This is our annual summary of current war zones and an overview of where it is all heading. After this overview there is the alphabetical list of the war zones and a quick summary of how the local mayhem has been proceeding. Since we have been covering this sort of thing for over twenty years now there are many war zones that have gone quiet. We left most of those in summary, with a note that those wars had gone dormant, and maybe extinct. History shows that dormant is more common than extinct. Forever wars, or at least multi-century ones, are an ancient tradition.
Overall things are a lot more peaceful than the headlines or Internet chatter would have you believe. Like most major trends, world peace just kind of sneaked up on everyone and a lot of people have not noticed. Thanks to modern tech, mainly ubiquitous access to cell phones and the Internet, any mayhem anywhere on the planet easily becomes another news item for a global audience. This gives the impression of more violence when it is nothing more than unprecedented general access to violence that until recently was never broadcast worldwide and accompanied by video. That gives a false impression that has not been widely acknowledged. Historians, anthropologists and archeologists have found that centuries ago life was a lot more violent and we have long known that life spans were much shorter. This is still the case with surviving tribal and Stone Age cultures as well as what we have come to call “failed states” like Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan.
While there are still a few stone-age cultures left on the planet there are also several more advanced ones that are cursed with a culture of medieval mayhem. These are the failed states and the most active ones, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan are often in the news. There are still a few imperial powers making headlines as they try to rebuild lost empires. Most empires disappeared over the last two centuries but several have survived and are trying to bring back the good old days, for the emperor and his cronies, of power and glory. Empires are dictatorships because democracy and imperial behavior do not mix. The troublesome empires currently in the news include China, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Islamic Caliphate. Turkey, Russia and Iran are technically democracies but for the moment the imperial spirit is ascendant and the main cause of problems is aggression towards neighbors who were once part of their empire. The most active current example is Russia, which is actively seeking to reclaim Ukraine, Belarus, and the three Baltic States. All of these were part of the Soviet Union until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, with the loss of half its population and some of the most productive territories. None of these former Soviet territories have asked to rejoin the empire and many have joined NATO in an effort to keep the Russians out.
Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, deaths from wars and large-scale civil disorder, which is often recorded as some kind of war, has led to a sharp drop in violence worldwide. This occurred despite increasingly active and lethal Islamic terror groups. While the terror attacks themselves were news, the current and historical causes of the Islamic terrorism were not. Examining that would have revealed that Islamic radicalism has a large anti-technology component, which is why Islamic terrorist violence tends to be low tech and disorganized. That explains why most war deaths are not caused by terrorists and even in 2014, a peak year for Islamic death cults seeking to revive the Caliphate (Islamic Empire), terrorism related deaths, mostly Islamic terrorism, accounted for 20 percent of all war related deaths. Islamic terrorism gets the most publicity but less glamorous disputes do most of the killing.
Islamic terrorism no longer dominates the news now that ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has been crushed but not destroyed. Global Islamic terrorism related deaths have fallen by over 50 percent since 2014, when there were 35,000. Global deaths hit 19,000 in 2017, under 16,000 for 2018 and that downward trend continued into 2021. This activity is most visible in the GTI (Global Terrorism Index), which counts all forms of terrorism. In 2018 Egypt has dropped out of the top ten as they suppressed most of the Islamic terrorist activity in Sinai. In 2017 Egypt was number three but for 2019 it was at fourteen. The 2019 top ten consists of Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, India, Congo and the Philippines. India, Philippines, Yemen and Congo all have Islamic terrorism accounting for a minority of the deaths. In 2018 worldwide terrorism deaths declined 15 percent to 15,952. This decline is, so far, a four-year trend and Syria is one of the areas where there have been fewer deaths in the last few years. Egypt saw an even more dramatic 90 percent decline. This decline has continued for 2020 but the headline news does not cover trends like that. The old news adage, “if it bleeds it leads” is as true as ever.
From 2014 to 2019 five nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan) accounted for most of these deaths. The largest source of Islamic terror deaths during that period was ISIL, a more radical faction of al Qaeda that currently is where the most radical practitioners of Islamic terrorism are found. Islamic terrorists continue to be, as it has been since the 1990s, the main source of terrorism related deaths, accounting for about 90 percent of the fatalities. The remainder of the terrorist related deaths are ethnic (often tribal) conflicts in Africa and Asia. Purely political terrorism accounts for a fraction of one percent of all terrorist related deaths and are outnumbered by terrorism deaths inflicted by common, often organized, criminals.
How Failed States Persist
Wars tend to be found in nations that are poorly, if at all, governed. This usually means corrupt rulers and a corrupt economy that is unable to provide for the welfare of the people. The nations mired in war and general mayhem tend to be those that score lowest on international surveys of well-being and lack of corruption. For example, the ten nations suffering the most terrorism deaths rank lowest in the Human Development Index the UN has compiled annually during the last 30 years. The index ranks all nations on how well they do in terms of life expectancy, education and income. The top ten tend to be the same nations every year. These include Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Iceland, Sweden, and Netherlands as well as Pacific Rim nations like Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. The bottom ten also tend to be regulars. The usual suspects tend to be Solomon Islands, Syria, Cameroon, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Comoros, Mauretania, Benin, Uganda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Mali, Burundi, South Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic. North Korea is not ranked because not enough reliable data is available on the population or economy. Taiwan was not rated because China insisted Taiwan was part of China. But in previous years Taiwan would just about make the top twenty, competing with South Korea and Israel for 20th place.
Corruption is measured annually in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI). It is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations are usually North Korea, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and Somalia. The least corrupt are New Zealand and Denmark, Finland, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, Canada and Luxembourg, followed by the industrialized states that are democracies, or at least well-run monarchies. A classic example of the impact of a socialist police state versus free market democracy is Korea. North Korea is one of the most corrupt while South Korea is in the top half of the 180 nations rated.
