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International Conflict Tops List of Global Risks in 2015

MD Staff

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The biggest threat to the stability of the world in the next 10 years comes from the risk of international conflict, according to the 10th edition of the Global Risks report, which is published today.

The report, which every year features an assessment by experts on the top global risks in terms of likelihood and potential impact over the coming 10 years, finds interstate conflict with regional consequences as the number one global risk in terms of likelihood, and the fourth most serious risk in terms of impact. In terms of likelihood, as a risk it exceeds extreme weather events (2), failure of national governance systems (3), state collapse or crisis (4) and high structural unemployment or underemployment (5).

 

Top 5 Global Risks in Terms of Likelihood
1 Interstate conflict with regional consequences (geopolitical risk)
2 Extreme weather events (environmental risk)
3 Failure of national governance (geopolitical risk)
4 State collapse or crisis (geopolitical risk)
5 High structural unemployment or underemployment (economic risk)

 

Top 5 Global Risks in Terms of Impact

1 Water crises (societal risk)
2 Rapid and massive spread of infectious diseases (societal risk)
3 Weapons of mass destruction (geopolitical risk)
4 Interstate conflict with regional consequences (geopolitical risk)
5 Failure of climate-change adaptation (environmental risk)

In looking at global risks in terms of their potential impact, the nearly 900 experts that took part in the Global Risk Perception Survey rated water crises as the greatest risk facing the world. Other top risks alongside that and interstate conflict in terms of impact are: rapid and massive spread of infectious diseases (2), weapons of mass destruction (3) and failure of climate change adaptation (5).

With the 28 global risks that were assessed in 2015 grouped into five categories – economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological – 2015 stands out as a year when geopolitical risks, having been largely absent from the landscape of leading risks for the past half-decade, returns to the fore. With geopolitics increasingly influencing the global economy, these risks account for three of the five most likely, and two of the most potentially impactful, risks in 2015. Also in this category, three risks stand out as having intensified the most since 2014 in terms of likelihood and impact. These are interstate conflict with regional consequences, weapons of mass destruction and terrorist attacks.

The risk landscape in 2015 also shows that there remains concern over the world’s ability to solve its most pressing societal issues, as societies are under threat from economic, environmental and geopolitical risks. Indeed, the societal risk accounts for the top two potentially impactful risks.

Also noteworthy is the presence of more environmental risks among the top risks than economic ones. This comes as a result of a marked increase in experts’ negative assessment of existing preparations to cope with challenges such as extreme weather and climate change, rather than owing to a diminution of fears over chronic economic risks such as unemployment and underemployment or fiscal crises, which have remained relatively stable from 2014.

“Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world again faces the risk of major conflict between states,” said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, Lead Economist, World Economic Forum. “However, today the means to wage such conflict, whether through cyberattack, competition for resources or sanctions and other economic tools, is broader than ever. Addressing all these possible triggers and seeking to return the world to a path of partnership, rather than competition, should be a priority for leaders as we enter 2015.”
In addition to assessing the likelihood and potential impact of these 28 global risks, Global Risks 2015 examines the interconnections between risks, as well as how they interplay with trends shaping the short- to medium-term risk landscape. It also offers analysis of three specific cases which emerge from the interconnections maps: the interplay between geopolitics and economics, the risks related to rapid and unplanned urbanization in developing countries and one on emerging technologies.

On urbanization, the report considers how best to build sufficient resilience to mitigate the challenges associated with managing the world’s rapid and historical transition from predominantly rural to urban living.
“Without doubt, urbanization has increased social well-being. But when cities develop too rapidly, their vulnerability increases: pandemics; breakdowns of or attacks on power, water or transport systems; and the effects of climate change are all major threats,” said Axel P. Lehmann, Chief Risk Officer at Zurich Insurance Group.

