In East Asia, there are two big tense locations where a conflict will probably involve the United States. The first is North Korea, whose nuclear weapons program has been a matter of concern since 1994. North Korea has also fired a missile over Japan, and has a large army (albeit its ability to carry out operations is debatable). The chance of things turning into a hot war are small at present, but it will increase dramatically if North Korea conducts a nuclear test or is caught exporting its nuclear weapons (they already sell ballistic missiles). Recently, an American diplomat has been quoted as saying North Korea will give up its nuclear program one way or another. Presumably, the hard way is not off the table.
The other big East Asia conflict is China-Taiwan. China recently passed an anti-secession law seen to give it legal authority to attack Taiwan. Taiwans current ruling party backs Taiwanese independence. This is a fight that will draw the attention of the United States (Chinese exercises in 1996 drew two carrier battle groups) and Japan (whose sea lanes could be threatened).
Moving along to South Asia, the major conflict there could be India vs. Pakistan. These countries have fought two major wars (1965 and 1971) and a number of minor border skirmishes (the most recent being the Kargil conflict in 1999). Both of these nations are emerging nuclear powers. However, the tensions have decreased since the 1999 conflict, mostly due to confidence-building measures, and a cease-fire signed in November 2003 appears to be holding.
In the Persian Gulf, Irans nuclear program has draw concern from the United States and Israel. European Union negotiators have been trying to mediate the dispute. At least one media report indicates that Israel maybe rehearsing an attack on some Iranian facilities. Israels 1981 attack on the Osirak nuclear plant could be repeated, and if that happens, the chance of war will increase dramatically.
The Sudan is another place where a war could occur should UN and African Union peacekeeping efforts in Darfur fail. At least one agreement has been signed between Sudan and one of the tribes that had been providing support to guerillas, and the UN and African Union will have a combined force of 22,000 peacekeepers in that region, although that region probably would require a minimum of 50,000 troops. Furthermore, the Sudanese governments delay and obfuscation has allowed it to consolidate the ill-gotten gains in Darfur. Tribal violence and civil war in Africa also is occurring, notably in the Congo. Thirty thousand people a month die there, and UN peacekeepers are now getting killed or wounded on a regular basis.
In the Americas, things are mostly calm, although Venezuela is turning into a potential civil war. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez has taken the step of creating Bolivarian Circles that are loyal to him. This has made the military uneasy and there has already been one coup against Chavez (in April 2002). Chavez is trying to head that off. In 2001, Chavez also made noises about the disputed Essequibo region. Starting a war to deflect attention from domestic problems has been done before in that region (see the Falklands). Chavez hopes to make Venezuela another Cuba. What is more likely is a larger-scale version of the civil wars in Central America during the 1980s. Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Where will future wars most likely break out? One thing history has taught us is that at times, wars can come almost by surprise (see the attacks of 9/11 or the 1982 Falklands War). But the usual case is that tensions will increase prior to a war. So, which areas are the most tense?