The Die Has Been Cast
Pt. I of II – America, The Middle East, and Europe
By. Raimondo Graziano
~ Both pieces were written sometime last year, March about – these have not been published anywhere.
Some time ago I stepped onto a train. There were many carts, and each cart had a different flag and belonged to different nations, and each cart was connected by ropes, and levers, and twine and metal – some bringing the carts closers, and some practically falling apart at the seams. Each cart was filled, all the doors of all the carts were open, and it was easy and simple for people to move about freely. Everyone in the cart generally had good relations with one another. They talked and laughed and even traded goods with one another. And of course, they fought – great and terribly they fought. This train, however, is not going anywhere in particular. Although some on the train do believe there is a place they are heading, others do not. This leads to quarrel and terrible devastation – this train has been moving for so long that some carts today are barely recognizable, and the whole of the train is getting quite, quite… tired. Recently something has changed in the train. Many can see it, and many can feel it, though most cannot pick a time for when it really began. When the train began to change. When the doors to each of the carts began to shut, and when one train became many, each barreling toward a cliff, all in conflict with each other. The passengers are seldom aware and, in truth, are too occupied to care. When one train became many, each with its own brash and bold conductor, when we stepped away from unity in the pursuit of a more unified world, we began to sleepwalk collectively toward a conflict that will change the landscape and minds of our world for all coming time. Some time ago, I stepped onto a train and the die had already been cast.
There is a storm brewing all across the world at this very moment. There are lines being drawn, and allies and foes alike are digging in their trenches; the machine that is WAR is grinding. You need only a vague understanding of the current affairs of the nations of the world to see the very writing on the wall. Each region our gaze is cast upon has its turmoil and its trials, and each nation of each of those regions is entrenched for the looming conflict ahead. In this piece I hope to dissect each region and lay out the connection between them, and the treaties and alliances being formed, reminiscent of the days and months prior to the start of the First World War. It is my belief that like the first, the third will be a total war based upon the principles of rearmament and the foggy nature of a growing web of alliances between nations of conflicting and intertwining interests. The events of the past twenty years or so, both political and otherwise, have helped to foster an air of uncertainty.
It has been seventy years since a major crisis among world powers came to a close. The end of World War Two saw the birth of the United Nations, and a push for greater global integration and cooperation. On the heels of this was the pullback from European powers of their colonial holdings, leaving a great many vacuums in countries who had not known independent rule for decades if not centuries. This has inevitably led to conflicts in these regions where colonial power was ceded to independent rule. Many of the crises of today, of which there are many, all connected in a loose and sometimes direct way can be traced to the ceding of this colonial power, and more importantly to the subjugation of the peoples and nations decades, and centuries prior to their independence. Internationally there is a severe lack of understanding between those who rule, their advisors, all the ministers, and those who are ruled. And only time can foment the sentiments which lead to war, nationalism, and crisis among peoples. An ever-entangling web of alliances, commitments, and strategic interests have further complicated the dynamics between nations-states, and further increased the likelihood of war. And this is not the first time, nor will it be the last that the mistakes of the past and our lack of understanding of the severity of our actions have lead us and will continue to lead us to the point we stand at today and to where we may be in the coming times. Today, we stand closer to a conflict between major powers since the start of the second World War.
The end of the second World War, precipated the beginning of the Cold War. A conflict between the ideologies of Capitalism and Liberal Democracy, and Communism, Socialist Republics. The United States and the Soviet Union vying globally for dominance and supremacy and involving themselves and their cohorts globally in a quest for primacy. Smaller conflicts, proxies between the greater powers have destabilized the regions in which they occurred, further exacerbating tensions between those very nations leading to despots rising to power, the degrading of civil liberties and flared and seared tensions amongst the West and the East and all in between. When the Soviet Union collapsed, and the West was seen as the victor in this ideological struggle, there was a period of peace – relative peace – peace enough for other emergent powers and the already entrenched to build their economies further, and to grow and stock their military. The destabilization and interventions of both the Western and Eastern powers did soon catch up, and the horrors laid onto those whom we once again subjugated like the colonies of old, began to pointedly bring the fight to our shores – not by organized armies or invasions of mass troops but by militant groups, flying under a banner of sporadic attacks, with no central location and no hope for diplomacy and whose name we have given as terror.
