The world is going through a period of turmoil and uprisings. Armed troops have taken over territory in Eastern Europe. First-world navies are jockeying for territorial waters in the South China Sea. Barbarous rebel forces are overrunning regime troops in Iraq and Syria. Afghanistan has been ruined by the US. South America is also not immune to it. Iran-Saudi rivalry is also touching new heights. Nationalist regimes in Asia are also at the helm. This all presents a bleak picture. Succinctly, the world peace is in extreme danger.
A century ago, the world was in such turmoil that all it took was a single bullet to trigger the Great War. Are we again in such a fragile state? Can it happen again? Can we imagine the modern Western world being set on fire? Or are the similarities between then and now overstated? Let’s find the answers to these questions.
TIME FOR WAR?
It’s easy to overlook the large swathes of our planet which are actually now at peace. South and North America, Western and Central Europe, southern Africa, Australia, South and Southeast Asia; war between nation-states is less frequent today than it was 100 years ago.
Only one year ago, things were looking much better.
Against all expectations, the past 12 months have produced cascading failures in international diplomacy. This collapse has been captured recently in an annual ‘Global Peace Index’, produced by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace. It claims the recent deterioration in world affairs has been the most serious since the end of World War II.
China has been butting-heads with Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines over its territorial ambitions. Iraq is suddenly on the brink of collapse, and Russia has strolled into Crimea with barely a murmur of dissent.
Thailand’s newborn constitutional government has again been toppled by a military coup and North Korea continues to push itself forward in a desperate bid to be taken seriously as a world power.
And all the while a war has been waged around the globe against growing extremist influences. US Special Forces have raided Libya and Somalia in an effort to kill or neutralise key commanders. The drone strikes in Yemen and other areas of the Middle East continue, unabated.
The terrorists also have had their fair share of victories. Al-Shabaab’s massacre at a Kenyan shopping mall killed 67 and drew the attention of the world. More than 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria by the Boko Haram. Then there was the attack on the US Embassy in Libya which killed the US Ambassador.
The use of ‘hard power’ is making a comeback. It’s an ugly thing, supposedly a relic of an uglier past abandoned by modern states in favour of diplomacy’ It never really went away.
THE HEAT IS ON
It was against a similar backdrop of international tensions and ambitions that a bullet claimed the life of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
It was a regional act over just one regional issue: The ‘Black Hand’ political movement was upset that Austria was acting to prevent the formation of a unified ‘Greater Serbia’ on its borders.
From Libya to Yemen, Iraq to Indonesia, the United States finds itself forced to be ready to respond to such regional issues.
The separation between Somalia and China may seem remote.
But so did the link between Serbia and Germany in 1914.
War in the 21st century is nothing like that of a century ago.
The fight is no longer on Winston Churchill’s seas and oceans. It is rarely in the air. There have been no battles on the beaches, or landing grounds since Iraq in 1991. The fighting is all in the fields and streets ‘ and in the hills.
It’s ideology that never surrenders.
Some dismiss the recent resurgence of terrorists in the Middle East as more about local politics than world affairs. But the bombing of the Boston Marathon last year shows such extremist attitudes are still a real and present danger.
But the ‘asymmetric’ threat posed by the likes of al Qaeda is aimed at the West’s way of life. Victory there is a matter of instilling, and leveraging, fear. And in exploiting growing discontent.
That war will likely never end.
If a modern prophet ever ends up marching down the Washington Mall, it will be at the head of an internal uprising: Not an Arabic invasion force.
But the world is, once again, a troubled place.
Is turmoil the New World Order? Or, once again in Churchill’s words: Will a New World, with all its power and might, step forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old?
12 HOTSPOTS AND THE DANGERS THEY POSE
The chill of the Cold War is back in the air. Russian bombers are again trailing their coats close to US and British borders. Warships and submarines are picking up their deadly dance where they left off more than two decades ago.
Even so, the Crimea crisis which sparked it all is already over. Russia possesses it. The West is doing little about it.
Having been there and done that, Russia seems to have a good sense about what it can get away with. Other, newer powers may not.
2) The China Seas
Oil and gas are a common cause for war. And both are found in plenty among the scattered islands of South and East Asia. But now fish stocks are at the top of this race for resource control.
