Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Why We're Approaching the 3rd Major World Conflict

Not since the tensest days of the Cold War have people returned to thinking that there is an inevitable conflict to be fought on the world stage.

That's all changing. The sphere of international relations is close to bursting, as relationships that once governed the world's delicate power balance continue to deteriorate.

The Middle East remains the most volatile region to date. Several conflicts between Israel and Palestine show the continued and unwavering polarity between these two states. Additionally, the expansion of revolution across several countries has unwittingly impelled extremism on a scale we have only seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, regions actively embroiled in civil conflict. Years after the Arab Spring, numerous nations have become inlets for extremist activity.

The demographic structure, and resulting conflict, in Iraq and Libya is akin. Iraq remains fragile after a history of strife between the three major groups: Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. Saddam Hussein's oppression of Iraqis left no space for religious hostility to arise, while Shias and Kurds were subjugated by the ba'ath regime. When the United States began the process of removing Saddam, they upset a delicate balance. While the former was neither "balance" nor "fair", it maintained relative peace as compared to the ongoing crises Iraq now faces with the broadening IS insurgency.

Over 8 years helmed by Nouri al-maliki had enabled Shias to dominate the political process while other groups, notably the Sunnis, found themselves high and dry. This contributed foremost towards the rise of the Islamic State, helping it gain sympathizers all around the country. Tribes in Anbar province, for example, openly support its unhinged cause. Nouri al-maliki should have adopted an inclusive approach back in 2006, knowing very well that without it turmoil would follow. Yet, it was exactly said turmoil which allowed al-maliki to remain as Iraq's Prime Minister well into 2014. What happened in Libya was almost identical. The country has been marred by years of factional violence subsequent to the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi.

Acts of terrorism have been carried out in the unlikeliest of places, like Sousse where dozens of holidaymakers were killed by a lone gunman. The new structure of the Middle East has increasingly made the spread of an entity like the Islamic State possible and convenient. Shortly after dictators are deposed, instilling fear in people with terror remains easier than winning them over. Interim governments are also noticeably ineffective and lack the substantive nature of a well-established administration, even if that happens to be a dictatorship. So, it's easy to seek out people's frustrations.

The Islamic State has focused attacks in cities around the world, even coordinating multinational attacks targeting several different locations at once. While this tactic has been common in Iraq, we haven't seen this system of mass murder since September the 11th when Al-Qaeda was trying to make itself a household name. That is exactly what the Islamic State intended to achieve on the 26th of June this year when it targeted Tunisia, Kuwait and France just hours apart.

This tactic, whereby news channels are forced to continually break stories of mass killings and decapitations, is how the Islamic State is not just "fighting" the West and its allies, but is trying to establish itself as the dominant force of organized terror in the world. As IS and Al-Qaeda continue to compete against one another, we may begin to see infighting between the two.

The civil war in Syria is approaching its fifth year and is no longer mentioned in international news. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that over 300 thousand people have been killed in the conflict. The reason the US and West are not actively helping rebels in their fight against Bashar al-assad is that many of them are linked to terrorist elements like the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. The Syrian conflict has spilled not only into Iraq but various other nations like Turkey, as evinced by an ISIS suicide attack on July 20th in Suruc, close to the Syrian boarder.

Many would argue that after taking almost a decade to negotiate a deal with Iran, the United States is gaining an ally. That's unlikely after Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, claimed the Iranian stance towards the US wouldn't change - and, as the title would suggest, his opinion outweighs anyone else's in the Islamic Republic.

The idea that America is "strengthening" relations is also wrong, as progress with Iran has come at the price of American-Isreali relations. Iranian propaganda widely denounces Israel, going as far as to hint at its destruction. Accordingly, Israel has berated the deal as something that threatens its very existence. After years of the United States and Israel working closely to isolate Iran, what reason could jolt the US into a drastic and unexpected departure from the most identifiable hallmarks of its foreign policy? The continued and increasing activity of the Islamic State outside the Middle East.

Because, when weighing the hypothetical threat of a nuclear bomb Iran hasn't made to the devastation being carried out by the Islamic State, it's clear that the latter is a more prevalent threat. Far be it, the US sees Iran as the only force willing and capable of beating terrorism out of the region. Even if America has to give more than it gets, and Iran really isn't giving much considering it would do so for its own security. "Your enemy's enemy is your friend", goes the saying, just as long as that enemy persists.

Europe is also in the midst of war. While a second treaty may have been signed to end hostilities in Ukraine, every day has been fraught with fighting and casualties. What began as a dispute over Crimea has developed into open conflict in a huge region of Ukraine.

Russia's claim to several parts of the Ukraine, by way of "Russian speakers" and "referendums" sets a dangerous premise for nations to invade and others to have their sovereignty challenged all around the world without any comprehensive joint opposition by the likes of the European Union and/or the United States.

