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16 was the year that the 21st century came of age, and what a rebellious teenager it turned out to be.

There hasn’t been a more important year in world history since 2001, when Al-Qaeda attacked the USA, leading to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The past 12 months may yet prove to have been more significant.

In that time the world order has shifted. While the Western victors of the Cold War have been on the back-foot,

Russia has stepped forward to grow its global influence, and success has emboldened it further.

Much of this has centred on the fight against the Islamic-State terror group, or Daesh.

Having entered Syria’s civil war in late 2015, Russia strengthened its position by creating a permanent airbase in the country, and using an Iranian base to launch strikes.

Moscow’s help has turned momentum in favour of the Assad regime, and allowed Russia to call the tune in international diplomacy and ceasefire negotiations.

But Russia hasn’t just been cosying up with the West’s enemies. Its momentum has helped it build common ties in the Syria campaign with Turkey, a member of NATO.

The US-led coalition, of which the UK’s Operation Shader is a part, has not been without success in 2016.

Certainly, it has helped local ground forces in Iraq to turn the tide against Daesh and all but break the group’s hold on Iraqi territory.

However in the much more complex battlespace of Syria, Western powers are not seen to have had nearly the same success, and Daesh has had propaganda victories with attacks on Western soil.

Istanbul, Brussels, Orlando, Nice, Berlin; the death tolls may be a fraction of those suffered by Daesh, but the impact is far from fractional.

But it has not just been Daesh worrying the West close to home, as Russia has continued to flex its military muscles on Europe’s doorstep.

Britain and other NATO nations have continued to intercept Russian aircraft heading for, or even inside, their airspace.

The shows have become ever bolder. The buzzing of a US Warship in the Baltic and the sailing of the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier through the English Channel have been taken by the West as a giant diplomatic ‘middle-finger’.

What they are more concerned about is Russia’s big ground military exercises and its plan for three new army divisions based close to European borders.

NATO has had its own shows of force, notably with major exercises in Poland designed to show its capability to deploy its very-high-readiness spearhead force in a matter of days.

But the alliance has also decided being able to move fast is not enough. Its watchword for 2016 is deterrence.

The NATO summit in Warsaw in July finally signed off a plan to create four new NATO battalions, one each for Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Britain will supply the bulk of the battalion in Estonia, and contribute a few hundred troops to the force in Poland.

The idea is that stationing troops in these former Soviet countries, which feel most at risk, sends a signal that NATO will not stand for any Russian interference in these nations.

The numbers are tiny compared to the build-up that Russia promises on its side of the border. The troops could never hold off an invasion if Russia was determined, but they are there to stop Russia thinking seriously about the idea.

Remember how Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2015 with barely a shot fired? NATO’s new battalions are to ensure that cannot happen on its turf. Any such attempt would instead be the start of war.

And it’s worth remembering that what allowed Russia to take Crimea was, in large part, political turmoil.

And there was plenty of that in 2016. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the election of Donald Trump as US President; both of which could be read as the people of the ‘established Western powers’ hitting back at those established powers.

Cats have certainly been put amongst pigeons, forcing Western governments to focus on their own turbulence and taking their attention from turbulence elsewhere in the world.

Russia, it’s claimed, even had a hand in America’s political turbulence.

Barack Obama has closed the year by expelling 35 Russian diplomats over claims Moscow was involved in hacking designed to disrupt, or influence, the US Presidential election.

So many of these events are separate, and yet interconnected. As a tech-savvy teen, it just may be that 2016 also ends up going down as the year that the world finally understood that cyber and hybrid warfare are real, and so are their effects.

Reported by Forces.net

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