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    Not So Happy New Year: The Conflicts That Could Lead to WWIII in 2017

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    President-elect Trump will have a lot on his plate in dealing with foreign policy hotspots when he steps into the Oval Office. Last week, the Council on Foreign Relations listed a possible NATO-Russia war, a Korean peninsula standoff and terrorism as the main 'high impact' threats to the US. But there are other dangers. Sputnik takes a closer look.

    Last week, the CFR, an influential US think tank which has many senior US politicians, academics and senior media figures as members, released its annual survey of the "top international concerns" for US national security for 2017. 

    According to the think tank, the most serious dangers include a possible "serious military confrontation" between Russia and NATO, and an escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula amid the ongoing military buildup there. Cyberattacks by foreign powers and large-scale terrorist attacks in the US are also serious concerns. 

    The think tank also cited increased instability in Afghanistan, Turkish-Kurdish violence and an escalation of the war in Syria as important problems, although these conflicts' impact on the US has been categorized as only 'moderate'. Other threats include a possible military confrontation between China and US allies in the East and South China Seas, although the CFR optimistically rated its likelihood as 'low'.

    The CFR's assessment has prompted National Interest columnist Robert Farley to offer his own take on the major threats to global security in 2017. In a piece for the magazine's site, the columnist suggested that a series of important factors have combined to create a situation where the great powers of the US, Russia and China face "more uncertainty [today] than at any time in recent memory." This uncertainty will force leaders to "navigate" to prevent "several extremely dangerous flashpoints that could ignite, then escalate, conflict" between them, he stressed.

    Pyongyang-Washington Standoff

    Essentially agreeing with the first danger listed in the CFR's assessment, Farley writes that tension in the Korean Peninsula may very well be among the most dangerous challenges for the incoming Trump administration. Citing Pyongyang's ongoing efforts to build up its nuclear and missile capacities, the analyst suggested that a hawkish approach in Washington including musings about a preventative strike could accidentally lead to all-out war, particularly in case of a North Korean miscalculation to strike first.

    "As was the case in 1950, war on the peninsula could easily draw in China, Russia, or Japan," the observer noted. This last point has been driven home recently by the Obama administration's decision to deploy anti-ballistic systems in South Korea, a measure China sees as a threat to its security, including its nuclear deterrent capabilities. If the Trump administration continues Obama's line in Korea, tensions in the region aren't likely to abate anytime soon, and could escalate.

    Protesters stage a rally to denounce deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in front of the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, July 13, 2016
    © AP Photo/ Ahn Young-joon
    Protesters stage a rally to denounce deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in front of the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, July 13, 2016

    On the campaign trail prior to his election, Trump warned that the US may give up its security guarantees to countries including South Korea and Japan if they do not compensate the US for its assistance and increase own defense spending. At the same time, however, Trump also made headlines when he said he wouldn't rule out negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un out of hand. It remains an uncertainty whether he will fulfill his numerous and perhaps contradictory campaign promises on the issue after stepping into office.

    Syrian Escalation?

    Syria may well be the second major possible flashpoint, according to Farley. Although the CFR downgraded the conflict's importance to US interests from 'high' to 'moderate', and Farley admitted that the Trump administration seems unlikely to seek confrontation with Damascus and Moscow, the dangers of an accidental collision and subsequent escalation remains.

    The analyst stressed that "while the most dangerous moments…have passed, US and Russian forces continue to operate in close proximity of one another." Therefore, if either side conducts operations that kill or maim the other's forces, as already happened in September, when a US airstrike killed over 60 Syrian troops near Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, this "could produce retaliatory pressures," Farley noted.

    "Moreover, the presence of spoilers (terrorist groups and militias on either side, as well as a variety of interested states) serves to increase complexity, and the chances for a miscalculation or misunderstanding," he added.

