British troops passing through the ruins of Ypres, West Flanders, Belgium, September 29, 1918.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

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Sitting at my desk on the Gold Coast of Australia with 6 sleeps to Christmas it’s easy to ignore the perilous state of the world and the four horsemen riding amongst us:


  • COVID:  It’s here but we are not affected anywhere near as badly as other places in the world. 
  • CLIMATE CHANGE: The potentially catastrophic impact of unchecked global climate change cannot be disputed by any who care to see (and we have a federal government here that is criminally downplaying the fact and encouraging carbon production).  But it is easy to push the thought away for the moment while the sun is shining from an azure sky. 
  • XENOPHOBIA: Mass population movements away from conflict or to secure water or escape rising sea levels or seeking a better economic future are causing increasing xenophobia and instability. But not here.
  • INFLATION: Global inflation is rearing its head and will, I am sure, get worse. As the US Fed chair has finally admitted as I forecast he would have to do, this is not a transitory phenomenon.  But here we are seeing house prices rise, living is affordable and there are no empty shelves.

The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the swans glide along in our lake, ruffled by a cooling breeze off the Pacific ocean.  Yes, it’s easy to feel at peace with the world.  But I am not.  Even discounting the four horsemen above, I sniff a rancid odour that tells me all is not well.

As I often do, I look back in time for parallels and today I focus on the balmy era at the turn of the 20th century when Victoria ruled serenely over a British Empire, unchallenged in its global leadership, and the world seemed full of promise.  A promise that within a decade was to come crashing down as countries were drawn into war as mutual defence treaties triggered a call to arms.


The one lesson that seems to have been learned from the Great War of 1914-18 seems to have been to avoid committing yourself to mutual defence treaties that offer risk without real benefit.   As a result, despite genuine fears about creeping Russian expansionism (Crimea, Ukraine and a Belarus hegemony) and the increasing autocracy in China and its desire to expand its territorial presence (Hong Kong, Taiwan and the China Sea being the most obvious focus), no-one has been willing to step up to the plate and promise military support in the event that these autocracies decide the time is right to strike – indeed, many statesmen have volubly confirmed that this will not be forthcoming. Economic sanctions are a miserably poor substitute to warn off such aggressors.

Unfortunately, however, I fear that what we are seeing resembles more Chamberlain’s pathetic waving of a scrap of paper and a promise of ‘Peace in our time’ on 30th September, 1938 than Kennedy’s facing down of Kruschev over the Cuban missiles 24 years later and, as we know, an unchecked determined expansionist dictator can cause untold horrors.

True, the only major western attempts to flex military might to allow democracy to flourish have almost always ended in ultimate failure to a greater or lesser extent since WWII (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan) so we have to tread carefully, but the lessons of appeasement also need to be learned.  Although autocracies have a history of being much more fragile than they at first appear, time may not be on the side of the angels.

In addition to the threats of the foregoing Russian and Chinese aggression, we also are exposed to potentially serious trouble from a nuclear North Korea run by a madman, nuclear tension in the Middle East (Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia being the main sparks).  Even Venezuela and Brazil led by Trump-like wannabe dictators and Erdogan in Turkey apparently intent on creating an economic collapse threaten instability – and where does that lead?

In Europe, we are witnessing the impact of the UK’s ‘shoot yourself in the foot’ politics that has condemned its people to decades of economic underperformance outside the EU. They have also saddled themselves with a corrupt government. On the continent the ‘Trumpist’ direction of some of the EU states also gives cause for concern because it weakens a united facing down of autocratic aggression.  It’s tough to criticise suppression of democracy when you practise it yourself. Austria and Poland in particular come to mind, but there are other undercurrents such as in Spain with its brutal response to Catalonian aspirations for independence and in France with the emerging strength of the National Front – or National Rally as they have re-badged themselves to soften their racist tones. 

Other countries are also not immune to the increasingly autocratic world we live in, the USA clearly being at risk too with elections in 2022 possibly giving amoral and arguably slighty crazy (Taylor Greene anyone?) Republican politicians control and a resulting withdrawal of the US into an isolationist Trumpocracy.

The only comparatively good news appears to be the lessening of tension in the Balkans, for which we must be grateful.

I have no solutions.  But unless you are aware of the coming storm you cannot prepare for it so I will be watching how 2022 unfolds with some anxiety.

Oh.  And Merry Christmas.

The post A Perilous New Year first appeared on David Cairns of Finavon.

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