Κυριακή, 3 Μαρτίου 2013

Η ΕΛΛΑΣ ΘΑ ΓΙΝΕΙ ΘΕΡΜΗ...ΠΕΡΙΟΧΗ;


ΤΑ 10 ΠΙΟ ΘΕΡΜΑ ΣΗΜΕΙΑ ΣΤΟΝ ΚΟΣΜΟ... 

ΚΑΙ Η ΕΛΛΑΣ ΠΟΥ ΗΔΗ ΠΑΕΙ ΝΑ ΕΞΕΛΙΧΘΕΊ ΣΕ ΘΕΡΜΗ ΠΕΡΙΟΧΗ...
Εξαιρετικό ενδιαφέρον  έχει η ανάλυση για τα πιο θερμά σημεία στο κόσμου που κάνει ο δρ. 
Wolfgang Depner του Βρετανικού Πανεπιστημίου του Κολούμπια.Περαν των 10 ευφλέκτων περιοχών εμφανίζει κι άλλες 5 χώρς; που θα θερμανθούν σύντομα. Ξενίζει το ότι μεταξύ αυτών περιλαμβάνει και την Ελλάδα.
Το άρθρο δημοσιεύεται στον ΔΙΠΛΩΜΑΤΗ του Λονδίνου καί είναι στην Αγγλική. για όσους ενδιαφέρονται να μπουν σε λεπτομέρειες 

   

The top 10 hot spots plus 5 runners-up

 | January 4, 2013 0 Comments
The wars and rumours of war that will shape 2013
By Wolfgang Depner
This piece opens with a proviso. Efforts to predict the future course of human events, no matter how sophisticated they might be, enjoy a less-than-satisfactory record, notwithstanding the recent accomplishments of poll aggregator Nate Silver in forecasting the outcome of the presidential election of 2012.
Just visit any self-respecting academic library. Many of its shelves are buckling under the weight of bulky books filled with grandiose, but ultimately glaringly false, predictions about the inevitable end of this era or the impending emergence of some other. Start with the historical works of Karl Marx, then proceed into the present, where Francis Fukuayama’s The End of History and the Last Man has become a contemporary synonym (if not punch-line) for this form of quackery.

And yet, we continue to seek out seemingly wise sages whose powers of prophecy seem to be nothing less than gifts granted by Providence itself. Consider the lucrative cottage industry that laments the decline of the United States in prose so profitable it challenges the very narrative of its modern-day Cassandras. What explains this obsessive urge to pierce through the fog of the future? Part of the explanation lies in the human need for comfort, if not consolation. But such genuine desires should not distract us from focusing on the here and now.
With this concession in mind, this list identifies the most troubled regions in the world. Admittedly arbitrary by nature, it seeks to acknowledge the complex nature and causes of human conflict. Notable omissions that could have easily made this list include the ongoing conflict in the Congo, the plight experienced by indigenous people around the world and the environmental devastation wreaked upon the planet. This list also runs the risk of being overtaken by current events. Developments — such as the clash between Israeli forces and the Palestinian organization, Hamas, controlling the Gaza Strip in November 2012 — speak to this point. This said, this review of the world’s Top Ten 2013 Hot Spots (with five runners-up) is confident in its findings.
A shell in the middle of the street in Homs, Syria, is a remnant of the heavy attack levelled on the city last year.
A shell in the middle of the street in Homs, Syria, is a remnant of the heavy attack levelled on the city last year.
1. Syria
Contrary to Marxist teachings, history does not repeat itself. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, it frequently rhymes.
The civil war in Syria might unfortunately confirm this insight because its broad contours are starting to resemble those of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Both conflicts quickly attracted foreign actors who have subsequently come to see their involvement in an otherwise local conflict as part of a multi-dimensional confrontation that cuts across geographical, religious and ideological barriers.
The most obvious fault line runs through Syrian society itself. On one side, we find the ruling minority of Alawites centred on Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, who also enjoys support from the country’s Christian and Druze minority. Opposing this coalition is Syria’s Sunni population, which has long chafed under al-Assad’s despotic clan.
Taking a broader view, the Syrian civil war appears as the most recent clash between the minority Shia and majority Sunni branches of Islam. While al-Assad enjoys political and logistical support from Shia-dominated Iran and its allies in Iraq and Lebanon, the Sunni rebels opposing him draw support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Sunni-dominated states concerned about Iranian influence in the region.
