- The world is moving in a risky direction as geopolitical hotspots are destabilising, raising the risks of more hot wars breaking out
- A distracted US, growing economic pressure and increasing tendency for nations to ditch diplomacy in favour of war make for a dangerous new status quo
The world is on edge. “Balloongate” between the United States and China is just the tip of the iceberg. Alongside this are calls by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to equip his country with fighter jets, South Korea exploring managing nuclear weapons and a new strike by Israel on a weapons factory in Iran reportedly producing drones for Russia.
It is clear that the world is moving in a dangerous direction. Geopolitical hotspots that have been global headaches for decades are destabilising. At any moment, a hotspot could turn into a hot war. The world cannot withstand another conflict, though, as it would permanently fragment the globe and destroy any chance of long-term global peace and stability.
Much of what is happening stems from two things. First, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drawing the world’s attention, tensions flaring elsewhere are flying under the radar. The international community is doing little to calm the waters. Second, and more importantly, the effects of the war in Ukraine have snowballed and are influencing the politics of other nations.
To start with, countries are testing the US’ ability to hold the world together. It’s no coincidence that North Korea sent drones across its southern border – the first time since 2017 – at the end of 2022, or that Iran’s president visited China weeks before President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Russia. All this is happening as the US dedicates huge resources to Ukraine and some countries sense opportunities as they believe the US’ eye is off the ball.
Then there is the growing economic pressure that could be making people unhinged. Recent tensions between Serbia and Kosovo were sparked by a number plate law. The threat of conflict rose when an ethnic Serb assaulted a police officer in northern Kosovo and was arrested. Aggressive behaviour appears to be the new norm as ordinary people grapple with changing economic conditions.
Alongside all this, the world is ditching diplomacy. It’s becoming accepted that geopolitical tensions can no longer be frozen, such as through a ceasefire, or resolved through agreements or treaties. Nobody wants to kick the can down the road any longer. Everybody is ready to throw a punch.
A large part of this new thinking is the normalisation of war. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, few world powers wanted to risk a conflict given the potential consequences such as economic sanctions and global isolation. But as the war drags on, war is starting to be viewed differently.
On some level, war has become “manageable” – an acceptable status quo. If this trend is not slowed down or completely reversed, more wars could follow. If this happens, the world will enter unchartered territory as the pillars we stand on are destroyed.
One of the biggest potential sources of this chaos is centred around the US. Another war, especially one involving a US ally, could force the US to fight wars on multiple fronts at the same time. If Washington can’t or won’t do this, the US will not be considered a military superpower.
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This could instil doubt in US allies from Europe to Asia over whether Washington can effectively defend them. If the US cannot fight a multi-front war, it will have to choose one conflict to focus on, leaving some places out in the cold.
Another potential cause of chaos is a fragmentation of the global economy. Another war will accelerate “vertical globalisation” and the redesigning of trade and supply chains, upending global financial norms and erecting new barriers between nations. This will not just be in the short term or between adversaries, either, as even allies could see relations deteriorate if certain key resources such as lithium are limited or if certain policies are not upheld.
Equally important is the erosion of global governance. Another war will create a crisis of relevance for the world’s governing bodies, from the World Trade Organization to the United Nations. The role and influence of these organisations will be questioned if another conflict begins, and some nations might abandon them altogether.
The effects of the Ukraine conflict are still emerging. If another war begins, it could exacerbate the crisis the world is experiencing or even introduce new ones the world has not imagined and is unprepared for.
Unlike other countries caught in potential flashpoints, such as South Korea or Saudi Arabia, Ukraine is not a major economy. Whether it involves semiconductors or information technology, conflict breaking out in another hotspot could cause global economic damage unseen during the Ukraine war.
The world has entered a period in which more radical geopolitical events are happening on a daily basis. Activity on the world stage continues to increase rather than slow down. The world still has time to reconsider and pull back before another war breaks out. Should countries such as South Korea and Japan have nuclear weapons? Is there a way to bring Israel and Iran back to the negotiating table?
Time is running out and the storm clouds are gathering. The drums of war are beating and flare-ups are getting worse. War was once a generational occurrence but is quickly becoming a card that governments are seemingly willing to play, even before diplomacy. A dangerous new status quo has surfaced. Is the world ready for what comes next?
Abishur Prakash is a co-founder and geopolitical futurist at the Centre for Innovating the Future (CIF), an advisory firm based in Toronto, Canada
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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