January 1, 2012: While there was less war last year, there was more civil disorder and that was a good thing. The "Arab Spring" brought popular uprisings against dictators and monarchs. Most succeeded (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya), while others failed or never got going (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon) and Syria is still in doubt. None of these developed into a true war. The most violent, in Libya, was won by armed civilians assisted by NATO smart bombs and warships. The uprisings were mostly about corruption and the resulting massive poverty. For that reason, Saudi Arabian monarchy was able to buy its way out of an uprising. Yemen and Syria mutated into low level civil war. Egypt and Tunisia were over quickly, but subsequent elections put Islamic conservatives in power. It's unclear how this will turn out. Indeed, the biggest problem was that these dictatorships were not just the single dictator but that segment of the population that kept the dictator in power, were well rewarded for that and were not eager to flee or give up their wealth. The dictator's supporters are striving to retain or regain their power. The Old Order does not pass easily.
Despite the growing military power of China and the saber rattling from Russia, the major military powers continue the Great Nuclear Truce (GNT) that began in the 1950s, when Russia got nuclear weapons and suddenly realized they could not afford to use them (without risking more destruction than past foes like the Nazis or Mongols inflicted). As more major powers got nukes, the "we can't afford to use them, but they're nice to have" attitude, and the unprecedented truce, persisted. There have been wars, but not between the big players (who have the largest and most destructive conventional forces). Thus a record was broken in 1986, as there had never before (since the modern state system developed in the 16th century) been so long a period without a war between a major powers (the kind that could afford, these days, to get nukes). Since the Cold War ended there have been fewer wars (in the traditional sense) and more low level conflicts (rebellions, civil wars). Most people are unaware of this situation because the mass media never made a lot of the GNT, it was something that was just there and not worth reporting. Besides, "nukes (bombs, power plants, medicine) are evil" sells if you are in the news business. Calling any incident, with a lot of gunfire and a few dead bodies, a "war" has also been misleading. The fact is, worldwide violence has been declining since the end of the Cold War (1991) and the elimination of Russian subsidies and encouragement for pro-communist rebels and terrorists. The media also has a hard time keeping score. For years Iraq was portrayed as a disaster until, suddenly, the enemy was crushed and the war was won. Even that was not considered exciting enough to warrant much attention and that story is still poorly covered. Same pattern is playing out in Afghanistan, where the defeats of the Taliban and triumph of the drug gangs go unreported or distorted. However, if you step back and take a look at all the wars going on, a more accurate picture emerges.
Violence continues to decline, or disappear completely, in places like Iraq, Nepal, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Chechnya, Congo, Indonesia, and Burundi. Even Afghanistan, touted as the new war zone, was not nearly as violent as the headlines would deceive you into believing. There's actually as much violence across the border in Pakistan, which doesn't get reported much in the West. The violence on both sides of the border mainly involves Pushtun tribesmen, but the fact that this whole Taliban/heroin gang mess is another Pushtun uprising, is rarely described as such.
The current wars are basically uprisings against police states or feudal societies, which are seen as out-of-step with the modern world. Many are led by radicals preaching failed dogmas (Islamic conservatism, Maoism, and other forms of radical socialism), that still resonate among people who don't know about the dismal track records of these creeds. Iran has picked up some of the lost Soviet terrorist support effort. That keeps Hezbollah, Hamas, and a few smaller groups going, and that's it. Terrorists in general miss the Soviets, who really knew how to treat bad boys right.
The War on Terror has morphed into the War Against Islamic Radicalism. This religious radicalism has always been around, for Islam was born as an aggressive movement that used violence and terror to expand. Past periods of conquest are regarded fondly by Moslems. The current enthusiasm for violence in the name of God has been building for over half a century. Historically, Islamic radicalism has flared up into mass bloodshed periodically, usually in response to corrupt governments, as a vain attempt to impose a religious solution on some social or political problem. The current violence is international because of the availability of planet wide mass media (which needs a constant supply of headlines) and the fact that the Islamic world is awash in tyranny and economic backwardness. This is why the Arab Spring uprisings, and their desire to establish democracies, may do some permanent damage to the Islamic terrorism tradition. But the changes won't come as quickly as many hope. The past has a huge influence on Islamic societies. For many, resistance to change is considered a religious obligation.
Islamic radicalism itself is incapable of mustering much military power and the movement largely relies on terrorism to gain attention. Most of the victims are fellow Moslems, which is why the radicals eventually become so unpopular among their own people that they run out of new recruits and fade away. This is what is happening now. The American invasion of Iraq was a clever exploitation of this, forcing the Islamic radicals to fight in Iraq where they killed many Moslems, especially women and children, thus causing the Islamic radicals to lose their popularity among Moslems. The sharp decline in Islamic nation opinion polls was startling.