In fact, the support from these countries for the Syrian rebels has caused concern in the United States, which fears it will ultimately end up in the hands of Islamist terrorists who are arriving in the region from elsewhere. Their agenda, meanwhile, is clear: topple the current regime as the necessary prelude to the establishment of a religious state, an unacceptable prospect for neighbouring Turkey and Israel, albeit for different reasons.
Whereas Turkey supports the uprising against al-Assad, it opposes the fracturing of Syria into sectarian domains, for such a development threatens Turkey’s territorial integrity by encouraging Kurdish nationalists within its own borders and beyond. Israel, meanwhile, already borders territories controlled by radicals — the southern strip of Lebanon and Gaza Strip, each dominated by Iranian clients, Hezbollah and Hamas respectively.
In short, the eventual outcome of the Syrian civil war threatens to re-draw the borders of the Middle East and set the stage for future conflicts. Yet its ramifications go far beyond. Moscow and Beijing, for their part, see al-Assad as an anti-western ally. Russia, in particular, fears that it stands to lose global influence if al-Assad departs the scene, be it by force or otherwise, for he currently guarantees Russia strategic access to the Mediterranean. Washington and its allies, meanwhile, see Syria as a testing ground for the yet to be proven thesis that the Islamic Middle East can be made safe for western-style democracy.
One thing already appears certain. The Syrian civil war has revealed the institutional inadequateness of the United Nations. This failure bears a striking similarity to the ineptness of the League of Nations during the Spanish Civil War. Let us hope the historical parallels stop there.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
2. Iran
In their book, Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett attack the myth of the mad Mullahs. Briefly summarized, this fiction put forth by people such as neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer reads like this: Iran is in the grips of Shia radicals eager to acquire nuclear weapons because their eventual application against Israel would hasten the appearance of the Mahdi, the twelfth Imam, in setting the stage for God’s final judgment.
As Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis recently opined in the Wall Street Journal, for these people, “mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent — it’s an inducement.”
Is this a dangerously self-fulfilling prophecy that may indeed lead to the apocalypse? As the Leveretts note, “stereotypes depicting Iran as an aggressively radical country are not just wrong but worse, dangerous, because they skew western thinking towards the inevitability of confrontation.” It is precisely this threat that endows an already unstable region with additional explosiveness.
This commentary does not deny Iran’s complicity in supporting regional actors stoking instability. Nor does it dismiss the genuine concerns about the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the region. But it would be a fatal mistake to see these actions through a lens that assumes Iranian irrationality. No regime would openly invite its own demise by indulging in metaphysical fantasies. It would likely seek shelter behind shields of various sorts, as long as they remain sustainable.
Recent developments suggest that this calculus has increasingly turned against the regime. Harsh economic sanctions have so far achieved what hubristic military actions would make impossible: rob the regime of cohesion and eventually, legitimacy. Granted, this approach will take longer, but has already shown some results. Whether the international community will continue to be patient is an entirely differently question.
Recent developments, however, suggest otherwise. Bellicose blustering from western and Israeli leaders inspires Iranian responses no less strident and both sides are letting the other know what might lie ahead. Der Spiegel recently wrote that Germany has helped Israel create a floating nuclear weapons arsenal: submarines equipped with nuclear capability. Iran, meanwhile, could be planning to create a giant oil spill in the strategic Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for an attack. The pieces are starting to move.
Members of North Korea’s military at the 65th anniversary of North Korea Labor Party.
Members of North Korea’s military at the 65th anniversary of North Korea Labor Party.
3. Korean Peninsula
Kim Jong-un, the new man in charge of North Korea, has always remained optimistic and cheery in the face of adversity. Yes, his regime might have suffered public humiliation when western experts identified the country’s new intercontinental ballistic missiles as fakes. And granted, it is never nice to disappoint the family, as happened when a rocket carrying a celebratory satellite into space on the occasion of his late grandfather Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday crashed back to earth shortly after liftoff.
But Kim Jong-un has gotten right back on the horse — literally, as he recently rode out with members of North Korea’s elite cavalry unit. His late father, Kim Jong-il, would have never stooped to such low levels of self-promotion. But Sunny Boy is nothing like his dad, at least when it comes to charming the masses. The Old Man growled at the world in grey overalls, but Kim Jong-un is turning up the smiles while getting down to some real fun by taking his wife on a tour of Pyongyang’s brand new amusement park, where the young couple rode the roller-coaster. On top of it all, he might soon experience the joys of fatherhood for himself.
