that just about every mineral in the world is to be found here. Its vulnerability was until recently it's remoteness from world markets, with oil and gas having no alternatives than to travel through RUSSIAN pipelines, but no more. They can now link in to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to reach the Mediterrannean and before long there will be completed a massive pipeline outlet to China, so they will continue from there. 

Other FSU states in Central Asia include TURKMENISTAN, another small population, vast desert state, rimmed with a verdant crescent, bordering on IRAN and former FSU states, with a shoreline on the Caspian sea. What makes this Turkic speaking state so different is not the fact that it is entirely subject to the whims of a single autocrat - that is not unusual in Central Asia, or in the FSU as a whole. But it is that the ruler of this five million population country is both an egocentric and eccentric beyond belief, and were it not so sad for the citizens, to an extent that would be funny. Gas and Oil are what they have to offer, but little skill has been exhibited in deal-making to properly exploit the potential. Short of a coup, which seems unlikely, this situation is expected to continue. 

Northern AFGHANISTAN neighbours to the east and whilst that nation had its period of being ruled from Moscow, it was a hornet's nest for the Russians, from which like Vietnam for the US, they were pleased to be able to eventually depart. Now there is a western supervised and funded elected government made up from the several different ethnic and religious groups that make up this essentially tribal country. A substantial western military presence is going to be needed for the foreseeable future and now NATO, thus involving the Europeans as distinct from just US forces, have taken over responsibility. The Taleban are still there, but much reduced in strength, indeed any concentrations of strength are exactly what western firepower requires to be at its most effective. Consequently, Taleban fighters tend now to make guerrilla hit-and-run attacks and disappear thereafter. Western Special Forces still roam the vast mountain chains looking for al Qaeda remnants as well as Taleban and the big prize Osama-bin-Laden, although many believe it likely that he is gone. 

IRAQ has achieved a constitution and an elected parliament. The 'smart money' says that 2006 will see the withdrawal of the bulk of coalition forces, having of course declared a victory. What will they leave behind? There will be a state without a dictator, unless a general emerges after a year or two, or Moqtada al Sadr makes his play. There should be some constitutional balance between ethnic groups and a rudimentary framework for the rule of law. If the Iraqis collectively want to take that forward, that is the direction in which it will go. Alternatively, it may balkanise into virtually independent Shia city-states in the south, the Kurd homeland in the north, and depending on whatever level of statesmanship is deployed at the top of Iraqi politics, either local Sunni effective self-rule in the centre, or a continuing low-intensity civil war. The difference will probably depend on whether the Sunni communities receive a fair share of the nation's oil wealth. 

IRAN has had a significant year with a hard-line president being unexpectedly elected who seems determined to confront the US and Israel at every opportunity. There is a new jingoistic attitude to nuclear development, with the Iranians seemingly determined to raise the stakes and assert their rights under the non-proliferation agreement. The world interprets this, understandably, given Iran's undiplomatic threats and bellicose utterances, as a means to nuclear weapon development. It is unlikely that 2006 will come and go without this coming to crisis level. There is a renewed air of fanaticism abroad in IRAN, which augurs ill for peace in the region, even if war is probably not on anyone's agenda.

UZBEKISTAN has emerged on the world's consciousness as being governed by a truly evil regime. Even under the aegis of the Soviet Union the politicians were semi-gangsters. This state was always known for its licensed thuggery and ruthless response to any challenge to the powerholders. Now in its massive over-reaction to the protests in Andeman in the Ferghana valley, not satisfied with hundreds killed by Uzbek troops, the regime now is pursuing survivors with long penal sentences and a total disregard of international opinion. A tentative friendship with the USA after the Afghan intervention of 2001 has now dissipated over the blatant human rights issue, and RUSSIA has benefited by filling the resulting vacuum. 

KYRGYZSTAN, a small mountain state poised between former Soviet central Asia and China upset a lot of calculations last year with its so-called Tulip revolution. This has not been around long enough to judge whether it is the real democratic thing, or merely a change of personnel / clan /regime. There is a US base there but is in a sense 'under notice,' as the new government have linked its presence to the achieving of stability in neighbouring AFGHANISTAN

TAJIKISTAN is another neighbouring mountain state bordering on China and AFGHANISTAN as well as UZBEKISTAN and KYRGYZSTAN. This was the real frontline state even before, as well as during the brief western intervention, to support the Northern Coalition led by ethnic Tajiks in their successful struggle against the Taleban. Not remotely a democracy, it is seen to be important as a strategic supply base for Western troops in AFGHANISTAN, which leads to some tension between the Spread of Democracy policy led by State; and the strategic-base global-encirclement program of the Pentagon. 