    Buses are seen parked in Aleppo's government controlled area of Ramouseh, as they wait to evacuate civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo, Syria December 15, 2016
    © REUTERS/ Omar Sanadiki
    Buses are seen parked in Aleppo's government controlled area of Ramouseh, as they wait to evacuate civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo, Syria December 15, 2016

    However, other observers disagree with this assessment. Last week, commenting on the Syrian army's liberation of Aleppo, senior Syrian lawmaker Khaled al-Abbud told Sputnik Arabic that with the militants in Aleppo defeated, the US and Europe have essentially lost the card of 'moderate opposition' fighting against Assad.

    Instead, al-Abbud said, the US and Europe do not deny that the rest of Syria's major anti-government strongholds, be it in Raqqa or Palmyra, are occupied by jihadists. "In other words, in the political arena, the only place where differences existed was with respect to Aleppo. Aleppo had been the subject of political wagers." Now, with the city – the last major population center in enemy hands, liberated, there is no effective way for Western leaders to rebrand the remaining jihadists as 'moderates', even if they wanted to do so.

    Furthermore, during the election campaign, Trump said repeatedly (to the ire of both his Republican and Democratic opponents) that it would be "wonderful" if Russia and the US could work together in fighting the Daesh (ISIL) and Nusra terrorists in the Middle East. Accordingly, unless he is constrained or contradicted by the State Department or his National Security Advisor –which seems unlikely given his pick of Rex Tillerson and Michael Flynn for the top spots, some form of cooperation, or at least an absence of direct conflict, seems likely.

    Cyberspace War

    Next, according to Farley, is the threat of the US-Russian-Chinese skirmishes in cyberspace turning into something more. Pointing to the ongoing scandal over Russia's alleged hacking of the US election (an accusation which Moscow and President-elect Trump have vocally rejected, and which even US intelligence agencies have doubts over), the observer suggested that the US establishment may feel pressure to "respond to what it views as Russian and Chinese provocations." This, in turn, "may end up pushing the US government into costly responses that could create an unfortunate escalatory spiral."

    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a USA Thank You Tour event in Orlando, Florida, U.S., December 16, 2016.
    © REUTERS/ Lucas Jackson
    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a USA Thank You Tour event in Orlando, Florida, U.S., December 16, 2016.

    While this conflict may not actually threaten a direct military confrontation between the major powers, it may contribute to rising overall tensions elsewhere. However, Donald Trump and his staff have dismissed the CIA assessment on the hack as a "ridiculous" conspiracy theory. Accordingly, here too an objective investigation supervised by the President-elect after stepping into office should help defuse tensions.

    India-Pakistan Escalation

    According to Farley, the Indian-Pakistani border dispute in Kashmir is another Eurasian sore spot that could lead to escalation. Trump's vacillating promises to both sides may lead to a misunderstanding by either to engage in aggressive military operations along the line of control. Accordingly, "if either side decides to escalate, then the US and China could easily find themselves drawn into a conflict."

    Baltic Bind

    Finally, essentially echoing the CFR's assessment that a Russia-NATO conflict could begin stemming from "assertive Russian behavior in Eastern Europe," Farley suggested that in the short run, the expected de-escalation between Moscow and Washington under a President Trump could lead to a deadly miscalculation.

    Soldiers of the separate tank battalion of the Baltic Fleet motorized infantry brigade, during loading of tanks on flatcars, for dislocation to the district selected for military exercises, in the city of Gusev, Kaliningrad Region.
    © Sputnik/ Igor Zarembo
    Soldiers of the separate tank battalion of the Baltic Fleet motorized infantry brigade, during loading of tanks on flatcars, for dislocation to the district selected for military exercises, in the city of Gusev, Kaliningrad Region.

    The analyst's suggestion that Russia might take unspecified "inflammatory measures" in the region "under the assumption that the Americans will back down" is perhaps the weakest point he, and the CFR, make. Amid the downturn in relations between Russia and NATO over the past two-and-a-half years over the crisis in Ukraine, Pentagon planners and NATO officials have never made clear why Russia would seek to invade the Baltics, which would offer little material gain and only risk global nuclear holocaust.

