Diplomats pessimistic at the end of 2014

Diplomats have given a gloomy assessment 

of the state of the world at the end of 2014, in a year which has been characterised by a mix of  diplomatic failures and achievements.

In the traditional Embassy End-of-Year survey, a large majority of diplomats (78 per cent) said the world was in worse rather than better shape as we leave 2014 behind, citing the emergence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and the resulting humanitarian crisis, the annexation of Crimea and the crisis in East Ukraine, and the Ebola epidemic, as the three main reasons for their pessimistic global outlook.

“There are more uncertainties than for a long time; economies are sluggish, extremism and nationalism are on the rise in many countries,” was the view of one glum Ambassador. Another Latin diplomat was frustrated by the lack of international diplomacy to combat these threats: “The increasing numbers of peoples suffering and dying in front of our eyes and not everybody does enough to reverse that.” 

Assessing their own report cards, envoys said it was a “mixed” year for diplomacy, with 50 per cent saying the year had been “more good than bad” (“it could have been a lot worse,” said one). But 14 per cent said there were more failures than successes and 36 per cent said it had been an bad year for diplomacy, with international cooperation “stagnant” or “paralysed” on many issues.

The downbeat mood was prevalent in all regions. The crisis in Ukraine was a big concern for European diplomats: “Occupation of Crimea by Russia and the war it launched against Ukraine are destabilising security in Europe and sets a dangerous precedent that undermines the Helsinki principles,” said one European Ambassador.

But the stabilisation of the Eurozone was  positive, European diplomats said.

In Africa, the Ebola crisis was very worrying, but so too was continuing instability the in wider Sahara/Sahel region, the rise of Al Qaeda offshoots such as Boko Haram and their terrorist activities in Nigeria and ongoing conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, said a consul from the region.

Asia was not immune to instability with diplomats citing tensions in the South China Sea, Hong Kong democracy demonstrations, the coup in Thailand and the emboldened terrorism emerging in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In Latin America, diplomats pointed to “economic stagnation” and “polarisation without precedent” in many Latin American countries, which has led to popular protests.

 In the UK, the Scottish referendum and the rise of UKIP dominated the views, leading to mixed impressions. While the UK remained united and economic progress was good, the rise of “xenophobic tendencies and irrationally nationalist narratives” were a concern.

But there are reasons to be cheerful, reminded US Ambassador Matthew Barzun in an article in the New Statesman. Poverty is down, fewer people are dying of disease and the planet is cleaner. There have been signs of diplomatic detente, from Myanmar, to Iran and normalising ties with Cuba.

Putting a positive spin on pessimism, one Ambassador concluded: “The more challenges you have, the more interesting life is!”