If only this fictitious façade were not so absurd — North Korea remains a fixed point of global instability.
For one, North Korea continues to baffle the international community through provocative actions that practically invite punishment. In February 2012, it promised to suspend the testing of nuclear weapons and opened its facilities to international inspectors as part of a broader agreement that also placed a moratorium on the launch of long-range missiles, which have, in the past, raised military tensions in South Korea and Japan. North Korea also promised to resume six-party talks with the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia towards a long-term agreement to bring stability to the Korean Peninsula.
In exchange, the country was to receive extensive food shipments. Weeks later, it cancelled the agreement after the international community condemned North Korea for testing a missile. Western fears that North Korea might test a nuclear weapon for the third time after 2006 and 2009 have since escalated in the face of new evidence that points towards such an outcome. Granted, North Korea has frequently vacillated between co-operation and confrontation in extracting more concessions. But its behaviour has become increasingly unpredictable since Kim Jong-un has assumed control. Even China, North Korea’s staunchest and increasingly solitary ally, has reached this troubling conclusion.
4. Pakistan
In 1897, a young British journalist by the name of Winston Churchill “embedded” himself with a British expeditionary force fighting rebellious Pashtun tribal warriors along the northwestern frontier of British India, now the northwestern border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. While coloured by the prejudiced attitudes of British colonialism, his account nonetheless resonates with modern audiences, for it features familiar themes: the harshness of the rugged terrain, only tinged by colourful touches of exotic romanticism; the elusiveness of the unseen enemy; the savagery of guerrilla warfare fought with modern weapons in a seemingly medieval setting. Churchill is even incensed about the indifferent treatment an injured veteran is likely to receive upon his return home.
Churchill is particularly attuned to the social and religious attitudes of the Pashtun tribes along the border region, where tribes frequently feud with each other, only to unite against outsiders. “Every man’s hand is against the other, and all against the stranger.” The region, he continues later, remains under the “tyranny of a numerous priesthood” including “wandering Talib-ul-ilms” seeking to “strike a blow for insulted and threatened Islam.” While made more than a century ago, this historical assessment nonetheless helps explain why the northwestern region of Pakistan remains the least stable region in a country increasingly unstable.
Efforts by the Pakistani state to effectively control the region have met with little success. Consequently, the area has festered into a haven for Afghan and Pakistan Taliban; from which they can stage attacks against Afghan or Pakistani institutions. Worse, the route that helps supply western forces in Afghanistan runs through the region. Responding to Pakistan’s inability (or unwillingness) to pacify the region, the United States increased its own involvement in the area in 2010 by intensifying unmanned drone attacks.
While these drone attacks have produced some successes, they have also caused considerable civilian casualties and worsened the already complex relationships between the United States and nuclear-armed Pakistan, which many western officials have accused of aiding Islamist terrorists while nominally acting as an ally of the United States against the same groups. Such charges only compound the complexity of governance in Pakistan, whose society has experienced a growing split between those who favour some form of western-style rule and those who prefer the tyranny of the priesthood.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai at UN Headquarters in New York.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai at UN Headquarters in New York.
5. Afghanistan
Diagnose assessments of Afghanistan and you will come to the conclusion that the people in charge of the western mission suffer from a case of cognitive dissonance. While top political leaders continue to insult the intelligence of even the most gullible observers by incessantly praising the incompetent government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, their intelligence services are sounding the alarms behind the scenes.
Consider this conclusion from a recently leaked U.S. intelligence report: It states that Karzai will not survive the formal withdrawal of American forces scheduled for the end of 2014, because his own forces will not be able to withstand the Taliban, which remains committed to regaining control of the country, even as it continues to take part in peace negotiations which experts predict will likely fail. Much of the blame belongs to those western governments that have consistently refused to revise their relationship with Karzai for the general betterment of Afghans. Yes, Karzai’s tenure terminates in 2014. But he is already making arrangements to keep his kin in power.
Indeed, German intelligence recently concluded that Karzai would rather appease militants than change his corrupt ways if such an arrangement were to benefit him and his supporters. Such a trade-off would not only destroy the minimal improvements the international community has achieved in Afghanistan; it would also bring dishonour to the legacy of those who sacrificed blood and treasure for the cause of a better Afghanistan, as metaphysical as it might be.
