Potential 2020 Flashpoints: Libya

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The proxy war going on in Libya has deepened in recent weeks and the trend shows every sign of continuing in the early days of the new year. The prospect of overt foreign intervention hangs over the conflict now with Turkey preparing to deploy troops and naval vessels to support the internationally-recognized Libyan government. The Turks intend for its navy to help defend Tripoli and the Government of National Accord (GNA) as the forces of  Khalifa Haftar continue to pose a threat. Turkish troops on the ground will help train and coordinate GNA forces similar to the manner in which Turkish troops aided anti-Assad rebels in Syria. On the subject of Syria, Turkey will also send Syrian rebels to fight against Haftar’s Libyan National Army.

Turkish President Erdogan appears to be regarding the GNA as a high-value investment worth protecting. Its certainly in Turkey’s best interest to prop up the Libyan government after the lucrative maritime deal signed between the two nations which creates a Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from Turkey’s southern Mediterranean shore to Libya’s northeast coast. This move has shaken the region and helped crystallize opposition to Turkey’s intervention.

Libya’s neighbors Tunisia, and Algeria are concerned about the events taking place to their east. The most direct worry is that the fighting will spillover into their territory. Algeria, which has experienced a somewhat volatile political year, and is enduring economic difficulties as a result, is rumored to be considering throwing its support behind the GNA. Tunisia’s intentions are not clear although it has mobilized its military and placed forces on its border with Libya as a precaution.

Turkey’s move towards intervention is bringing about diplomatic backlash. Many nations are cautioning against the dangers of foreign intervention in Libya, although it should be mentioned that most of the nations cautioning about foreign intervention are in fact supporting Khalifa Haftar and his forces. As 2019 comes to a close, Libya seems poised to become a larger proxy war involving a constellation of ideological, political, and economic interests. Some observers have pointed out similarities between Libya in 2019, and Syria in the early days of its civil war. Personally, I think that Libya is nothing more than a shining example of the consequences brought upon the Middle East by Arab Spring. Even nine years later the region continues to feel the effects.

Potential 2020 Flashpoints: North Korea

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North Korea is a flashpoint threatening to burst even before 2020 is upon us. December has seen the tension in northeast Asia ratchet up amid vague North Korean threats and Trump administration assurances that it will contend with any North Korean ‘Christmas Gift’ decisively. Just one week remains until the North Korea-imposed end of the year deadline for the US to make concessions and revive the stalled nuclear talks takes effect. There has been widespread speculation concerning what action North Korea could take if the deadline passes without US concessions.

The greatest concern in Washington is that North Korea’s ‘Christmas Gift’ winds up being a provocative action that demands a swift, decisive US response. A long-range missile test is a perfect example of something that would leave the US no choice but to take action. Testing a missile with enough range to reach US territory is a red line. Should it be crossed by Kim Jong Un, the end result will almost certainly be a US military response of some sort.

North Korea’s ultimate goal is to persuade the United States to roll back the economic sanctions now in place while maintaining its status as a nuclear power. Where the US has sought to inextricably link sanction relief and denuclearization, North Korea has gone to extremes to keep them separate. There are signs of internal political pressure starting to build on the Pyongyang regime, and this could be one of the factors prompting Kim to adopt a hardline status. Contrary to some of the inaccurate assessments of the North Korean leader by a number of talking-heads in the media, Kim Jong Un is undoubtedly playing the role of a rational actor in this drama. His overall strategy has been predicated on regime survival and maintaining his position as supreme leader.

As it stands right now on this Christmas Day, North Korea’s vague threats are intended to keep the world guessing for at least another week. This is a topic that will undoubtedly be written about frequently in the coming days so I’m going to end it here for the moment.

Merry Christmas to everyone! 😊

Potential 2020 Flashpoints: Kashmir

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Kashmir is a long-established flashpoint and the focal point of Indo-Pakistani hostilities since 1948. 2019 saw the disputed region flare up once again, almost leading to open conflict between India and Pakistan in February. A suicide bombing by a Pakistani-supported terrorist group killed 40 Indian security personnel. Two weeks of rising tension followed, culminating with Indian and Pakistan launching airstrikes on targets in each other’s territory. The situation remained tense and then in August India’s revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) special status threatened to spark a major conflict.

Over the past few days the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) has deteriorated with ceasefire violations bringing on cross-border shelling, and raids by Indian and Pakistani troops. The latest bout of fighting comes on the heels of Pakistan accusing India of moving medium-range ballistic missiles into Kashmir, and allegedly removing fencing in areas along the LoC. The Pakistani foreign minister warned India against “any misadventure” at the line, highlighting Pakistan’s concerns about events in the area.

Kashmir will continue to be an area worth monitoring in 2020. As the Modi government continues to project its nationalist-fueled domestic and foreign policies, the prospect of Kashmir erupting in fighting again remains high. Pakistan has relied on diplomacy to challenge India’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, those efforts have not forced India to reconsider its designs for J&K and its millions of Muslim residents. The Modi government’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is causing headaches on the domestic front. Violent protests, and unrest have broken out across India as opposition to the bill grows. Pakistan is worried India could be thinking about engineering a military conflict somewhere along the LoC to divert attention away from the anti-CAA protests.

As is evident above, the dynamic on the ground in Kashmir is made up of many moving parts. More important is the fact those parts are becoming more brittle as time goes on. Going into the new year, it will not take much to turn the region into a conflagration that could spark a major war, or worse. Bear in mind that both India, and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons.