The year 2006 ends with several issues causing widespread concerns against a backdrop of increasing multilateralism and cooperation. Most of the world is stable, but there are hot-spots, particularly in the Middle East region.
Sources of concern
The major concerns include military expansion of the world's big powers, NATO's eastward enlargement, the nuclear standoff, conflicts in the Middle East and terrorism.
The military expansion is best represented by the United States, currently the sole super power, with its old-fashioned goal of policing the world.
While increasing spending on developing the world's most sophisticated weapons and deploying the disputed space-based missile defense system, Washington is reinforcing its military presence in the Pacific region and strengthening its alliance with Japan, apparently in a bid to curb the rise of any countries in the region which it sees as a threat.
NATO, the US-led military alliance, continues its eastward enlargement in an attempt to seek "global partnerships" in the Asia-Pacific region. There are fears this could bring turbulence as NATO's march east has caused rifts in many ex-Soviet states.
The nuclear issue is another major uncertainty and posed a challenge to the international non-proliferation mechanism.
In December, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution imposing limited sanctions on Iran, which had rejected a previous UN resolution urging Tehran to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment it had resumed early in the year.
Also in December, the six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue ended up with little tangible progress.
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1718 slapping sanctions on North Korea after Pyongyang announced its first nuclear test in October.
Regional conflicts are another source of concern.
The worst hit is the Middle East region, where bloodshed continues between the Palestinians and Israel with the peace process stalled.
Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerillas fought a 34-day war which started on July 12, when two Israeli soldiers were abducted by the Shiite group. The conflict left thousands of people dead and injured, and displaced a population of almost one million.
Iraq is on the brink of civil war as the US-led forces prove unable to contain the insurgency and spiraling sectarian violence between the country's Shiites and Sunnis. The situation there is turning into a Vietnam War-style quagmire as nearly 3,000 US soldiers have died in Iraq since Washington launched the invasion in March 2003.
Big challenges also come from terrorism, separatism, extremism, organized crime, natural disasters and environmental hazards.
Increased multilateralism is another trend that has developed this year despite the unilateralism being practiced by the United States.
The world's sole super power is over-stretched by incessant fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, clashes between the Palestinians and Israel, and standoffs with Iran and North Korea over their nuclear ambitions and tests.
The rise of multilateralism is inevitable as Washington's power weakens. The United States has chosen to shift the security duty in Afghanistan to NATO and is also considering a policy change in Iraq, after withdrawal of troops by some of its allies and an ongoing outcry against the war from the international community.
Washington's unilateral policy on Iraq has proved so unpopular, even among the US voters, that President George W. Bush lost control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections to the Democrats.
And the Hawkish Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and hardline US envoy to the United Nations John Bolton resigned after the Republican defeat in the Nov.7 polls.
Washington has to allow broader involvement in all the other issues it has failed to deal with.
The Iranian nuclear issue, for example, involves the United Nations, particularly the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain -- and Germany. And the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is being addressed at the six-party talks between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
Multilateralism gains momentum with the growth of the economic power and political influence of the European Union, Russia, China and India.
Striving for cooperation
Meanwhile, the year has seen cooperation replacing confrontation, especially the increasing cultural exchanges between key players in the international arena.
China launched the "Year of Russia" in March, staging more than 250 events in trade, investment, culture and other fields. It highlighted closer than ever ties between the two neighbors.
The drive for cooperation also includes efforts to promote dialogue of different civilizations, being actively sought for by the Islamic world and African countries with their Western counterparts.
China, a champion of the inter-civilization dialogue and cooperation in pursuit of peace and development, calls for the building of a harmonious world. The idea is being acknowledged by more and more countries in the world.
With deep-rooted concerns still to be tackled and the trend for increased multilaterism and cooperation, the new year is expected to bring more of what we have seen in 2006: a world dominated by the balance of power, but not exempt from encounters over the UN reforms, human rights, security issues and development between the West and the developing countries.
(Xinhua News Agency December 29, 2006)