It would be the height of naiveté to assume that Afghanistan could be turned into some model state. But shall we then conclude that the world’s most powerful and richest nations, starting with the United States, can neither find the means nor the motivations to supply even an appearance of stability? For better or worse, the answer is no. NATO countries have already made plans for troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, not as active combatants, but as advisers.
Notwithstanding such verbal trickery, this ongoing commitment confirms the larger significance of Afghanistan. That said, this mission, as needed as it might be, would quickly lose its legitimacy (if it has not already) if western leaders continue to insist that things are improving in Afghanistan and that Karzai is a friend of democracy. Citizens throughout the western world might be weary of this war, and rightly so. But their leaders should at least tell them the truth.
Protesters who claim the Diaoyu Islands for China protest at the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong in September 2012.
Protesters who claim the Diaoyu Islands for China protest at the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong in September 2012.
6. South China Sea
Said to be rich in energy resources trapped beneath the ocean floor, the region threatens to emerge as the central theatre of geo-political tensions between an increasingly ambitious China and a correspondingly anxious western alliance centred around the United States.
This dynamic revealed itself most recently in September 2012 during the dispute over five uninhabited islands named Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. Claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan, the islands gained global attention when the Japanese government agreed to purchase the three islands remaining in private possession from their debt-heavy owner, who had also been negotiating with a fiery Japanese nationalist. Chinese reactions to this perceived nationalization of private property was prompt. Government-tolerated protests outside Japanese diplomatic buildings called for “war” and Chinese patrol boats approached the disputed islands.
Taiwan also sent ships into the region. The United States, fearful of worse and mindful of its relationship with Japan, showed strength as well by sending an aircraft carrier into the region, a display of force set against the background of growing tensions between China and the United States. While the current odds of an outright military conflict are low, disputes of this kind can develop their own dangerous dynamic.
Political leaders in Beijing, Tokyo and Taipei have each promised their respective constituencies that they would not retreat from asserting national interest. But this rhetoric risks the risk of turning all actors into prisoners of their own uncompromising demands.
Once they have drawn their respective lines, it will be hard for any one of them to retreat without losing credibility in the face of self-generated pressure. That said, any future conflict over the islands — be it armed or of an economic nature — would be costly for all involved. All three countries have strong economic ties with each other. A more realistic scenario would likely see all actors remain highly alert about developments without being aggressive.
Brinkmanship does not automatically descend into disaster. In Europe, the United States and the former Soviet Union faced off across each other for decades, each brandishing massive arsenals capable of destroying the other side (and the world) several times over. Yet this stare-off along the Iron Curtain never started anything. Tellingly though, it was the “periphery” of the Cold War that pushed the globe to the precipice of thermo-nuclear war. Ominously, this incident also involved a contest over the geo-strategic ownership of an island — Cuba.
A Marine Corps battle tank fires in Iraq during the U.S. invasion in 2003.
A Marine Corps battle tank fires in Iraq during the U.S. invasion in 2003.
7. Iraq
The deadly sectarianism that devastated Iraq between 2005 and 2007 appears to have found a second life. And this time, it may lead to something far worse. For one, the formal departure of the former American occupiers has freed radicals on either side of the Sunni-Shia fissure from the pretense of (relatively) peaceful politics.
Without American GIs acting as would-be peacekeepers and political pressure from Washington, Sunni and Shia extremists have had a far easier time of indulging in their worst instincts towards each other. Prominent Sunnis have faced trumped-up legal charges and ordinary Iraqis have experienced a degree of daily violence that approaches the ferocity of the mid-2000s.
This sectarian schism naturally favours the Shia. They make up about 60 percent of the population and control key levers of the state under the leadership of Nouri al-Maliki, who is criticized for acting increasingly authoritarian towards his political enemies. Moderate Iraqis, including Shia, fear he is leading Iraq towards a dictatorship friendly towards Iran, which has used its neighbour as a transit route to supply Syrian ally Bashar al-Assad with weapons.
This relationship reveals the second major source of concern: The al-Maliki regime sees the Sunni uprising against the regime of al-Assad as a proxy attack on itself. It sympathizes with al-Assad’s governing Alawite from a religious angle. More important, the disintegration of Syria also threatens the integrity of Iraq. Its northern Kurdish region already enjoys significant autonomy from Baghdad’s central authority and any Kurdish successes on the Syrian side of “Kurdistan” would reverberate on the Iraqi side.