A major obstacle in reducing corruption is the persistence of corruption based on tribal allegiance. This is a common problem in Africa and many other parts of the world. The least corrupt nations have been most successful in leaving tribalism behind. The major reason tribalism survives is because, lacking the presence of an effective (high CPI) nation-state, a tribal government is usually the best, or at least most accessible and reliable alternative.
Civil Society Versus Tribal Loyalties
A major misunderstanding many political and military leaders make is to underestimate the amount of time it takes to fundamentally change a nation from a source of war and disorder to one of peace, prosperity and unity. The fundamental misunderstanding is that the lack of civil society, as in a widely accepted set of cultural and political practices that create widespread trust, means that there is no quick fix for a chaotic area mired in war and mayhem. It takes decades or generations of sustained effort to achieve a civil society. Without a civil society to work with the best you can do is pacify. That’s why so many peacekeeping efforts never seem to end. On the other hand, nations with a civil society, like Japan and Germany after World War II, can change swiftly and effectively. That is why nations with lots of corruption and not much human development are so prone to violence and wars that never seem to end.
The worst of these troublesome areas have come to be described as failed states. That is, an area that never was a unified and stable state and is still cursed with a fundamental political instability. Some examples are Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and many African states that were created by colonial rulers who underestimated the durability of tribal traditions and the difficulty of creating a civil society.
Empires are usually created via conquest but that has become more difficult in the last century. The urge to establish new empires is much diminished now, largely because of the disastrous after-effects of national socialists (Nazis), international socialists (Soviet Union) and ethnic nationalists (World War II Japan). But the urge for defunct or legendary empires to be revived still exists. You can see it happening with China, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Islamic radicals seeking to revive the medieval caliphate.
At the same time there are also problems with democracies. As Winston Churchill put it, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. To make matters more interesting, all democracies are different, often drastically so. Despite all that, having the people as the ultimate source of political power manages to function in a wide variety of cultural environments. Democracy is also a perpetual work-in-progress and always a few major missteps away from degrading into totalitarianism or chaos.
Past Mistakes Resist Rectification
Empires are often underestimated or misunderstood and that is one reason why empires are still a problem. Empires are the product of nation-states that believe their form of government should be forced on neighbors for various reasons, usually having to do with making a lot of imperialists rich and possibly improving the state of the conquered areas. Empires are inherently unstable because they tend to produce a lot of corruption and costs, in terms of resources and people. The conquered tend to require a long time, if ever, to accept the new status forced upon them. In the pre-industrial age empires were broken up and reassembled often. With the growth of democracy since the 1800s, empires have become less popular and more difficult. Democracies and empires don’t mix well.
Islamic terrorism is a key component of some efforts to revive ancient empires. Dealing with all the mayhem, usually via peacekeeping, that Islamic terrorism and Imperialism entail, has been increasingly difficult. The number of refugees created by all this mayhem has reached numbers not seen since the aftermath of World War II. The motivation for all this violence is generally about religion, territorial claims or both. As a result of this trend reviving empires is a common theme with all the major troublemakers in the early 21st century and most of the 20th. This is an ancient curse that has reappeared recently in multiple forms. Some of these efforts are more media friendly than others but all share the same characteristics; mobilizing popular support for rebuilding lost empires and, especially in the West, on how to deal with all those refugees. Most Moslem majority nations refuse to accept refugees, especially Moslem refugees. This is connected to the reasons for the outbreaks of Islamic terrorism but that connection is understood better in Moslem nations than in the West, where many actively deny that there is a terrorism problem inherent with Islam.
The most obvious one example of all this, the Islamic caliphate revival, grabbed most of the headlines after 2014 because Islamic terrorism has been a common symptom of desperate, longshot efforts to restore the caliphate for over a thousand years. There are some unique features with this religion-based empire that has been hostile to any kind of progress, especially technology, economic or religious. “Islam” literally means “submission” but that combining of church and state is unpopular with most people and the main reason past caliphate revival efforts have been unsuccessful. The quick and brutal demise of ISIL was largely because it also tried to use self-righteous fanaticism as its primary weapon and motivation in a world that was largely hostile to such a brutal and simplistic ideology. ISIL was one of the few Islamic radical movements that mobilized nearly all Moslems to jointly and violently oppose it. Yet even with ISIL suppressed there are plenty of other Islamic empire revivalists who all seek to not just make Islam great again but to do it on a global scale. ISIL is still around as are the religious beliefs that have kept Islamic terrorism flaring up periodically for over a thousand years.
ISIL was not the only major Moslem effort to revive a religion-based empire. There are two others underway and causing lots of problems because they are more about nationalism and ethnicity than religion. First there is Iran, which has been a regional superpower for thousands of years but fell on hard times after the 7th century because of a succession of damaging visits by invaders. First came conquest by the Arab revival, also known as the initial wars of conquest by newly converted Arabs. This was humiliating because Persians never thought such a thing possible. That was followed by a devastating visit by the Mongols after which came a series of exhausting wars with the Ottoman Turks and finally the Western nations and all their new tech and ideas. Even before the largely secular Iranian monarchy was replaced by a religious dictatorship in the 1980s Iranian imperial ambitions, financed by all that new and unexpected oil wealth, were seen as a growing problem. This may be a problem that resolves itself because since late 2017 nationwide anti-government protests broke out in Iran and continue into 2021. Young (born after the 1980s) Iranians are now the majority and want an end to corruption, theocracy and expensive foreign misadventures. The operation in Syria was seen as particularly wasteful and expensive, especially with Israel threatening to use whatever it takes, including their nukes, to prevent Iran from creating a military presence on their northern border.