Normally, the West does not get involved in these Islamic religious wars, unless attacked in a major way. Moreover, modern sensibilities have made retaliation difficult. For example, fighting back is considered, by Moslems, as culturally insensitive ("war on Islam"), and some of the Western media have picked up on this bizarre interpretation of reality. It gets worse. Historians point out, for example, that the medieval Crusades were a series of wars fought in response to Islamic violence against Christians, not the opening act of aggression against Islam that continues to the present. Thus, the current war on terror is, indeed, in the tradition of the Crusades. And there are many other "Crusades" brewing around the world, in the many places where aggressive Islamic militants are making unprovoked war on their Christian neighbors. Political Correctness among academics and journalists causes pundits to try and turn this reality inside out. But a close look at the violence in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East shows a definite pattern of Islamic radicals persecuting those who do not agree with them, not the other way around.
While Islamic terrorism grabs most of the headlines, it is not the cause of many casualties, at least not compared to more traditional wars. The vast majority of the military related violence and deaths in the world comes from many little wars that get little media attention outside their region. Actually some of them are not so little. While causalities from international terrorism are relatively few (usually 5,000-10,000 dead a year worldwide), the dead and wounded from all the other wars actually comprise about 95 percent of all the casualties. The Islamic terrorism looms larger because the terrorists threaten attacks everywhere, putting a much larger population in harm's way, and the more numerous potential victims are unhappy with that prospect. In the West, and most Moslem nations, Islamic terrorism remains more of a threat than reality.
Current wars are listed in alphabetical orders. Text underneath briefly describes current status. Click on country name for more details.
The NATO nations with troops in Afghanistan want to get their forces home. But that would create a heroin producing, Islamic terrorist and gangster sanctuary in Central Asia. You want to know how that works out, look at Chechnya in the late 1990s and Somalia during the last decade. No one has come up with any cheap, fast, or easy solution for that. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's core problem is that there is no Afghanistan, merely a collection of tribes more concerned about tribal, than national, prosperity and power. A few percent of the population, mostly living in the cities and working with the foreigners, believe in Afghanistan the country. But beyond the city limits, it's a very different Afghanistan that is currently motivated by growing prosperity. By Afghan standards, an unprecedented amount of cash has come into the country since September 11, 2001. Between the growing heroin sales, and foreign aid, plus lower losses from violence, it's been something of a Golden Age. It's often forgotten that the 1990s civil war was still active on September 11, 2001. The Taliban (or, more accurately, Pushtun nationalists) have been trying to make a comeback ever since. But most Afghans are more interested in grabbing a chunk of the new economic opportunities. Despite a decline in civilian deaths (and the fact that most of them are caused by the Taliban), the Afghan government plays up every civilian death caused by foreign troops as a bargaining chip in the effort to cripple NATO anti-corruption efforts. Meanwhile, there hasn't been a "Taliban Spring Offensive" for the last four years. The key Taliban financial resource, heroin in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, has been under heavy attack for over a year now. The opium crop has been hammered by drought and disease and drug gang income has suffered. The Taliban expected drug gang profits, al Qaeda assistance, and Pakistani reinforcements to help them out. But al Qaeda is a very junior, and unpopular, partner and the death of Osama bin Laden was a big blow to morale. Pakistani Taliban are mostly sending refugees, not reinforcements. In the last half of 2011 the Taliban were much reduced and for the year their attacks were down 20 percent. Losses for foreign troops were also down 20 percent from the peak year of 2010 (711 dead). Foreign troops lost 295 dead in combat during 2008 and that increased 76 percent to 519 in 2009. That's about half the casualty rate for foreign troops in Iraq during the peak year of 2007. Foreign troop deaths began to rapidly decline in the second half of 2011. The higher foreign troop casualties in 2010 were because there were more foreign troops in action during that year and those troops were much more aggressive. The Taliban roadside bomb weapon has lost its punch because of more MRAPs and specialized intel and engineer troops moved in from Iraq. Thus the proportion of foreign troop deaths from roadside bombs declined from a peak of 61 percent in 2009 to 51 percent last year. This has not helped civilians, who suffer far more deaths from Taliban action. In fact, independent minded tribes, warlords, corruption, and drug gangs remain a greater threat to peace, prosperity and true national unity, than the Taliban (on both sides of the Pakistan border). Moreover, the "Taliban" are not an organization but a Pushtun movement that is active on both sides of the border, among less than ten percent of the 40 million Pushtun in the region. Three years ago, the Pakistani government finally agreed to take on the pro-Taliban tribes and various Islamic terrorist organizations. That has put pressure on Taliban on both sides of the border. There are fewer safe havens for the Taliban. Violence inside Afghanistan is growing, largely because of the drug gangs, and their support for tribes (especially pro-Taliban ones) that oppose the corrupt national government. The foreign nations, fighting their war on terror in Afghanistan, have finally realized that there has never been an Afghan national government that was not corrupt, and changing that is going to be more difficult than fighting the Taliban. NATO is now fully aware of the trans-national nature of the Pushtun tribes and the Taliban movement. The "war in Afghanistan" is more of a "Pushtun Tribal Rebellion" and is being handled as such.
