As the clock hits midnight, jubilant crowds welcome the new year full of hope and optimism for the year ahead. It is only custom to hold a positive outlook for the new year, but in 2018 can citizens of the world truly expect a happy new year?
The prominent social scientist Steven Pinker wrote in his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, that the world has never been more peaceful than it is today. His theory will find itself tested in the year ahead, with trouble brewing in multiple corners of the globe.
Economic forecasts may paint a favourable picture, but the threat of a full-scale global war overshadows that reality. The tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is nearing its climax, while President Donald Trump’s tough stance on North Korea looks to push the Peninsula back into an all-out war.
Finally, Tsai Ing-wen’s Taiwan continues to be defiant against the People’s Republic of China and rumours are abound of an impending declaration of independence. Doing so will trigger Xi Jinping to enforce his regime’s claim over the island-nation using military strength – a scenario which could trigger large-scale conflict.
Trump gets tough with Kim’s North Korea
“We’re not committed to a peaceful resolution.”
Those were the chilling words of the United States’ National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster during an interview with the BBC earlier this month. Trump’s top security expert explained that while his country “want the resolution [with North Korea] to be peaceful”, this does not discount the possibility of warfare as “all options were on the table”.
Threats of an escalation of tension in the Korean peninsula have always been a possibility ever since the Korean War of the 1950s ended in a mere ceasefire, which means that the belligerents are formally in a state of war until today. In the past decade, the danger of a new all-out war has been widely feared – with the Kim Jong-Un regime proving defiant in his pursuit of nuclear weapons.
That danger intensified this year, with North Korea testing advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in July capable of hitting the U.S. state of Hawaii. Despite added sanctions being imposed, the hermit kingdom refused to back down with their missile testing and showed no signs of abandoning their infamous nuclear weapons program.
In August, the fears of the Trump administration – and of the rest of the world – were realized when an intelligence report revealed that North Korea had gained the capability of fitting nuclear warheads on their long-range missiles. This meant that a nuclear strike on U.S. territories such as Hawaii and Guam, along with close allies such as Japan and South Korea, was a very real scenario.
To reciprocate, President Trump has grown tougher in dealing with the rogue East Asian nation. He has called on other countries to completely sever ties with the state, and has floated the “bloody nose option” which involves using military action to disarm Kim’s forces.
However, as previous examples has shown Kim’s government is completely indifferent towards economic sanctions and half-empty threats of war. They have already stated that “American blackmail” will not deter their nuclear ambitions, and declared that their military will prepare for “pre-emptive attacks with nuclear force” in the face of U.S. threats.
With Kim’s refusal to heed to the demands of the international community and Trump seeing the options he has left further dwindle, will both nations be pushed to a full-scale war in 2018?
Iran-Saudi Arabia tensions could further escalate
The civil war in Yemen is nearing its three-year anniversary and there appears to be no sign of it ceasing any time soon.
A major reason for the prolonged conflict is the extensive support given to the belligerents by powerful Middle Eastern states – Iran and Saudi Arabia. The former lends support to the Shi’a-faction of the war, comprising of the Houthis and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is a de-facto combatant in the war. The Arab nation is backing forces loyal to incumbent Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Hadi and a coalition of different rebel groups, with support from Qatar and the U.A.E also present.
The conflict began as a civil war between two different factions of the Yemeni government, but has now evolved into a proxy war between two long-time Middle Eastern rival nations. The source of their rift is power, particularly in the sphere of the Middle East where both sides have been working to increase their influence in the past few decades.
Signs of an impending escalation of tensions were apparent this year, with several Gulf nations allied with Saudi Arabia formally cutting diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Qatar – which leans more towards Iran – in June. Meanwhile, in Lebanon a proxy war between Iran and the Sauds can be seen in a political power struggle between predominantly-Shi’a and predominantly-Sunni political groups.
It won’t be hard to see this backroom fighting shift into full-scale war between the two Middle Eastern heavyweights, and there are already signs of this scenario happening. In May, U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia to seal a whooping $110-B weapons sale. Then in October, the Islamic Kingdom completed a $15-B sale for a missle-defence system again with the U.S.
It could be argued that the sale of the hardware serves only as a mere deterrent or a show of force by the Sauds, but the volume of the trade makes that hypothesis highly unlikely. That kind of strengthening of military might signals an impending need, and if a major war with a military power like Iran is in the offing then the size of the sale is definitely justified.
Taiwan’s desire for independence awakens the Chinese dragon
Much like the situation between the two Koreas, the two Chinas (the People’s Republic or mainland China, and the Republic of China or Taiwan) have also not formally ended their hostilities. In fact, both entities claim sovereignty over the entire Chinese domain – for the two sides, there is only one China and it is the one their government represents.
The government in Beijing is certainly more hostile in enforcing this “one China policy”, pushing other countries to recognize them as the “real China” and are very effective in doing so with only twenty states in the entire world recognizing Taiwan (or the Republic of China). This is due to economic and political pressure employed by the Chinese Communist Party on those states. Most recently, the tiny island-state of Palau in the Pacific have been harassed by the Xi Jinping administration to abandon recognition of Taiwan.
Beijing’s move of isolating Taiwan diplomatically from the rest of the world is further backed with threats of military force. Just recently, Chinese diplomat Li Kexin warned that “the day a U.S. naval vessel arrives at Kaohsiung port is the day the People’s Liberation Army (PLA, PRC’s armed forces) unifies Taiwan with military force”.
Those were not hollow threats it appears, as in December PLA fighter planes began circling Taiwan as part of military drills. While the official reason was a harmless training operation, it is undoubtedly an attempt to provoke or intimidate the breakaway state.
If intimidation was the objective, it certainly did not work as Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen vowed to defend her state at all costs. She has pledged to increase the defense budget significantly and also to spur the production of more domestically manufactured weapons, declaring that: “while Taiwan may not be big, we are very determined to defend our country”.
The state government have also issued a warning to the People’s Republic, with their Mainland Affairs minister saying that “China would pay a very high price if it invades”. Beijing retaliated with a grave threat of their own, publishing in a state-run newspaper that “decisive action” will be taken if Taiwan declares independence.
Pinker’s hypothesis and what’s in store for 2018
Despite the bloodshed in Syria, the devastation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the perpetual bombings in the Middle East and North Africa, Pinker relented in his hypothesis and was adamant that our current generation faced the most peaceful time in recent history.
That claim would undoubtedly fall apart if the conflicts described above would come into fruition. The states involved possess the most advanced weaponry seen in modern times, the scale of the devastation those will bring would be catastrophic.
All human beings are well within their rights to indulge in merriment during the New Year’s Eve celebrations, as is customary. However, we need to be mindful of the pitfalls that lie ahead and be aware of the signs of an impending global catastrophe.