In another unexpected development, some persuasive Turkish politicians got interested in religion and empire building again. In the 1990s the Turks, who had gone secular after their centuries old Ottoman Empire collapsed in the 1920s, decided to give Islam another chance as an elected ruler (Recep Erdogan) tried, with some success, to revive the Ottoman empire using a combination of Islam, technology and creative diplomacy to make Turkey great again. This came into conflict, as it had in the past, with Iranian efforts to restore their imperial past. The new Turkish empire builder, called “Sultan Recep The First” behind his back is not that much interested in taking back lost real estate but is eager to regain the Turkish leadership of the Islamic world. That was lost a century ago when Turkish secular reformers renounced the title of caliph the Turkish Sultan (emperor) has long held. Sultan Recep has a lot of opposition at home and not much support in the region for an Ottoman revival. But Erdogan is a resourceful and ruthless politician and in early 2018 won re-election as president. This keeps him in power until 2023 as an elected official even though mismanagement of the economy may get him removed before the 2023 elections.
China Goes Fascist
Meanwhile Eurasia finds itself beset by several major imperial revival efforts. In the east there is China, where the current dynasty is actually a bunch of communist party leaders trying to stay in power using the appeal of lost, several centuries earlier, imperial glories. Just as Hitler described his imperial effort as the “Fourth Reich (empire)” in the tradition of ancient Rome followed by the Holy Roman Empire and the 19th century German Reich, so does China claim legitimacy because of ancient claims by earlier Chinese empires.
Back in the 1980s China adopted a market economy and finally went through the industrial revolution. This involved shedding most of its socialist responsibilities. With the presence of a nationalist dictatorship, you have a repeat of what happened nearly a century ago. China has a self-appointed “leader-for-life” running what is officially known as a socialist dictatorship. Back in the 1930s Germany had a free-market economy run by the NSDAP (“National Socialist German Worker’s Party”) or, Nazis. Spain had a similar government with a dictator technically acting as regent for a deposed monarchy. Japan had a market economy but its constitutional monarchy had been usurped by a military coup that put a military dictatorship in power that ruled “in the name of the emperor.” Italy was run by a dictator who was a lifelong socialist but also a nationalist dictator promising to revive the Roman Empire on the cheap. That did not end well. But that was then, today the fascists are the same but a bit different.
Fascist China now and Fascist Germany in the 1930s were very similar but there were some key differences. In the 1930s the U.S. had the largest GDP in the world and Germany’s was second. But back then the American GDP was more than twice the size of Germany’s while today the Chinese GDP is about two thirds the size of the American one and may match it by the end of the decade. The German military was one of the most effective on the planet with an impressive record of winning battles, and losing wars. The Chinese military has a much less illustrious track record and usually prevailed eventually because of the ability to mobilize more soldiers for a longer war than their opponents could handle. Historically Chinese armies often looked good on paper but usually proved to be paper tigers when the fighting began. The American military has become one of the most effective on the planet. China has similar goals to 1930s Germany. China has territorial claims on neighbors and needs more territory and resources for its huge population. The Chinese believe in the racial superiority of the Han ethnic group, which most Chinese belong to, and a historical destiny to rule the largest possible empire. Until the 18th century China was the largest nation-state on the planet and had been so for thousands of years. But it went into decline for two centuries. Most Chinese agree that it is time for China to once again be the most powerful state in the world. This is causing problems.
The neighbors, and the rest of the world, are more alarmed than inclined to submit. Russia and India, two potential victims, have nukes. This was something earlier Chinese empire builders never had to face although the Mongols did a pretty impressive job of “killing everyone and burning everything” over a wide area. Like current nuclear powers, the Mongols learned to use the application of massive violence more as a threat than as a regular practice.
The Weak Links
Then there is Russia, where former communist era secret police officers, led by Vladimir Putin, are trying to use imperial nostalgia and the more familiar, to these former KGB professionals, police state tactics to at least stay in power and, if possible, Make Russia Imperial Again. Putin, the Russian leader since 2000, as president or prime minister, is officially opposed to the return of “leader for life” rule in Russia despite his exceptionally long and questionably legal rule. Russia, like China, is a market economy run by nationalist dictator. For historical analogy thing of the Russia as the equivalent to World War II Japan while China is the wealthier and more powerful Nazi Germany.
Russia’s western neighbor is another revived empire; the EU (European Union). Many Europeans see the EU as an unintended effort to revive a European empire that never really existed, although Charlemagne came close for a short time in the 9th century and a thousand years before that the Romans were a contender. There isn’t much nostalgia in Western Europe for these traditional empires but many Europeans back a kinder and gentler empire that is based more on voluntary cooperation than coercion. The EU has run into problems because many Europeans see the EU developing into an unelected bureaucracy that can make all sorts of new rules and even foreign policy without any regard for what their constituents and, technically, employers, the European voters want. A growing number of Europeans think this EU Empire sucks and are demanding that their local politicians, who are still responsible to the voters, at least more so than the EU officials, fix this problem or get their country out of the EU. The imperial officials are not pleased with this ignorance and ingratitude by their subjects and are fighting back in a losing battle to keep their new empire together.
The Great Nuclear Ceasefire Stumbles On
Despite the growing military power of China, and the saber rattling from Russia, the major military powers continue the GNC (Great Nuclear Ceasefire) that began in the 1950s, when Russia got nuclear weapons, and soon realized they could not afford to use them without risking more destruction than past foes like the Nazis, French or Mongols inflicted. As more countries got nukes, the "we can't afford to use them, but they're nice to have" attitude, and the unprecedented truce, persisted. There have been wars, but not between the big players who have the largest and most destructive conventional forces. Because of the GNC a historical record was broken in 1986, as there had never been before, since the modern state system developed in the 16th century, been such a long period without a war between major powers. That is, the kind that could afford, these days, to get nukes. Since the Cold War ended in 1991 there have been fewer wars, at least in the traditional sense, and the GNC holds. Not only have there been fewer wars since the 1950s but there has been a lot less poverty, especially since the Cold War, and so many communist governments, ended in 1990. The communist nations failed economically and most of them rapidly reduced poverty once they had a free market economy. At the end of the Cold War (late 1980s) 40 percent of the world population lived in destitution (extreme poverty) but three decades later that poverty rate is down to ten percent. Most of the remaining extreme poverty occurs in badly governed areas of the Middle East (Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan) and Africa (Libya, Congo, the two Sudans) that are also the scene of wars or general disorder.
