Strategic Survey: The Annual Review of World Affairs 2012Posted: 11/09/2012
By Alexander Nicoll, Editor of Strategic Survey 2012: The Annual Review of World Affairs
Journalism is said to be the first draft of history. But as an ex-journalist, I know that it’s a pretty imperfect draft. The IISS publication Strategic Survey: The Annual Review of World Affairs may immodestly claim to be a better stab at a first draft – trying, as it does, to impose some order on the events in a 12-month period.
The fruit of this year’s efforts will be published on Thursday. This is the seventh time that I’ve edited the book, rather fewer than the late Sidney Bearman, who was the editor for 24 years until 2001. Each year presents a challenge to the editor: trying to cut through the enormous melange of things that happen all over the world and to present a picture of how they intersect. What is important and what is not? What trends can be discerned?
The book is the work of many people. The authors’ names are not published, but they are both IISS colleagues and respected experts from outside the Institute. Their contributions are edited with the aim of producing an assessment that is as dispassionate and coherent as is possible when the accounts are sometimes of very recent developments. The editing and production is done by a small IISS team working intensively over several months of each year.
Some things are easy. In 2011, for example, the extraordinary upheavals in the Arab world provided an obvious and compelling theme. For the IISS, there are some things that demand constant scrutiny: for example, the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea, the war in Afghanistan, the growing power of China. Strategic Survey does not, however, have a military bias. It contains a lot of politics, too. It seeks to set all developments that seem internationally significant into a broad strategic context, and to do so in a manner that is accessible to all – it is, I hope, a good read.
The year 2012 was not one of the easier years for the editor. The period from mid-2011 to mid-2012 was, in fact, a year of transitions. It was not at all clear in which directions the transitions were leading. The post-revolutionary period in the Arab world saw hard politics and bloody conflict, especially in Syria. Russia had a back-to-the-future leadership change, and China is in the midst of a transfer of power of which the outside world only gets glimpses. Europe’s financial and economic malaise has no clear outcome, and the polarised United States is in the middle of its quadrennial ritual dance.
Strategic Survey does, each year, contain several essays that seek to get away from the run of events and pick out some themes. This year, the essays cover the effect of cyber-technologies on intelligence agencies, Africa’s efforts to coordinate military crisis management, and the impact of economic sanctions on Iran. In addition, the book contains a Strategic Geography section that performs a similar function, picking out key themes and telling a story in a map.
John Chipman, IISS Director-General and Chief Executive, will launch Strategic Survey 2012: The Annual Review of World Affairs on 13 September at 10am BST, with his own assessment of world affairs. The event can be viewed – and the book purchased – on www.iiss.org.