And even if this threat to the territorial integrity of Iraq were to dissipate, its societal cohesiveness remains tenuous, and not just because of the sectarian strife described earlier. Iraq remains a place where population groups live apart from each other, divided by blast walls, but united through the misery of living in a land that frequently fails to provide basic services as electricity.
The UN evacuates the wounded in the aftermath of bombings in South Sudan in 2012.
The UN evacuates the wounded in the aftermath of bombings in South Sudan in 2012.
8. Sudan/South Sudan
While recent developments suggest that the two Sudans are finding ways to work with each other after their troubled divorce of 2011 turned nasty in 2012, such positive signs ignore the deeper tensions bubbling beneath the surface of this tortured region and its people.
For one, Sudan has entered the crosshairs of Israel, where one senior military official recently called Sudan “a dangerous terrorist state” whose “regime is supported by Iran and it serves as a route for the transfer (via Egypt) of Iranian weapons to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists.” Notably, this statement appeared after Israel had apparently bombed a weapons factory in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on the premise of the country’s role as a weapons transit route.
While Sudanese officials have denied such involvements, their denials stretch credulity. Iran has joined China in supplying the Sudan with weapons and Iranian ships visited the country shortly after the alleged Israeli attack for the purpose of building, in the words of one Sudanese official, “amicable relations.”
The international community would likely appreciate such diplomatic efforts towards South Sudan after the countries stood on the verge of an all-out war over a disputed oil-rich region.
Tensions rose to a particular high point in late April 2012 after Omar al-Bashir ordered his air and ground forces to expel South Sudanese forces from the contested territory. Whether this attack amounted to a declaration of war, as argued by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, is beside the point. The fact remains that both countries continue to challenge the terms of the settlement that has governed their tenuous co-existence since the creation of South Sudan in 2011.
The list of ethnic and economic grievances dividing both sides is unlikely to get shorter any time soon and each side accuses the other of undermining it by supporting local insurgencies in their respective territory. Yes, the leaders of both countries have started to call each other “brothers.” But some bromides barely dilute the deep reservoir of bellicosity they harbour towards each other. The historical legacy of two brutal civil wars between Muslims and Christians and the Darfur genocide remain as raw as ever.
The stark contrast of two nations on either side of the border fence that separates Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, U.S.
The stark contrast of two nations on either side of the border fence that separates Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, U.S.
9. U.S.-Mexican Border Region
This is the story of a grim bargain that has brought misery to millions well beyond the boundaries of human decency along the border that separates the United States from Mexico. As porous as it is long, this dividing line has united both countries in a partnership of suffering that may well attract additional subsidiaries.
The source of this sorrow lies on both sides of the Rio Grande. Americans continue to demand illicit drugs despite the prospect of harsh penalties, and Mexican cartels, coddled by corrupt officials, continue to supply them. Once this exchange has taken place, cartel members will use their illegal gains to legally buy readily available weapons in the United States, then ship them across the frontier, often using the same route and vehicle used to smuggle narcotics north. The cartels then turn these guns against each other or the Mexican state in defending their territory and share of illicit profits against would-be competitors.
Not surprisingly, this violence has spilled into the United States and beyond, including Canada. Officials on both sides of the international line have tried to dam this deluge of drugs and guns — so far with questionable success. In 2006, now former Mexican president Felipe Calderón tasked the army with launching an all-out assault against the cartels. The consequences of this escalation have been sobering. As of May 2012, drug-related violence has claimed more than 50,000 lives across Mexico, including in regions said to be safe.
Yet this campaign has hardly weakened the cartels. In fact, three prominent Mexican generals worked for the cartels, which their comrades were confronting in gruesome places like Ciudad Juárez, perhaps the most infamous cartel citadel near the U.S. border. But if Mexicans have seemingly accepted this carnage as part of their daily lives, American efforts to deal with this problem suggest a certain level of denial. While the United States has stepped up controls to stop the illegal flow of goods across the southern border as part of measures designed to curb illegal immigration, they have remained haphazard. And efforts to extinguish the flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico must ultimately receive the approval of America’s powerful gun lobby, an unlikely development. Is this the reason neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama discussed this subject during their debate on foreign policy?
A member of the Tuareg tribe of Mali.
A member of the Tuareg tribe of Mali.
10. Mali
Once a model of democratic stability in a region renowned for turmoil, this former French colony has fractured into competing fiefdoms, each home to a unique design of human depravity. While Taliban-like Islamists rule the north, the south remains under the control of a repressive military regime, perhaps no less brutal than its northern opponents.