The downside is that there are a lot more low-level rebellions and civil wars, but overall, a lot less death, destruction and extreme poverty. Most people are unaware of this situation, because the mass media never made a lot of the GNC as it was something that was just there and not worth reporting. Besides, "nuclear bombs, power plants and medicine are evil" sells if you are in the news business. Calling any incident, with a lot of gunfire and a few dead bodies, a "war" has also been misleading. The fact is, worldwide violence has been declining since the end of the Cold War and the elimination of Russian subsidies and encouragement for pro-communist, or simply pro-Russia or just anti-West, rebels and terrorists. The media also has a hard time keeping score. If you step back and take a look at all the wars going on, a more accurate picture emerges. In light of that, take sensational reporting of the “Chinese threat” with a bit of skepticism.
There was a more recent example of “starving the violence” when Iran had economic sanctions re-imposed in 2018. This led to a reduction in violence because of less Iranian financial support for the foreign wars.
Most current wars are basically uprisings against inefficient, corrupt and oppressive police states or feudal societies which are seen as out-of-step with the modern world. The Internet and widespread adoption of smartphones made most people on the planet aware that a better life was not only a possibility but that many people, especially in the West, had lived the good life for generations.
Many revolutions are led by radicals preaching failed dogmas like Islamic conservatism, Maoism and other forms of radical socialism, that still resonate among people who don't know about, or care, about the dismal track records of these creeds. After 1991 Iran replaced some of the lost Soviet terrorist support effort. Iran keeps Hezbollah, Hamas, and a few smaller groups going, and that's it. Terrorists in general miss the Soviets, who really knew how to treat bad boys right. No one has yet replaced the Soviets in that respect, an accomplishment even most Russians would rather not dwell on.
Plague Panic Pause
Covid19 had minimal impact on most armed forces. This was particularly the case in the United States where the rate of infection for the military was lower than the population as a whole and was kept that way because most troops lived on military bases, which include housing for families of service members. Restricting all personnel to base during the epidemic further reduced exposure. These policies were followed by other professional armed forces worldwide. The military had another advantage; age. Covid19 was unique because it generally had little impact on anyone under 60. But if you had an existing medical condition, you were more likely to die from covid19. While the vast majority of the population was not at risk of dying from covid19, it was more unpleasant than the usual annual flu. As a result of that, and media sensationalism, more people headed for a hospital if they were, or thought they were experiencing the symptoms. Most of those hospital visits turned out to be unnecessary but at the time was politically incorrect to point that out.
There were many countries where covid19 did have an impact, but these nations were not major military powers. In many instances’ rulers demanded loyalty more than physical fitness and combat skills from the troops. This meant there were a lot of older personnel and officers and many were overweight or had medical conditions that would have kept them out of more professional militaries. In nations like this covid19 did have more of an impact because it terrified many senior commanders and killed or incapacitated many of them. This was equally true with politicians who don’t have to worry about getting reelected.
Most people of the working age population quickly figured out that the danger was much less than publicized. For example, the death rate of covid19 victims is 0.13 percent for younger (under 40) victims but that death rate gets much higher (2-3 percent) for those older than 60. This also revealed another aspect of covid19, women are less likely to die from covid10 than men. For those over 80 and sickly, only nine percent of women died compared to 20 percent of men. The relative invulnerability of the young and most of the fatalities being linked to old-age and preexisting conditions was something a lot of public health officials did not realize early on. In some countries political leaders ignored these patterns and trashed their economies with long lockdowns. The general population was soon able to see the actual fatality patterns and resistance to pointless lockdowns became more common,
In the military, the most serious problem is troops getting infected and passing it on to more vulnerable civilians. Some 10-15 percent of the troops will suffer the effects of covid19 but few will die. Nevertheless, the impact of covid19 on troops is a problem for morale and overall readiness. In combat zones around the world, the impact of covid19 was a reality that was often ignored by the combatants. Most of these wars are disorganized affairs involving lots of irregulars, part-timers and militias. The fighting tends to take place in areas that never had much in the way of modern health care or high standards of living. Since covid19 is less lethal than many of the existing diseases, like malaria in many parts of Africa, the new flu-type disease would come and go without much notice were it not for all the publicity.
There were some situations where the military impact of covid19 could be more disruptive. This would be the case in special operations and air force units as well as the crews of ships at sea. There have already been cases of sailors coming down with covid19 while at sea. How could this happen? A recent visit to a port where covid19 was not yet seen as a crisis was usually the culprit.
Warships at sea with an unexpected outbreak of covid19 had an impact similar to what cruise ships experienced early in 2020, before the covid19 threat was widely known. One example was the American aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt which, while in the Pacific when covid19 was just beginning to spread, found several of the crew had the virus. Given the days or weeks an asymptomatic victim may have been on the ship, it explains how a seemingly healthy sailor boarded the Roosevelt and infected others, some of whom did show symptoms and become visibly ill. Ultimately all 5,000 sailors on the Roosevelt were tested and seven percent were found to be infected. Few had to be hospitalized and only one died because of covid19.
The ships-at-sea data demonstrated the impact of a few infected people on a ship with a lot of people. This was first seen on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, which had nearly a thousand passengers and crew on board. All were exposed to covid19 before March 2020 because there were enough infected passengers to begin with and the ship was quarantined long enough (two weeks) under conditions that allowed everyone on board to be exposed. Nearly all were tested and 19.6 percent tested positive but 47 percent of the infected showed no symptoms. Some of the cruise ship personnel did later exhibit symptoms but were asymptomatic and as many as 14 died from the virus. The fatalities were mostly older passengers with underlying conditions. Eventually thousands of people caught on cruise ships with some already infected with covid19 were tested and studied and the pattern first seen on the Diamond Princess remained consistent. Some countries used the covid19 data from the cruise ships to develop policies to deal with the virus. As a result, these countries, like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea had very low death rates, usually under a hundred per million, compared to over a thousand per million in many industrialized nations and the world average of 200 per million.