The rapid pace of innovation in emerging technologies, from synthetic biology to artificial intelligence, also has far-reaching societal, economic and ethical implications. Developing regulatory environments that are adaptive enough to safeguard their rapid development and allow their benefits to be reaped, while preventing their misuse and any unforeseen negative consequences is a critical challenge for leaders.
John Drzik, President of Global Risk and Specialties at Marsh, said: “Innovation is critical to global prosperity, but also creates new risks. We must anticipate the issues that will arise from emerging technologies, and develop the safeguards and governance to prevent avoidable disasters.”
The report also provides analysis related to global risks for which respondents feel their own region is least prepared, as well as on the global risks on which they feel most progress has been made over the last 10 years. It also presents for the first time country-level data on how businesses perceive global risks in their countries. Moreover, the report features three examples of risk management and resilience practices related to extreme weather events.

The Global Risks 2015 report has been developed with the support of Strategic Partners Marsh & McLennan Companies and Zurich Insurance Group. The report also benefited from the collaboration of its academic advisers: the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford), the National University of Singapore, the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center (University of Pennsylvania), and the Advisory Board of the Global Risks 2015 report.

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Defense

Romania Militarizing the Black Sea Region

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Romania’s policy in the Black Sea region is aimed at creating strategic prerequisites for Bucharest to achieve long-term regional leadership.

Russia is the only Black Sea country, which does not fit into the geopolitical landscape being built by Bucharest. It is a country with which Romania, as a member of the EU and NATO, is not bound by allied treaties. Therefore, Romania views Russia as an obstacle to its plans, and its policy is aimed at getting this hurdle out of the way.

Strengthening European security is part of the general context of containing Russia will dominate the agenda of Romania’s chairmanship of the European Council from January 2019.

Worried by the current imbalance between the northeast (Baltic region: Poland, Baltic states) and the southeast (Black Sea region: Romania) flanks of NATO, Romania will seek to offset this by beefing up NATO’s military presence at both ends of the arc of instability now being created.

Russia’s presence on the Black Sea is seen by Bucharest as a sign Moscow’s growing influence in the eastern Mediterranean region, which, simultaneously, is reducing the West’s sway over the region. Bucharest sees that as a long-term problem as a drop in the West’s influence in the Mediterranean will significantly undermine Romania’s own position in the Black Sea region.

Even though Russia’s military doctrine does not pose any deliberate threat to Romania, this still does not deter Bucharest from making anti-Russian moves. Amid the US’ and EU’s current tensions with Turkey, Bucharest has a theoretical chance to fill the emerging void in NATO’s military architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean. Bucharest is ready (and willing!) to assume some of the geopolitical functions previously assigned to Ankara to act as a regional vanguard in the confrontation with Russia on the Black Sea and increase its strategic significance for the United States and NATO.

The Black Sea region, which links Eurasia with North Africa and the Middle East, serves as a gateway to the Mediterranean, which in turn, is a corridor to the Atlantic and the ocean. Romanian politicians of the past viewed the Black Sea as a road to the Caspian via the Caucasus isthmus with access to Central Asia.

The Black Sea is Romania’s only waterway to the outside world that allows it to widen the boundaries of Romanian influence.

Romania’s geopolitical doctrine considers the Black Sea as a constituent element of Romanian national identity along with the Danube and  Dniester rivers, and of Romanians as a Black Sea nation. The political tradition of Romania views the Dniester as a natural cultural, political and geographical borderline that separates Europe from Russia-Eurasia, Romanians from Slavs and the Romanian geopolitical area from Russia. The Danube is considered as a vital artery and cradle of the Romanian people, connecting it with the Black Sea and Europe.

Therefore, Romania’s expansionism on the Black Sea is not a variable but a permanent aspect Bucharest’s foreign policy, along with two other constant vectors to Moldova and the Western Balkans. This three-tier construction constitutes the basis of the Romanian geopolitical consciousness, which, regrettably, is resulting in ill-advised foreign policy moves.