The Arab Spring made only a slight impact on Algeria. Many locals are still traumatized by the 1990s war against Islamic terrorists, which is still not completely over. But the anger is growing because of decades of inept dictatorship. There are few Islamic radicals left in Algeria, with most of them dead, or run off to Europe or south into the desert and across the southern borders into Black Africa. The danger has moved south, to the border area and the scene of al Qaeda smuggling gangs moving South American cocaine north. Despite the large amount of uninhabited mountains and forests along the eastern coast, the police and army have been operating there for so long that it's difficult to stay hidden. Too many civilians are hostile to Islamic radicalism and will phone in a tip. Algeria has become a very dangerous place for Islamic terrorists. There has been an increase in terror attacks, as Islamic radicals try to capitalize on the Arab Spring unrest in neighboring Tunisia and Libya. But in both those countries, the popular uprising was against the local dictators and for democracy, not Islamic radicalism. Islamic political parties were popular but not Islamic radicals. The uprisings in Tunisia and Libya weakened the local security forces and made it easier for Islamic radicals to move around and recruit. Algeria has increased its border security. The major problem that remains is an Algerian government that is basically a corrupt military dictatorship that uses the national oil wealth to buy enough votes to get elected again and again. So more Algerians are fleeing, or vacillating between despair and a desire to fight. The corrupt government insures that there are always more desperate young men willing to give Islamic terrorism a try, but not enough to overthrow the government, or even keep Arab Spring demonstrations going. Many Algerians expect another, and larger, Arab Spring in Algeria
Corruption, crime, and the pursuit of past glories continue to be the main cause of violence here. An Islamic government in Turkey is looking east, like the late Ottoman Turk Empire. But to the east there is only trouble, while Turkey's growing economy looks west, where the major trading partners are. Greece's economic meltdown meant big cuts in the military budget, ending the decades-long arms race with Turkey. Meanwhile, West Europeans got their way and Kosovo became independent. Serbia disagrees with that and Big Brother Russia offers all manner of support, and threats. But no one is willing to resume the war, yet. No one is willing to renounce war as an option either. Bosnia continues to attract Islamic terrorists, despite the local government becoming increasingly hostile to these foreign troublemakers and alien Islamic conservatism. Moldova continues to muddle and Bulgaria and Romania continue to fight corruption, and lose. The EU is pulling its peacekeepers out of the Balkans, leaving the gangsters, Islamic radicals, and corrupt officials more freedom of action.
The Arab Spring tried to spread to this area, but didn't. Local dictators continue to brew rebellion by suppressing democrats, Islamic radicals, and anyone else who objects to strongman rule. Not much violence most of the time, just a lot of potential. The dictators in the "Stans" (the former provinces of the Soviet Union that became five independent nations; Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan) have been rebuilding the Soviet era secret police. The new dictators noted that the Soviets never had any problems with Islamic terrorism, or any other kind of terrorism, and are going old school on this new problem. Nevertheless, popular uprisings have succeeded here. A recent one in Kyrgyzstan just replaced an existing despot with a new one who only seemed like a reformer for a while.
Chad and Sudan halted their support for each other's rebels last year and formally made peace. Now, the biggest problem along the border is the bandits, who prey on the refugees and the foreign aid workers. The peacekeepers have left and the foreign aid groups threatened to follow if Chad security forces were unable, or unwilling, to deal with the banditry in and around the refugee camps. Chadian soldiers and police did keep the bandits in check and the aid groups (a major source of economic activity in eastern Chad) remained. The unrest along the Sudan border is caused by refugees from tribal battles in Sudan, who bring their feuds with them. Prospects for peace are not good in Sudan, so the Sudanese refugees are not going home soon. Chad is now quieter but not peaceful. Same with its neighbor, the CAR (Central African Republic), which suffers from the same plague of multiculturalism induced rebellions.
While China had great success in using the Internet for espionage, and were able to establish a lot of control over Internet use within China, the Internet and the growing use of smart phones has eroded the government monopoly on information. Bad news gets out and causes massive unrest. There are thousands of large protest riots each year and some towns are openly rebelling. It's all about corruption, and an unelected government run by communists who no longer believe in communism. The corruption taints everything. For example, military reforms are crippled by corruption. At the same time China has become a major secret supplier of cheap weapons to bad guys everywhere. World class weapons are planned for the future, some 10-20 years from now, but every year China offers more advanced weapons to the world market. But Chinese military technology is suspect, as much of it is based on Russian stuff and during the Cold War Russian weapons always seemed to be what the losers used. A lot of this new tech is aimed at India. The rivalry between China and India becomes more obvious, and dangerous. China is mainly concerned about its trade routes through the Indian Ocean. The confrontation with Taiwan continues to subside, replaced by kind words and gracious lies, along with increases in trade and commerce. Taiwan buys more arms and China speeds up modernization of its armed forces, with an emphasis on protecting its sea trade routes and overseas economic interests. Thus the world is seeing more Chinese in peacekeeping missions. The Chinese government has so far resisted demands (from its military) for overseas bases. The generals and admirals will eventually win this argument and China will become a superpower.
