Global Flashpoint Rankings For September 2016

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Honorable Mention: Libya and Brazil

  1. Venezuela– Venezuela is staring directly at the largest political, economic, and humanitarian catastrophe in its history. Instead of fixing the issue, the government of Nicolas Maduro is doubling down on the policies that has brought his nation to the edge of the abyss.

 

  1. Iraq– Government forces are preparing to launch an offensive aimed at liberating Mosul from IS control. While this is happening, Iraqi Defense Minister Kahled al-Obeidi was removed from power amid allegations of corruption. And then there is the matter of the 100,000 Iran-backed fighters currently inside of Iraq and what the future holds for them.

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  1. Yemen– The conflict between Iranian-supported Houthi rebels and a coalition of Gulf nations drags on without an end in sight. The US and Saudi Arabia have unveiled a plan to resume talks to bring an end to the fighting. The number of civilian casualties has been horrifically high. Saudi airstrikes in August have resulted in a particularly high number of casualties, but the Houthis are just as much to blame. On 26 August the Houthis claimed to have launched a missile that successfully struck a Saudi Aramco oil facility.

 

  1. Baltic States/Eastern Europe– An area relatively quiet for at moment, but there is a large amount of nervous tension just below the surface. The Baltic States are concerned that they are next on Putin’s list once he finishes with Ukraine. Many in Poland and Romania feel the same.

 

  1. Turkey– Erdogan’s actions and behavior post-coup attempt indicate that paranoia and vindictiveness are driving him, at least in the short term. Turkey’s warming relations with Russia and moves against Kurdish rebels on the other side of the border with Syria hint at a very different Turkey emerging in the future.

 

  1. Ukraine– Following a period of relative inactivity, Ukraine became a flashpoint once more in August. Russian accusations of alleged Ukrainian efforts to provoke a conflict, border incidents, the resupply of pro-Russian forces in the Donbas region, large Russian military exercises in and around the Black Sea have combined to put Ukraine on edge. Putin has a plan set in motion and many Ukrainians are worried it includes Russian tanks rolling into Kiev.

 

  1. Strait of Hormuz/Persian Gulf– Iran has gone back to its old ways and begun aggressively shadowing US Navy ships in the region. Twice in the past week US warships have been forced to fire warning shots at Iranian vessels that have come too close. The influx of money that Iran is experiencing, coupled with its warming relations with Russia appear to be emboldening Tehran to exert its status as a regional power.

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  1. North Korea– North Korea is at it again too. Another test firing of a ballistic missile as US-ROK military exercises get underway. North Korea’s latest test comes as a protest against the exercises as well as the future deployment of THAAD batteries to the Republic of Korea. There are rumors of a underground nuclear test set for some point in the near future as well. If it weren’t for the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons, it would be ranked at #4 or #5. As it stands though, the unstable nation-state does possess nuclear weapons and needs to be watched carefully.

 

  1. South China Sea/Westpac– Following last month’s legal decision in The Hague, China continues to fortify its position over maritime claims. Beijing claims that the decision contains no bearing on its rights and claims in the South China Sea. Construction on Fiery Cross Reef has continued and even been ramped up. Satellite photographs plainly show that preparations are military in nature. Joint Chinese-Russian naval exercises are also scheduled to take place in the SCS in September. With the G20 summit coming to China next month, the South China Sea will be a topic of discussion and a flashpoint for the foreseeable future. In the East China Sea, the Senkaku Islands dispute is deteriorating relations between China and Japan.

Syria

  1. Syria-There is no disputing that Syria is the hottest flashpoint in the world right now. The Syrian War is no longer purely a civil war between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its opponents. Regional and world powers are both directly and indirectly involved in the fighting. Russia and the US both have military forces on the ground. There are a host of competing mini-conflicts going on in this war. Russia vs ISIS, Russia vs Pro-West opposition groups, the US vs ISIS, Assad vs everyone but Russia and Iran, and now Turkey vs ISIS and the Kurdish rebels. Syria is a veritable powder keg at the moment. If it explodes, it will take the entire region and perhaps more down with it.

 

Friday 29 July, 2016 Update: Erdogan’s Realpolitik

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In the two weeks following the failed coup in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a busy fellow. His purge of known or suspected supporters of the Gulen movement from the military, government services, and essentially the entire nation has expanded to include any and all opposition to his rule. The number of arrests connected to the coup attempt has risen above 6,000 along with thousands of others detained or dismissed from their positions for reasons which are not so clear. Media outlets are the next target on Erdogan’s list. On Wednesday, the government ordered 100 media outlets to be closed using the justification that these organizations have suspected ties to Gulen..

The purge is not the only disconcerting episode taking place with regards to Turkey right now. Erdogan’s relationship with the EU is on shaky ground. He wants to bring back the death penalty as punishment for the coup plotters. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of the effort to join the European Union. EU officials have stated clearly that should Turkey bring back capital punishment, all negotiations regarding Turkey becoming a full EU member will cease. Instead of moving to patch up the rift, Erdogan has chosen instead to take the EU-Turkey refugee deal hostage and make demands that will benefit his consolidation of power instead of the nation as a whole.