Guided, or rather misguided, by this erroneous policy, the Romanian elites have made all these three components of the Romanian national consciousness and cultural identity dependent on the ever-changing political situation in their relations with Russia.

It was exactly this policy that inevitably pushed bilateral relations on a downward path, since Russia is viewed in this context as something hostile and contrary to the  manifestations of Romanian identity in the world in a political-spatial and cultural-ideological dimension.

Romania spends 2 percent of its GDP on defense with the purchase of modern weapons accounting for a hefty 33 percent of the country’s military budget – more than in any other of NATO’s East European members. It looks like Romania’s chances of equaling Poland in terms of its strategic importance to NATO may soon increase given the country’s geographic closeness to Russia’s Crimea.

Bucharest and Warsaw have already signed an agreement on strategic partnership, and Poland’s “Three Seas” initiative and Bucharest’s “Great Romania” project geopolitically complement each other.

The idea underlying the coordinated action by Warsaw and Bucharest is to create an anti-Russian corridor extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, which is part of Poland’s plan to promote European cooperation along the North-South axis.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Defense

US-China Tensions in South China Sea

Prof. Pankaj Jha

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Following the end September incident in South China Sea when a Type 052 destroyer of Chinese Navy cut ‘across the bow’ of US Navy destroyer USS Decatur  when the US vessel was passing near the Gaven Reef in Spratly islands, Trump administration has taken a serious note of this incident . It was a very close encounter which reminded of the U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane disaster in 2001 when Chinese navy plane rammed into the US surveillance plane, and what followed was a diplomatic crisis. Just a week later after the two destroyers crossed each other paths, President Trump made a very curt remark on the earlier Obama administration and called it “impotent” for its lackluster approach in containing Chinese activities in South China Sea. President trump added that as Obama administration did not undertake necessary counter measures, Beijing is posing serious challenges to US ships which are operating in the contested waters of South China Sea. The impending confrontation was expected but the problem for Trump is the magnitude and timing of such confrontation would jeopardize its deft maneuvers in diplomacy. Trump has held first summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to manage the nuclear threat that the dictatorial regime poses to US, South Korea and Japan. Any escalation of maritime tensions would have a cascading effect on its peace initiatives with North Korea.

According to rough estimates South China Sea contains 17.7 billion tons of crude oil and more than 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Given these large estimated reserves and also very rich fishing grounds in the shallow waters of South China Sea, many nations around its periphery have claimed sovereignty over the more than 80 islands /islets islands. South China Sea is also a commercial shipping route which witnesses $4.5tn of maritime trade passing through its waters. China claims more than 80 per cent of the maritime m area of South Chain Sea citing the nine dash line drawn by Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist government in 1949. South China Sea had a history of close encounters which were seen when Chinese navy killed 70 Vietnamese sailors in 1988 over occupation of Johnson South Reef, and thereafter when during confrontation with Philippines in 1995, it occupied Mischief reef. The features in South China Sea are islets and rocks which at times of low tide are barely 4-5 meters above the sea level and these get submerged during the high tide.

The island building process that China has undertaken has started threatening the safety and security of the sea lanes. In few of the islands under Chinese occupation in the South China sea, China has developed necessary infrastructure to support operations of the military aircraft and also missile defence batteries creating serious challenge to the US navy, and also challenging freedom of navigation for navies of other ASEAN countries as well as those of India, Japan and Australia. This assertive approach that China has adopted has resonated in the ASEAN multilateral meetings but a strong counter narrative, and criticism from the multilateral institution is missing. The ASEAN nations fearing Chinese riposte along with Chinese aggressive behaviour have tried to engage China so as to bring about a Code of Conduct in the disputed waters. China has imposed fishing ban in certain months each year in the third richest fishing grounds in the world, and also has intimidated the other claimant states fishing vessels in the past. Chinese navy had harassed Philippines Coast Guard and had snapped the undersea cables laid by a Vietnamese ship. In 2009 USS Impeccable also had to weather annoying tactics by Chinese fishing boats who have been acting as the third line of defence after Chinese navy and Coast guard. This aggressive behavior and demarcation of safe zones by the Chinese navy in and around the islands that China occupies, have threatened lives and livelihood of fishing communities of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines who make their living out of the fisheries that they catch in South China Sea.