The downing of the Twin Towers set off a series of events culminating in both the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The latter helping to destabilize the entirety of the region, and the former – a war which the United States is still engaged in. The United States conducted affairs and worked indirectly and with a nod to the many rising democratic pushes occurring across the Middle East. They provided encouragement, and assistance covertly and directly. The Western powers most notably intervened to depose Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, who too was dealing with a push for democracy by his people. A noted Russian and Syrian ally, with his death their leaders took note. His death cemented further distrust by these two nations and helped to draw them closer together. This did not help the already tenuous situation. Many of these uprisings were met with bombs and bullets by government backed forces, and the allies of those governments provided cover and assistance both on the ground and in the international bodies that are meant to deal with these abuses. The events of the past twenty years have shown a glaring inefficiency in our international governing bodies capabilities to enforce norms and to guarantee peace and justice. The turmoil that roils the Middle East in the afterward of these events continues today – most pointedly in Syria, the epicenter of the current global crisis today where a civil war has been raging for seven years now which has drawn in the major powers of Europe, Russia, The United States, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia and risks engulfing all the surrounding powers and their interests that are separate from this very specific theatre. The crisis which has spilled over to neighboring nations, and which has caused the largest refuge count since the second World War. Due to the very collapse of nations, and the deterioration of standards of living among peoples and the inability to return to what was once called home, we have been seeing and continue to see a mass exodus from the region. However, what we call the migrant crisis is only a symptom of a growing and dangerous illness.
The numerous incursions and interventions by Western powers, and lacking clear methods for reconstruction efforts, has left nations throughout the Middle East in ruin. From Libya to Syria, migrants seeking a safer and more secure future for themselves and their children have been fleeing en masse by the Mediterranean Sea in makeshift boats and shanties, perilously setting out to sea to reach the shores of Europe. Throughout the Middle East there lay mass camps of migrant’s seeking a path to Europe for asylum for the terrors that wait at was once called home. From the flooding of European states with migrants, the tensions between citizens and asylum seekers are testing the very values of Western civilization – an offer of peace and refuge for those who so desire it. The counter to these values of liberty are those of a crude nationalism and populism. To love one’s country and revere it is fine, but to use it as a cloak for our worst tendencies betrays the true values of the West. In the wake of the migrant crisis, Europe as well as the United States has been dealing with a swelling of nationalist and populist leaning political movements from Marie Le Pen of Frances National Front, to Gert Wilders of the Netherlands Freedom Party, to the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Anti-immigrant sentiments, skepticism of the European Union, the United Nations, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the supremacy of nations-state and sovereign self-determination are central to their core beliefs.
Europe’s Right and that of the United States have been rising since the middle of the start of the century. The factors leading thusly to this point are many and travel along the same vein. Firstly, we have the destabilization of the Middle East through military adventures, secondly, we have a global economy under immense strain and rocked by scandal with subsequent stock market crash and loss of jobs and immense wealth. From the destabilization of the structures of the nations of the Middle East we see mass exodus from here to nations under immense strain economically, and struggugling so already with suspicion of those deemed foreign. This all goes on while on a larger global scale, the world enters a period of immense change, where the economies of the world grow more interdependent and the peoples of the world become more accessible to each other. What has been called globalization.
What we are seeing in Europe today, in the United States today – all over the world – is a concerted push back against these very happenings. As the world enters immensely confusing times, where there is no clear road laid ahead, where the future seems more than ever uncertain, the popular majority of people look to and seek comfort in strong leaders. Perceived strength, military power, protecting borders, and building up the nations people, and only that of the nation’s people. We are afraid so we ostracize and alienate those who we do not understand, rather than opening a dialogue to foster understanding which we now so desperately need. When we turn to strong men who strongarm, we drift more and more to a world of greater and more frequent autocracy. This then leads to greater clamp downs on the press, on our civil liberties, on dissidents and on those seeking refuge from horror abroad. In short, as understanding is choked out by the fog of uncertainty and the suspicion of all peoples against all people, we drift ever closer to war. We need only look to Russia for strong man leadership and a portrait of autocracy in this new century. While the United States and its European allies have not helped to ease tension with Russia, Russia has not been a cooperative actor either. From American deployments of missile defense systems, and arrays of military exercise and deployments of hardware on both sides, over the years Eastern Europe has become more and more militarized. With the expansion of the European Union and NATO eastward this is viewed as an encroachment on Russian sovereignty, with the intention of encircling the country with American, German, and French arms. In response, Russia has often resorted to military measures against neighboring countries considering alliance with the West – Georgia and the Ukraine come to mind. To counter these moves, American, German and French soldiers, air squadrons, and naval assets pour into the Baltics, into Poland, Norway, Finland and the surrounding areas. Russian planes buzz American warships in the Baltics, and in the Mediterranean. One such incident in Syria involved the purported strike on Russian mercenaries operating in Syria, supposedly taking the lives of over three hundred. More and more we are seeing a greater number of instances where Western and Eastern powers may clash.
