The year 2016 was a time of numerous major events providing no clue to what the world will be like in the 21st century. It could be anything – from plunging into devastating wars and economic downturns to unheard of prosperity and stability leaving the present turmoil in the past. There is no clear trend of global development and it’s impossible to say where the world is heading to. At least, not at the threshold of 2017.
The importance of information grew exponentially. 2016 will be remembered as a year of information wars. This factor is becoming increasingly instrumental in international affairs. No information sources are fully trusted anymore but the influence of media outlets and social networks is immense as the US electoral campaign showed.
Internet has become a battlefield where information wars are waged to influence large masses of people and a considerable number of world leaders. A media outlet has become the most powerful weapon used by a «warring side».
Geopolitical instability was increasing. There were geopolitical uncertainties, such as Brexit, the slowdown of China’s economic development to affect the global economic situation, and slow-moving trends in demographics and productivity growth.
2016 will be remembered as the year of the fourth industrial revolution – a phenomenon expected to change the world as we know it today. It started with consequences unknown. Despite rapid changes in technology, greater productivity, and the progress in labor force skills, the global economy was going through another year of stagnation. Internet, nanotechnology, bioscience, electronics, photonics, advanced materials and renewable energies have so far failed to produce a qualitative leap in the lives of many ordinary people, with social problems remaining as acute as ever.
And so far nothing gives ground to say 2017 will be the year of rapid economic growth. The ongoing political and economic uncertainties around the world are expected to negatively affect the fourth industrial revolution. At least, that’s what it was like in the year that’s gone.
In 2016, the China-offered Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific was launched while the US-initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has a slim chance to ever come to fruition. The China’s sponsored Asian Development Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development started to sponsor the new Silk Road plan. If successful, these two projects can change the economic map of the contemporary world to benefit many other states and damage the US in terms of global standing.
The Silk Road Economic Belt will connect China with Central Asia, Russia and the Baltic countries in Europe; with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and West Asia; and with Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The Maritime Silk Road, meanwhile, will link China’s coast to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in one route, and from China’s coast through the South China Sea to the South Pacific in the other. 2016 was the year when the global economic project got into full swing to give «prosperity for all» a chance.
It was the year when the so-called liberal world order was on shaky ground and retreating. In 2016, Europe continued to turn inward grappling with internal political challenges, violent extremism, and the migrant crisis. A host of facts and events in 2016 confirmed this trend, including the debates on Scottish independence, Brexit, and the Dutch referendum on Ukraine’s European Union membership, the internal divisions inside the EU, and Donald Trump elected in the US, to name a few.
The voices calling for revision of the European integration project were growing louder. In 2016, some called for convening a European constituent or foundational assembly to evaluate the situation and set new goals. Everybody agrees that things cannot continue as before. With anti-Russia sanctions doomed anyway, a more stable EU may benefit Moscow. After all, Russia is the third trading partner of the EU and the EU is the first trading partner of Russia.
2016 was the year of uncertainty to raise doubts about integration being a good thing. The European integration projects gives rise to a plethora of questions. Nobody knows what’s in store. Only when the effects of Brexit take shape and the results of elections in a number of leading countries, including Germany and Italy, are known, will it become possible to make predictions about the future of the Old Continent.
There were no breakthroughs in the Middle East but no new conflict erupted while the old ones lingered. The Islamic State group lost over a quarter of the territory in Iraq and Syria. It was retreating everywhere. There was a positive turn of events in Syria with Aleppo retaken long before the end of the year and Raqqa, the informal capital of the extremist group, surrounded by US-led forces. In 2016, the main pertinent actors dropped their «Assad must go» demand, with Russia, Turkey and Iran launching a crisis management effort in a new format with other parties invited to join.
The Islamic State was also defeated in Sirte, Libya. In 2016 it became evident that an international crisis management operation in that country is likely to take place with many actors involved. Any viable solution to the Middle East situation requires an international effort. Russia and the West may be facing a wide gap to divide them but joining together to tackle the region’s problems appears to be a logical step.
2016 was the year when the crisis of arms control and non-proliferation continued with no positive results and no prospects for the future. Hopes for a dialogue in this field have been largely frustrated.
All told, it was a year of dashed hopes and failed attempts to succeed. But it was not all doom and gloom. Global economy was slowly moving up, not down. There was no crisis and no downturn.
Some things were not in spotlight but they matter. Two weeks before Brexit, the African Union announced a new single African passport that permits holders to enter any of the 54 AU member states without a visa – an interesting turn in African history while the European integration was hitting headlines. World hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years. According to new data, acid pollution in the atmosphere is now almost back to the level that it was before it started with industrialization in the 1930s. Colon cancer, dementia, and heart disease, started declining in advanced countries.
Global terrorists were gradually losing ground. The Islamic State quietly started preparing its followers for the eventual collapse of the caliphate it proclaimed with great fanfare two years ago. Following the end of conflict in Colombia in 2016, all of the war in the world is now limited to an arc that contains less than a sixth of the world’s population.
The relations between Russia and the West went on deteriorating, but contacts were maintained. At least three sessions of Russia-NATO Council were held. None of the parties said the relationship was suspended. And they confirmed their readiness for further talks.
With all its achievements and failures, it was a year of transition, a harbinger of new reality which had not been neither foreseen, nor predicted. And there was a silver lining to make the world look forward to 2017 with hope and determination to overcome setbacks and snags on the way.