Members of the Young Professionals in International Relations (YPIR) network gathered for an open forum at the end of the year to share their perspectives of the important international relations events of 2015. Participants included university professors and researchers, NGO members, academic journal editors, and diplomats. The main topics of the evening were the climate summit, refugee crisis, women’s representation in international relations, U.S. elections, and the reestablishment of relations with Cuba and Iran. Other issues participants mentioned but did not have sufficient time to discuss were Turkish-Russian relations, a potential solution in Cyprus, and Turkish-Israeli rapprochement.
From terrorist attacks around the globe to the ongoing refugee crisis, 2015 has been a year of unprecedented tragedy. But it has also been a year of progress on some fronts. Participants focused on the significance of the international community being able to come together to solve common problems like climate change. While questions remained on the implementation and actual results of the Paris Agreement on climate change reduction, participants agreed that this was one of the highlights of the year.
Two other highlights in 2015 took place in distant continents but on the same pressing issue of women’s representation in public life. Justin Trudeau formed a cabinet where 50% of the members are women, and women in Saudi Arabia got the right to vote. A Turkish participant added that a civilian initiative took off to draft a national action plan for the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 that calls for the inclusion of women in peacemaking. Of course these are drops in a bucket when it comes to complete gender equality in all walks of life, but were nonetheless positive developments.
Another positive development was the conclusion of a nuclear deal with Iran. Participants debated whether this would make the Middle East more or less secure. That is, will Iran’s potential and gradual integration into the global order cause discomfort in the so-called Sunni axis? This is an interesting dynamic to watch for in the coming year. Indeed, escalating Saudi-Iranian tensions in the first weeks of 2016 are signaling new developments on this front.
The group also discussed growing xenophobia around the world, triggered by the Syrian refugee flows. Syrians are fleeing war and poverty at unprecedented levels and the world has yet to come up with a joint responsible response to the crisis. Hundreds of people are dying in the journey, some are becoming targets of human trafficking, and most have to live in extreme poverty. Civilian initiatives provide humanitarian relief and raise awareness, but this is very limited compared to the size of the problem. Issues around immigration and integration are waiting to be resolved by the international community in the coming year.
Related to the rise of xenophobic rhetoric, the rise of “the right” in Europe and the US was also discussed. Some U.S. participants thought that the extreme language used by some of the presidential hopefuls against Muslims is the exception and not the rule. There was an optimistic streak among the group who said that the media has a sensationalist attitude, but the majority of the U.S. public is more reasonable. Other discussants were more cautious in their assessment and said that especially with rising extremism around the world, the conditions were ripe for increasing anti-Muslim sentiment.
Towards the end of the meeting, some other positive developments, such as the Turkey-Israel rapprochement and the reestablishment of relations between the US and Cuba were mentioned. These will be interesting to watch in 2016. The crisis between Turkey and Russia over the downing of the Russian jet, these two countries’ roles in the Syrian war and prospects for the future were mentioned as very significant events of the past year that will continue to unfold in unpredictable ways in the next year. Finally, a development that has been under the radar but will become breaking international news soon is that a solution in Cyprus is imminent.
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