At the center of this maelstrom lies Syria. A series of actors all vying for Middle Eastern supremacy. What began as a civil war has now become so much more than that; it is the most probable locale for a conflict between great states. Conflicting interests of the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Israel have created a quagmire with the people always left in the middle. Iranian and Syrian troops acting in consort with Russian troops. An American and British presence on the ground, with American and French naval and air forces not far off from the shore. Turkish troops putting down American backed Kurdish fighters in the north. Israeli strikes, Allied strikes, Russian strikes all operating within the same theatre. All Gulf States in the region have weighed in on the conflict in Syria. Conflicting interests threaten Iran and Saudi Arabia’s ties as well, not only in Syria but in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has waged war against Houthi rebels, backed by the Iranian regime. Iran’s regional allies, the politically militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah have threatened both the Saudis and the Israelis. To compound the entirety of the situation we have two further complicated issues in this region of the world. Firstly, the President of the United States has declared his intention to move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a historically symbolic move which threatens the very nature of the tenuous relationship between the Palestinians, who claim Jerusalem and the Israelis, who claim Jerusalem – one of the key pieces for peace in the Middle East. Secondly, the fate of the Iran Nuclear Accord lies in the balance as the President threatens to unilaterally pull out of an agreement signed by France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Iran.
This comes at a time of increased belligerence between Iran and Israel. Iran, who has threatened to destroy Israel, and Israel who views Iran as an existential threat. Within the last three months, there have been three instances of near direct confrontation between the two. Firstly, the downing of an unmanned Iranian aircraft nearing Israeli territory, with the subsequent loss of an Israeli fighter jet. Secondly, Israeli airstrikes which have killed upward of twenty Iranian soldiers operating in Syria on two separate contained incidents. In the midst of this, Israeli has claimed eighty thousand Iranian fighters are stationed in Syria, both sides have now threatened to target each other’s capitals as the escalating war of words continues. Syria, the greater Middle East, and Europe, all apart of a dangerous game being played out by Western and Eastern forces, all with divergent interests and a great deal of arms and armaments.
What remains to be seen is how, where, and when the die will land, and on whom the burdens will fall upon. And remember in each board game, there are always two dice thrown upon the board. The Middle East, Europe and the United States are only one piece, one die, in this great political game. There is a second die, a second theatre, perhaps less volatile but posing an ever-increasing risk to the international order that has been established since the end of World War Two. A rising power, though not emergent but emboldened by the very institutions that have lifted them into the international community as a force of economic, manufacturing, and now military power. We cast our gaze Eastward to Asia, and the Pacific. And looming over it all is the threat of a trade war between the world’s second largest economy, and a growing arms race between the major powers that be.
The Die Has Been Cast
Pt. II of II – South East Asia & the Pacific
By. Raimondo Graziano
Far off in the East, while the West toils and tumbles through their issues of nationalism, foreign intervention, and a push against the norms they helped to establish, China positions itself center stage as the torch bearer for a faltering Western order. With the United States bogged down in the Middle East and entrenched in Europe, their forces are spread thin throughout the Pacific, countering growing Chinese influence and building off the policy of the previous American administration of pivoting to Asia.
There are numerous concerns in the South East Asian and Pacific theatre, from the growing militarization of the South China Sea by China’s expansion of its naval presence and island building outfitting them with radar, jammers, and airstrips for military cargo and assets, to the growing influence and subtle military implications of China’s much lauded Belt & Road Initiative. The first, expanding China’s influence and military presence in a crucial global trade passageway where over five trillion or a third of global maritime trade worth of trade goods moves each year. Needless to say, the natural resources interred are another incentive for growing Chinese encroachment in international waters. The revelation of the installation of missile batteries on the island, both anti-ship and surface to air further degrade relations with the United States, and serve as an implicit threat to its nearing dominance of that region. The second, China’s Belt & Road initiative – a series of investments along the old Silk Road connecting China to Europe through a series of trade & investment opportunities, as well as state-owned companies pouring billions into infrastructure in developing countries along the route. The Chinese too are purchasing old ports in the Indian Ocean and along the route to refurbish and outfit for civilian purposes. Although there is an important caveat – the Chinese are making the distinction that these ports may eventually be used for military purposes, with civilian shipping companies being obligated to outfit, refuel and base military personal from aircraft to naval and personal assets. In essence the Chinese are building a series of fast-tracked and cheap military bases along the route to further project their power. In truth, it is breathtaking, and admirably ambitious.
These investments run the risk of putting these nations in an economically dependent position with the Chinese, possibly cornering them into one day making costly concessions to this emergent Chinese Empire. In Africa, China looks to expand its influence with investments there as well, and a growing military presence helping to oversee its modernization of the countries the West colonized and, in the process, building a network of allies, who could, too, find themselves indebted to the generosity of the growing Chinese umbrella. Along the Road and around the world, The Communist Party of China, the strongest and most enshrined institution in their country is expanding an international propaganda campaign through investment in universities, specifically Communist Party branches at schools promoting party ideology abroad. All this is a concerted effort to strengthen their influence globally, and position themselves as the champions of the modern world, carrying the torch for an order established by the West, who is faltering in its ability to shoulder its self-imposed responsibilities.