    US-China Hick-ups

    Finally, Farley's analysis doesn't mention it, but the possibility of a major military conflict between the United States and China seems like a distinct and growing threat – perhaps even more so than it has been under the Obama administration, when the US sent warships to the South China Sea to directly challenge China's claims in the area.

    Over the past week, Trump accused China of "stealing" a US Navy research drone, angered Beijing by abandoning Washington's 40 plus year One-China policy regarding Taiwan, and even ticked them off over rumors that he may meet with the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese consider a dangerous separatist. That's not to mention US-China trade – an issue Trump has used all throughout his campaign to suggest that the US may start a war of tariffs with the country. Perhaps understandably, Trump's 'hard bargain' approach has met with intense criticism from Beijing. The question is: will Trump's business-like approach to diplomacy result in a crisis in US-Chinese relations?

    Two warships of the South China Sea Fleet of the Chinese Navy fire missiles during a competitive training.
    © AP Photo/ Zha Chunming
    Two warships of the South China Sea Fleet of the Chinese Navy fire missiles during a competitive training.

    Ultimately, Farley suggested, "uncertainty" is the central factor driving the threat of regional conflicts being escalated into global ones. "No one has a good handle on what the Trump administration will do…on major foreign policy questions. This leaves many countries facing difficult calculations of risk and opportunity."

    In the interim, in the interest of avoiding conflicts, world powers and their allies might do better to avoid moves that could lead to misinterpretation or disagreement by the other side. Unfortunately, with the US engaged in a bombing campaign against half-a-dozen countries, and the Obama State Department continuing to support conflicts in places including Syria and Ukraine, it remains unclear what kind of shape the world will be in by the time Trump finally steps into office on January 20th.

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    Tags:
    dangers, global conflict, cyber warfare, World War III, terrorism, geopolitics, analysis, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Baltic Region, South China Sea, India, China, Syria, United States, Russia, Pakistan
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    • avatar
      elsa.zardini
      Putin/Trump are not only still alive, but kicking and around. Please pray tell, if this is not a Miracle in answer to the countless prayers to God Triune, then what is it? Granted, they are both absolutely gifted persons, nobody doubts their IQ's. But, when facing the whole New World Order Administration in place, one needs help other than the one at the natural level. People publicly praying at the US for Mr. Trump to get there right now in Churches are touching.
    • avatar
      jas
      Council on Foreign Relations? Red flags! I can't think of a single "hot" spot that NATO countries aren't escalating tensions about when they get the chance.
    • avatar
      elsa.zardiniin reply tojas(Show commentHide comment)
      jas, Right. BUT, BUT, 1' from Mr. Trump on the 16th said it all:

      www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1B2qzfUb7g

      Meaning, if our election is being stolen one way or the other and I can not get there, then we have the Regular Militars PLUS the 55,000,000 gun owners owning 265,000,000 guns all over the US. All on our side. That is the message Mr. Trump delivered in one minute to the enemies of humanity.
    • avatar
      peaceactivist2
      Every hotspot on the glob was and is ignited by foreign forces. If foreign forces are to subsided world will live in peace
    • Al
      Let me be clear, the CRF is no think tank. It's the controlling harm of the United State. Therefore, these statements of possible war is them saying that they plan to start a war. Especially now, when they are loosing control, but we must remember this statements as they will attempt to play that out. North Korea is no threat to the U.S. just another boogie man they've created along with Russia. The empire is falling and this usually means war.
    • sapper
      IF US stops pushing and pushing other people to fight and starts behaving in a civilised manner then there is less likelyhood of them provoking the war they so desperately want!! Granted they may make a lot of money producing weapons but what exactly will money buy once the world is a nuclear desert!!!
    • American Socialist
      North Korea = tell the Yanks to go home.
      Syria = tell the Yanks to stop supporting Terrorists for regime change.
      Cyberspace = the Chinese wanted an agreement with the US to prevent militarizing Space and conflict but the US declined.
      India-Pakistan = tell the Indians to STFU for once.. they straight be yapping.
      Baltic = tell NATO and friends to back the funk up.
      US-China = tell the Yanks to stop instigating and go home!
    • Zoanthropy
      Firstly: Stop the Wars and fighting to help reduce global warming, the pollution and environmental damage these wars cause is significant, which clearly reveals governments don't give a damn about this issue, it's truly just a tax grab.

