January 5, 2014
The New Year begins with a myriad of tribal, ethnic, religious or state-to-state conflicts affecting large areas of the world, from Europe to Africa and Asia.
Closest to home is a long-running geopolitical confrontation between the West and Russia for the inclusion of Ukraine within their respective spheres of influence. The contest, which had started in the 1990s immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, seems to have been won in December 2013 by Russia, street protests in Kiev notwithstanding.
Of much more serious concern for the West are developments in Africa. Libya’s oil production has diminished to some 20 percent of its pre-revolution levels, as tribal militias are trying to assert control over the country’s refineries, oilrigs and export terminals.
With the war on Islamic guerrillas barely over in Mali, the Central African Republic has become the theatre of a French-UN military intervention intended to put an end to the infighting between the country’s Islamic minority and Christian militias.
Armed confrontation has also erupted in the two-year old state of South Sudan. The tribal armed conflict was sparked by fallout between President Salva Kiir and his vice-president accused of trying to organize a coup d’état in Juba. This is generating thousands of casualties and a wave of refugees, prompting the UN to send soldiers into the country in order to stabilize the situation.
Religious warfare continues to engulf Syria, Iraq and Lebanon in the Middle East. The two-year Syrian conflict keeps on claiming the lives of thousands of civilians and is now spreading to neighboring Lebanon, where bomb explosions in the capital have become almost a weekly occurrence.
The Sunni-Shiite conflict has taken a turn for the worse in Iraq as well. As recently as two days ago, Sunni militias close to Al Qaeda have wrestled control of strategic Fallujah and the surrounding area from government troops controlled by the (Shiite) prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki.
Practically the only bright spot in the Middle East so far is the conclusion of an accord in Geneva about Iran’s nuclear installations, which could, if followed through, contribute to stabilizing Iraq and help reach a political settlement in the Syrian conflict.
The tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands have increased after China decided to extend its aerial strategic zone and the Japanese prime minister attended a ceremony at a controversial war memorial shrine.
These are but a few of the major geopolitical events I will be following in 2014, as well as other potential flashpoints that could develop into fully-fledged armed conflicts.