The human race has experienced two devastating world wars and the race is not ready to experience one more. Although another world war is neither hoped nor acceptable by the general human race, the developing incidents in Arctic region, South China Sea, Europe and Middle East indicate that the military superpowers may impose on human race another of such devastating wars.
The Arctic – surrounded by the landmasses of Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Russia, Norway and the US – was “inaccessible” until the end of the 20th century due to the layers of thick ice. Thus, there were less territorial disputes until the beginning of the (21st) century. However, with the ice caps melting rapidly, access to the Arctic oil and gas reserves, which is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars, will become easier – a prediction that has already sparked a rush for ownership.
The region is increasingly catching the world powers’ attention and the aforementioned five Arctic countries are in rush to exploit the energy resources from the region. Such circumstances have given rise to plenty of disputes among the aforementioned five countries.
In the prevailing scenario, all the five Arctic countries have been moving towards militarizing the region in order to acquire each of their respective interests. While Canada has been annually conducting large-scale military exercises, known as Operation Nanook, within the periphery of the region, it has also been participating in the Norway-led “Cold Response” military exercises within the region, where four out of five Arctic countries (except Russia) participate.
Norway has been hosting the “Cold Response” military exercises for several years, where the NATO countries are invited to participate. The fact that these exercises have been taking place within the Arctic periphery shows that the Arctic countries are militarily preparing themselves in order to safeguard their interests within the region in case of any future military escalation. This year’s (March 2016) “Cold Response” exercise took place in the Norway’s Trondheim region, which is only 500 kilometres from the Arctic Circle, and included approximately 15 000 soldiers from various countries, including four (Canada, Denmark, the US, and Norway) of the five Arctic states.
In August 2015, another Arctic state, the US, permitted Shell to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, which falls within the periphery of the Alaskan Arctic. The US Coast Guard had deployed sophisticated ships, aircrafts and other maritime assets in the Alaskan Arctic for the duration of Shell’s drilling in the Arctic. However, after months of exploration campaign, Shell had subsequently declared to stop its exploratory drilling for the “foreseeable future.”
On the otherside, in 2007, Russian scientists dived to the seabed in the Arctic Ocean and planted a titanium Russian flag (Russia claimed that it was flag of Russia’s ruling party) in order to beef up their claims. Russia has already moved to restore Soviet-era military base and other military outposts in the region. In December 2014, Russia established the Arctic Joint Strategic Command in order to protect the Russian interests in the region and the Russian Northern Fleet had become the new Command’s main striking force. Questions arose about the establishment of a Strategic Command, which is usually reserved for wartime, instead of establishing a core Military District.
Later, in early 2015, Russia exercised military patrols in the region from its Northern Fleet, involving thousands of servicemen with several surface ships, submarines and aircrafts. More interestingly, Russia is currently planning to jointly explore oil in regional fields with China in order to make sure that Russia has a rising military and economic power like China involved into its stake in the region so that such cooperation favours Russia at the time of escalation of any military conflict.
In such an environment, the current militarization efforts in the region is likely to increase with almost all the regional countries working for further increasing their military deployments and exercises in the region, and there appears little hope and opportunity for any diplomatic resolution (or political agreement) regarding the disputes. It can be well presumed that without political agreement, the current non-hostile debate over the Arctic could turn into a violent confrontation.
If the disputes over the control of the Arctic resources are not resolved quickly, it could turn into a larger military conflict that would not just involve the Arctic countries, but would also drag a larger part of the region into this conflict, leading to a regionwide war. Since Arctic states – Canada, Russia and the U.S. – alongwith other regional powerful states (especially the UK, France and Germany) would be involved in the aforementioned regional military conflict, such regionwide conflict would have the potentiality to turn into a worldwide conflict, dragging rest of the world into the mess.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Some of China’s ASEAN neighbours (especially Philippines and Vietnam) have been claiming parts of the South China Sea as each of their own territory. On the other side, China also has also been claiming territories in the South China Sea that are also claimed by its ASEAN neighbours and has constructed an artificial island in the region. The relevant ASEAN neighbours of China have been firm on their claims and have been conducting joint militarily drills with the U.S. in order to ensure that China does not establish firm control over their claimed territories in the South China Sea. The U.S. has been maintaining military presence in the region and has been conducting the abovementioned military drills with some ASEAN states in order to ensure that its freedom of navigation under the international law is properly guarded and its allies’ interests are well protected.