This duopoly of despair emerged in March 2012, when mutinous but desperate members of the Mali military revolted against the civilian government for its failure to defeat the rebellious Tuareg, a nomadic desert people once in the employ of the late Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. The consequences of this coup were predictable. As forces loyal to the civilian government fought off the mutineers, Tuaregs equipped with weapons from the abandoned arsenals of their former Libyan patron seized the occasion to occupy large swaths of northern Mali, which they declared their own state.
But the Tuareg’s moment of triumph did not last long, as Islamists sympathetic to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) quickly seized control in the region, where they have since ruled with religious fervour and fanaticism. Their harsh interpretation of Islam has subsequently inspired more than 300,000 to risk their lives by crossing the sweeping deserts of the Sahel for refuge in neighbouring countries.
Survivors of this ordeal have since shocked the world with tales of public stonings and amputations, all ostensibly administered in the application of Sharia law. This “reign of the terror,” in the words of French President François Hollande, has not gone unnoticed in western capitals, where fears are growing that Mali might become an African Afghanistan, a staging ground for terrorists striking targets in Europe and elsewhere.
What caused this “Mess in Mali,” as Foreign Policy described it? Ironically, it might have been the decision of NATO to topple Gadhafi. By saving Benghazi, NATO lost Timbuktu, Columbia history professor Gregory Mann told Der Spiegel. This observation can also be read as an ominous omen, as western nations are already preparing plans for a regional intervention.
An oil platform supply  vessel in Port Hartcourt, Nigeria.
An oil platform supply vessel in Port Hartcourt, Nigeria.
11. Nigeria
With the exception of some notable organizations, most western media shroud African affairs behind a veil of indifference that frequently betrays their ignorance. Yet developments in the most populous country of the continent might soon lift this self-imposed screen.
For one, Nigeria’s growing population, predicted to hit 300 million in 25 years, previews a planetary future, in which more than one-third of the global population will reside in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2100. This prospect, with its myriad problems inside and outside Africa, promises to deepen the divisive tensions roiling Nigeria.
These encompass the emergence of Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgency haunting the predominantly Muslim region of northern Nigeria. Deemed defeated in 2009, the shadowy group has regained strength in recent years.
Using methods that suggest sympathies, if not specific links with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group has staged several attacks against perceived opponents of Islamic law: representatives of the United Nations, Nigerian police and military forces, and more recently, ordinary Nigerians of the Christian faith, who live primarily in the southern section of the country. This choice of tactic has threatened to fray the already fractious relations between Christians and Muslims who make up nearly equal population halves.
And yet sectarianism is hardly the only source of conflict in Nigeria. More than half of its 160 million people must survive on less than $2 a day, while its small but privileged political elite can access billions of dollars in oil revenues. Though this stark stratification of society hardly differentiates Nigeria from any other African (or Middle Eastern) petroleum kleptocracy, it is nonetheless kindling for societal strife.
However bolstered by its oil reserves, its economy is structurally precarious:
According to the World Bank, some 50 million youths in Nigeria are unemployed. Add to this the chance that ambitious global actors may also light fires that may burn out of control.
While Nigeria currently possesses strong relations with the western world as one of its largest oil suppliers, China has increasingly invested in the country’s infrastructure — political and otherwise. Beijing, for example, has recently expanded its material support for Nigeria’s military, as part of a broader, ongoing effort to expand its influence in resource-rich Africa. This 21st-Century version of the Scramble for Africa is bound to earn Nigeria, arguably one of the biggest “prizes,” more attention, some of it unwanted.
Egyptians demonstrate in Alexandria in January 2012.
Egyptians demonstrate in Alexandria in January 2012.
12. Egypt
If the roots of the Arab Spring are well known, its eventual outcomes are correspondingly uncertain. Stripped of any remaining romance since the start of Syrian civil war, its fervour has faded long ago, replaced by the realization that it might be far easier to topple tyrants than to replace them with new leaders true to the spirit, if not the intentions, of the initial revolution.
This concession to reality was inevitable. No human endeavour, regardless of its righteousness, can maintain its momentum without exhausting itself or encountering would-be enemies. Such conditions certainly prevail in the emotional epicentre of the Arab Spring. While bourgeois Egyptians risked their young lives chasing Hosni Mubarek out of office by occupying Tahrir Square, the fruit of their courageous but dangerous labour has fallen into the hands of the religious Muslim Brotherhood, an organization older and more organized than the ancien régime it has now replaced as the nominal government.