In July2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) had given a verdict in favor of Philippines when the country took the issue of illegal Chinese occupation of features particularly islets and small islands in the EEZ of the Philippines to the international tribunal. It adjudicated that all those features which could not sustain human habitation have not right to seek an Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ) of 200 nautical miles, and also declared that Chinese occupation and reclamation activities is illegal. The Philippines while awaiting an international support and US action given the fact that US and Philippines have a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) sought refuge with China to resolve the crisis. For a long time, China has been insisting on bilateral negotiations with other claimant states including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Taiwan also occupies the largest island in South China Sea known as Itu Iba which is centrally located and it of immense strategic importance. The island building and the installation of military support and logistics structure has annoyed US and it has made very strong remarks with regard to Chinese construction activities. However, in terms of dissuading Chinese activities there has been a sublime response from US. As a result of US non–intervention, China has built nearly 2,000 acres of reclaimed land in and around its islands in South China Sea.

With South China sea heating up because of the recent incident, India will have to be cautious with regard to safeguarding its interest. The reported near confrontation between US and Chinese navy in the end of September 2018 is a matter of concern. India has also faced such intimidation tactics in the past when in July 2011 its naval ship AIRAWAT leaving the Vietnamese coast received radio message warning it of transgressing the Chinese territory in South China sea. Given this one off incident cannot be a parameter for the tension germinating in the disputed waters, India will have to be prepared for close encounters with the Chinese navy in future.

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Israeli-Iranian Nuclear Standoff: So Far Only Verbal

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A few days ago Israel and Iran traded accusations of harboring nuclear ambitions. Speaking at the 73rd session of UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about nuclear materials and equipment allegedly stored somewhere in Tehran.

The Iranian response did not take long coming with an enraged Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif blaming Israel for covert production of nuclear weapons.

According to Zarif, Israel is the only country in the region with a “secret” and “undeclared” nuclear arms program, which allegedly includes “a real nuclear arsenal.”

That the two countries have been engaged in a long-running cold war is no secret. Long before the 1979 Islamic revolution, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, pursued a clearly anti-Israeli line in his speeches and sermons.

“I consider Israel’s independence and its recognition as a catastrophe for Muslims undermining the activities of Islamic governments,” he said over and over again.

“The Zionist regime must be wiped off the face of the earth, and with the help of Divine power, the world will soon live without the United States and Israel,” he added.

Tehran’s anti-Israel rhetoric hasn’t changed much since Khomeini’s death.

Today, Iran is the only country that does not recognize Israel’s very right to exist.

In its 70-year history, the State of Israel has fought seven major wars with the Arabs and endless armed clashes with Palestinians and the pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

Jerusalem’s relations with many Arab states have generally returned to normal and when it comes to the confrontation with Iran, some of them have even allied with the Jewish state. Meanwhile, Iran is now seen by Israel as a major threat.

Israel’s nuclear program was initiated by its founder, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. After the end of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, in which Israel was confronted by the Egyptian and Jordanian armies, Ben-Gurion realized that an atomic bomb was the only way for Israel to survive in the face of the Arab forces that outnumbered the Israelis many times over.

The history of the creation and possession of Israel’s nuclear weapons is interesting per se and reads like a detective story. What is really important, however, is Israel’s ability to obtain nuclear capability in a short time and virtually without conducting any nuclear tests [1]. These days, the expertise gained over decades and the high performance of modern supercomputers make it possible to create realistic mathematical models of nuclear and thermonuclear warheads, which, in turn, makes it possible to avoid detonating a nuclear charge at a test site.