The danger of the asymptomatic infected is that they can, in theory, spread the virus until their immune system eliminates it. It is unclear exactly how long that takes but it appears to be up to several weeks or, in many cases, not at all. Eventually it was discovered that asymptomatic covid19 victims played little role in spreading the virus. It was discovered that 80 percent of those exposed to the virus did not become infected. This is typical of such diseases as influenza. What was unique about covid19 was that it was mainly a danger to the elderly. This was in sharp contrast to severe strains of influenza. The 1918 (Spanish Flu) was particularly lethal to the young and healthy. The Spanish Flu had a death rate over a hundred times greater than covid19. Even the particularly severe “Asian Flu” of 1957/58 had a higher fatality rate among the young than covid19. What made covid19 more frightening was that those who did get it felt the symptoms more intensely than the worst influenza. That made it seem like more of a threat than it actually was. Because of that many politicians and some public health officials declared covid19 to be a much greater threat than severe strains of flu, which it wasn’t. In time covid19 will become known more as the covid19 panic than as a major killer like the Spanish Flu. While an epidemic disease is active the risk is more about what you think it is than what it actually is.
The Spanish Flu was particularly devastating for military organizations because it was most lethal to the young and healthy. It is often speculated that if the Spanish Flu had arrived a year or two earlier, it might have caused World War I to end differently, with a ceasefire or armistice rather than the outright defeat of Germany.
In 2020 covid19 caused a momentary pause in fighting worldwide but once personal experience showed a lot of people that covid19 was a deadly plague only to the elderly or those already ill, the fighting resumed. Older or sickly personnel took precautions and in most situations that was sufficient. That’s how several East Asian nations initially kept their deaths per million in the single digits.
Listed in alphabetical order. Text underneath briefly describes current status. Click on country name for more details.
In August 2021 the elected IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) collapsed and was replaced by the Pakistan backed IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan). It was the Pakistan military that backed the Taliban and the Afghan heroin cartels. Over the last few years, the Pakistan military had found a way to run the government without a coup and all the resulting criticism and sanctions. The defeat of the IRA was accomplished via corruption, intimidation, disruption of the economy and a bungled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The original withdrawal plan was for a thousand or more U.S. and NATO troops to remain to advise and train the IRA security forces and monitor the corruption. The IRA wanted to survive but to do that they had to keep receiving billions a year from foreign donors, mainly the United States. Refusal to cooperate meant termination of aid and nearly all the foreigners would leave. The Americans got a new government in early 2021 and that led to fatal changes to the withdrawal plan. Everyone was ordered out, but was given three additional months to do it. That gave Pakistan and the Taliban to increase their pressure on the IRA, which now believed the Americans were going to abandon them.
The new IEA declared a great victory but found that few people, not even most Afghans, saw this as a win. Foreign aid ceased. Nearly $10 billion of IRA cash held in foreign banks (to reduce corruption) was frozen and no one would recognize the IEA as the successor to the IRA.
Countries in the region expect the IEA to collapse in a few years, which will leave the country a narco-state without any central government. Drug production in Afghanistan depends on the Pakistan military for support. The drugs are winning as they usually do wherever they get established. There are not too many “narco-states” because they all follow the same script. Eventually locals get fed up with the local violence and the growing number of addicts. That leads to more violence and the drug gangs are crushed although usually not completely eliminated. “Eventually” can take a long time and such is the case with Afghanistan. Compare that to how it worked in Colombia from 2000 on, and Burma after World War II and Iran in the 1950s. The only thing that nearly everyone in Afghanistan can agree on is that opium and heroin are bad. Nearly ten percent of the population is addicted to drugs (mostly opiates) and another ten percent (there is some overlap) make a better living or get rich from the drug trade. Most Afghans consider drug gangs the biggest threat and these are largely run and staffed (like the Taliban) by Pushtun tribesmen from four southern provinces. The Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban want to create a heroin-producing Islamic terrorist and gangster sanctuary in Afghanistan. If you want to know how that works, look at Chechnya in the late 1990s and Somalia or Yemen in the early 21st century. No one has come up with any cheap, fast or easy solution for that. Meanwhile, Afghanistan's core problem is that there is no Afghanistan, merely a collection of tribes more concerned with tribal issues than anything else.
This area has seen Islamic terrorism decline sharply in the last few years, a trend that began in the late 1990s. Because of that we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. Algeria also changed its constitution so it can become a supplier of peacekeepers throughout Africa and the world. There will still be coverage of Algeria as needed in other sections or in its own section if internal unrest reappears. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
This area has become quieter since the peacekeeping efforts of the 1990s and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections. There is some Islamic terrorist activity there and the usual border disputes and crippling corruption. One ominous development is the growing number of mosques and religious schools being built and maintained by Saudi Arabia. These facilities teach a very hostile to non-Moslems plus any Moslems who disagree with the Saudi form of Islam. The strict Saudi version of Islam has been the source of so many Islamic terrorists since the 1980s. Balkan Moslems are increasingly hostile to the Saudis for this and the Balkans did not become the Islamic terrorist sanctuary many feared. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
This area has become quieter since the 1990s and we are no longer covering it regularly. There will still be coverage as needed and that led to a recent update on efforts to get some serious Islamic terrorist activity going and why they have failed.
Islamic terrorism is popular in Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan). The thousands of young men who sought to join Islamic terror groups didn’t do it in Central Asia. The vast majority travel somewhere else to act on their impulse to be active Islamic terrorists. Many Central Asian men joined ISIL, but not in Central Asia. With the elimination of the ISIL caliphate in Syria and Iraq in 2018 there were lots of documents and survivors, like families of ISIL men, some ISIL members and local civilians, who could be questioned and lots of data analyzed. The results were some accurate numbers about Central Asian participation in ISIL though the end of 2018. Between 3,000 and 5,000 Central Asians made it to Syria. Over half survived and got out. More worrisome was the fact that for every Central Asian who tried to get into Syria, two or three were stopped at the Syrian border (in Turkey) and turned back or, in a few cases, arrested. The Turks collected data on those turned away and some of those were later captured or killed in Syria. Some of those turned back eventually made it in, but few returned home to become active Islamic terrorists. That is the pattern; many get radicalized, leave and never return. The result is that during the last decade there were few Islamic terror attacks in Central Asia. After each of these the response was swift and usually led to the capture of those responsible and others who were among the usual suspects but not known to be active. This effective counterterror response motivated many radicalized young men to seek a more vulnerable nation in which to defend Islam with extreme violence.