After nearly half a century of violence, leftist rebels are rapidly losing support, recruits, and territory. The drug gangs and leftist rebels have merged in many parts of the country and the war is increasingly about money, not ideology. The leftist rebels are definitely fading, but all that drug money will keep them in the game for quite a while. Alarmed at this, leftist demagogues in neighboring countries (Venezuela and Ecuador) are rethinking their support for Colombian rebels and their cocaine producing allies. Venezuela is also spending several billion dollars a year on new weapons (mostly Russian). This is mainly to disarm internal critics, upset at how a radical populist president Hugo Chavez has trashed the Venezuelan economy and democracy. Popular discontent in Venezuela threatens to turn that country into another Colombia, but Chavez sees Venezuela becoming a socialist dictatorship supported by oil revenue. His neighbors consider Chavez an increasingly dangerous demagogue. Chavez appears willing to allow his actions to develop into civil war.
Recent presidential elections confirmed that Congo has returned to being a one party dictatorship based on corruption and exploiting ethnic divisions. Multiple tribal and political militias, plus an increasing number of bandits, continue to roam the eastern border area, perpetuating the bloodiest (and least reported) war of the last decade (several million dead, depending on who is counting). Peacekeeper and army action have reduced the size of these violent groups, but not eliminated them. However, there are fewer places where the bad guys can roam freely. Attempts to absorb rebels into the army have not worked well. The last major problem is a Tutsi militia which will not disarm until the government destroys Hutu militias, organized by Hutu mass murderers who fled neighboring Rwanda in the 1990s. The Congolese government finds it cannot (and to a certain extent, will not) cope with this. The reason is money, the millions of dollars available each year to whoever has gunmen controlling the mines that extract valuable ores and allow the stuff out of the country. UN peacekeepers are criticized for not fighting more, but that’s not their job. The Congolese army is not up to it yet either, so there it simmers, with the rebels slowly losing strength, month by month. Meanwhile, the inept and corrupt government creates more anger than contentment, setting the stage for another civil war. But the population is not eager for more violence, not after two decades of mayhem.
The border dispute with Eritrea festers and rebellion by ethnic Somalis in Ogaden province persists. There's oil in Ogaden and that has caused the Ethiopians to be brutal to the rebels. Ethiopian troops are still active along the Somali border, as a warning to any Somali groups that might be tempted to move into Ogaden. With Somali Islamic radical group al Shabaab on the defensive, Ethiopian troops are operating deeper into Somalia to assist anti-al Shabaab militias in crushing local Islamic radical groups. Ethiopia is accustomed to dealing with the Somalis, something the rest of the world should study more closely. Internally, rebellious Moslem groups are a constant threat, especially with more active support from Eritrea.
The May 2nd U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden caused an unexpected popular backlash against the Pakistani military. Not just for sheltering bin Laden (which the generals denied), but for being unable to spot the "invading Americans", or stop local Islamic radicals from carrying out "revenge attacks" that left over a hundred dead. This led to a major confrontation between the Pakistani military and the civilian government. The generals then created a confrontation with the United States as a way to get their own civilian leaders to back off on plans to trim the independence the Pakistani military has long enjoyed. This is also connected to growing hostility with India. After the Mumbai terrorist attacks in late 2008, India pressured Pakistan to quit playing media games and get serious about anti-Indian Islamic terrorists based in Pakistan. This caused a struggle within the Pakistani government over how to deal with Islamic radicalism. Meanwhile, India has to deal with religious (Islamic) separatists in Kashmir, plus tribal rebels in the northeast, and Maoist (communist) ones in between. In 2010, India launched a large offensive against the Maoists, a war they expect to take several years to finish and, not surprisingly, is proceeding slowly. Pakistan has Islamic radicals in the north and rebellious Pushtun and Baluchi tribes along the Afghan border. The Taliban had become stronger in Pakistan, where it originated, than in Afghanistan. The elected (2008) Pakistani government tried to make peace with the Taliban and when that failed, invaded the Taliban heartland. The previous military government had always avoided open war with the Islamic radicals. But this time the Taliban were beat up pretty bad and the number of terrorist attacks increased in response. The military refused to clear the Islamic radicals out of their two last refuges in North Waziristan and Baluchistan. Meanwhile the economy is a mess and the favorite national pastime is blaming foreigners for all these problems. By way of comparison, Moslem Bangladesh, which broke away from being part of Pakistan in the early 1970s, has no such Islamic radical problem (leftist rebels are the major troublemakers). India and Pakistan both have nukes, making escalation a potential catastrophe. As a result, recent peace talks have lowered the possibility of war, but both sides continue an arms race. Pakistan has always been a mess and does not appear to be getting better. But at least it's becoming less hospitable to Islamic radicals. Even those Islamic terrorists, who concentrate on attacking India, are being pressured to back off by the civilian government. But as long as the military is independent and supporting Islamic terrorists, the terrorists going after India will still have bases and support in Pakistan. There are still many Pakistanis, including government officials, who back Islamic radicalism, but continued attacks on Pakistani civilians have made it more popular to criticize Islamic radicals for the many problems they cause. Pakistan still has a way to go in dealing with that demon. The U.S. has threatened to invade if Pakistan based Islamic terrorists launch a successful terror attack in the United States. Evidence is piling up that Pakistani based groups have supported, and still support, efforts to carry out attacks in the U.S. America has told Pakistan that this would have consequences, but the Pakistanis fear a larger civil war of their own if they go after the radicals, mainly because about a third of Pakistanis still back Islamic radicalism. The moderates are a majority, but the minority is more willing to die for their beliefs. That, however, is beginning to change, but slowly.
