Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra, Ph.D.

The year 2009 will be remembered as one of the most difficult years in the annals of international politics. Though the actions and reactions of national and international players in this year is yet to be assessed fully, nonetheless the year long forays in international politics have not evoked much hope in the world. However, it is certain that the world has changed significantly by the end of year and the year 2010 will likely witness new configurations in power politics affecting national, regional and global politics. The year ended with many failed attempts at peace, grandstanding with trifle results, and the protracted menace of terrorism, religious extremism, nuclear adventures bypassing international rules and many other such developments.

One of the most important developments in the year at least from an optimistic point of view is the increasing possibility of ‘resetting’ of relationship between two world powers Russia and the US. The newly elected US President Barack Obama did send feelers that he is interested to develop close ties with the Russia to steer amicable resolution of contentious issues. This was well received by Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev. The visit of Obama to Russia in July, and the later announcement of the US administration to withdraw anti-missile shield plan from Eastern Europe did achieve significantly in terms of cooling down the animosity and tension in the Central Eurasian region generated in earlier months. Analysts who feared the prospects of new cold war brewing between the two powers especially after the US moves to expand NATO in Central Eurasia, with the players in the region collaborating to reduce Russian influence by developing alternate pipelines and promoting anti-Russian regimes, now at least for the time being could avoid predicting doom for dialogue in international politics.

However, the politics of hardcore realism could not lead to materialization of peaceful utterances in the world despite Obama being awarded the Nobel Prize. Despite his call for friendship with Muslim world in Cairo in June, the tensions across the divide have further intensified or at least sustained. The most burning example in this context is the Af-Pak region. Despite the unveiling of the Af-Pak strategy in March, which stipulated for cooperation with powers like Russia, not much happened on the ground. The death of Baitullah Mehsud might have brought some consolation to these efforts, but the reported training of terrorists from various parts of the world in Pakistan’s north west, and intermittent terror attacks in Pakistan and in surrounding regions bring into picture the troubled reality that there is lack of a comprehensive strategy to tackle this complex problem.

The aftermath of the financial crisis in the world has put forth in the horizon the rise of China as a world power. China’s economy has grown fast despite the financial crisis, and it is going to be second largest economy in a short period. It will be interesting to note that China played an important role in salvaging the US economy from the global recession. China’s power projections in terms of extending its bases around the world and particularly in the seas, its emerging clout in Africa, its strong posture to separatist movements, its inroads into Central Asian countries have undoubtedly have made it clear that the rise of China is an inevitability which needs to be factored in international politics. Besides China, India has shown impressive economic growth and has not hidden its ambitions to play a major role in global affairs. In fact there are occasions in 2009 such as deliberations at BRIC, BASIC at Copenhagen during climate change conference, in which India and China have coordinated their efforts to have a common bargaining agenda.

The issues of Iraq, Iran and North Korea too resulted in diplomatic whirlwind in the year 2009. Though there is semblance of order in Iraq after the US forces attacked and dethroned Saddam regime, the terror attacks killing innocent civilians and the lack of required resilience to bring different factions together have shown Iraq will go through phases of turmoil before getting normal. On the issue of Iran powers like India, Russia and US took a common position that there should be no nuclear armament of Iran, and it must open its nuclear sites particularly at Qom for International Atomic Energy Agency inspection. The elections in Iran this year created huge disturbances in the country accompanied by furor in international media, which Iran called a ploy instigated by the Western agents, while the West criticized it as suppression of democratic rights. Despite sanctions and threats North Korea tested nuclear weapons. The six party talks failed to yield any result. On the issue of Middle East, Obama failed to achieve any break through despite his high declaration of intent to bring conflicting parties in Palestine and Israel to a common negotiating table and achieve results.

The national and regional conflicts too gathered momentum this year. Particularly in South Asia the tensions became protracted. The challenge of democratic process in Nepal particularly by Maoists, the post-LTTE problem of rehabilitation and settlement of minority Tamils in Sri Lanka, religious extremism and mutiny by paramilitary forces in Bangladesh, the height of tensions between India and Pakistan post-Mumbai terror attack, and breakdown of talks after the dialogue at Sharm-al-Sheikh in Egypt in July are some of the developments in the year which marked fragility of politics in South Asia.

The year 2010 will be equally challenging. The world will not recover from the global financial crisis fully this year. The international political scenario will likely continue fragile with the menace of terrorism, divergence of perceptions on issues like nuclear disarmament and conflicts. However, certain trends may be delineated. First, the attention of the world will be turned more to the east than to the west. Second, the trend towards multipolarity will certainly become more prominent with multiple centres of power like Russia, India, China, Japan, South Africa and Brazil emerging in the scene and asserting their powers. Though the UN will be subject to constraints and it will be unable to play its given role, regional and multilateral organizations like SCO, G-8, G-20, BRIC, etc. will definitely have greater say in international affairs.

The year 2009 will not be remembered as a year of dialogue and diplomacy. Though there were attempts to esolve contentious issues by peaceful means, the overwhelming trend was conflict of perceptions and lack of will to work together. As the COP15 deliberations in December showed consensus on matters of common interest are still a chimera. One hopes the world will be a better place to live and prosper for nations in a format of non-zero sum game in 2010.


Dr. Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is part of the research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Jan 2010.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: TAKING STOCK OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS 2009, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

Comments are closed.