This commentary does not mean to draw any equivalencies — Mubarek’s inhumane state brutalized the Muslim Brotherhood in unimaginable ways. Nor does it dare to deny the elected legitimacy of Mohamed Morsi though not his recent presidential power grab, which has again filled Tahrir Square with protesters. But it does aim to amplify the voices of Egyptians — be they Coptic Christians or secular Muslims — who fear that their country is drifting towards an Islamist dictatorship under the guidance of the Muslim Brotherhood despite contrary assurances. Perhaps nobody personalizes this uncertainty more powerfully than Morsi himself. During the recent clash between Hamas and Israel, western observers have praised his mediation efforts, only to condemn his hubristic attempt to seize more powers himself days later.
Simply put, Egypt’s first democratically elected president has remained an enigma for everybody, Egyptians included.
Educated in the United States, Morsi “learned politics with the Brotherhood.” This diversity of experiences rings through his rhetoric. Sometimes, he has presented himself as a proponent of peace and democracy who promises to respect Egypt’s hisorical treaties with Israel. Yet he has also echoed the critiques of militant Islamists.
While such political calculation place Morsi in the same category as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it remains to be seen whether he will emulate Erdogan’s successes in reforming bureaucratic institutions, while trimming the influence of the generals. The Egyptian economic ship of state continues to take on water and any attempts to right it with harsh measures could reawaken the streets well into 2013. And spirits might be far from friendly.
Rubble in Gori, which was occupied by the Russians during the 2008 South Ossetian War between Russia and Georgia.
Rubble in Gori, which was occupied by the Russians during the 2008 South Ossetian War between Russia and Georgia.
13. Caucasus Region (former Soviet Union)
More than two decades after the demise of the Soviet Union, most of its fragments have fallen under the heels of despots who rule their domains with the shameless audacity once claimed by the European monarchs of history.
Only the three Baltic states possess genuine democratic cultures and institutions, which respect certain political, legal and economic rights that Canadians and other western citizens likely take for granted. The remaining former Soviet republics, meanwhile, cover the whole continuum of undemocratic rule, from outright dictatorships (Belarus, the Central Asian republics) to pseudo-democracies (Russia) to failing democracies (Ukraine).
The Caucasus country of Georgia occupies a special place within this scheme. On one hand, its recent parliamentary election marked a rare moment in post-Soviet history. For the first time since independence, Georgians changed their government through the polls rather than through a putsch. While the western-educated Mikhail Saakashvili remains president, he must now share power with his former political friend, Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who became prime minister after his party, Georgian Dream, won a substantial parliamentary majority.
On the other hand, Georgia’s institutions have increasingly exhibited characteristics found among its neighbours. Georgian security forces are corrupt if not prone to torture, while its media are openly partisan.
The central protagonists of Georgian politics — Saakashvili and Ivanishvili — have taken to tearing each other apart verbally, both at home and abroad, where each employs high-profile lobbyists to eviscerate the other in currying favour with foreign governments and investors.
And therein lies the trouble. Georgia can ill afford political instability at home, for it lies in a most sensitive region. It already ranks among the most volatile after Georgia and Russia fought a short but sharp war in 2008 over the contested territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Their status will remain unresolved for the foreseeable future, especially as Russia prepares to host the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi near the disputed regions.
Then there is the matter of Iran. While Georgia ranks as the most significant American ally in the region, it also shares an ambivalent htistory but increasingly prosperous future with Iran. Will Tbilisi be able to thread the line between Washington and Tehran? An answer to this question will eventually become urgent as tensions between Iran and the West continue to escalate. Israel — fearful of a nuclear-armed Iran — has apparently purchased access to airfields in Azerbaijan, one of the former Soviet Republics that physically separates Georgia from Iran. While officials in Azerbaijan have refuted such reports, they will not improve tense relations in the region, which also happens to be a major transit route for current and proposed oil and natural gas lines.
A Greek protester clashes with riot police in Athens in June 2011.
A Greek protester clashes with riot police in Athens in June 2011.
14. Greece
Much has been said about Greece, and no doubt more will be said, for the country will continue to be the cause of global concern for years to come.