      Secondly: How disgraceful and disrespectful are we humans to mother earth, we don't share the plant well with other habitants, plants and animals. Should we start WW3 and we wipe the human race out, I'm not so sad "even for my own life"

      I'm ashamed of my own species.
    • avatar
      l.
      the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese consider a dangerous separatist....
      What, China cannot say a terrorist like everybody say of opponents of their dictatorship...
    • avatar
      landauroj
      Will WWIII start with a conflict between Russia and NATO? This is what the USA safety in America will like to see. The Russian must be clear in this. Not little war games with NATO will be taken but full nuke war where Russan will get the hell of the USA and encinerate Europe. This message must be very clear to stop the bluff of the USA. Next an accord with China, and North Korea to release all the nuke available to these war mongers.Russia must build 2 kilometer under earth linking with tunnels to stand a nuke retalation in Syberia. Russia will prevaile.
    • Gregory K
    • Hermes
      ......Ultimately, Farley suggested, "uncertainty" is the central factor driving the threat of regional conflicts being escalated into global ones......

      USA would surely hate that.
      They don't mind killing millions in Vietnam, Yugoslavia or the middle east but they wouldn't like anyone dropping bombs on USA.

      ......Other threats include a possible military confrontation between China and US allies.........
      They wouldn't like anything better as long as they manage to keep USA out of direct danger of retaliation.

      And guess which country is missing here.
      ....."As was the case in 1950, war on the peninsula could easily draw in China, Russia, or Japan," the observer noted....
      In case of any nuclear conflict Russia and China should retaliate against USA immediately. It will be the last chance they will ever get.
    • avatar
      gbiyanju
      These 'experts' need to remember that hitler too and his axis felt impregnable and unbeatable and hence started WWII.

      The member nations of the axis of terror should not assume too much, at least as much as hitler assumed. Hopefully, the following war trails will not be pre-arranged to let off the hook the losers and their officers, think tankers, media enablers, 'scientists'. THE AGGRESSORS AGAINST HUMANITY WILL LOSE.
    • avatar
      FightForTruth
      Another alternative is for the US and NATO to begin a conflict resulting in war, thus securing that Obama will remain in office until the goals of the Establishment are met.
    • avatar
      FightForTruth
      An alternative would be for the US and NATO to start a conflict escalating into a war that allows Obama to remain in office to make sure that the Establishment's goals are met first.
    • avatar
      elsa.zardini
      Whatever. The only problem the enemies of humanity face is Internet. Now, suppose they are one way or the other succesful in their intent. What is going Russia or China going to do? The answer is pretty simple. The New World Order Administration is DONE.

      Deplorables as now called in the US. "Cabecitas negras" as called in Argentina in the 50's.
    • Adrienne Adonis
      The CRF has made some dire predictions ............ the pattern that I see is to predict what could possibly happen even though the powers in control know it will happen. This way there are no surprises by the world citizens when the crap hits the fan. The powers that be already know the path that will occur. It starts off with predictions.
    • FlorianGeyer
      Game changer ?

      www.veteranstoday.com/2016/12/17/breaking-syrian-special-forces-captured-14-us-coalition-officers-ca

      This link has been updated to include 128 more NATO officers.
    • avatar
      elsa.zardiniin reply toFlorianGeyer(Show commentHide comment)
      FlorianGeyer, Thank you for that link!
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