The World View Of 2002

For most of the world, 2002 was a gloomy, tense year as nations struggled with slumping economies while watching nervously for the twin threats of terrorist attacks and war with Iraq.

From Europe to the Middle East and Asia, many hoped the United States would not attack Iraq, but resigned themselves to the possibility. Only Britain and a few allies gave strong support to Washington's tough stance on Iraq.

The world mourned the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, convinced more would come. Terrorism struck heavily in Russia, Kenya and Indonesia.

After the roaring 1990s, economies were in the doldrums as stock markets slumped, business faltered and banks struggled with bad debt. Hopes at the start of the year of recovery proved brief and fear of recession intensified by fall.

The year in Europe was a search for expansion and the healing of old divisions. NATO invited seven of its former Communist opponents to join as the scars of the Cold War healed. The 15-nation European Union moved to add 10 more.

European domestic politics were less harmonious. The far right appeared to be making unprecedented gains as Europeans reacted fearfully to a flood of illegal immigrants.

Jean-Marie Le Pen stunned the world by winning a place in the runoff of the French presidential election, even though he was then thrashed by incumbent Jacques Chirac. Holland suffered its first political assassination when a rising star of the anti-immigration camp, Pym Fortuyn, was gunned down. By year's end, the far right appeared on the run, as Austria's far-right Freedom Party of Joerg Haider suffered a major defeat and Fortuyn's party, which had done well in elections, plunged into disarray.

In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder narrowly won re-election, only to see his tenuous popularity crumble as the continent's largest economy teetered. German ties with Washington nose-dived after Berlin stridently opposed war with Iraq.

The terror Europeans feared all year struck in Moscow in October when a theater siege by Chechen rebels ended in a raid by special forces that left at least 129 hostages dead.

In Asia, India and Pakistan continued their nuclear-tipped standoff, exacerbated by the bleeding sore of the disputed territory of Kashmir. North Korea revealed it had nuclear weapons. Afghanistan, free of the Taliban after a U.S.-led campaign, struggled to escape the clutches of rival war lords.

Terrorism hit Asia when a bomb wrecked a night club in the Indonesian resort of Bali in October, killing nearly 200 people, mainly young Western tourists.

The United States continued its war on terrorism, claiming to have made important arrests. It also pressed the hunt for Osama bin Laden. But was the al-Qaida leader blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks still alive in 2002? U.S. experts concluded from a taped speech attributed to him that he was. A Swiss research institute said the tape was inconclusive.

China experienced its first orderly regime change since the communist revolution of 1949 when Hu Jintao replaced Jiang Zemin as Communist Party general secretary in November. It was part of a long-planned handover of power to a younger generation.

While China's economy continued to grow, much of Asia struggled with a 5-year-old slump. Japan's woes showed little sign of abating, even under its new, reformist prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi.

It was a year of crisis and stalemate in the Middle East. Israel's battle with the Palestinians deepened with a cycle of suicide bombings and Israeli military sweeps. Israel headed into another critical election pitting a hawk, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, against a dovish challenger, Amram Mitzna, while some younger Palestinian leaders for the first time questioned the wisdom of continuing an uprising more than two years old.

The second half of the year was dominated by fears of a war with Iraq. Arab governments feared it would destabilize the entire region. Anti-U.S. sentiment bubbled in the streets of Arab cities.

"In general, 2002 was not a good year for the Arab world," said Abdel Maneim Said, head of the Al-Ahram think tank in Cairo, Egypt.

"I believe the crisis with Iraq created a kind of depressing environment in the region."

In Latin America, Brazil, the region's powerhouse, took a historic step away from centrist rule as leftist Luiz Inacio Lula was elected president. Economic instability, or the threat of it, hung over many nations as Argentina buckled under massive debt.

"There is no clear solution to this. No one quite sees to know how to restore growth and vibrancy in these countries," said Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a private research group.

Alvaro Uribe became president of Colombia with a promise to defeat leftist FARC guerrillas and drug barons. Maverick President Hugo Chavez clung to power in Venezuela after being briefly toppled in April.

In Africa, the AIDS epidemic continued its merciless ravages, and drought, floods and bad government raised anew the threat of famine. Ivory Coast, once held up as a model, faced civil war, and other conflicts sputtered on unresolved.

And yet, the world's poorest continent saw signs of hope.

Wars in Congo, Angola, and Somalia died down as belligerents turned to the negotiating table. The African Union, a new grouping of 53 nations, promised an era of peace and prosperity.

"We are starting a new chapter in the history of our continent," South African President Thabo Mbeki said at its launch.