China is using a 900-year-old map from the height of its ancient empire as justification for claiming waters far from its modern shores. Nearby nations enjoying the benefits of a world defined by the outcome of World War II see things differently.
Beijing has moved from the passivity of ‘peaceful rise’ rhetoric, through the more assertive diplomacy of 2010 to now, where hard-power behaviour at sea and in the air simply asserts China’s control.
Since the hugely expensive exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq, the word ‘intervention’ has been anathema in the West. But the prevalent hope was that the turmoil would somehow remain contained by Syria’s borders.
ISIS has proven that hope unfounded.
Now, Syria looks set to follow the path of Afghanistan and Iraq into lawlessness and chaos.
It’s a blazing beacon to the failure of the West’s recent wars. It’s also the last thing President Obama needed on his plate. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost and billions of dollars up-ended into the battlefields of Iraq. Now the nation seems to be lurching towards fragmentation, without an effective army or a functional government to lead it.
It’s largely America’s own fault. The problem was created by the US initially through the invasion of Iraq which toppled Saddam. Then the US military disengagement opened up space for civil war between armed militant groups that had initially mobilised to fight the US occupation.
What arises from the ashes will determine the direction of the Middle East for decades to come. Will it be a hard-line Islamic Caliphate? Or can balance be found under strengthened, secular state?
Now Afghanistan fears being left similarly high-and-dry once the final US forces are pulled out in coming years. Will its US-trained military and police prove any more reliant in the face of fanatical Taliban fighters than those of Iraq when presented with ISIS?
But, there’s no post-Afghanistan peace dividend to be harvested.
Even President Obama appears to have quietly conceded this concern. In recent weeks he approved a two-year extension for fighting forces to remain operational in the nation’s war-torn valleys. 2014 was supposed to be the last year on the ground. It certainly didn’t hurt al-Qaeda’ it now larger and more decentralised than it was on September 11, 2001.
Afghanistan has been a melting pot of world politics for hundreds of years. This isn’t likely to end any time soon.
Even though this nation has been pushing for decades to develop its own nuclear weapons, it seems to have recently restrained its territorial ambitions. Instead, it appears to be seeking strength against the turmoil of its own region.
Such an entity would only escalate the fractious politics of Islamic nations. Only Saudi Arabia has seemed able to maintain any real sense of stability in the region. But, for how long?
The fractious politics have not left the Constitutional Republic of Yemen untouched, even though it is far from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. Al-Qaeda-linked militants recently attacked the presidential palace and tried to assassinate the defence minister. US drone strikes against remote jihadist bases sporadically reach the news. Yemen is now just another explosive element in the increasingly unstable powder-keg of the Middle East.
8) North Korea
Nuclear blasts and missile tests; this state keeps thrusting itself back into the news. Just recently the country threatened war in response to the pending release of a comedy in the United States about its leader, Kim Jong-un. North Korea has been regularly playing a game of brinkmanship with South Korea and Japan.
Egypt has already succumbed to a debilitating scenario. Vying political and religious factions made the recent attempt at a valid government virtually unviable. The military has since stepped in, and all the dramas associated with martial law have come back into play. As one of the more powerful and populated nations of the Middle East, what happens here has direct implications for its neighbours spanning two continents.
Since the long-term rule of Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in a NATO-supported Civil War in 2011, the seemingly inevitable march of Islamic extremists has brought a renewed jihad to this oil-rich Mediterranean state. The new democratic government has, once again, found itself in gridlock. Militias have stepped into the power vacuum and Western interests are increasingly coming under attack.
Africa’s second-biggest economy faces an uncertain future as increasingly militant religious extremist groups unleash turmoil upon an already fragile political system. Defections and extraordinary spending has become a feature of the lead-up to elections next year, but the nation remains wracked over the fate of nearly 400 schoolgirls abducted by extremists opposed to their education.
War-torn Somalia is still struggling to repair its religious and racial divides after decades of internal struggle. Into this void has moved al-Shabaab, a clan-based militant group which boasts of ties with al Qaeda. This organisation claimed responsibility for a murderous attack on a shopping mall in nearby Kenya last year. In return, it has itself become the target of US Navy SEAL and drone raids.