A recent Arbitration triggered by the Philippines’ immediate past government regarding the South China Sea dispute went against China’s interests. On the otherhand, the recent closeness between China and the newly elected President of the Philippines, a country traditionally known to be an U.S. ally, made many analysts apprehend that U.S.’s major ally in the dispute is backing off from its claims against China on South China Sea. But such an apprehension is wrong; because, although the Philippines’ newly elected President intends to earn economic leverages from China by his recent rhetoric against the U.S., he could not afford to let go his country’s alliance with the U.S. in reality.
It is worth mentioning that the South China Sea is a major maritime trade route, with trillions of dollars in global trade passing through the disputed area each year. That is why, the region is of utmost importance to many countries across the globe, including the ASEAN states, China, India, Japan and Saudi Arabia. The region is particularly important to the U.S. as over a trillion dollars worth trade from the U.S. alone passes through the disputed waters.
Throughout 2015 & 2016, the U.S. and China had involved in highly confrontational conducts against each other in the South China Sea. In instances, the U.S. sent naval ships within the 12 miles of a Chinese-controlled isle, while in another instance it sent military aircraft over the disputed areas. China, on the other hand, had already built an artificial island on the disputed waters and Chinese coastguard-backed boats has been elbowing out fishing boats from ASEAN states from fishing within the disputed areas.
Chinese Naval Chief Wu Shengli warned that if the U.S. continues with its conducts against China in South China Sea, there could well be an instance of seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air that could spark war. Such a warning is the reflection and outburst of increasing tensions that might take the shape of military conflict in no time if sensitive incidents in the disputed areas are not handled properly. A simple military error in the disputed waters between the two sides may lead to a “regionwide” military conflict in the Asia Pacific region, especially in East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Since the ‘geopolitical interests’ and the ‘economies’ of many countries around the world are well connected with China and the U.S., and also since may countries beyond East Asia and Southeast Asia (including India and Saudi Arabia) have interests in ‘maritime routes’ in the South China Sea, the countries outside East Asia and Southeast Asia would somehow be dragged (directly or indirectly) into this conflict, and hence, we might witness another world war in our small, yet way too polarized, planet.
A referendum, which is widely addressed as the Brexit referendum, took place in mid-2016 regarding Britain’s (precisely the UK’s) membership of the European Union (EU); the same EU that was formed in order to ensure, alongwith several other reasons, peace in Europe and avoid wars among the European neighbours. The referendum went in favour of Britain’s exit from the EU.
Britain’s “formal” exit from the EU, which would atleast take two more years, may pave the way for several other EU member states to follow suit, causing a serious power-imbalance in the greater Europe. In such a scenario, there is the likelihood that Europe will become bipolar and would become a fragmented territory.
In recent times, Britain has been attempting to create a “northern league” consisting of European countries with “NOT so pro-EU” sentimental establishments/regimes. All the probable northern-leaguers – namely Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Britain itself – share a common desire to restrict the power of the EU. With the attempt of forming such a bloc or alliance, Britain is perhaps trying to restrict the expansion of the EU and to divide the existing EU in order to serve Britain’s own hegemonic interests.
After “formally” leaving the EU, if Britain makes its move towards institutionalizing the “northern league” and also joins the non-EU trade bloc European Free Trade Association (EFTA), a bi-centric Europe would emerge — one led by France & Germany (the Franco-German duo) under the banner of the EU and the other led by Britain.