All this being said, however, Israel strictly adhered to the policy of “positive disguise” refusing to recognize the existence of its nuclear arsenal, hiding direct evidence of its existence and making veiled hints about its existence as a warning to enemies. Former Israeli prime ministers have made such hints more than once. In July 1998, Shimon Peres publicly admitted (without elaborating) that Israel possessed nuclear weapons. Ehud Olmert also indirectly confirmed that the Jewish state had an atomic bomb.

“Iran wants to possess nuclear weapons, following the example of Israel,” Ehud Olmert said in a 2006 interview with SAT1.

Leading politicians, like former US President Jimmy Carter and ex-IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei, have mentioned the presence of nuclear weapons in Israel. In 2013, Britain’s Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asserted that Israel had about 80 nuclear warheads and possessed enough fissile materials to produce between 115 and 190 nuclear warheads. However, the production of nuclear warheads in Israel was “frozen” in 2004.

However, this “freeze” can quickly “thaw out,” and the entire Israeli nuclear complex, consisting of several major nuclear infrastructure facilities, will get back to work.

These facilities include:

Sorek Scientific Nuclear Research Center was set up n the 1950s in Nagal Sorek settlement outside Tel Aviv. Israel’s first 5 MW light-water nuclear reactor, brought in from the US as part of President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, was installed there.

This low-power reactor could not produce weapons-grade plutonium, and was mainly used for training specialists and devising methods of handling radioactive materials, which later came in handy in more comprehensive  research. However, despite Israel’s persistent requests, the Americans refused to provide nuclear fuel and equipment that could be used in a nuclear weapons program, so in the late-1950s, France became the main source of materials and nuclear technologies for Israel. The Sorek Center is monitored by the IAEA.

Nuclear Research Center at Dimona. A natural uranium heavy-water reactor, built and later modernized by French specialists, has been operating there since 1964. The 28 MW reactor has a capacity 40-60 kg of weapons-grade plutonium. Until 2003, Israel had produced  about 650 kg of plutonium – enough to build over 100 nuclear charges. (It takes between 3 and 8 kilograms of plutonium to produce a single nuclear warhead, depending on technology used). The Dimon Center of the IAEA is monitored by the IAEA.

Yodefat is a settlement in Galilee, where Israeli specialists reportedly assemble and dismantle nuclear weapons at the Raphael’s enterprise, called “Division 20”.

Kfar Zakharia – a missile base in the Judean Hills where strategic nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles are stored in warehouses.

Eylaban – a nuclear weapons site.

Israel’s Jericho missiles are made in Beer-Yaakov, and their tests are carried out mainly at the army base in Palmachim. A considerable number of Israel’s nuclear-capable aircraft are stationed at the nearby Tel Nof base. Israeli military commentator Joab Limor wrote about this in his article titled “Israeli Weapons of Mass Destruction” as early as in 2011, citing the British magazine Jane’s Intelligence Review.

Israel’s strategic nuclear forces are built around a classic nuclear triad, consisting of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, bomber-carried cruise missiles and cruise missiles on submarines. As a means of ground-based delivery, foreign experts consider the three-stage Jericho-3 missile (possibly 16 missiles), whose range is estimated at around 6,500 km with a payload of 350 kg payload (one nuclear warhead), and with a range of 4,800 km with a 1-ton nuclear warhead.

Two air squadrons of 18 F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) fighter-bombers each carrying a pair of Israeli-made Gabriel cruise missiles. This is the aerial component of the Israeli nuclear triad.

The naval component consists of five German-made Dolphin diesel electric submarines capable of carrying nuclear-tipped Gabriel cruise missiles.

In summation, it can be stated that Israel now has a wide range of non-strategic means of nuclear weapons delivery and an impressive nuclear arsenal by regional standards. The main emphasis is on the highly survivable maritime component of nuclear forces. This is deemed extremely important for Israel, which, being a small country, is very vulnerable to attacks weapons of mass destruction.

