France last year, Belgium and Germany this. The authorities of those countries that have suffered awful atrocities such as the terrorist attacks in Paris last year, those in Brussels in March this year and in Berlin last evening will almost always get those responsible and bring them to justice. But what the authorities and those we put into positions of responsibility can never do is to turn the clock back and ease the pain of those that have suffered of those who will continue to live and work in our large cities. Vigilance is crucial. The train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and those in London in 2005 act as constant reminders if they were needed, that once a city or community has been hit by terrorist action fear will ensure that it will never again be the same.
So it is that many counties today live in fear of terrorist action and that in the process of ensuring permanent awareness human relations tend to suffer a break down in trust. Blame it on globalisation and free movement, blame it on the creation of wealth if you will or the ever widening gap between the ‘haves and the have nots’ or maybe on religion, tribalism and factors that deep beneath the surface, have either lain dormant for centuries or have maybe always been there, the world in 2016 is an unhappy and more unstable place.
Atrocities such as those that occurred yesterday in Berlin and Ankara act as timely reminders to all of us of the need permanent vigilance. Security is paramount and however objectionable the process might appear and of how this directly impacts on all of us, we have no choice but to embrace it. The importance of having strong defence capability also comes to the fore along with the need for all of us to understand and better embrace NATO.
The murder of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov by a serving Turkish police office in Ankara yesterday has been roundly and rightly condemned by all of sound mind. If it was meant to send a message to Vladimir Putin in respect of the ending Russian assisted atrocities that have led to thousands of lives being lost right across Syria, the massive displacement of people living in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, and of its destruction then I fear that this assassination or act of terrorism will have fallen on deaf ears.
We are of course all saddened by what is going on in Aleppo today but revenge in the form of murder of a respected serving Russian diplomat in Turkey will certainly not assist the permanent establishment of a peaceful solution. If the assassination was meant to damage Russia’s relations with Turkey then it has, as we have seen from the sensitive and yet robust response from the Russian leader last evening, also failed. And if it was meant to derail Russian attempts with Iran and Turkey to find a long term solution to the tragic situation that has engulfed Syria for too many years then I fear and indeed, hope that it has failed in achieving that objective too.
As we draw near to the end of 2016 none of us can be in any doubt that the world is a far less content place than it was at the start of the year. Leave aside Russia, China, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen. Leave aside Brexit, the US presidential election, France and indeed, the rise of the populist vote right across Europe and the US. Leave aside fears for the long term future of the EU and the impact of what occurred in Berlin yesterday on the forthcoming leadership election in Germany next year and for that matter, what might happen next in Italy and the Netherlands, the point is that Europe has lost a degree of stability during this year and one that impacts on all of us.
And as you survey the rather unhappy scene, take a good hard look at Turkey, a large country and one that is often termed these days as being part of Eurasia. Turkey, a powerful nation with an autocratic leader and one that shares borders with both Russia across the Black Sea, with Greece, Syria, Iran and Iraq to name but a few. Turkey depending on how one views it, either a powder keg waiting to go off or simply a nation that is just as Russia is one that is misunderstood and that happens to find itself rather too close to geo-political instability across a large part of the Middle-East region. Turkey, a supposed democracy and one that continues to suffer internally from Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) atrocities along with those from ISIL and a nation that is far from being in a happy place.
I am no wiser than any of you and I proffer no solution to the many geo-political ills that we are witnessing in too many parts of the world today. Closing our eyes to what is going on elsewhere is no options and neither is ignoring calls for more direct international engagement if that is what it takes.
Do I believe that the geo-political situation will be either worse or better this time next year? Worse but not to the extent that we should fear a situation getting out of hand by then. Russia will need to be constantly watched just as will the US approach to its relations with Russia and its approach to NATO. China will need to be closely observed too but I sincerely hope that the good work that the Obama administration has done with Iran is not interfered with by President-Elect Trump.
As to Britain’s Brexit negotiations, don’t be fooled by the press and media inspired rhetoric – the EU wants a satisfactory outcome as well as Britain and it well knows that other may follw where Britain has led.
I do though worry about Turkey and in realising that as one of the twenty-eight members of NATO, Turkey gives all the appearance of being either shackled or as an outcast, I would say that we should not allow ourselves to ignore the importance of Turkey in terms of where the country sits. Turkey may well be a nation riven with internal strife and political instability but it is not one that we should wish to see weakened by having Russia as its neighbour. NATO might well prefer not to have Turkey as a member state but it does at least realise the importance of where Turkey sits and that it is a nation that remains crucial to peace and stability of the West.
CHW (London – 20th December 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785