In recent months the Chinese leadership helmed by President Xi Jinping has consolidated power in the single man, abolishing term limits and expanding the bureaucratic powers of the state with the implementation of sweeping anticorruption reform and an agency to oversee these activities to boot. The agency has been crucial in the purging of dissenters to the reforms of the party. The changes being ushered in by President Xi Jinping can be overseen indefinitely as China enters a crucial point in its history as a growing world power. Emboldened and rearing for a center spot in world affairs, amid morally compromised United States leadership, and a reluctant Europe, China’s bravado on the international stage and militarily is ever-increasing. With patrols in the South China Sea effectively claiming the corridor for its own, claims to islands that Japan calls its rightful territory and threats to use military force to enforce its claims and the added effects of increased buzzing of United States ships and personal, China is throwing its muscle around, however contained and restrained it may be. With the United States signaling an openness to greater ties with Taiwan – an independent nation, whom China claims as a rogue province – the Chinese have been encircling and running patrols near and around the island. In response, the United States has flown bombers close to the Chinese shore in a show of force to the confident in Beijing. The interdependence of the United States and China economically lowers the risk for direct confrontation but the threat prevails, and only cool heads will temper the atmosphere of conflict.
Most directly and in the current public eye is the ever-present threat of North Korean aggression by its bellicose rhetoric and frequent missile tests, many flying directly over northern Japan, a close United States ally. In the past two years, the North has barreled ahead with stunning efficiency in the developments of their nuclear program. Under the threat of military intervention by American forces, which experts have predicted would lead to the death of millions within weeks, the world has waited with bated breath as we once again contemplate the prospect of nuclear war. The prospect of war between the two Koreas and the United States could possibly lead to the drawing in of Japan, who in response for the first time since the end of the second World War has regarrisoned an offensive marine division- a sign of these growing tensions. Also, to be likely drawn in is the behemoths that are China and Russia – the latter two border the North. A war would lead to an outpouring of refugees to the two nations, further exacerbating the international refugee crisis. American bases in Guam and Japan would assuredly be targeted as well as civilian centers in South Korea, as Seoul is in range of North Korean artillery – one of the largest stockpiles of artillery shells in the world and only miles from the Demilitarized Zone, a stretch of land dividing the two Koreas heavily fortified and with sweeping patrols and mines along the entire border. Defense Secretary James Mattis of the United States has been quoted as saying a war on the Korean Peninsula would be “catastrophic.”
In an effort to avert such a catastrophe, the world powers have embarked on an effort to dissuaded North Korea from continuing down a path of aggression through economic sanctions. While the world powers steam ahead with their maximum pressure campaign, an often-reticent China and Russia, crucial enablers of the North Korean regime, fail to commit fully to international sanctions meant to curb their nuclear ambitions, furthering the risk of conflict in the region. Recent progress made on talks between the two Koreas, the prospect of ending a decades long war, stalled only through armistice, and the coming summit between President Donald Trump of the United States and Chairmen Kim Jong-Un, raise the hopes of peace and stability in the region. Though the outcome of such talks remains to be seen, and whether the North will commit to its promises being made is unknown. If the past is any measure of the coming times, then the days ahead are clouded.
It is my belief that there is a concerted push for peace in South East Asia and the Pacific, despite the moves and measures being taken militarily. There is a need for peace in the East. As the situation in the West deteriorates, the United States and it allies may have the propensity to concentrate their efforts in a region they know well, and with an adversary, or adversaries, they may be matched to handle. The prospect for a wider war between China and the West would decimate the global economy and the humanitarian crises that would ensue would be of staggering proportions. I argue that peace is being sought in the East because it may be in the interests of all involved parties. Note the accords and overtures being made by India and Pakistan for greater military cooperation the two often being at loggerheads. Further between China and India attempting to quell and ease tensions regarding border disputes.
I see four rails this train may travel on. Firstly, war in the West, Europe, and the Middle East. Secondly, war in the East, South East Asia and the Pacific. Thirdly, a war fought on two fronts – the East and the West – this being a total collapse of international diplomacy and the safeguards meant to prevent such a cataclysm. Fourthly, and the one we all would hope for – a tense, and precarious but manageable peace. In the interest of all parties, this would be the preferred outcome, where diplomacy and statesmanship prevail to bring the world from the brink. For the sake of the world, and for our children and grandchildren, we should all work and pray for a lasting peace.