Syria Comes Up As the Best and Worst of 2013 in the Valdai Club Poll

30.12.2013

Valdai Club experts were polled on the results of 2013 and the most important events that influenced or changed international affairs. The majority of the experts polled believe that the most positive development this year was the decision to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. They also note the role of the international community and Russia’s significant contribution.

Valdai Club experts were polled on the results of 2013 and the most important events that influenced or changed international affairs.

The majority of the experts polled believe that the most positive development this year was the decision to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. They also note the role of the international community and Russia’s significant contribution.

Jacques Sapir, Director of Studies at the Paris School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, said the Russian initiative for Syria’s chemical weapons deserves special mention because “it led to a successful resolution of the issue and is paving the way for a more balanced solution of the conflict than if US-French bombardments had taken place.”

Sheng Shiliang, Research Fellow at the Xinhua Center for World Affairs Studies, stressed that it was thanks to Russia’s efforts that a military invasion of Syria was prevented: “Russia acted firmly, wisely, consistently and in a balanced manner to protect its own interests, security and global stability.”

Mikhail Delyagin, Director of the Institute of Globalization Problems, said the West was right to opt against a military intervention in Syria, “because it would have led to huge human losses and increased the chances of a terrorist Islamic war in Russia.”

Professor Pan Dawei, Director of the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said the Syrian conflict highlighted the general move towards the development of a multipolar world: “The events in Syria this year showed that the United States can no longer rule the world single-handedly, even if it has not accepted this yet. Moreover, diplomatic efforts are being taken to resolve the Syrian crisis. Diplomacy has regained its role, and the international community was offered the most rational solution to a major international issue. The idea of humanitarian intervention, which first appeared in the early 1990s, is increasingly being questioned.”

Some experts said that one of the key outcomes of the Syrian conflict was that the United States showed readiness for compromise. Eduard Ponarin, a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research of the Higher School of Economics, National Research University, said the new diplomatic policy offers opportunities for Russian-US regional cooperation: “The US’ U-turn on Syria, Russia's skillful handling of the situation, and the consequent changes, including the weakening position of Saudi Arabia and a possibility of US-Iranian rapprochement, – these developments could lead to the creation of a new security architecture in the Middle East and could also influence other Muslim regions in the world.”

Although the agreements on Syria’s chemical weapons have had a positive impact on the situation in the country and the rest of the world, the Valdai experts said that the continuing conflict was the most negative aspect of the year.

John Russell, Professor of Russian and Security Studies at the University of Bradford, UK, said: “The most negative aspect of this year is the continuing civil war in Syria. The failure of the most responsible permanent members of the UN Security Council to put the ongoing human suffering of the civilian population in Syria above their own narrowly defined national interests has led to the triumph of might over right, to the detriment of the overwhelming majority.”

French expert Thomas Gomart and Russian political analyst Nikolai Zlobin believe that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was the most negative event of the year.

Hasan Kanbolat, Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, Turkey, in highlighting the Syrian conflict as the most negative aspect of the year, pointed to its humanitarian and political consequences: “There are spillover effects firstly in Lebanon and also in Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. The conflict has the capacity to destabilize the whole region.”

The experts concluded that the second most positive event of the year was the agreements between Iran and the six powers to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment in return for easing international sanctions. Clifford Kupchan, Research Director for Russia and Eurasia of the Eurasia Group, believes that “the agreement may avert another war in the Middle East and lead to a US-Iran détente that would promote world peace.”

Other positive events were the gradual improvement of the global economy following the financial crisis of 2008-2009; the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia; the French intervention in Mali; and Tokyo’s victory in the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

There were other opinions regarding the most negative events of the year, for example, the Chinese-Japanese conflict over the South China Sea. Taisuke Abiru, Research Fellow of the Tokyo Foundation, pinpointed the “growing instability in East Asia due to China's increasingly assertive policy in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. This geopolitical instability could offset the major potential of economic development in this region.” But his Chinese colleague Pan Dawei, Professor and Director of the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, believes that the nascent revival of Japanese militarism endangers stability in the region.

Experts also spoke about the continuing unrest in Ukraine, which began in November 2013. Mikhail Delyagin, Director of the Institute of Globalization Problems, and Eduard Ponarin, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research of the Higher School of Economics National Research University, believe that Ukrainian protests may have serious consequences for the entire post-Soviet region.

Other negative events mentioned by the experts include the continued disintegration of Libya; the US Government shutdown in the fall of 2013; the spy scandal in Europe; terrorist attacks in Algeria, Boston (USA) and the Congo; and the incident with the forced landing of the Bolivian president’s plane in Europe.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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