Alone of the three Caucasus states, GEORGIA has made a dash for democracy and seems to be genuine about it. Certainly, some of the worst aspects of the top-down control of people's lives, a carry-over from communism, can be seen to have receded. Living next door to Chechnya hasn't helped and GEORGIA has plenty of troubles of its own, with two breakaway provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, calling themselves independent republics and being wholly sustained in this, just short of formal recognition, by RUSSIA, as usual with its own agenda.

AZERBAIJAN is a nominally Moslem state bordering on both RUSSIA and IRAN as well as GEORGIA and it's enemy ARMENIA. It is a typical post Soviet dictatorship, it's president having inherited the position like a crown prince in a monarchy. But it is not close to Moscow; in fact it has an intimate relationship with TURKEY, and now the US. This is due to the Caspian oil and gas, which now flows west through GEORGIA and TURKEY, bypassing the former Azeri pipelines through RUSSIA. Although not greatly influenced by Moscow, the bad habits at least hang on. Its corruption has long been infamous and nothing more than lip service is paid to genuine democracy. 

ARMENIA is a small Christian (its own variety more ancient than Roman Catholicism) state, prone to violence, which amazingly has survived from Persian and Roman times, although in greatly truncated form - it is said to now be just one sixteenth of its greatest historical size. It is mountainous, subject to earthquakes and it is poor. It has however a vast diaspora with larger populations of Armenians living abroad than in their home nation. The USA, IRAN, SYRIA, TURKEY, RUSSIA, France, all host large ethnic Armenian groups, many of which have prospered. It is small surprise then that their lobbying group in Washington is reckoned to be second only to that of Israel in terms of effectiveness. A current example of that is the recent award of a substantial grant from the US through the Millennium Challenge Account, a fund dedicated to rewarding progress towards democracy, even though the most recent Armenian election was heavily panned by the OSCE. The ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh plus territory surrounding it, all located within the geographical territory of AZERBAIJAN, has been the casus belli between these two states, a quarrel capable of and long overdue for resolution. 

For RUSSIA, the coming year will see more speculation about the succession of 2008, but now, under the grip of Vladimir Putin and his KGB and military cohorts, it is a very different proposition to the RUSSIA of Yeltsin. Unlike many nations in transition, the former totalitarian RUSSIA, that first gave way to at least a theoretically democratic state, has gone backwards, reverted to absolutism and reneged on democracy's components. The mass media is now under central control. The political parties, minus some minorities for whom the numerical bar to parliamentary representation has been raised, can now be fairly described as warming seats in a legislature that is no more than a government rubber stamp. Their independence has been systematically and efficiently emasculated. The system of justice, which never was reformed, is one in which to be 'charged' is to be guilty - a defence is really not relevant. In civil disputes there is little faith in objectivity - the judges have seemed to prefer cash. Police powers are whatever they claim them to be, and unsurprisingly in a hold-over from the years of communism, corruption appears to flourish at every level, throughout the administration. 

Government across the eighty-nine territories of the Russian Federation, which had drifted to near independence in some, has been brought back under central control. The business community, which was getting dangerously close to a gangster economy, has similarly been brought back from its 'wild east' robber-baron status, by the simple expedient of toppling a few billionaire oligarchs and exploiting the files. The truth is that in the post -communist early years, nearly all of the emerging class of businessmen 'cut corners,' paid bribes to unscrupulous officials, or similarly were involved in the generality of corrupt practices. RUSSIA has throughout all of its regimes maintained a police state. There are incriminating files on everyone and everything - certainly there can hardly be a businessman in RUSSIA immune from the threat of opening his file. Khordokovsky was a prime example - his trial being about relatively small transactions prior to involvement in his giant oil company, which was the real issue for the Kremlin. That plus the 'tax weapon' - tax inspection, enforced by uniformed, masked, machine-gun wielding assault troops, has in a sense re-created the business environment replicating that of China, where businessmen can do pretty much as they choose, so long as they don't get involved in politics, and don't attempt to frustrate perceived Kremlin interests. Indeed China with its authoritarian state and relatively free business arena has been a model for the KGB-led transition of the Putin years, which has facilitated a growing community of interests between the two giant nations.