Most of the nations involved here used to be part of the Soviet Union and still had effective secret police and local dictators to encourage ruthless suppression of any dissent. People are putting up with it so far but popular anger at the corruption and inefficient government is growing. The region has become an economic and diplomatic battleground for Russia and China and China is winning. This is something Russia doesn’t like to discuss, but among Russians the real threat is from the east, not the west. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
This area has become quieter since 2010 and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. Chad has even become a major supplier of peacekeepers throughout Africa, especially in Nigeria against Boko Haram. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections or in its own section if unrest reappears inside Chad. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
Past mistakes are catching up with China as it continues its post-Cold War policy of aggressive territorial claims and risking, but not going to, war with its neighbors. Internally China is creating the fictional Big Brother surveillance state of the novel “1984”. This has more to do with internal politics and the need to distract an increasingly wealthy and concerned population from local problems with corruption, pollution and ineffective government. Domestic unrest has been growing louder and more visible to Chinese and the world. Latest example is large scale freedom protests in Hong Kong during most of 2019 and into 2020. This was about Chinese abuse of the special status Hong Kong is supposed to enjoy until 2047, but it is also about the corruption and financial recklessness in the rest of the country. China ignored the Hong Kong protestors and are dismantling the guaranteed (until 2047) freedoms for Hong Kong. China has ignored a lot of other international agreements, which made their “assurances” less acceptable.
The corruption has created a lot of bad loans and these, plus a dysfunctional equities (stocks and bonds) market created a threat that makes far fewer headlines than foreign adventures. China also got away with a lot of unfair, according to international agreements, trade practices. This included massive theft of foreign commercial and government data, mainly to give Chinese companies an edge. There was also currency manipulation and monopolistic practices. This finally led to a trade war with the United States that the Americans saw some benefit from. China, because of its own internal corruption and mismanagement, is vulnerable economically and is finding it difficult trying to bluff and bully its way out of making overdue changes in the way it deals with foreign trade and IP (intellectual property) protections. China has been helpful in trying to persuade North Korea to give up its nukes and engage in some needed economic reforms. This is more self-interest than anything else because a nuclear North Korea has become a threat to China more than anyone else, except South Korea and Japan. China insists that the South China Sea is now part of China despite international agreements that prohibit such claims. Same situation in other coastal waters bordering South Korea and Japan. Old territorial claims on India have been revived, but are not pursued as aggressively because India has modern nukes, ballistic missiles to deliver them and a large military. China continues its long-range plan to become a military superpower. That means world class weapons designed and built in China require long-term efforts but the Chinese believe they will get there during the 2020s and 2030s.
Every year China offers new weapons to the world market that are visibly more advanced. The actual performance of Chinese military technology is suspect as much of it is based on Russian stuff. During the Cold War Russian weapons always seemed to be what the losers used. But China keeps trying to improve and is making more progress than the Soviets ever did. More Chinese troops are joining peacekeeping missions as well as growing Chinese threats to peace. The bottom line however is keeping the communist dictatorship in power and that may be the ultimate reason for China avoiding war, or at least one they are not certain they will win. China pursues an ancient, and often quite successful, Chinese strategy that emphasizes what appear to be high-risk policies but are actually long-range efforts to wear down the opposition and eventually assume control of the objective with little risk or cost. Or so China believed until the Americans, and many other victims, fought back.
This area has become quieter since the peacekeeping efforts of the 1990s and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage in other sections as needed. We were also covering neighboring Venezuela because the situation there was quite different. After more than a decade of corruption and inept government most Venezuelans were done with ideas of radical populist socialist movement that promised to make everything better but instead made everything much worse. For a while it seemed there might be a civil war. That does not appear to be an option because Venezuela has the largest oil reserves on the planet and if the current socialist government can pump enough oil it can finance its continued existence if nothing else. China, Russia, Cuba and Iran have been helping with maintaining the current police state and reviving the oil industry. The failed socialist government borrowed a lot of money from China and Russia. The government hired Cuba to provide technical advisors available to show the Venezuelan socialists how to establish and maintain a long-term dictatorship. Cuba also provides health care, but only to those seen as loyal to the socialist government. China, Cuba, Iran and Russia are all present in Venezuela because with all that oil as collateral the Venezuelan socialists can probably mortgage that oil to try and buy their way out of a bloody rebellion. Foreign help is desperately needed because the inept socialist government mismanaged their oil industry to the extent that production fell rapidly and the country is literally bankrupt and unable to pump and ship enough oil to pay for food and other essential imports. Over 20 percent of the population has left and it is more common for rural communities to have no electrical service or anything else the government is supposed to maintain and protect. The oil is found in the north, near the coast. The government really only needs the capital and the oil fields and that is what the Chinese and Cubans concentrate on. The rest of the nation is considered expendable, or at least that’s how the foreign allies are acting. The number of people leaving is increasing although there is still a pro-democracy political opposition. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
Diplomatic and local opposition eventually persuaded the incumbent (since 2001) president (Kabila) to stop stating on as president-for-life. Kabila tried to revive the one-party dictatorship based on corruption and exploiting ethnic divisions. The current (since 2001) president and his father (president from 1997 until his assassination in 2001) had grown up opposing that sort of thing but here it was again. Kabila was supposed to leave office after the 2016 elections selected a new president. He could not run again and was unable to get the constitution changed. He was forced to allow elections at the end of 2018 but was able to rig the vote to get someone willing to cooperate with the corrupt system Kabila wanted to keep going. Félix Tshisekedi, the new president, would presumably benefit if went along. Tshisekedi took on Kabila and his powerful parliamentary coalition. Tshisekedi found allies in the UN and among donor countries and blocked Kabila’s efforts to hide his corrupt activities while president. By 2021 the mining contracts Kabila agreed to with China were being audited and evidence of extensive wrongdoing by Kabila and China were documented. China is losing those contracts so Kabila is very much on the defensive, as are his cronies in parliament and the courts. The misdeeds of Kabila were the reason Congo was facing widespread chaos and civil war that is made worse by the ongoing ethnic divisions. Solutions have been sought since the 1960s and in 2013 the UN tried something novel, a special “combat brigade” of peacemakers. This brigade was given a license to kill, and kill as often as needed, to eliminate the last few rogue militias operating in the east. This solved many of the peacekeeping problems there, at least temporarily. Despite that, multiple tribal and political militias, plus an increasing number of bandits, continue to roam the eastern border area, perpetuating the bloodiest and least reported war of the 21st century with over six million dead. There is similar but less intense unrest in other parts of the country (especially the separatist minded southwest). The Congolese government discovered that is had to cope with the continuing corruption and lack of order in the east and southwest. The reason was always money, the millions of dollars available each year to whoever has gunmen controlling the mines that extract valuable ores and allow the stuff out of the country. Congo is finally emerging from this deadly chaos. Elsewhere in Central Africa the Burundi civil war threatens to reignite because the current president is trying to defy the constitution and become president-for-life. In the Central African Republic years of chaos, following the overthrow of a corrupt and incompetent dictator, evolved into another Moslem versus Christian and non-Moslems in general conflict.