Mostly at peace, but separatism, pirates, Islamic terrorists, and government corruption create a volatile situation that could get hot real fast. Islamic terrorists have been greatly diminished, as Islamic moderates flex their traditional popularity. Aceh still has a few diehard separatist rebels. There is growing separatist unrest in Papua. Newly independent East Timor has taken the leap and replaced peacekeepers with local police. But East Timor is still stuck in a cycle of perpetual poverty.
The radical, Israel hating, and anti-corruption president Ahmadinejad has openly taken on the senior clerics who hold the ultimate power. Ahmadinejad is popular because of his anti-corruption efforts but the major crooks are clerics or their kin. The clerics are fighting back and Ahmadinejad is losing. Meanwhile, popular unrest has been greatly reduced by intense government suppression. The basic problem, for all the things that bother Iranians, is that an Islamic conservative minority has veto power over the larger number of reformers. Most Iranians just want a better life. The supply of peaceful solutions is drying up. After that comes another revolution. There are some more complications. Half the population consists of ethnic minorities (mainly Turks and Arabs) and some of these groups (Arabs, Kurds, and Baluchis) are getting more restive and violent (for different reasons). Meanwhile, the Islamic conservatives are determined to support terrorism overseas and build nuclear weapons at home, rather than improving the economy and living standards. Unrest and terrorist violence are becoming more common and government seeks foreign adventures to distract an unhappy population. That is not working and the inept management of the economy is creating more unemployed young men desperate for a solution. Increased sanctions over Iran's nuclear weapons program have hurt, and now Iran threatens to blockade oil tanker traffic out of the Persian Gulf if more sanctions are imposed. This would mean war and indicates how desperate the Iranians are. The religious dictatorship is backed by religious fanatics that are willing to kill to stay in power, and guys like this are very difficult to remove. These are also the kind of men who would follow orders and take on the world (over access to the Persian Gulf). Meanwhile, the nuclear weapon program moves forward and is very popular with nearly all Iranians (who feel they are a great and powerful people who need nukes to prove it once more).
All American troops are gone. Islamic terrorists are now a local police problem. U.S. deaths declined from 314 in 2008 to 150 in 2009, 60 in 2010, and 54 in 2011 for a total of 4,484. All this was way down from the 2007 peak of 904 (when there were over 150,000 U.S. troops around). Violence in general continues to be down over 90 percent from the bad old days of four years ago. More areas of the country are now at peace (as some have been since 2003). The Sunni Arab minority peace deals with the majority Kurds and Shia Arabs are beginning to unravel. That's because some Sunni Arab Islamic radicals are still active, supported by Sunni Arab nationalists in the Persian Gulf. Some Sunni Arabs, who had fled the country, are returning, but nearly half the Sunni Arabs are still gone (either outside the country or hiding inside Iraq). The Shia militias have been defeated as well, mainly by Iraqi police and troops. Corruption and inept government are now the major problems, with potential Iranian meddling (or even invasion) a permanent threat. There are still a lot of tensions between the Kurds in the north (over northern oil fields) and the Arab majority. That could trigger a civil war, because the Kurds are better prepared for war and the oil money is very important to preserving their autonomy. Plus, the Kurds don't trust the Arabs.
A peace deal between Fatah and Hamas has not produced any peace talks with Israel. That's because Palestinian leaders continue to preach endless war against Israel and destruction of the Jewish state. Any peace deal is seen as a stepping stone towards that ultimate goal. Some Palestinians keep trying to make any kind of peace, in order to reverse the economic disaster they brought on themselves as a result of their decade old terror campaign against Israel. Polls show that Palestinians are tired of terrorism, even though they still support it (in order to destroy Israel, which remains an article of faith in the Palestinian community). The Palestinian economy in Gaza has collapsed, as a major component, foreign charity, was reduced because the people elected the Hamas (Islamic terrorists) party to power. Hamas is trying to convince foreigners that it has changed (it hasn't) in order to get more cash to keep their religious dictatorship going. Civil war between radical Hamas and corrupt Palestinian old guard (Fatah) has split Palestinians. Long time Arab allies are giving up on the Palestinians, who seem to have abandoned any meaningful attempt to unite and make peace with Israel. Iran backed Islamic radicals (Hezbollah) and Hamas are allies, and most Lebanese back the destruction of Israel. Hezbollah violence threatens to drag Lebanon into another civil war, or another war with Israel. The Arab Spring in Syria has removed Syria as a threat to Israel for the moment. Hamas and Iranian disagreements over support for the Syrian dictatorship have led to a cut in Iranian support for Hamas. Meanwhile, the Israeli economy booms, partly because of a very effective counter-terrorism campaign. This annoys Arabs most of all.
