If you thought 1999 was a roller-coaster and hoped the world would return to normal on January 1 2000 - sorry. If anything - so far - all appearances indicate it is going to get a whole lot worse, even if Y2k computer problems have proved rather illusory and the Second Coming didn't come.
As we begin the millennial year. Jesus's 2000th birthday. Y2k. the 21st Century. Whatever.... it looks like the hype and breakneck pace of international events, media and technological progress is just beginning.
Meanwhile the debate on whether this is in fact the 21st Century yet also looks likely to continue. Thus it seems possible that by the end of 2000 we may yet be able to work ourselves up to letting even more fireworks off for the beginning of 2001 AD.
At the beginning of 1999, Scoop began the year with a similar feeling of forboding about the rising levels of hype and the apparently unstoppable levels of inhumanity shown by people to each other in this world – see… Man's Inhumanity To Man - Where Are The Angels?.
At the beginning of 2000 the need for angels is, anything, more pressing than it was then.
Notwithstanding democratic transitions in Nigeria and Indonesia, the global security outlook is at least as threatening now as it was 12 months ago.
In International Security terms the principle difference between the opening of 1999 and the opening of 2000 is that 12 months ago the threat was primarily from an out of control Yugoslavia - and a dictator called Slobodan Milosevic. As 2000 dawns it is a restless Russian Bear keeping Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger and Bill Clinton up late nights.
There is an element of panic to the present state of international relations, and as we begin the year the activity is frenetic. Important developments over the holiday period were multiple - and as can be seen interconnected.
- On December 31 there was an effective coup in Russia and an unelected - but very popular - self-appointed spy (expelled from Germany in the 1980s for industrial espionage) called Vladimir Putin became president. Six months ago his name was probably a state secret. Today Putin is the controller of the world's second largest and second most sophisticated Nuclear Arsenal - and he likes playing the tough man.. At the Presidential elections, in three months time, Putin intends to acquire a democratic cloak of respectability. His stated aim several months ago was to increase military spending by more than 50%, he is less specific now.
- Mr Putin's benefactor - who even Mr Putin admits stood aside solely to assist him in his bid for the Presidency - former Russian President Boris Yeltsin - will shortly depart for the Middle East carrying with him his formal pardon for any crimes or thefts that he might have committed while in office. It remains to be seen whether he has been sent there on a mission to see "friends" in the south to destabilise the moves towards peace in the region - but in the circumstances it would not be surprising.
- Meanwhile in Chechnya the rebels are counter-attacking against Russian forces and appear to be 0inflicting serious casualties. The change in fortune in the war follows the replacement of the two commanding Russian generals in the campaign with their deputies. This is particularly alarming as it may mean we have a minor civil war underway within the Russian military. Big Bang Grozny is possibly again a possibility on the drawing board . On a positive side Russia's free press is at last criticising the war - albeit somewhat mutedly by asking how come the promises of a quick victory keep being put back. A Christmas break in the Russian offensive is also welcome - though the Chechens do not appear to be in a mood to negotiate a ceasefire anymore.
- In Georgia Edouard Sheverdnaze is under enormous pressure to allow Russian troops to occupy its border in order to contain the Chechen rebels. Meanwhile the US understandably seems more than anxious to remain friends with Georgia and advanced $120 million towards maintaining good relations in the final days of 1999.
- Further South the US and UK enforced sanctions remain in place against Iraq, and with a drought beginning to bite, the humanitarian crisis could soon significantly worsen. Any resolution to the Iraq crisis is now effectively in the acting Russian President's hands (Putin) through the Russian vote on the UN Security Council. The Security Council has been held up for months in coming to a resolution on the question by Russia already. Yeltsin's trip south could indicate some plan is in train here. Unfortunately the only thing that can be said for certain about the plan is this: that it will most probably be designed to reflect well on Putin in the eyes of the Russian electorate as a strong dynamic leader.
On the vaguely positive side of the ledger we have:
- In Shepherdstown in the US Syria's Foreign Minister and Israel's Prime Minister have been meeting discussing a land for peace deal. They are expected to leave to return to their respective capitals today after meeting with President Clinton - and so we may shortly know how things have gone. Yeltsin may visit Damascus in his upcoming Middle Eastern tour, if so it will be interesting to see what impression he leaves.
- A continued peace in East Timor. While NZ Troops came under fire over the holiday period there were thankfully no casualties. Ethnic unrest in Indonesia as a whole however continues to be a problem. That said Indonesia on its face appears to be developing into a true democracy for the first time under the guidance of the alliance of groups forged under Gus Dur.
What does all this mean for what we can expect in 2000 A.D.
First of all we know that whatever ends up happening this year it is likely to happen quickly. We know this thanks to Yeltsin and Putin's compression of the time scale to a March Russian Presidential Election. This in itself could denote a small element of panic on the part of Putin, a development which could be a small encouraging indication that what at present seems almost inevitable- his election - is avoidable.
After the March elections in Russia we will move on to the US Presidential election. And here we can probably safely assume republican electoral strategists are already tossing around the electoral possibilities available through a resurgent new Russian threat.
With George Bush Junior a leading contender for the Republican nomination it would be very easy at this point to get a little pessimistic.
Fortunately however Scoop is a great believer in karma. That is, to those who do wrong will eventually come some just deserts That said, Milosevic and a klutch of Australian Nazi War Criminals appear to be long overdue theirs.
For Scoop 1999 was an fascinating year both for what went wrong and for what went right on the international stage. And for that reason it remains - as ever - optimistic.
The stand-out successes for the world in 1999 for Scoop were the outcome of the crisis in East Timor and the Battle of Seattle.
Timor stood out because for a peaceful result to emerge from such a dark hole - in the face of extremely widespread institutional pessimism - provides a little evidence that angels really are out there.
The Battle of Seattle was a high point because it was the first time in the history of world trade relations that this Scoop can recall that the developing nations played a genuine role - and arguably won - the day. It was also a high-point insofar as it was a wake-up-call which even the US public would have struggled not to have noticed. With another - this time global - action day planned for Mayday 2000 mass public activism may yet have another heyday.
Finally Scoop remains optimistic because if pop-music is any indication we have a change in the zeit-geist underway.
"Hey Hey I saved the world today.
And everybody's happy now the bad things gone away.
And everybody's happy now the good things here to stay
Please let it stay" - beginning of the millennium pop lyric
Anxiety, arguably the emotion of pre-millennial 1999, is now making way for hope, and as John Irving so wisely observed - hope floats.
If hope becomes fashionable then maybe we will soon be able to look forward to a better future with less obscured vision. One thing Scoop has learned about hope over the past year is that it is infectious. Fingers crossed.