Military Build Up
The world is becoming more dangerous. America, China and Russia are increasing their military capacities at a rapid rate. An arms race is in progress. The US is deploying increasing quantities of military personnel and equipment in East Asia, both on land and sea and in East Europe despite previous commitments not to do so, and China and Russia are currently, for the first time ever, conducting joint military naval practice operations in European waters. China is building aircraft carriers and equipping them to be able to operate off the US west coast. Worries about N Korea are small fry in this context.
In these conditions, Europe is beginning to rouse from a long period of relative pacifism and there is increasing debate about how the EU can defend itself with less reliance upon the USA. Increasing tensions between Germany and Turkey add urgency to these developments. A German parliamentarian recently referred to Turkey as “Absurdistan”.
Tensions are also rising between China and India. The Chinese-Indian border includes many disputed areas. When times are peaceful both sides leave these areas alone and maintain a tacit agreement not to upset the status quo. Recently, however, China has started to build a military road through one of these disputed areas and at present nobody seems to see a way to resolve the resulting crisis. China and India have had such tensions before and they have sometimes erupted into fighting. The countervailing force is that Russia is, broadly, an ally of India and China of Russia. However, recently, China has been giving considerable support to India’s rival Pakistan and India has, under its leader Modi, been moving closer to the USA.
All of the above is extremely worrying. It has the look of a return to a polarised world such as we had during the Cold War with, perhaps, Russia, China, Turkey, the Shia Arab states and Pakistan on one side, USA and its allies on the other, and areas such as Latin America, Africa and SE Asia constituting a Third World that is liable to become the arena of proxy conflicts that could be extremely destructive.
At the same time we are seeing illiberal trends in many countries. Turkey is currently suppressing its free press, China restricting the internet, America deporting large numbers of people, Poland threatening to subordinate its highest courts to political control, All this makes the EU look like a last bastion of civilised values, but how long can this last?
More Basic Problems
Behind these evident tensions lie three major global problems to which humans have yet to find a solution. The first and obvious one is ecological. I need hardly say much about it except that it has to be a fundamental cause of increasingly sharp competition. The second is refugees: the United Nations reports that the number of displaced persons on the planet is currently the highest on record. The third is financial. The world financial system is arguably not far off breaking point and simply amassing more and more debt does not solve things in the longer run.
Furthermore, while the US is becoming increasingly assertive overseas in military matters, its situation at home becomes more and more chaotic. President Trump was already an outsider when he took office and since then seems to be conducting matters in such a way as to lose friends and demoralise people. These dimensions are not totally unrelated. Fragile regimes tend to look to create outside enemies in order to maintain as much cohesion at home as remains possible. Taking a broader and more psychological view, it is common enough that the internal problems of leading figures are played out by less powerful players within their ambit, so it is possible to see some of our current world problems and those within the world’s most powerful regime as mirror images one of the other.
We also see bias in news reporting on a large scale. Devastation in Mosul caused by US allies seems to have been greater than that caused in Aleppo by Russia’s, but the Western press made a meal of the latter and have more or less ignored the former. This is the way that countries prepare for war, persuading their populations that the people on the other side are the wicked ones so that nobody objects when some of them are destroyed.
All of this is worrying. Europe is a relative haven of stability at the moment, but how long will that last? How can such civic values be extended to other places? Can the trend toward despotisms be reversed? Can relations between the great powers be put on a more friendly and cooperative footing? At present the signs are not good, but the stakes are extremely high and one would have thought that humans should somehow have the ability to avoid causing themselves so much unnecessary misery.