The recent death of northern ruler Kim Jong Il has changed nothing, yet. Growing unrest, corruption, and privation continue to weaken the iron control that has long kept the north peaceful and the Kim family in control. North Korea continues to destroy its economy, in order to maintain armed forces capable of invading South Korea and keeping its own population in bondage. Continued famine in the north has prompted China to send more and more troops to the border to keep hungry North Koreans out. North Korean military power declines, as lack of money for maintenance or training causes growing rot. The government is split into reform and conservative factions, making change difficult to achieve. The recent death of Kim Jong Il appears to have made Chinese style economic reforms more acceptable. Torpedoing of a South Korean warship and firing artillery at a South Korea island in 2010 are seen as a signs of factions maneuvering for control, as once Kim died, several key people associated with those attacks disappeared from power. South Koreans are growing tired of the madness that still reigns in the north, and have, for the first time in over half a century, promised retaliation if the north fires again. This could lead to war, especially since North Korea sees this threat as, well, a threat. Meanwhile, it's become clear that political collapse in the north is now a matter of when, not if. Growing popular unrest in the north is more evident with each passing month. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il selected his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, to succeed him. Some factions are not enthusiastic about this, but China endorsed the heir and that seems to have been decisive. China has made it clear that North Korea is a Chinese responsibility and if the North Korean government collapses, China, not South Korea, will pick up the pieces. South Korea does not agree with that and this could be a big problem in the future.
Turkish forces continue to battle Kurdish separatists and push their bases further into Iraq. Iraqi Kurds have agreed to crack down on the PKK separatists the Turks have been fighting for over a decade. But the crackdown never comes. The PKK has a lot of quiet support among Kurds. As a result, Kurds continue their 5,000 year long struggle to form their own country. Iran is cracking down on its Kurds, in cooperation with Turkey. Iran and Turkey carried out joint operations against their Kurdish separatists and crossed into northern Iraq to destroy bases. Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurds believe they will get control of some Iraqi oil fields, providing cash for all manner of opportunities. But that is opposed by Iraqi Arabs and other minorities, not to mention Turkey. Despite all this, Turkish Kurds are gaining more support in Turkey for autonomy and freedom to be Kurds (and not "mountain Turks").
Violence with drug cartels refuses to be put down. Nearly all the cartel violence (which accounts for three percent of all crime) occurs in 3.2 percent of the 2,500 municipalities the country is divided into. But the often spectacular Cartel War violence gets the headlines, making it appear that the entire country is aflame. Because so much of the violence is on the U.S. border, it seems, to Americans, that Mexico is a war zone. The passing of one-party rule, the growth of drug gangs, and increasing corruption in the security forces, has triggered unprecedented levels of violence and unrest in the areas involved. The government has gone to war with the drug gangs and the outcome is still in doubt.
The new government is actually trying to not be a tool of the former military junta. Reforms are slowly being made. Elections in November, 2010 replaced the military dictatorship with many of the same people, out of uniform and trying to hide the fact that they rigged the vote. The rural tribes in the north revolted (again). Decades of low level fighting against ethnic separatists in the north has resulted, during the last decade, in major victories for the government. There is not a lot of fighting, but there were major movements by Burmese troops into separatist areas that were long outside the control of the government. Over 100,000 ethnic Chinese tribal separatists fled across the border into China (annoying the Chinese government). Temporary peace deals were made. The tribesmen returned, and are producing major quantities of methamphetamine and growing amounts of heroin, to support continued fighting. Tribal separatists continue to flee into Thailand. The half century old military government remains entrenched in power, even as it makes moves to change its status as an international pariah.
A group of Taliban wannabes (Boko Haram) in the north are increasingly violent. By itself the group is too small to have much impact on a national scale. But the attacks against Christians in the north have triggered revenge attacks against Moslems in the south. Meanwhile, too many tribes, not enough oil money, and too much corruption create growing unrest. The government continues to placate the ethnic oil gangs and rebels in the oil producing region (the Niger River Delta) with a 2009 amnesty deal. That worked because, while the gangs were getting organized, and a lot more violent, the government was moving more police and military forces into the region. Most gang members accepted the amnesty, rather than take on the armed forces. The amnesty deal may not hold but it has reduced attacks on oil facilities. Meanwhile, the northern Moslems want more control over the federal government (and the oil money). The situation is still capable of sliding into regional civil wars over money and political power. Corruption and ethnic/tribal/religious rivalries threaten to trigger, at worse, another civil war and, at least, more street violence and public anger.
POTENTIAL HOT SPOTS
Various places where the local situation is warming up and might turn into a war. Arab Spring violence in Syria and Bahrain, plus unrest in Zimbabwe are hot right now. Syria got a lot worse but the other three didn't.