One of the two European blocs that might emerge out of Britain’s “formal” exit from the EU may lean towards, or align with, the Sino-Russian side of global polarity in confronting the other side that would avail the backing from the U.S. With such two opposite blocs in Europe, further division, cold relations, conflicts, wars and proxy wars are the only possibilities.
The conflict of interests between the Western bloc (led by the U.S.) and the Eastern bloc (led by the former Soviet Union) during the cold war period had led to several proxy wars across the world. Similarly, the Saudi-Iran regional rivalry has been resulting in a number of proxy wars for last one decade. Therefore, it would not be ‘unprecedented’ if the two spreadheads of the two future European regional blocs, one led by the Franco-German duo and the other led by Britain, start fighting between themselves through proxies in the region in near future. However, a direct war between these European spearheads is most likely to spread all over the world (world war), similar to what we have seen in the previous two world wars that started as European conflicts only to turn into world wars.
The Middle East is of strategic importance to the world, particularly because of its supply of oil. Many analysts believe that the U.S.’s plan is to engineer a conflict between two major regional foes, Saudi Arabia and Iran, in order to make accessibility to the region risky for Russia and energy starved China, both of which are trying to reshape the current global order that is led and dominated by the U.S. On the otherhand, many other analysts think that it is Russia, not the U.S., which wants to engineer such a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and then get the U.S. embroiled into it and drive up the cost of oil, benefitting Russia that is suffering from the lower global oil price.
The U.S.-led Western alliance, the Saudi-led Sunni alliance and the broader coalition between these two alliances are at one side of the Syrian conflict; the other coalition involves Assad regime, Iraqi regime, Iran and Russia. Although two major powers – Russia and the U.S. – are involved in this conflict, a Russia-U.S. direct confrontation is unlikely. No UNSC member can fight another UNSC member as per UN provisions. However, such international provisions never matter when conflict of interests reaches the height and heat of confrontation goes out of control. But, what would really keep these two powers away from fighting each other are not the UN provisions, but the reality that both are nuclear armed states and a war between these two nuclear-superpowers means total annihilation of not only these two major powers but also a larger part of human race and earth’s landmass. However, the possibility of a war between these two military & nuclear superpowers is not totally out of the cards and any such conflict between these two powers would, for sure, drag rest of the world into it.
It seems our globe does not lack reasons to engage in chaos. The two world wars initially were European conflicts that turned gradually into world wars. For sure, the start of another war between any two major powers would drag the world into it. Another world war would mean the landmasses, waters, and environment and, most importantly, living species including human being would become the targets of war machines of the global military elites, jeopardizing the peace and stability of our globe.
Developments on Korean Peninsula risk accelerating regional arms race
A week full of missile tests; this is the current environment on the Korean Peninsula. On Wednesday, North Korea fired two rounds of ballistic missiles into the East Sea while South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) just a few hours later. Wednesday’s tests follow a week of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the consequences of which can be felt beyond the two Koreas.
North Korea ramps up tensions
According to North Korean state-run media reports, the reclusive state carried out a series of successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend while referring to the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance”. Calling the weapon ‘strategic’ may imply a nuclear-capable system. Although North Korea is banned from using ballistic technologies due to U.N. Security Council resolutions, these same rules do not apply to cruise missiles.
Despite the tests, Washington maintained its position to resume dialogue with the North and “to work cooperatively with the DPRK to address areas of humanitarian concerns regardless of progress on denuclearization,” US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim said on Tuesday. Still, the US Indo-Pacific Command did acknowledge the cruise missile launches and said the tests highlight the “DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community.”
China reacted to the test by calling for restraint by all relevant parties and for a ‘dual track’ approach to be followed involving “phased and synchronized actions to continuously advance the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue.”