In foreign policy, as this month's report shows, RUSSIA, which for so long dominated Eurasia, does so no longer. As explained above, the key policy objective - to create a 'soviet re-union' ruled from Moscow has been largely frustrated both by UKRAINE's Orange revolution and KAZAKSTAN's new economic independence. Very much the 'plan B' in progress- to contain US post-9/11 military expansionism - has had the limited success of regaining influence in UZBEKISTAN, following their falling out with the west over human rights. KYRGYZSTAN, despite its 'Tulip revolution,' is far from a write-off, perhaps amounting to little more than a change of personnel. RUSSIA is cleverly exploiting its abundant funds to dominate key industries, specifically electricity generation and gas and oil supply within the former soviet empire, and here lies their greatest strength. Energy scarcity has proved to be the economic salvation of an economy that was going nowhere. Despite all the heavy industry of the communist period and all their undoubted strengths in science and technology - thirteen years after the end of the USSR, the economy is still small. But oil and gas they have in super abundance and politically spikey as they may be, they are considered infinitely more stable and long-term reliable than a fractious middle east, beset with Islamic upheaval. All of this came about as reinvestment in their domestic hydrocarbons industry was producing product onstream, just as world prices were soaring. RUSSIA's greatest asset, the key to their future prosperity (there is little sign of any trickle-down effect yet), chimes in perfectly with the US's number one foreign policy objective, which augurs well for world peace, if not for the spread of democracy. 

NORTH KOREA has as ever, maintained it's enigmatic stance in negotiations and our report this month comprehensively reviews the landscape both domestic, and relating to the outside world against that background. Certain characteristics define this oddball state which is truly like no other. Our archives trace month-by-month the numerous infractions of normal behaviour, of logic, of common sense even, due to reasons not at all clear. Whilst it is barely possible to discern what the rulers really want, it is quite clear what they do not want. The re-unification of Germany resulting in the trial and imprisonment of top east German politicians, was an object lesson in what they will not countenance in any reunification of the Korean peninsula. If they go, they will want total amnesty and to take their ill-gotten gains with them. Meanwhile the confrontational temperature is slightly reduced at the year's beginning, but it can all change - swiftly!

Further down the Pacific, TAIWAN has emerged as a democracy and this must be not only the world's richest unrecognised state, but also the most decent in terms of the rule of law. It's extraordinary and ambiguous situation, is that it is both threatened by China for even existing, whilst being easily the greatest foreign direct investor in that country, thus responsible in no small measure for China's economic great leap forward.
Good sense, particularly within the electorate, has restrained some of the more extreme positions of leading politicians. These are a pragmatic people which gives one hope for democracy, because even though it took up to fifty years to flourish, it is clear that it exists at all as the chosen method of governance, because it has proved to be the best of the available options. Mainland China please note! 

The neighbouring PHILIPPINES have finished the year on a higher note than for a long time hitherto. Light at the end of an interminable tunnel might be accurate, as our report explains. Perhaps it is more than a faux-democracy after all, but that is by no means certain. The age-old problem in this old country has been the continuing division of the super wealthy from the rest. Although the newly rich, if rich enough, have been admitted, power has long been in the hands of a colonial aristocracy of great families in the tradition of the Spanish empire. There has been only a small and apolitical middle class and political parties have lacked genuine leaders, other than the nominees of the great ones seeking continuity of power. The unforgiveable fact is that they have ruled the country very badly for a very long time and have survived in power by sharing the spoils amongst themselves. The vast majority of the electorate have not thrown up political leaders, the influential Roman church has been an instrument of reaction here and radicalism has long been equated and so stigmatised with the label of communism. Worse, working-class labour organisers have been routinely murdered by police and private thugs; and journalists - one hundred since the fall of Marcos have been killed -without a successful prosecution! 

It says something when by far the largest foreign earnings come from remittances from countrymen and women, driven by sheer necessity to work abroad if they want to work at all, their own government having been so inept as to be unable to create or sustain an economy, which is the normal task of elected powerholders. We will be following this story in the hope that one-day we can report that it is, after all, more than a faux-democracy.

In the new world order the military balance doesn't exist. The US is the only nation that has for so long spent so much on every aspect of its military, so that any combination of other nations that theoretically could be lined up in opposition, would go down to red ruin 

A key effect of there being just a single remaining superpower, is that wars, when they happen, are localised, as in AFGHANISTAN or IRAQ. Also that the entire character of conventional war being in any conceivable scenario, so one-sided, has radically changed. Now it is about guerrilla-type confrontations with conventional armies, to the point where naval carrier battle groups for example, have the role only of logistical backup and global policemen; and new generations of massively costly fighter aircraft occupy the only slot available to them, that of a deterrent - 'just in case' some emergent power becomes overly ambitious. This is an almost impossible scenario to sensibly elaborate but not in the more fevered arenas within which work the arms lobbyists. 

This summary of our forty nations in transition reflects the world after some seventy years of imposed communism for many Soviet states, and fifteen years after the USSR dissolved. It is manifestly obvious that the destinies of many have moved along different paths. There is little doubt that those nations that were former colonies of the western powers, have done better that those that were colonies of the Soviet empire, certainly in terms of the Rule of Law, but some have escaped or seem to have done, from the heavy hand of a Moscow, still as with the Ukrainian gas crisis choosing to play hardball - no doubt they would call it pragmatism. 

Clive Lindley - Publisher