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections, mainly Somalia. In 2016 there was more political unrest in Ethiopia which led to the withdrawal of some Ethiopian peacekeepers from Somalia. That escalated in 2021 and threatened to continue as another civil war between the major ethnic groups. Some of these developments were covered in the Potential Wars updates. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
India is largely at peace and prospering while neighboring Pakistan continues struggling with the Islamic terror groups it created and supported for so long and the internal corruption and mayhem that policy has sustained. Pakistan also has a problem unique to the region; armed forces that have long (since the 1950s) dominated the political process and become very wealthy, corrupt and politically powerful as a result. Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan has sharply declined since 2014 when public outrage forced the military to shut down the last sanctuary (North Waziristan) for Islamic terrorists that were not under the military’s control and, worse, trying to turn Pakistan into an Islamic dictatorship. That would have threatened the Pakistani military and could not be tolerated. Islamic terrorist violence did not completely disappear in Pakistan after 2014 and the military blamed that on outsiders like India, Afghanistan and the United States. In mid-2021 a decade of support for the Afghan Taliban resulted in the overthrow of the elected government and a halt to two decades of economic growth.
Meanwhile Pakistan also has to deal with a growing non-violent Pushtun Rights movement that wants to get the Pakistan military out of the tribal territories on both sides of the Afghan border. The military has responded with arrests, kidnappings and murder. At the same time the Pakistani generals continued sheltering and supporting Islamic terror groups that only attacked foreign nations, especially India. This contributed to growing hostility towards the military within Pakistan and escalating international criticism. In 2018 the U.S. became more public about the fact that Pakistan was dishonest and unreliable. The Americans pointed out that they had foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and Pakistan gave back nothing but lies and deceit. This backlash began in 2011 when a U.S. raid into Pakistan killed Osama bin Laden. This angered many Pakistanis because it showed that the generals had lied about their involvement with sheltering bin Laden. That raid also made it clear that the military was unable to detect or stop the "invading Americans", or stop local Islamic radicals from later carrying out "revenge attacks" that left hundreds of civilians dead. Then came another series of confrontations between the Pakistani military and the civilian government which, by 2018, the military had clearly won (by gaining control of key judges and a newly elected president). That was because old scams still worked. The generals created more confrontations with India and declared that Islamic terrorism was no longer (since 2013) the major threat to Pakistan. The main threat was once again India. This merely increased Indian, American and Afghan anger at Pakistani support of Islamic terrorism and the inability of the Pakistani politicians to control their generals. Meanwhile India further diminished the Pakistani military by continuing to consider China the main security threat to South Asia. India has to deal with some internal unrest, which does far less damage than what Pakistan has to deal with. Islamic terrorist violence, mainly in Indian Kashmir, is less of a problem than tribal rebels in the northeast and Maoist (communist) ones in eastern India. Both these threats are being slowly diminished while Pakistan continues to make unofficial war on its neighbors. Another problem is that the Pakistani economy is becoming more dependent on Chinese investment as well as Chinese diplomatic support and arms exports. The Pakistani pro-Islamic terrorist attitudes have left it with few allies besides China, Iran and North Korea. Pakistan needs help, but mostly from Pakistanis as the ills that torment Pakistan can only be resolved from within. That is happening despite opposition from the military because the defense budget is unusually high and a lot of it goes to support the lavish lifestyles and foreign bank accounts of senior officers. That has caused a financial crisis that other nations, especially Arab oil states, the United States and international lenders like the IMF and World Bank have kept from becoming a catastrophe. But now the financial problems are so great that all the usual sources of emergency cash are insisting that defense spending be curbed or there will be no more financial aid. The house of cards Pakistani generals built and maintained since the 1970s was collapsing, not because of religious or military issues but because the nation the generals had plundered for so long was bankrupt and no one was willing to bail them out this time.