North Korea then upped tensions further by conducting yet another missile launch on Wednesday. This test marked the first time the DPRK launched a missile off a train-mounted ballistic missile delivery system, which they referred to as the “Railway Mobile Missile Regiment”. According to Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the missiles were believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The location of the landings don’t seem to be a coincidence as earlier that day North Korean state media had criticized Japan’s newly unveiled defense budget, referring to the country as a “war criminal state”.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga strongly condemned the latest tests, calling North Korea’s behavior “outrageous” and a “threat” to “the peace and security of our country and the region”. The US State Department also called the tests “a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” while emphasizing the Biden administration’s commitment to trilateral diplomacy and cooperation with Japan and South Korea.
What’s more, North Korea appears to have resumed activities at its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, according to a report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month. The report stated that “The DPRK’s nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern” while adding that “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.”
In July, North Korea warned of a “major security crisis” in protest against the combined summertime military exercise between South Korea and the United States. This increase in rapid missile testing seems to be the result of North Korea’s dissatisfaction with both Seoul and Washington’s actions over the last few months.
South Korea joins in on the missile testing
Although the international community is used to hearing about North Korean missile tests over the years, what is much less common is to hear about a missile test conducted by the South. Hours after the North fired its missiles, South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong—the sister of leader Kim Jong Un— was quick to respond to the tests the same day, warning of the “complete destruction of inter-Korean ties” and criticized Seoul’s “illogical, antiquated and foolish attitude”, according to North Korean state media.
Through the test, South Korea became the first country without nuclear weapons to launch an SLBM. Besides the SLBM, South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that the ROK military had also developed other new missiles, including a supersonic cruise missile to be deployed in the near future, and a new ballistic missile that has “overwhelming counterattack capability” by firing a larger warhead. Indeed, South Korea’s arms industry has grown exponentially over the last two deacades and continuous to expand rapidly. According to he SIPRI arms transfer database, South Korea rose from the 31st ranked arms exporting country in 2000 to number six in 2020.
Besides South Korea, Japan is also beefing up its military capabilities. Last month, Japan’s Defense Ministry sought a record $50 billion annual budget that would entail the largest percentage jump in spending in eight years. China was quick to criticize the move, accusing Japan of “trying to find excuses to justify their decision to increase military spending,” On the other hand, Japan blames China for “unilaterally changing the regional status quo,” affecting “the security of the Taiwan Straits, but also Japan’s security.”
The missile tests conducted by both Koreas this week further exacerbates the security situation in the region, negatively impacting far beyond the peninsula alone. The recent developments also don’t bode well for improving inter-Korean relations or US-DPRK ties. Diplomatic negotiations between the US and North Korea have been stalemated ever since the 2019 Hanoi Summit fell apart. So far, Biden has only verbally expressed interest in resuming talks, but is unlikely to do so unless North Korea makes concrete commitments to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
Inter-Korean relations are also unlikely to improve in the near future, given the time constraints. South Korea’s President Moon has roughly six months left in office, and it is unlikely significant diplomatic progress can be made in this timeframe.
HTS enters Turkey’s plot against the Kurds
Ever since Turkey entered the 2017 Astana agreement with Russia and Iran Ankara has been relentless in its efforts to sell the international community the idea of absolute necessity of Turkish military presence in North-East Syria to support the moderate opposition and deter the Assad government.
The Astana meetings that followed the initial agreement indeed resulted in making Turkey responsible for the state of the Syrian opposition in Idlib and Aleppo provinces but – and there is always a but when it comes to the decade-long Syrian conflict – Ankara’s mission was never defined as ‘support’ of the opposition. Instead, Turkey volunteered to perform an arduous task of separating moderate Syrian armed groups from those who were considered radical and posed a potential security threat on both regional and global levels. This process, dubbed ‘delimitation of the Syrian opposition,’ is hardly any closer to completion now than before raising the question of the extent of Ankara’s ability – and intention – to fulfill its pledge.