The irony is a painful one. The West has travelled thousands of miles to create conflict where it had previously not existed, claiming an obligation to do so for the disenfranchised. Right now, a conflict on the European Union's border goes unheard, as the suffering of Ukrainians around the country is bluntly overlooked. Current estimates place the death toll from this conflict at 8 000, while around 1 200 000 have been internally displaced. Several hundred thousand Ukrainians have simply been absorbed into its hostile neighbor overnight and are, thus, seen as having "fled" to Russia.

Even after the shooting down of Malaysian MH17, now verified to have been carried out by Rebels with a BUK missile supplied by Russia, the West remains eerily distant from the issue apart from symbolic sanctions. While Vladimir Putin's secret war continues, Europe seems to be more emotionally invested elsewhere, like finding a solution to the immigration crisis. Candidly referring to history, appeasement has previously yielded not peace but conflict.

The future actions of Russia are as difficult to predict as its leader. Perhaps all of Ukraine will be swallowed up. For it's no harder to believe that Russia would invade all of it than it once was to believe Russia would invade Ukraine at all. At this point, it hardly makes a difference. Russia's claims, as opined by experts, have nothing to do with Ukraine and everything to do with its former self, the U.S.S.R, something Vladimir Putin is attempting to quietly reassemble.

And, as a clever tactician, he's chosen a time when Europe is already overwhelmed. And Europe certainly is; with a spike in terrorism, an immigration crisis, the continuing economic uncertainty in Greece and the UK wanting to leave the European Union - Ukraine just isn't that important right now.

That's exactly why Vladimir Putin knows pressing further into Ukraine will hardly bring anything more than objections from the European Union. Worryingly, at a time when the usefulness of the European Union is continuously being challenged, the way it has handled this issue will tarnish its image for decades to come.

Asia isn't at war, but China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are at odds over the various islands in the South China Sea, including the disputed Spratly islands. China also has made
claims to the Parcel Islands, the Pratas Islands, the Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal - amounting to over 250 islands. What's more, China is at loggerheads with Japan over the Senkaku Islands.

In a bid to cement the South China Sea for itself, it was reported that China had been building artificial islands on two reefs claimed by the Philippines in June of this year. US military aircraft were directed to leave by the Chinese when they flew above, a CNN report revealed, telling the Americans "you go!"

This clear move to challenge the US in the South China Sea is just one of several recent actions by China that would suggest it seeks to be the dominant player in the region; it recently purchased its first aircraft carrier, which was then sent to conduct drills in the contended area.

Japan, meanwhile, is edging closer to legislation that will allow it to deploy its army to fight outside of Japan, marking the first time the nation would be legally allowed to do this in over 70 years, since the end of World War II.

While this measure has made Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fairly unpopular at home, it would enable the Japanese army to actively pursue the Islamic State, responsible for the gruesome beheadings of two Japanese men this year. It would also, in theory, allow Japan to engage China, if that were Abe's intention - although it is hard to imagine such a bold move.

Even so, Japan, just like any other nation with the financial backbone and population, is likely to establish itself as one of the dominant superpowers in the region, spelling more trouble for China and possibly even plunging the entire region into an arms race.

Hacking is one of the newest frontiers of war, and at its epicenter is China which has repeatedly targeted the United States. North Korea, another military power in the region, has also been responsible for several cyber attacks on South Korea.

With the difficult nature of the peace between the North and South, and with recent years showing the rogue nation's unwillingness to cooperate with the outside world, it is clear that peace also depends on luck in reading how serious North Korea's recurring threats against the US and South Korea are. The 2013 Korean Crisis shows this clearly. An inexperienced and young leader like Kim Jong Un could make the wrong call, but the world trusts him not to.

And so, conflict remains a defining attribute of the 21st Century so far. All of the ones currently underway are complex and justified by those responsible. However, is it possible that with so many ongoing hostilities we are on a collision course? What separates individual conflicts apart from intent? Not the existence of borders, as shown by events in the Middle East and Europe.

Several parties around the world are already wrecking havoc, and so it's hard to tell - but never has there been such an abundance of possible causes. With Russia and China targeting the West, the US and EU attempting to maintain the status quo, terrorism targeting both the West and East while suffering from the growing internal division between groups like IS and Al-Qaeda - the third major conflict may not only take shape, but do so as a war fought between more than two sides.