No so Iran, which has also been engaged in nuclear research since the 1950s. Over the years, the country has built up an impressive nuclear infrastructure.

However, no nuclear weapon has been created there, even though after the 1979 Islamic Revolution a secret directive on nuclear weapons development was adopted to ensure the survival of the Islamic regime, and a pertinent plan, dubbed “Ahmad” was drawn up with an eye to creating a nuclear warhead for a ballistic missile. By the way, it was the IAEA which, at the end of 2011, blew the whistle about the “Ahmad” project with a detailed twelve-page document titled “Possible military Dimensions to Iran’s Nuclear Program.”

According to the IAEA, the Amad project was abruptly scrapped at the end of 2003, as ordered by high-ranking officials in Tehran. Simultaneously, the personnel employed in various “Ahmad”-related jobs are believed to have initially remained at their workplaces in order to register and report on the results achieved by that moment. After that – from the end of 2003 to the start of 2004 – both the equipment and the workplaces of those engaged in the project were destroyed to leave as little evidence as possible that might point to the “delicate” nature of the work done there.

All this meaning that since 2004, Iran has not been engaged in any military nuclear activity. By amazing coincidence, Jerusalem froze its production of nuclear warheads in that very same year of 2004.

Israel insists that the military aspect of the Iranian nuclear program is still there. Even though the IAEA’s latest reports point to the contrary, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons at two secret sites in Tehran. Speaking at the UN, Netanyahu also recalled that in April he had produced tons of documents, which, according to him, had been obtained by Israeli intelligence in Iran.

“Since we raided [their] atomic archive, [the Iranians] have been busy cleaning out the atomic warehouse. Just last month, they removed 15 kilograms of radioactive material. You know what they did with it? They had 15 kilograms of radioactive material, they had to get it out of the site, so they took it out and they spread it around Tehran in an effort to hide the evidence,” the Israeli prime minister told the UN General Assembly in September.

Benjamin Netanyahu also showed several photos from a map application pointing to an address in Tehran, where he claimed nuclear materials were stored.

“What Iran hides, Israel will find,” Netanyahu and added, referring, to what he described as “the tyrants of Tehran”: “Israel knows what you are doing and Israel knows where you are doing it.”

“Israel will never let a regime that calls for our destruction develop nuclear weapons – not now, not in 10 years, not ever… We will continue to act against you in Syria. We will act against you in Lebanon. We will act against you in Iraq. We will act against you whenever and wherever we must act to defend our state and defend our people,” Netanyahu warned.

Israel has always been an ardent opponent of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for Iran, adopted by international mediators in 2015, arguing that this will not stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu still pointed to a positive consequence of the agreement

“By empowering Iran, it brought Israel and many Arab states closer together,” he said during his address to the UN General Assembly.

The recent mutual accusations of nuclear ambitions regularly leveled at each other by Tehran and Jerusalem are part of the war of words, elements of the Iran-Israeli Cold War, which has been going on for many years. The military-political tensions around Iran have been shooting up and the propaganda war between the two countries is heating up.

Undoubtedly, the Israeli politicians’ anti-Iranian nuclear rhetoric is aimed at the complete destruction of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The JCPOA is in a state of limbo now that the US has walked out of it and the other signatories are making every effort to salvage it in one way or another. If the deal collapses then Iran is sure to resume its military nuclear program which, in turn, will reflect very badly on the situation in the Middle East and around the world as no international organization, including the IAEA, will be able to control Tehran’s actions.

It looks like this is exactly what Jerusalem wants so that it can prove Tehran’s nuclear militancy and the correctness of its anti-Iranian policy.

[1] Nothing is definitely known about Israel’s nuclear tests. However, on September 22, 1979, a series of light bursts characteristic of a nuclear explosion of a 2–3 kiloton charge were recorded by the US satellite “Vela” 6911 near the Prince Edward Islands in the South Atlantic. It is widely believed that this was an Israeli nuclear test, possibly conducted jointly with South Africa.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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