Mounting tensions over Russia, Ukraine and Iran, as well as militarisation in South China Sea, are fuelling fears of a global conflict
Rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine are stoking fears that the world may be on the brink of a global war.
Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko voiced his concern about a possible “full-scale war” with Russia, following the seizure of three of Ukraine’s naval ships in the Azov Sea by Russian forces over the weekend.
The Kremlin “has steadily poured new military hardware into Crimea since it annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, turning it into what state-backed media have called a fortress”, says The Guardian.
Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the Atlantic Council, says that “for months, Russian forces have been working to make the Azov Sea an internal Russian body of water in order to both cut off Ukraine’s eastern ports and cement Moscow’s hold on Crimea”.
He likens Moscow’s actions to the “creeping annexation” witnessed in Georgia in 2008: “any single move tends not to be dramatic, but in the aggregate Russia makes strategic gains”. Now the Russians have escalated the situation in a bid to intimidate Ukraine into backing off from its own waters and ports, says Wilson.
The threat of Russian expansion has been ever present in recent years, coupled with a growing militarisation of the country’s border with Nato’s Baltic member states. It is by no means the only threat to world peace, however, with a number of other flashpoints around the world.
Threat of Russia to Europe
Russia’s advances in Ukraine have prompted calls for the West to respond. “If it chooses to let this go, Putin will be emboldened to push his aggressions not just in Ukraine but along his entire European border and beyond,” says Bloomberg.
The new head of the British Army, General Mark Carleton-Smith, told The Daily Telegraph: “Russia today indisputably represents a far greater threat to our national security than Islamic extremist threats such as Al-Qaeda and Isis.
“Russia has embarked on a systematic effort to explore and exploit Western vulnerabilities, particularly in some of the non-traditional areas of cyber, space, undersea warfare.”
The Baltic states fear they will be next to feel the heat of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this year Nato in Norway held its largest ever war games since the Cold War, while Russia carried out its own large-scale war-fighting exercises.
“What is glaring is that Europe now lacks any collective forum in which such escalations can be discussed and possibly resolved,” says The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins.
“Eastern Europe is now a tinderbox of competing populisms, full of talk of Putin only understanding violence, of dodgy alliances and half-meant security promises. There is no leader, no overseer, no plausible guarantor of peace. The only promise is of anarchy.”
An independent report published earlier this month claimed President Donald Trump has put the US on course for war with Iran by surrounding himself with hardliners in his administration.
“While Trump himself routinely pillories the 2003 decision to invade Iraq, he has surrounded himself with hawks who seek the same fate for Iran. National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have in the past openly called for regime change and bombing Iran,” said the document prepared by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a non-profit organisation based in Washington.
Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two states that successfully lobbied Trump to sabotage the nuclear agreement between Tehran and international powers, “have long urged Washington to take military action against Iran”, says The Independent.
Indeed, the scrapping of US support for the Iran nuclear deal has only one outcome: “war”, claims Damon Linker of the US edition of The Week.
“The Iran deal, whatever its flaws, was clearly keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity,” Linker says. But if “your real aim is to overthrow the Iranian government”, it would have proved a nuisance, he continues.
US-Iran tensions are also being felt in Syria. The once-cluttered battlefield map “is increasingly divided between just two coalitions: the Russia-Iran-Assad alliance, in control of two-thirds of the country, including Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs, and the American-backed Syrian Defence Force, in control of the rest, including Raqqa”, says The New Yorker.
In March, Trump announced that American personnel would be withdrawing from Syria “very soon”, but on 6 September it was announced that Trump had agreed to keep troops in Syria indefinitely.
By 22 September, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani spoke at an Iran Uprising summit held in Manhattan. “I don’t know when we’re going to overthrow them,” he said. “It could be in a few days, months, a couple of years. But it’s going to happen.”
South China Sea
Tensions are also rising in the South China Sea between the US and China. Beijing views the expanse off the coast of East Asia as sovereign territory, while Washington regards “China’s militarisation of the area as a transparent rewriting of the international rules”, says US magazine The National Interest.
“Neither side is backing down – nor does either country seem interested in a compromise,” the magazine adds.
During an interview on 13 November, Vice President Mike Pence was asked about China’s failure to meet US demands over unfair trade practices, political interference and military manoeuvres in the region. Pence’s response was: “Then so be it… We are here to stay.”
Confrontation in the region is all but “inevitable”, says Maochun Yu, a history professor at the US Naval Academy, in Maryland.
Beijing is trying to push out its borders and expand control of peripheral waters. “China’s geopolitical and geostrategic priority is to revise or change the existing international order that has been based upon a complex system of rules, laws and customs that govern various global commons including the South China Sea,” he told Foreign Policy. “Revisionism brings unavoidable confrontation.”
There is also the spectre of a Chinese invasion of US-friendly Taiwan, which broke away from China in 1949. President Xi Jinping wants to reunite the “renegade state” with the mainland, causing huge geopolitical repercussions.
After the Second World War, “capitalist democracies feared that countries throughout Asia would fall to communism one by one”, says The New York Times’s Yi-Zheng Lian. The domino theory “didn’t materialize, partly because of those democracies’ vigilance but they would do well to stay on their guard today or else they may finally see the theory realised – by China, starting with Taiwan”, he concludes.