In politics and international relations, some matters can be long and on-going, and can rumble on for years. Former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell MP was initially quizzed over the plebgate scandal in 2012; the matter was still going through the courts in 2014. Sometimes, over time the matter can fade out of public and political sight; what of Julian Assange, Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden? Their revelations were explosive, creating tensions in international relations, and attracted criticism for the governments exposed. However- where are they now? Their names and deeds have largely faded out of public perception- but their legacy has not.
As regards their legacy, 2014 saw the three agencies of British Intelligence under public and governmental scrutiny as never before, as a result of the allegations of 2013. Indeed, the Chiefs of MI5, SIS and GCHQ were grilled relentlessly (and publicly) before the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee in November. The spymasters defended themselves robustly, stating clearly that their actions helped protect and safeguard the UK and democracy. A closed court, however, cleared and vindicated the intelligence agencies over the matters deriving from the whistleblowers of previous years in early December. As such, the matter of intrusive intelligence gathering and electronic interceptions can hopefully be laid to rest, and the intelligence services allowed to retreat again into the shadows where they operate so successfully.
That was before, allegations and court cases over British involvement in, or knowledge of, torture was brought up- and a US Senate report exposed CIA torture. The report also pointed to a degree of British involvement in the torture or apprehension of terror suspects. As such, 2015 will once again see the three British Intelligence agencies on the defensive, and before the spotlight they hate, and before the government oversight which is so vital. Given that 2015 sees and election in the UK, and the beginning of the US Presidential election cycle, doubtless many political hopefuls will be seeking to wring political capital out of the scandal.
However, some matters in politics and international relations have a nasty habit of not going away. Rather, some matters can escalate. Alternatively, as the matter develops, the initial matter can fade, as new twists emerge, or new elements become significant. As such, diplomats and commentators can still be dealing with the same matter several years later.
The writer well remembers writing about an uprising in Ukraine in December 2013. The people of Ukraine were peacefully protesting to their leaders about a decision whether a trade agreement should be signed with the EU, at the risk of angering their former Russian overlords and masters. As Christmas 2013 passed, instead of fading away, the matter became more serious. The embattled President was forced to step down and flee. 2014 saw matters develop to such an extent that Russia was able to annex the Crimea region of Ukraine. Although this attracted great international condemnation, and a chorus of indignation from commentators, diplomats and the UN, no decisive action was taken against Moscow for that act. This was in keeping with a similar lack of action in recent years against leaders such as President al Assad in Syria, and Kim Jong- un in North Korea.
As Russia looked ever westwards, with fighting flaring up in various eastern European regions next to Russia, and military over flights and increased naval activity across Europe and indeed Canada and the Arctic, the West, and the UN, resorted to diplomacy and sanctions. Although President Putin received the cold shoulder and was vilified (politely) at the G20 in Brisbane in November, little firm action was taken. However, it became apparent that some troubles in Russia’s economy are now emerging as 2014 draws to an end. Some put that down to sanctions finally having an effect; others are less sure that sanctions would actually do much to affect the seventh largest global economy, worth an estimated $2.113 trillion in 2013.
What was an internal uprising in December 2013 is now a matter of global security concern in December 2014. What will 2015 bring as regards Ukraine, Crimea, and the surrounding region? What twists and turns will be seen on the international stage?
Despite many educated guesses, it is hard to tell. Other international matters (such as IS in Syria and Iraq) will also need to be tackled head on in 2015, as those matters also escalate further, with no sign of ceasing. Lessons from previous aggressors, and lessons learnt from fighting similar extremists and insurgents need to be applied, not forgotten, if IS is to be successfully dealt with.
2014 was also a significant matter for internal British politics. After the historic independence referendum in Scotland, it is quite clear that great governmental and constitutional reform and change will be coming to the British Isles over the life of the next parliament (regardless of whatever party or parties is in power). Along with a reduction in public spending set to make the precious spending cuts look like a drop in the ocean, local government will become more powerful.
However, those matters of internal UK politics are also for 2015. Before the politicians and civil servants start planning and discussing such matters, let alone implementing the necessary changes, 2014 still has a few more weeks left to run.
During that time, the writer would like to wish everyone every joy and happiness over the Christmas season, and all peace and prosperity for 2015- whatever the New Year might bring.