By Tim Potier
The first half of August is usually the quietest news fortnight in the year. National legislatures are customarily in recess; political leaders on holiday and, (those few) journalists still working have to search hard for stories that will capture our attention. As a consequence, our news media can often become preoccupied with ‘much ado about nothing’ stories, providing the opportunity for politicians on the margins even of their own political groupings to harangue us with their hyperbole. It is therefore one of the welcome manifestations of September that buckets and spades are retired, once more, to some distant corner of our homes, as the world gets back into gear and society reminds itself that it has problems to solve.
August is a period of the year which is longed for, but one which suffers from a higher measure of ennui. The stress of getting there, those vacant hours after one has arrived (not knowing quite what to do with oneself), the pile of books one has ambitiously packed and those irritating unanticipated costs which somehow always manage to take the gloss off the delightful vista (whether urban or rural) which a particular year’s pilgrimage finds you savouring.
Amidst this atmosphere, where does the world find itself this summer? Please forgive any flippancy, but Armageddon has yet to arrive.
North Korea seems determined to maintain our attention, likewise to be armed, the soonest, with an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching any part of the United States. My bet is that it will eventually secure such a capability and then it will be more likely to engage in serious talks. Beijing and Washington will resist the temptation to mount any hot response, for fear of the (unknown) consequences; keeping fingers crossed that, at the appropriate time, Pyongyang will be willing to accept an accommodation, even if one preserving a nervous status quo on the Korean peninsula.
President Trump has reluctantly just signed into law new sanctions against Russia. Much to Moscow’s frustration, its bilateral relations with the US are subject to a lowest common denominator determined by a section in Washington which has not yet moved on from post-1989 realities. Little may be achieved during the current term. Sadly, the priority for President Trump is for his administration to survive. If this occurs, it may be left for any second term or any successful opponent to begin to normalise relations with a nation anxious to play its part.
Populism has been defeated in Europe. It is some years since the European Union has been as confident. The shock of last year’s referendum result in the UK is now passing and a new relationship is being forged. An inner core of member states has long been in the process of formation and the United Kingdom was always likely to be on its periphery. The challenge for Brussels will be that, in the coming years, it does not leave some nations too far behind, and thus risk undermining surely one of recorded history’s finest achievements. Where this will leave the UK in relation to the continent in 20 years’ time, it is still too early to tell.
The honours for this summer’s upheaval are awarded to Venezuela. Eventually the current regime will fall and be replaced with a more Washington-friendly government. It is such a pity that the political extremes have to hang on in such a way, and fail to take their turn (in and out of power) like the broad centre is happy to do.
Meanwhile, China will keep on growing, helping to maintain the incomes and lifestyles of the remainder of the industrialised world, technology will continue its tireless advance and automation require mankind to dedicate an ever greater share to research and development, if only to keep civil society occupied.
So, be grateful for August: never mind if too much good company makes you nervous, we cannot escape expenses (of some kind or other) and, no doubt, those books will get read eventually. I know it is tempting to look into the far distance and be overwhelmed by what beckons, but man is a social animal, destined, as the generations have done before, to solve problems created, grow tired and then find new ones to replace them with. Life shall always be hard and laughter is a precious commodity. You have worked hard to find yourself sat reading this article and you know the world won’t change, so enjoy the down times you have, because they are what makes life worth living.
Dr. Tim Potier is Principal Lecturer in Law at Coventry University