Turkey’s insistence on supporting the moderate opposition conveniently combines with the recent attempts of Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which is de-facto dominant power in the Idlib de-escalation zone, to recast the image of the group. Although HTS is considered a terrorist organization by the UN and a number of global powers al-Joulani made a number of high-profile media appearances to promote the group’s vision of the future of Syria and confirm that its ambitions are confined to national scale only.
Talking to the Turkish version of The Independent al-Joulani spoke against any foreign military presence in Syria, making no special mention of the Turkish army. Meanwhile in Idlib, a position of the Turkish military located next to those of HTS is a common, even natural occurrence. This co-existence of regular armed forces and radical terrorists is not affected neither by hard evidence of HTS involvement in committing war crimes, nor even by the fact that HTS is listed as a terror group by Turkey’s authorities.
In his interview to The Independent al-Joulani has also touched upon the position of the Syrian Kurds, another key axis of Turkey’s policy in Syria. Commenting on the current developments in Afghanistan the HTS leader suggested that the aftermath of the US surprise withdrawal from Kabul will also have an impact on the Kurds or, as he put it ‘the US-backed enemies of the Syrian revolution.’ He also accused the Kurds of conducting attacks in living quarters in the areas of the “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield” operations carried out by the Turkish military in Northern Syria.
HTS has never been in direct confrontation with the Kurds. However, al-Joulani’s words highlighted his open hostility towards the Kurdish administration, that, as the HTS leader purports, is only able to control a huge swath of Syria and maintain relative stability thanks to the US support. This Kurdish dream will crumble as soon as the last US plane takes off from the Syrian soil, according to al-Joulani.
Does this opinion reflects Turkey’s intention to put an end to the ‘Kurdish threat’ should the US withdraw from Syria? The events in the Afghanistan provide enough evidence to conclude that it’s entirely possible. Indeed, such concerns have been expressed in a number of articles authored by both local and international analysts.
The bottom line
Turkey’s regional policies and HTS leader’s statements confirm that Ankara seeks to transform HTS into a bully of sorts. The group’s primary task would be to exercise pressure on other armed units to facilitate the delimitation process orchestrated by the Turkish authorities. As the US grip over the region gradually loosens and HTS control over Syria’s north-west tightens thanks to its efforts to achieve international recognition with the tacit support of Turkey, the Kurds are facing an uncertain future. Moreover, close coordination between Turkey and HTS harbors negative consequences not only for the Kurds but rather for all of Syria.
To prevent this, the international community must intervene and deny HTS the opportunity to position itself as a part of the moderate opposition and gain the right to establish legitimate administrative bodies. Otherwise Syria will face law-twisting terrorists running their own statelet with all the support that Turkey is able to provide as a prominent regional power.
To include or not include? China-led SCO weighs Iranian membership
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan may help Iran reduce its international isolation. At least, that’s what the Islamic Republic hopes when leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) gather in Tajikistan next weekend.
Members are admitted to the eight-member China-led SCO that also groups Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, by unanimous consensus. Iran, unlike its rivals in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has long had observer status with the SCO.
The Gulf states have so far kept their distance to the China-dominated regional alliance created to counter the ‘evils’ of ‘terrorism, separatism, and extremism” so as not to irritate their main security ally, the United States.
Acceptance of the Iranian application would constitute a diplomatic coup for Tehran and Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi. Mr. Raisi, a proponent of closer relations with China and Russia, is expected to make his first appearance on the international stage at the SCO summit in Dushanbe since having assumed office last month.
Iranian officials hope, perhaps over-optimistically, that SCO membership would help them counter the impact of harsh US sanctions. Ali Akbar Velayati, an international affairs advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has advised the Raisi government to look East towards China, Russia and India asserting that they could “help our economy to make progress.”