Naturally, one cannot help but wonder if the current state of affairs would be different if the direct and indirect custodians of the current crisis had acted differently at any point in the distant or recent past. But the benefit of hindsight is more or less perfunctory, if not powerless in this unprecedented crisis whose conclusion remains uncertain. It is nonetheless instructive to sketch two possible broad scenarios for the future of Greece, Europe and ultimately, the rest of the world.
One foresees the current Euro crisis as the catalyst for the creation of a federated Europe. While this entity may emerge through several steps, it will eventually grant all its citizens, regardless of where they might reside, genuine decision-making powers in continental affairs. While the European Union already possesses some continental institutions capable of effective governance, they lack democratic legitimacy. Consequently, citizens across the European Union currently see its political and bureaucratic leadership with a level of suspicion out of sync with the belief that Europe is — above all — a community of values, including, but not exclusively, democracy and social solidarity.
Nowhere does this dissonance manifest itself more dramatically than in Greece, whose citizens had to swallow one imposed indignity after the other. Yes, much of the blame for the current crisis belongs to the country’s political class and a broader culture of corruption and tax evasion that has starved the Greek state and its institutions of resources.
But if ordinary Greeks are to absorb the crushing terms of austerity as conceived by the international community, they deserve, at the very least, an explanation and some empathy. Otherwise, they and others may well settle for political choices, whose philosophies are as unfeasible as they are radical.
We have already seen glimpses of this trend in the emergence of marauding Greek proto-fascists. The current crisis has also strengthened the centrifugal forces of separatism in several European countries. In doing so, it points to the second broader scenario, a Europe fractured, divided into increasingly irrelevant domains, each lacking the strength to sustain its contemporary prosperity in the face of shrinking populations and growing competitors whose political practices are far from benign. And this choice, in broad terms, will hinge on what happens in Greece.
Whatever happens there could well determine whether Europe will speak in the world with one voice or with none, to borrow a phrase from Germany’s former finance minister, Peer Steinbrück.
An estimated one million Somalis have fled their country in search of food and safety; another 1.3 million have been displaced in the turmoil.
An estimated one million Somalis have fled their country in search of food and safety; another 1.3 million have been displaced in the turmoil.
15. Somalia
A pastiche of former Italian and British colonial possessions stretching along the Horn of Africa, Somalia has, to many, become a synonym for the term ‘failed state.’
The country has remained an unceasing source of human misery, ever since the last effective government collapsed more than two decades ago at the hands of rival clan militias. By one measure, more than one million Somalis have fled their country in search of minimal nutrition and security in the last 10 years. Only the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have forced more people to flee their homes during the same period.
Notably, this measure of suffering does not include the 1.3 million Somalis classified as internal refugees. Their needs would likely overwhelm the newly established government (whose influence barely extends beyond the capital of Mogadishu), were it not for foreign assistance from the European Union and regional African powers.
In fact, German historian Ralph Klein suggests it might charitable to call Somalia a ‘state’ of any sort. Pasted together after the Second World War, Somalia is the state that never was, according to Klein, who calls Somalia a “pure post-colonial myth,” whose governing institutions were never present across Somalia, especially absent among the nomadic regions.
“Somalia is therefore not even a failed state, for what had never existed in the first place, cannot fail later,” he concludes. Perhaps. The region has certainly remained a source of global instability. Most notably, it has become the operating base of pirates, threatening some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
It is possible to overstate the economic significance of the problem in the absence of reliable numbers. According to a 2009 report by the United States Institute, estimates measuring the direct and indirect global costs of Somalian piracy range from $1 billion to $16 billion, a paltry number when held up against total global trade. In fact, the report states that these costs can be readily, if unfairly, absorbed through higher insurance rates. Indeed, evidence suggests that the problem is abating, a development undoubtedly related to the stepped-up efforts of the international fleet, including Canada’s navy, patrolling off Somalia’s coast since 2009. Nevertheless, in the first nine months of 2012 alone, according to the International Maritime Bureau, pirates attacked 80 commercial cargo ships and hijacked 19 of them.
Somalia’s piracy has a genuine human cost for those who make an honest living on the seas. And while it would be inappropriate to sympathize with the pirates (as Klein seemingly does), their existence surely confirms the myriad failures of the international community to grant the country a semblance of a chance to succeed through basic economic development and help in governance. Yes, they are positive signs that the country is heading in the right direction. But the world has glimpsed such signs before, only to see them dashed.
Wolfgang Depner is a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan.

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