Last year at this time I made five predictions for the world in 2014. Like everyone else out there, I missed the huge stories of Islamic State and Russia’s war in Ukraine, but let’s see how I did before looking back at the five biggest stories of the year.
What I predicted
Nothing will really change in Syria – Well, I was right that the conflict would only get worse, but failed to predict the huge rise of the Islamic State, which has almost completely sidelined the moderate rebels.
No conflict between China and Japan – Here I was right. While the two countries spent most of the year arguing, recently their leaders have met to try to start to repair relations. They aren’t going to be friends, but it looks like the trend is heading towards peace.
An awkward Winter Olympics for Russia – Half right. The gay rights issues were embarrassing for Russia, but the threat of terrorism failed to materialise. However the fact that Russia invaded Crimea 3 days after the Games ended meant they were quickly forgotten. In terms of Russia’s image, it was a $51 billion waste.
French troops in Africa for another year – I was entirely right that the French would still be there, but the slow burning violence in the Central African Republic hasn’t made the news much this year.
A new country: Catalonia – Completely wrong. Thanks to the stubborn Spanish resitance to any referendum, in the end only a symbolic referendum was held. An independent Catalonia will have to wait.
What really happened
A new Ukraine, a new Russia – The revolution in Ukraine in February was a huge event in the country´s history. Images of barricades in the Maidan square and police snipers shooting into the crowd will for me always be a terrible memory of 2014. But it was Russia’s reaction to the revolution that was truly new. Vladimir Putin decided that the pro-Western revolution was the last straw. Swiftly annexing Crimea, then sending troops to destabilise Eastern Ukraine, Putin showed Ukraine and the West that Russia was not going to be pushed around. He has clearly decided that confrontation is the way forward, despite the huge cost to the economy. This has come at the cost of thousands of lives in Eastern Ukraine, as the Russian backed rebels continue to hold ground. Where this will end is impossible to say.
From ISIS to IS – While the jihadists of ISIS controlled territory in Western Iraq and Syria before 2014, the real shock came in June. Within days ISIS captured the city of Mosul and large areas of Northern Iraq, before forcing the crumbling Iraqi army south to come within 25 kilometres of Baghdad airport. Only significant support from the United States and Iran to the Kurds and Shi’a government stopped the advance. While the jihadists are now losing some ground, the borders of the Middle East seem forever changed. The Kurds are practically independent, the border between Iraq and Syria has disappeared, and both countries have become a playground for hundreds of armed militias.
War in Gaza, again – The 50 day war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas showed just how easy it is for events to spiral out of control. The killing of 3 Israeli teenagers led to the revenge killing of a Palestinian teen, which led to rockets being fired at Israel, which led to airstrikes, and so on. While Hamas’ capabilities were severely damaged during the fighting, the real impact came from the over 1500 Palestinian civilians who were killed. Parts of Gaza were completely leveled, and world opinion seems to have turned against Israel. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this latest war will lead to any fresh peace talks.
Ebola in West Africa – While it started in 2013, the biggest Ebola outbreak in history only really got going over the summer, as case numbers exploded in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The world failed to act quickly, and health services in the region were overwhelmed. The outbreak also led to panic in the West as single cases popped up, which inevitably took the attention off the countries where the disease was an actual problem. The outbreak seems to be slowing down now, thanks to the heroic efforts of health workers, both local and international. It showed us thought that even in the 21st century nature still can have the upper hand.
Police and race in the US – It started in Ferguson, but the protests and anger that has boiled over at police shootings has spread across the US. The fact that police in the country shoot far more black people than white is of course nothing new, but cases like that of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have brought it into the spotlight. Yet again, it’s been made painfully obvious that police forces across the country have huge problems with racism, and that officers are getting away with murder. Without clear, definable goals though, it’s hard to know where this movement will go. 2015 will tell us whether it will be a ‘new Civil Rights movement’, or a short-lived burst of anger.
Looking back, it hasn’t been the best of years. Violent change seems to have been the colour of the year, but not the sort of change that moves us forward. On Wednesday I’ll look at where the world might be headed in 2015.