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.

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