The current deterioration of world relations consequently not only floats the chance of "war", but does so with one we've never thoroughly conceptualized. The dynamic and implications of a three-sided war, plainly, spell disaster. Not only are two superpowers, the United States and Russia, at daggers drawn - those daggers have nuclear warheads at their tips. For years we have seen a reduction of nuclear capacity around the world, and the current political climate may reverse that progress. Further, even though people may already fear the Islamic State for its grimace, the terrorist organization is only growing more abhorrent by the day. As a group that has gone from posting beheadings online to now using chemical weapons in a deranged war on civilians and religion, they would be the most likely third side in this hypothetical war. With everyone pitted against everyone, and with tensions already high and spilling over borders, many think it's just a matter of time.

So, how could we "stop" time, and reverse it? With constructive dialogue and diplomacy. With joint good will. Russia and the United States could, for example, coordinate their efforts to ending the spread of terrorism. What better trust exercise than letting the third group do the falling. In the end, reestablished statecraft between these two nations is all it would take to impact all other nations and to melt away the the prospect of the hitherto mentioned 3rd major world conflict.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Increasing Sway of Racism Across Hungary

As a Hungarian who's been educated in English, I try my best to do outside reading whenever I can.

And so this Friday, I found myself perusing Hungarian wikipedia articles. I attend a private institution in America and started wanting to know about the history of private education - what better time to do some reading in Hungarian.

It wasn't anything with reference to education in America that jolted me as I started reading the article, it was a single word. Almost as quickly as I clicked on the page, it sprang into plain sight, the "n-word". Of course, it was in Hungarian. But it was still "the n-word".

To my dismay, the article featured an especially disturbing subheading titled, "characteristics", which reminded me of former medical studies conducted on Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust. This scientific approach to race, after Hungary's history as an Axis power, had me ripping my hair out.

It also reminded me about the rising sentiment of xenophobia that's swept across the country I visit twice a year. Usually, I'm greeted by familiar sights, sounds and smells, all of which I appreciate as a Hungarian.

But even in my experience, Hungary doesn't quite know whether to accept or renounce foreigners. When two of my close friends visited from the UK a few years ago, we went to one of Hungary's most popular destinations: Lake Balaton. We left our hotel sometime during the early evening. A group of youths immediately started mocking us for talking in English. Unbeknownst to both my friends (neither of whom speak the language) and that group, I was already hatching a plan to shame their intolerance.

After their insults about the English, I turned around and imparted, "I'm Hungarian, what about me?" The group became increasingly anxious not knowing what to say. One of the clods remarked "it's not bad to be foreign", to which I replied "then too bad I'm not". I ashamedly told one of my two friends who asked what had happened that they had just witnessed one of Hungary's darker sides.

While Hungary is nestled in the heart of Europe, its ideals are becoming increasingly distant from modern European ones. For this, Hungarians can thank its leader, the Nigel Farage of Hungary.

This nation has always had a case of the color cold. Its history, from Kingdom, to Nazism, to Communism has involved persecution every step of the way. Someone has always been dealt the short straw. Violence against the minority gypsies is only the most recent type of persecution. Actions to solve discrimination remain largely limited and insubstantial.

The nation's Prime Minister has made international news most recently for his planned physical boarder intended to separate Hungary from Serbia.

The plan comes amid increasing migration from crisis-ridden countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. What policymakers don't seem to understand, a case of not thinking into the future, is that even if a boarder were erected, Serbia is bound to join the European Union within the coming years and with it comes the formidable chance it will ultimately join the Schengen Zone. At that point Hungary would be forced to open its border. The steady flow of refugees it would stop now would likely occur once more probably in larger numbers.

As this tiny nation of 10 million becomes increasingly isolated, there is no sign its fear of the outside and the unknown will ever truly let up. What triggered the presence of this mentality is something that should be the subject of research abroad. It would be an ironic situation if such research were conducted at a private research institution, as the topic I've discussed at some length is one prompted by what I discovered when reading about their history.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Murder Mystery Has UN in Teeters

Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish career diplomat widely recognized as the United Nation's most exemplary Secretary General, died in 1961 when his plane crashed in the former state of Rhodesia killing all 15 onboard.  

Hammarskjold was the second head of the then-young UN and was en route to the Congo to broker a cease-fire between rebels and government forces in what had till recently been a colony of Belgium, gaining autonomy the year prior. 

Conspiracy theories have been abundant in what some have called the planned assassination of the former Secretary General, with some even claiming that Hammarskjold was assassinated following the crash.

Swedish aid worker Göran Björkdahl wrote in 2011 his belief that Hammarskjold's plane was brought down as his intervention worked against Belgian mining interests in the area. His position on what may have happened, the orchestrated murder of Hammarskjold, is based on interviews with eye witnesses whose testimonies conflict with the supposed circumstances of the UN head's plane crashing such as either a technical fault with the DC6 or the crew's supposed fatigue. 