The Islamic minority in the south wants its own country and the expulsion of non-Moslems. The government has convinced the separatists to settle for less. Communist rebels fight for social justice and a dictatorship, but the government believes the leftists are on the way out. The communists are taking a beating and are now willing to negotiate. The Moslems have, as always, lots of clan feuds and internal violence, which will survive any peace deal with the government. Meanwhile, most Filipinos are more concerned with corruption and the resulting economic stagnation.
Rebuilding and reforming the decrepit Soviet era armed forces continues. This must succeed because the Cold War era weapons are wearing out fast. It's either new stuff or nothing that works anymore. The war against gangsters and Islamic radicals in Chechnya has been won, but the Islamic radicals continue to operate in other parts of the Caucasus, preventing the government from proclaiming peace. Corruption keeps rebellion alive in the Caucasus. Russia has returned to police state ways and the traditional threatening attitude towards neighbors. Rather than being run by corrupt communist bureaucrats, the country is now dominated by corrupt businessmen, gangsters, and self-serving government officials. The semi-free economy is more productive than the centrally controlled communist one, but that just provides more money to steal. A rebellion against the new dictatorship is growing, showing enough democratic impulses remaining to shape government.
RWANDA & BURUNDI
Wars between better organized and more aggressive Tutsis and more numerous Hutu tribes have died down in both countries. It's been going on for centuries but the latest installment has finally mostly ended, with the last Hutu group in Burundi giving up, then changing its mind, but not making nearly as much trouble as in the past. Rwanda is blamed for continuing violence in eastern Congo as they attempt to destroy Hutu terrorists based there. As long as there are armed Hutus fighting, the 1990s wars will never be over.
Al Shabaab, an Islamic radical group, is on the defensive. Kenyan troops have invaded from the south and Ethiopian troops from the west. Within al Shabaab there has been fighting over the question of how "international" (pro-al Qaeda) the group should be. The imposition of oppressive Taliban-like lifestyle rules has created growing local armed opposition. Between that and the peacekeepers and Western trained troops of the transitional government, the Islamic radicals are in retreat. Somalia is still a failed state that defies every attempt at nation building. But the situation is worse than it appears. Somalia was never a country but rather a collection of clans and tribes that fight each other constantly over economic issues (land and water). The new "transitional" government was nearly wiped out by an "Islamic Courts" movement (which attempted to put the entire country under the rule of Islamic clergy and Islamic law). When Islamic Courts threatened to expand into Ethiopia, Ethiopia invaded in 2006 and smashed the Islamic Courts. The Islamic radicals turned to terrorism, which Eritrea continues to provide support for. The country remains an economic and political mess, a black hole on the map. Not much hope in sight, until the pirates (which have been around for a decade) became a major problem. Now the major trading nations have to decide whether to occupy and administer (stamp out piracy) Somalia, or pay several billion dollars a year in ransom, insurance, and security costs. No real enthusiasm for an occupation, despite the fact that the Somalis are beginning to export their violence. Most promising development has been feuds among Islamic radical groups and warlords willing to be less corrupt in return for more foreign aid (especially training and equipping Somali troops).
Civil war appears to have started, after the south recently became an independent "South Sudan". The government agreed to the vote and the split, but does not really back the idea and has sent troops and pro-government militias to seize border areas. Moslems in the north tried for decades to suppress separatist tendencies among Christians in the south, and Moslem rebels in the east (on the coast), and west (non-Arab Darfur). All this is complicated by the development of oil fields in the south and Moslem government attempts to drive Christians from the oil region. The central government tried to halt, or rig, the independence vote in the south. Meanwhile, battles over land in the west pit Arab herders against black Sudanese farmers. Both sides are Moslem but the government is backing the Arabs. The government uses Arab nationalism and economic ties with Russia and China to defy the world and get away with driving non-Arab tribes from Darfur. Sudan is also an ally of Iran and recipient of weapons, and advice, on how to best terrorize a population into submission. The government believes time is on its side and that the West will never try anything bold and effective to halt the violence. So far, the government has been proven right.
One of the many Arab Spring uprisings, but one that did not win quickly (as in Tunisia and Egypt), evolve into civil war (as in Libya and Yemen) or get suppressed (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain). The Syrian protests just continued, despite growing government violence. Syria is, like Iraq, a Baath Party dictatorship. But there are two differences. Unlike Iraq, where a Sunni minority dominated a Shia majority, it's just the opposite in Syria. More importantly, Syria has little oil wealth and the government depends on subsidies from Shia Iran to survive. Despite growing international criticism (even from the Arab League) the government refuses to stop using gunfire and other police state tactics to suppress the pro-democracy demonstrations. The death rate grows each week, along with desertions from the army and the number of attacks on the security forces. The outcome is still in doubt.