Similarly, it is not clear that membership would substantially reduce Iran’s international isolation or significantly improve its existing relations with other SCO members. What membership would do is effectively give Iran a veto should Saudi Arabia and the UAE choose to seek more formal relations with the SCO in response to a reduced US commitment to their security. The SCO is expected to grant Saudi Arabia and Egypt the status of dialogue partner at its Dushanbe summit.
Gulf confidence in the reliability of the United States as a security guarantor has been rattled by the chaotic US departure from Afghanistan as well as the recent removal of the most advanced US missile defence weapon, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, and Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia as Yemeni Houthi rebels were successfully hitting targets in the kingdom.
China and Russia have in the past been reluctant to entertain full Iranian membership because they did not want to upset their delicately balanced relations with both Iran and its detractors. Policymakers, in the wake of Afghanistan, may figure that the two-year application process will give them time to prevent upsetting the apple cart.
To be sure, Tajikistan, in anticipation of a Taliban victory, first publicly promoted Iranian SCO membership in late May.
Zohidi Nizomiddin, Tajikistan’s ambassador to Iran, told a news conference in Tehran “that Iran to become a major member is among plans of the Shanghai Organization and if other countries are ready to accept Iran, Tajikistan will also be ready.” Tajikistan opposed Iranian membership in the past, accusing Iran of supporting Islamist rebels in the country.
Mr. Nizomiddin’s comments have since been supported by reports in Russian media. “There is a general disposition for this, there is no doubt about it,” said Bakhtiyor Khakimov, Russia’s ambassador at large for SCO affairs.
Russian analyst Adlan Margoev noted that “the SCO is a platform for discussing regional problems. Iran is also a state in the region, for which it is important to discuss these problems and seek solutions together.”
The Tajik and Russian backing of Iranian membership raises tantalizing questions about potential differences within the SCO towards dealing with the Taliban. Iran and Tajikistan, in contrast to Russia and China that have praised the Taliban’s conduct since the fall of Kabul, have adopted a harder, more critical attitude.
Nonetheless, Russia has in recent weeks held joint military drills with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan near the Tajik-Afghan border. Russia further promised to bolster Tajikistan by supplying weapons and providing training.
Tajikistan is believed to support Tajik rebels in the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan that last week lost a potentially initial first round of fighting against the Taliban. It remains unclear whether the rebels will be able to regroup. Tajiks account for approximately one-quarter of the Afghan population. As the
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon recently awarded posthumously Tajikistan’s third-highest award to two ethnic Afghan Tajiks, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary father of current Tajik rebel leader Ahmad Massoud, and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, for their contribution to ending a devastating civil war in the 1990s in the Central Asian country.
Tajikistan and Iran agreed in April to create a joint military defence committee that would enhance security cooperation and counter-terrorism collaboration.
Iran recently changed its tone regarding Afghanistan after the Taliban failed to include a Hazara Shiite in their newly appointed caretaker government. Hazaras, who account for 20 per cent of the Afghan population, have reason to fear Taliban repression despite the group’s protection last month of Shiite celebrations of Ashura, the commemoration of the Prophet Moses’ parting of the sea.
Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, took the Taliban to task for “ignoring the need for inclusive government, foreign intervention and the use of military means instead of dialogue to meet the demands of ethnic groups and social groups that are the main concerns of the friends of the Afghan people.” Mr. Shamkhani was referring to alleged Pakistani support for the Taliban in the battle for Panjshir.
Supporters of Iranian membership may figure that affairs in Afghanistan will have been sorted out by the time the application procedure has run its course with Afghanistan well on its way towards reconstruction. That may prove to be correct. By the same token, however, so could the opposite with an Afghanistan that is wracked by internal conflict and incapable of controlling militants operating from its soil.
The SCO may in either case want Iran to be in its tent to ensure that all of Afghanistan’s neighbours, as well as regional powers Russia and India, are seated at one table. Mr Margoev, the analyst, argued that “just like other countries in the region – (we should) sit at the same table with Iran and not call it a guest from outside.”
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