The same can be said for Erdogan’s overall relationship with the West. The reactions to the coup from the US and Europe were not supportive of Erdogan and his party. The US and EU reactions to the coup were a uniform call for the rules of democracy to be respected. When the dust settled post-coup, Erdogan chastised the US and Europe for not doing enough to support Turkish democracy. He demanded that the US extradite Gulen back to Turkey to face charges. The US refused, rightfully so. Next, Erdogan accused a retired US general of planning the coup. The accusation was groundless, yet Erdogan was undeterred and made yet another attempt to embarrass the United States. This time he is accusing the commander of US Central Command General Joseph Votel of being ‘on the side of the plotters’ because of remarks he made about how the jailing or Turkish military commanders will degrade US-Turkey military co-operation.

As Erdogan is lashing out at the US and the West, he is simultaneously making a concerted effort  to forge closer ties with Russia. This is where it gets interesting. Russia would love nothing more than to drive a wedge between Turkey and NATO. Turkey is a NATO member and a very significant one at that. Erdogan understands the leverage that he, as the ruler of Turkey, possesses and could be using the possibility of closer relations with Russia as a way to extort favorable concessions from his NATO partners. Some people call that blackmail, while others refer to it as realpolitik.

Friday 22 July, 2016: Some Changes Ahead For DIRT’s Itinerary

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Much has happened in Europe over the last three weeks or so. The attack in Nice, the failed coup in Turkey, a leadership change in the United Kingdom and today, another terror attack against civilians in Munich. When I began outlining topics for the Embattled Europe series late last month I didn’t foresee the overall situation in Europe continuing to deteriorate at the rate it has. To be frank, I expected there to be a brief period of adjustment. A proverbial calm before the storm, so to speak.

Unfortunately, my forecast was off—way off.

As a result, I’m in the process of making adjustments to the schedule of blog posts for the next three weeks. Europe is not the only area where things are happening right now. In fact, with the exception of Antarctica, there are hotspots, crises, and instability running rampant on every continent. Even North America and Australia have felt the sting in recent weeks.

In order to focus attention on what is happening in other areas around the world, I’m shelving the remaining Embattled Europe articles until mid-August. Between now and then, I intend to take a fresh look at North Korea, the South China Sea and other flashpoints across the globe. Turkey will receive a respectable amount of attention considering what is taking place there right now in the wake of last week’s coup attempt.

I hope everyone enjoys the coming weekend and come Monday we’ll start fresh.

 

Monday 18 July, 2016 Update: Turkey Purges It’s Military, Raising Concerns

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In the wake of the failed coup attempt last week, Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan has cast a wide net across Turkey’s armed forces, police and other civil services. The purge under way right now in the military is resulting in thousands of enlisted men, NCOs and officers all being detained. The officer corps especially has been ruthlessly dealt with. Politically, the actions of Erdogan’s government make sense.  The military was the driving force behind the coup attempt after all and it is unclear deep the betrayal runs. This will not be a short term action. Erdogan is driven to remove all vestiges of opposition to him from the services.

Unfortunately, the purge will bring about significant consequences for Turkey’s military posture and national security. As hundreds, if not thousands of Turkish officers are arrested, morale in the military is already plummeting. Effective and popular commanders are being placed in detention whether or not they had anything to do with the coup. Their replacements will be officers who’s only qualification for the job is loyalty to Erdogan. Those officers who are left will be too busy looking over their shoulders to run their units properly. As morale plunges, military readiness will follow close behind at a time when Turkey needs its armed forces to be prepared and vigilant against potential threats such as ISIS, what remains of Syria’s military and Russia.

In the coming weeks, Turkish intelligence and law enforcement services will be working to determine how deep the coup ran while Erdogan’s government uses the uprising as justification for a nationwide crackdown. Turkey’s attention will be inexorably focused inward. How will Ankara’s external enemies and rivals try to use this to their advantage? More significant is how NATO and the European Union could inevitably respond to Erdogan’s crackdown.

Turkish Coup Update: Coup Faltering, Erdogan Lands In Istanbul

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The attempted coup in Turkey is faltering at this hour as the military faction that seized control earlier today had failed to consolidate its hold on power. Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s call for his supporters to take to the streets appears to have been answered. Erdogan’s aircraft has landed in Istanbul and already spoken to the nation. Erdogan claims the coup was launched by a minority group in the Turkish military. He called the uprising an act of treason and those responsible will face punishment.

News reports paint a picture of violent clashes between protesters and the military in Istanbul earlier in the morning resulting in 6 deaths and 100 wounded. The city appears to be calm right now, while the situation in Ankara remains unclear. The fact that Erdogan went to Istanbul instead of the Turkish capital indicates that the capital city might not be secure. Earlier a bomb exploded at the Turkish parliament building killing 12 and coup supporters have reportedly seized control of CNN Turk. There have been numerous other reports of clashes between military units and police units loyal to the government leading to casualties.

The situation is still  somewhat fluid and Erdogan’s return to power is not yet guaranteed. When he arrives back in Ankara it will be a concrete sign that he has resumed his duties and has full control of the military once more.