It’s hard to determine which are the most dangerous situations we face these days. The sound and fury coming out of the U.S. Senate regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the effort to restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia is one of the loudest, as judged by the Washington press coverage. Meanwhile, media notice of the massing of “hundreds of Russian tanks” on the Ukrainian border goes relatively unnoticed. The Canadians arrest a very important CFO of a major Chinese company at the request of American authorities and China responds by arresting two Canadians with close ties to North Korea. The violence in France provides excellent TV but little clear analysis, because so many factors are involved. On top of this is the impossibility of understanding British turmoil over whether they will – or should – leave the EU. This is just the beginning of recent events while leaving out, of course, the American issues of controlling illegal immigration, threatened presidential impeachment and economic tariffs on China that drastically affect both nations and thus the world economy.
There are many more issues, but these predominate – though certainly there would be an argument about that. It seems to be that it all depends on where you sit. There is little unity on the world scene and every nation has its own focus. Additionally, part of the problem in separating out and prioritizing problems is the often willful disregard of the obvious. For instance, much is made of possible attempts by Russian instruments and individuals to penetrate and influence the political system of the United States. Realistically viewed, that’s what major nations’ intelligence systems tend to do – in one form or another. It really shouldn’t be news to anyone, especially to the supposedly hardened press!
That China works in every way to expand its economic, political and strategic power hardly should be unexpected. What else should analysts anticipate when dealing with a nation of more than a billion people, and growing? China not only feels the pressure of their gigantic country’s needs and ambitions, but they also have a view of the Western world as a long-time exploiter. From their standpoint, now is the time to get back what they shouldn’t have lost in the first place. It is simple logic to view China as seizing the moment to gain ascendancy on all fronts – and nothing is too great a price to pay to get there.
Meanwhile, North Korea is acting as if they have all the time in the world. They have played the “good guy – bad guy” tactic with great effect. So far, they gained the partial loosening of sanctions on essentials. For this they have their friends and protectors, the Chinese, and their own negotiating abilities to thank. In the course of this exercise Pyongyang has proceeded with the development of weapons they declare as “non-nuclear,” but of a major defense value. Now what does that mean? By the way, the DPRK announced they will not “denuclearize” until the U.S. removes its military forces from South Korea. There was the implication they will not budge until all “forward leaning” American forces, naval and air, are also shifted. The chess moves continue.
As far as Western Europe is concerned, the various countries therein seem to have reduced their objectives to the basic elements of national existence, having substantially lost their previous dominant role in world affairs. Unfortunately for Europe, their people want more for themselves than their governments are offering. Even Germany, who under Angela Merkel’s leadership still smugly has regained its regional economic position, spends most of the time pretending how liberal and understanding they are of the “unfortunates” of the world. It’s a policy based on the ambition to project their contemporary version of nie wieder (never again) so as to prove that they no longer have any ambitions reflecting the Kaiser’s “God With Us” theme of World War I or Hitler’s subsequent declaration of “Tomorrow The Entire World.” No further comment is necessary!
The Russians recently tried to puff up their global strategic image by sending a couple of TU-160 supersonic bombers all the way to Venezuela. These few large 1980’s aircraft no longer are of strategic importance. The fact is that long range missiles (of which Moscow has many) are their primary offensive and defensive weapon systems. However, the manned bombers are still a way to impress a bankrupt socialist dictatorship such as the one in Caracas. Russia’s real problem, that they have yet to face, is their poorly functioning economy. However, it’s much easier to gain attention with some long-range flying and the announcement of a new missile capable of avoiding all existing defense systems. They well know the U.S. already has been working on a counter to this supposedly new system.
If there is one country that poses a direct danger to the United States and its interests, it is Iran. Tehran’s ability to destabilize the Middle East remains formidable in spite of the various attempts by Washington to coerce and cajole this theocratic dictatorship. The fact is that these modern-day Persians have excellent technical and scientific ability. They have strong cooperative relationships with Russia, China and North Korea and selections of talent around the world. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is well motivated, trained and armed. Iran’s intelligence network is extensive and talented. In other words, they have the will and ability to cause trouble for the U.S. The key to counter action against Iran (short of military action) requires an imaginative and firm position on the part of Washington. This means mounting a full-scale political, economic and diplomatic offensive by the United States and its allies – if we have any other than Israel.
And so it goes at the end of 2018. What the New Year will bring is certainly impossible to predict. Let’s just hope that Washington does not end up shooting itself in the foot by leaving Syria and Afghanistan.