Many who saw what actually happened before the crash claim that the plane carrying Hammarskjold's and his team was one of two in the air. They also claim it was on fire before hitting the ground furthering speculation that the plane was shot down by a fighter jet. Since the Congo, newly independent, did not have the capacity for this kind of a maneuver, it must then have then been another nation. One with the military capacity and the interest to have the plane shot down. Belgium itself. 

Even President Truman contended that the supposed crash was more than an unfortunate mishap. In an interview with the New York Times he remarked, "Dag Hammarskjöld was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said, 'When they killed him'". 

It seems even the powerfully worded remarks by the President Truman weren't enough to prompt further or meaningful investigation on an international level.

The decades-long silence over the matter ended on the 29th of December, 2014 when the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 69/246 formally appealing Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to assemble a panel to lead an independent United Nations inquiry into what happened. 

And the panel's recent findings stated that there was "significant new information that it assessed as having sufficient probative value to further pursue aerial attack or other interference as a hypothesis of the possible cause of the crash", Ban Ki-Moon communicated to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday.

Moreover, the panel's requests for classified information regarding the crash from Belgium, France, Germany, South Africa, the United States and Britain supposedly weren't conferred to the satisfactory level. Why these documents are classified is a matter in itself that warrants a thorough investigation by the United Nations. 

Amid these findings, many dare now say that what has until recently been viewed as a tragedy is part of a coverup by several member states of the United Nations, who are effectively obstructing the full investigation into the circumstances surrounding Hammarskjold's death. 

While their involvement is yet to be proven, if that occurs it would be a revelation that serves to undermine the very fundamentals of the United Nations in more ways than conceivable, for it is an organization dependent upon the synergy of member states and an organization that works towards peace and cooperation, not coverups and assassinations.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Forest Trump

"Actually, I don't want to use names, because I don't want to insult anybody, but I think I'd fire a lot of them, there's a lot of people that just don't even have a chance".

Those were Donald Trump's remarks on CNN, with regards to his Republican running mates, which at this point seems to have become a Republican marathon. 14 Republicans are already cluttering around Jeb Bush, while Democrats number just 5 to date.

Trump's remarks and his overall behavior so far, and so early in the race, are ironic. He's tried to reverse time and make himself seem polite, as evident in the same interview, saying things like "I want to be a nice person". Then, he hurtles his xenophobic discourse at those entering the country illegally, making rash comments about "who's doing the raping".

His chances at becoming President FAR outweigh his chances at becoming a nice person. And since the odds of the former happening are slim to none, well, the rest goes without saying.

Trump has excited a lot of attention in America by putting his name forth. Most the excitement has come from comedians like John Stewart. You don't need to put Trump in a debate to realize he's completely out of political shape, you just have to sit him down with Bill Maher and let Maher do the rest. After all, his comments about Donald Trump actually led to Donald's lawyer sending his birth certificate to prove he was, in fact, not the offspring of a human and an orangutan.

Donald would probably select his Secretary of State by doing a White House version of his television program, The Apprentice. Donald has time for these things. Still, he would make for a better detective than US President. He's cracked many previously unsolved mysteries, such as the case of Barack Obama's identity. It turned out he actually is American, who actually went to Harvard, while actually being black. Donald shouldn't be blamed for questioning this highly irregular scenario. But, all fooling aside, Donald is bad news for everyone, not just the GOP, whose chances he's tarnishing by affiliation.

By raising so much outcry, Donald has shown his agenda is not really an agenda at all. Besides pointing at sombrero-wearing rapists and the straw hat-wearing thieves of the U.S. economy, Donald probably couldn't tell you much about what's wrong in America. His defense for the comments about Latinos can't even be taken seriously; he clarified that by "coming from all over" he also meant criminals are entering the U.S. from the Middle East. Finely put, Sherlock.

Daring as Donald is, he's also remarked that George Pataki (R) wouldn't be reelected as dog-catcher of New York after the work he carried out as its Governor. That's exactly the difference between Trump and Pataki. The latter has political experience, while the former has convenient remarks about the latter's political experience. It's easy to have an untarnished political career when you haven't had a political career. But Donald's record is hardly stainless. For instance, in 1973, the Department of Justice sued Trump Management Corporation for racism, and who was the company's president? Yup, good ol' Donald. John R. O'Donelle, a previous manager of one of Trump's hotels referenced Trump in a book he wrote, writing that he apparently said "laziness is a trait in all blacks". That book was published in 1991. Donald doesn't seem to have changed.

The fact of the matter is, we can expect Donald to be among the very first to drop, or be dropped out of the race. He's conservative even for the conservatives, and an idiot even for the less astute American voter. Donald isn't the force that's going to help reestablish the Republican party after 8 years helmed by President Barack Obama. Donald is merely a joke by the Republican party to remind everyone that they too, just like the Democrats, can be really funny and offer a highly enjoyable Correspondents' Dinner.