The Times They Are A Changin’
We have become used to a gentler climate that saw its spring at the end of the Cold War in the late 80s, early 90s. But things are changing and the people with the power are very different.
At the time the season changed, and communism warmed; Reagan and Nancy and Gorbachev and Raisa struck up a relationship that went beyond cordial.
Reagan and Gorbachev were the two central players in this fundamental swing of the axis and, were it not for them, the Cold War would not have ended when it did, or as peacefully as it did.
Twenty years on, things are getting chillier and the biggest players in the free world are less than cordial.
Reagan: At the close of the Cold War the US had a movie star at the helm. By all accounts he was a considered and intelligent man with a gift for diplomacy.
Trump: Today the US has a reality TV star and businessman with an inherited fortune in the White House. He is celebrated for a hair-trigger Twitter account.
Gorbachev: Russia’s Gorbachev survived famine that starved to death family members and neighbours, worked on farms before eventually getting a law degree.
A reformer he introduced freedom of speech and restructured the economy before negotiating massive nuclear weapons reductions with Reagan.
He introduced free elections — the first in the Soviet Union since 1917 — withdrew troops from Afghanistan and Mongolia and gave the Eastern Bloc countries the right to self-determination. A direct result of his policies demolished the Berlin Wall.
Putin: Vladimir Putin grew up with his family in a communal apartment, going on to gain a law degree in 1975.
In 2012 the former KGB intelligence officer imposed a law and a ban on the U.S. adoption of Russian children. It left nearly 50 Russian children — all in the final phases of adoption with U.S. citizens — in legal limbo.
Putin further strained relations with the United States, granting asylum to Edward Snowden, wanted by the United States for leaking classified information.
This month (March 2018) he showcased new weaponry that, he said, would render NATO defences “completely worthless,” including a low-flying nuclear-capable cruise missile with “unlimited” range. American officials expressed doubt that they were operational.
Months prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, well over a dozen U.S. intelligence agencies unilaterally agreed that Russian intelligence was behind the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
This week the UK’s stand-off with Russia escalated with mutual deportations of embassy staff — and Putin saw himself re-elected for a further term.
Against the backdrop of all of this, while the US has, for two decades, been seen as the leader of democracy and upholder of the capitalist ethos, a not-so-new super power is coming of age — China.
Chinese governance looks not dissimilar to pre-Gorbachev Russia. There is certainly an appetite for world leadership. The country is under state-control, leadership is now for life because, says the leader who removed the bother of elections, it will provide greater stability.
China is the world’s second largest manufacturing nation — after the US — and has an ambition to be the world’s first-choice business partner.
What began with the Silk Road and Marco Polo is fast-forwarding through super highways and emerging technology — much of it home grown in the East. Silk has given way to fibre for 21st century trade.
There is a sense of balance that comes with China’s growth — balance between West and East — and the nation’s willingness to embrace new energies will have its part to play.
The environment that is backdrop to these changes includes big change in Saudi — with a crown prince taking control and — in some areas — introducing freedoms hitherto unthinkable. Music is allowed, women can drive, men can go to the mosque and then to a bar for a drink.
This 32-year-old law graduate has become the most influential figure in the world’s leading oil exporter.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious and wide-ranging plan to bring economic and social change to the kingdom and end its “addiction” to oil envisages increasing non-oil revenue.
The prince said he wanted to create the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund with money generated by partially privatising the state oil company, Saudi Aramco.
His plan also envisaged changing the education curriculum, increasing women’s participation in the workforce, and investing in the entertainment sector to help create jobs for young people.
In April 2017, the kingdom announced plans for a 334 sq km (129 sq mile) entertainment city on the edge of Riyadh offering a range of cultural and sporting activities — including a safari park.
So everywhere we are surrounded by shifting sands and restless tides of ambition, dissatisfaction and cravings for ultimate power.
As the ground gives beneath an age-old culture to allow glimmers of hope for those suppressed by it for so many years it’s important to support stability during times of change — particularly in the middle east.
Instability leads to humanitarian crises and mass immigration of the sort witnessed with Syria.
Anywhere that doesn’t have strong government is vulnerable to extremism and the human misery that hangs onto its coat-tails.
We can’t let Syria happen again.
Instability leading to immigration is well recognised as incendiary for the western world — look at Germany (rise of the right-wing party), Austria (rise of the right-wing party), Italy (rise of the populist vote). The only countries that survive in these circumstances have decisive and strong governments and credible leaders with clear plans that are understood.
Everyone has to stand for democracy — we need to fight the rise of populism, extremism and what we are seeing today — it’s what ignited my decision to stand for election.
We all have to stand for our shared values, be clear about what we want and not ignore what is going on around us — it affects us all.
There is something called ‘the butterfly effect’. What it means is that things that happen in a small way or far away have a habit of gaining momentum and affecting other with devastating effect.
The British economy will suffer post Brexit, but the same could happen in all countries in Europe. The people of Europe have something valuable to lose — we need to defend our lifestyle, values, beliefs and help society to be a better place.
Uncertainty and division helps extremists and those who want to build on the mistakes of others.
The US must be the leader of the Western society — they lead in technology and security and must continue to remain guardians of international peace. As peacekeepers the US is well-placed. It has the best reconnaissance tools at its disposal for maintaining a truly global watch — and it is the only nation as well-equipped to do so.
So we all have to stand with the largest democracy in the world, no matter who the president is and how high or low his popularity. Things change — we just have to be sure they change for the better.