New hotspots on the world political map
Anton Rovenskyy, Master of International Relations, International Political Scientist
The global political, economic and social landscape is in the process of a diverse and kaleidoscopic change. Meanwhile, a total number of hotspots on the world political map, accompanied by coup d’etats, large-scale social troubles and military conflicts is getting bigger. In this material, we shall talk about those countries and regions, which tend to become new hotspots in the near future.
Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, the level of pressure on the social infrastructure of Lebanon has grown: by now, 2 million refugees live in the territory of a 4 million state. At the same time, Lebanon's public resources continue to decline, primarily due to the erosion of the state mechanism with pervasive corruption. The roots of the problem go back to the 1990s: although Lebanon managed to recover from the civil war and demonstrate high rates of economic growth, the state was literally devastated with corruption, which further hindered any effective reform of political, economic, and social systems. Over the past few years, Lebanon has been rocked by protests, spurred by the constantly deteriorating social and economic conditions, as well as extremely dubious management decisions of the ruling elites, a tax on the use of the WhatsApp messenger, for instance.
The devastating explosions in the port of Beirut last year left hundreds of thousands of residents of the Lebanese capital homeless and led the country to the brink of humanitarian disaster. At the same time, the scale of international assistance initially promised to Lebanon turned out to be very modest. With the current trends to continue, the burst of the accumulated protest potential is not a matter of principle, but a matter of time.
Also, the geopolitical issue related to Israel's desire to minimize the influence of Hezbollah, the Shiite political movement, on the social and political life of the nation is not leaving the agenda. So does Iran's desire to preserve it.
The expected withdrawal of American troops from Iraq threatens to launch Afghanisation of the country and lead to the collapse of its government structures built over the past decade. Moreover, one of the conditions to restore the Iran nuclear deal, which was actively discussed after Joe Biden entry into power, might be to minimize support for Iraq, with Iranian armed corps being widely represented on its territory. This matter would definitely reel the stability of the Baghdad government.
The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq threatens to launch a new round or sharply raise the confrontation between Shiite and Sunni religious groups, just as in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein (Sunni) overthrow, the pendulum swung, and the Shiite majority started to oppress the Sunni minority, whose representatives then entered the Islamic State.
In such conditions, the risk of the secession of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is currently in confederal relations with official Baghdad, and its proclamation as an independent state, which will not be recognized by the central government of Iraq (whoever it may be) and will further escalate the situation in the region.
In 2018, large-scale protests broke out in Nicaragua against the reform of the social security system, initiated by President Daniel Ortega, who first became head of state back in 1985. Those events turned out to be among the deadliest since the 1979 Sandinista Revolution, when the Somoza regime was overthrown. The social contradictions, which detonated in 2018, have not been overcome yet, therefore a high risk of protest potential in Nicaragua remains.
Moreover, in the US Nicaragua is traditionally considered as the “bad guy” in Latin America, also due to its close contacts with China and the Russian Federation. At the same time, Joe Biden, sharply criticized for his foreign policy, desperately needs victories outdoors. Potential assistance to overthrow Nicaraguan regime in the US backyard, which, among other things, would for a long time block the idea to relaunch the Nicaraguan Canal, in which China may renew its interest after the establishment of the AUKUS (USA-UK-Australia) alliance, considered as a threat by the official Beijing.
The current Latin American trend to sway to the right wing policy forces political centenarians to lose their positions. All this factors reasonably play against the power of the incumbent president Ortega.
According to the Taiwan Defense Ministry, during September 2021, Chinese Air Force combat aircraft flew more than 20 times through the air defense identification zone, unilaterally proclaimed by the island's authorities. The official Beijing definitely "probs" Taiwan's defense capabilities and looks for any weaknesses in the island's defense system. At the same time, among Western analysts, one can increasingly hear a hypothesis about a power scenario against Taiwan, and even a quick glance on the Chinese information sphere indicates that public opinion is being prepared for the return of the island under the control of the official Beijing.
Commenting on the establishment of the aforementioned AUKUS alliance, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Taiwan expressed ‘sincere gratitude’ to the United States and Australia for ‘a strong and resolute support’. Nevertheless, the foreign policy of the Biden administration, which reduces the excessive American presence globally and, as a result, minimizing costs on the external circuit, does not allow Taipei to count on the same level of support from official Washington as it was in past decades. With a high degree of probability, tensions in the South China Sea will increase, and further erosion of the international security architecture increases the chances of armed clashes over Taiwan.
The Sahel region, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, has been considered one of the most explosive corners of the planet for years. In this case, we say that the number of accumulated problems switches to quality, which is aggravated by the increase in the rate of population growth (over 2.5% per year with a total number of 300 million people) in recent years and desertification due to climate change.
In recent years, the Sahel region has become a place of demonstrative projection of power by a number of powers: France, USA, Great Britain, Russia, China, Turkey. The coup in Sudan (April 2019), two coups in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), the death of the Chad President Idris Deby (April 2021) are, among other things, echoes of the geopolitical confrontation in the region. One may assume, such events tend to occur more and more often in the region, and their consequences tend to be more and more destructive. Agreements of the largest geopolitical players are capable of stabilizing the situation, but the chance of such an outcome is extremely low.
At the end of September, due to the ban of the Priština authorities to use cars with Serbian numbers, a new round of escalation on the border between Serbia and Kosovo took place. In response, representatives of the Kosovo Serb community, who predominantly live in the north of the partially recognized republic, have blocked border checkpoints. In its turn, Kosovo authorities have pulled police forces to the border, with a symmetrical response from the official Belgrade (moreover, the Serbs used military equipment). The rhetoric of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic turned out to be unexpectedly harsh, on the contrary to the previous escalations between Priština and Belgrade.
In general, the level of contacts between the parties in 2021 decreased, which seems to be caused by two main factors. First is Albin Kurti’s, an ardent supporter of the annexation of Kosovo to Albania, entry into power as a new Prime Minister of Kosovo. Secondly, the new administration in Washington: there was a constructive relationship between Trump and Vucic, but the current US administration, on the one hand, has shifted the Balkan issue to the periphery of its foreign policy, and, on the other hand, traditionally sympathizes with the Kosovars.
It would seem that escalation between Kosovo and Serbia is a common thing for the Balkan Peninsula. However, in the context of aggravated contradictions between the largest geopolitical players and the inevitable EU leadership crisis, which will start after the departure of Angela Merkel, the explosive potential of local conflicts tends to multiply.