The border conflict with much weaker Cambodia has calmed down. This one is all about ancient (and conflicting) claims and nationalism. Negotiations kept getting interrupted by random gunfire, but now there are serious negotiations to demarcate the ancient border. Meanwhile, Malay Moslems in the south (three percent of the population and different) continue to cause problems. Most Thais are ethnic Thais and Buddhist. In the south, however, Islamic radicalism has arrived, along with an armed effort to create a separate Islamic state in the three southern provinces. Islamic terrorists grew more powerful month by month for several years and refused to negotiate. Security forces persisted and are making progress in identifying and rounding up the terrorists. But there is no quick victory in sight. Up north, a civil war over military control of the government has been avoided, for the moment.
Religion and tribalism created unrest (the LRA, or Lord's Resistance Army) in the north that just will not go away. LRA was driven out of Uganda but is now marauding its way through neighboring states. A final peace deal with LRA rebels proved impossible to negotiate because no amnesty was possible. Meanwhile, Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia have brought Somali Islamic terrorists to Uganda. This turned out to be more threat than reality and the biggest problems in Uganda remain corruption and tribal feuds.
WAR ON TERROR
Osama bin Laden was killed by American commandos last May and there were some "revenge" attacks (mostly in Pakistan, where bin Laden was hiding in plain sight). But it's not the terrorist backlash that's important. International terrorism has created an international backlash and a war unlike any other. These days, most terrorist victories are in the media. On the ground, the terrorists are losing everywhere. Their last refuges are chaotic, or cynical, places like Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Gaza, the Sahel, a few of the Philippine islands, and especially tribal regions of Pakistan (where al Qaeda is staging a well-publicized last stand). They were chased out of Iraq (and replaced by terrorists who are diehard Saddam supporters), Indonesia and the Philippines. Iran continues to support terrorism in the face of much local disapproval. Lebanon is in chaos because of Iranian subsidized terrorists. Gaza went the same way. Islamic radicals are a traditional reaction to tyranny in their region and the inability of local despots to rule effectively. Economic and diplomatic ties with the West are interpreted as support for "un-Islamic" thought and behavior, leading to attacks on Western targets. After 2001, this resulted in a devastating counterattack. The result of this in the Moslem world has been dramatic, finally forcing leaders and people to confront their self-inflicted problems. Al Qaeda is as self-destructive as its many predecessors. Al Qaeda suicide bomb attacks killed civilians, turning Moslems against al Qaeda in a big way. But the terrorists justify such dumb attacks because their doctrine holds that Moslems, who don’t agree with them, are not really Moslems. You can imagine how well that goes over with the survivors and the many potential victims. You can, but al Qaeda can’t, and that is what guarantees their demise. That won't be well covered by the media, because the Islamic terror groups have learned how to play the media. Many "Islamic terrorists" help out, while safely on the sidelines, with media manipulation and producing propaganda. The Internet has made these efforts possible and quite popular. Since all this is religion based, and Islam is a faith that calls for world conquest and violent intolerance of other faiths, you have a large pool of ambitious and murderous new recruits. Many Moslems insist they do not support the "world conquest" crowd, but few are willing to confront the maniacs head-on and denounce the killing on religious grounds. Islam has some internal problems that Moslems will have to deal with before all this unpleasantness goes away. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the various Arab Spring movements were dominated by pro-democracy groups. Islamic radicals were a minority, and one that was often feared and not trusted. But the Islamic conservatives were better organized and have been winning the elections.
The Arab Spring hit Yemen hard and upset the "arrangement" that left one group of tribal, criminal and business leaders in charge for over three decades. This uprising was finally resolved towards the end of the year. A successor coalition emerged and persuaded (with the promise of amnesty) the old dictator Saleh to step down. Meanwhile, there are still many Yemenis who have a grudge against the government. Most of this can be traced back to the civil war that ended, sort of, in 1994. That war was caused by the fact that, when the British left Yemen in 1967, their former colony in Aden became one of two countries called Yemen. The two Yemens finally united in 1990, but another civil war in 1994 was needed to seal the deal. That fix didn't really take and the north and south have always been pulling apart. This comes back to the fact that Yemen has always been a region, not a country. Like most of the rest of the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa region, the normal form of government, until the last century or so, were wealthier coastal city states, nervously coexisting with interior tribes that got by on herding or farming (or a little of both). This whole "nation" idea is still looked on with some suspicion by many in the region. This is why the most common forms of government are the more familiar ones of antiquity (kingdom, emirate, or the modern variation in the form of a hereditary dictatorship). The most active Yemeni rebels have been the Shia Islamic militants in the north. They want to restore local Shia rule in the traditional tribal territories, led by the local imam (religious leader). This arrangement, after surviving more than a thousand years, was ended by the central government in 1962. Yemen is the new headquarters of "Al Qaeda in Arabia" (Saudi Arabia no longer safe for the terrorists). Islamic terrorists have been more active since the government became more active in arresting key members of al Qaeda in 2010. Other groups (mainly tribal leaders) in the south want more say in the government, and a larger share of the oil revenue and foreign aid. All these problems remain as a new ruling coalition forms after new elections this year.