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly. There will still be coverage as needed, mostly about counter-terrorism efforts, that have been quite successful so far. Islamic radicals remain active and the government apparently does not want to provoke them. The Islamic terrorist threat remains as does ethnic unrest, even though it both problems continue to be contained rather than addressed. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
Since late 2017 there have been continuing nationwide outbursts against the religious dictatorship running the country. There was similar activity in 2009 to protest the lack of fair elections. The 2009 protests were put down with force as were the recent ones, with over a thousand dead in 2019 and several hundred since then. What started in late 2017 was different, with the protestors calling for the corrupt religious rulers to be removed. Some called for a return of the constitutional monarchy the religious leaders replaced in the 1980s after first promising true democracy. Even more disturbing was protestors calling for Islam to be banned and replaced with something else, like Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion that Islam replaced, violently and sometimes incompletely in the 7th and 8th centuries. Right before the 2017 unrest the religious rulers saw Iran on the way to some major victories in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. The optimism turned out to be premature. The good times were supposed to begin in the wake of a July 2015 treaty that lifted the many sanctions Iran had collected for bad behavior since the 1990s. That did not, as many financial experts pointed out, solve the immediate cash crises because oil prices were still low. This was because of continued use of fracking in North America which triggered a massive (more than 70 percent) drop in the price of oil in 2013. Iran made their situation worse by trying to avoid complying with the 2015 treaty while still getting most of the sanctions lifted and for a while that seemed to be working. That strategy backfired when the U.S. accused Iran of violating the 2015 deal and by the terms of that agreement the American could and did withdraw. That meant many of the sanctions returned in 2018. Even before the American action foreign economists believed the Iranian economy wouldn’t get moving again until the 2020s. Now it is going to take even longer and most Iranians were extremely very angry about that. The 2017 protests continue, but more discreetly because of the threat of lethal retaliation. The senior clerics are worried and openly seeking a solution that does not include them losing power. Few Iranians are willing to accept that kind of compromise. The religious dictatorship is not only hated, but also seen as corrupt, incompetent and untrustworthy.
There are some more complications. Half the population consists of ethnic minorities (mainly Turks, Kurds and Arabs), and some of these groups (Arabs, Kurds and Baluchis) are getting more restive and violent, for different reasons. Yet the Islamic conservatives are determined to support terrorism overseas and build nuclear weapons at home, rather than concentrating on improving the economy and living standards and addressing the corruption within their ranks.
Expensive efforts to aid pro-Iran groups in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon made some progress and are presented as examples of the ancient Iranian empire being reborn. The government sees these foreign adventures as a way to distract an unhappy population. This ultimately had the opposite effect as Iranians did the math and realized their poverty was the result of all the billions spent on these overseas adventures. At home the nukes are still important because Iranian religious leaders have been increasingly vocal about how Iran should be the leader of the Islamic world and the guardian of the major Islamic shrines (Mecca and Medina) in Saudi Arabia. Iranians believe having nukes would motivate the Arabs, and many others, to bend the knee. The potential victims are not cooperating and can retaliate, The Arabs have been kicked around by the Iranians for thousands of years and take this latest threat very seriously. That has led to a major reform effort in Saudi Arabia with a new generation of leaders willing to take on corruption and go with alliances that benefit the Saudis. This includes openly working with Israel to deal with the Iranian threat.
Despite the late 2017 declaration that ISIL was defeated, the Islamic terror group remains active in northern and Western Iraq. ISIL no longer controls large areas of Iraq but is a problem (violence, extortion, and disorder) in several provinces north of Baghdad. In took four years of effort, several hundred billion dollars to pay for an expanded military, battle damage and economic losses plus over 100,000 Iraqi lives, to kill at least 20,000 Islamic terrorists and eliminate ISIL control of Iraqi territory. That effort created other problems, and opportunities. Iran offered help and was allowed to organize, train and often lead in combat over 100,000 Iraqi (largely Shia) militiamen in what was and still is the PMF
(Popular Mobilization Forces)
. Most Iraqis, including most Iraqi Shia (about 60 percent of the population) feared an Iran inspired coup but by early 2018 senior Shia clerics in Iraq and Iran agreed that the militias should stay out of politics. Iran’s government was not consulted on this decision and a minority of pro-Iran Iraqis still want an Iran style religious dictatorship. National elections in 2021 revealed much less support for Iran, despite increased threats and financial promises Iran could not keep. The 2021 elections were mainly about doing something about widespread corruption and mismanagement of the economy. The other Arab oil states in the region, all run by Sunnis, offered peace and investment and the new Iraqi government accepted the offer, even if those Arabs were establishing diplomatic, economic and military relations with Israel. Iran responded with a failed assassination attack on the Iraqi prime minister plus rocket and mortar attacks on the American embassy and the remaining U.S. troops. Most Iraqis want some Americans to stay, more economic activity with Arab neighbors and an end to Iranian meddling in Iraq.
It is the best of times because Israel now has Arab allies against Iran. A growing number of Moslem states are establishing diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. After more than a century of increasing anti-Semitism, most of Israel’s Arab neighbors realized that Israel would be a valuable economic, diplomatic and military ally against common enemies like Shia Iran and Islamic terrorism in general. Israel is also the only nation in the region with nukes and reliable ballistic missiles, which are also used to put Israeli spy satellites into orbit. It is also the worst of times because Iran has personnel operating on Israeli borders and an increasingly effective Cyber War effort against Israel. There is growing dissatisfaction in the West and the Middle East with the Palestinian leadership failures and rampant corruption. Palestinians are convinced that Israel has no right to exist and pretending to negotiate a peace deal is useful for obtaining foreign aid and not much else. Arabs in general are now telling the Palestinians to take whatever peace deal they can because cash and other aid from Arab nations will continue to disappear unless the Palestinians solve their own problems with corruption and fixation on destroying Israel. Many Palestinians are willing to change but their corrupt leaders are not and use their war on Israel as an excuse to violently suppress any Palestinian opposition to the current suicidal strategy.
North Korea declared 2022 was the year of economic reform and more food. What happened in 2021 made it clear what must be done if the Kim dynasty wished to remain in power. Some things have not changed. In 2019 North Korea admitted the obvious; it never had any intention of surrendering its nuclear weapons. The reality was that North Korea was attempting its traditional negotiating tactic of offering to behave, but wanted some economic aid first as a show of good faith. That tactic no longer works and now North Korea is back to making threats. Despite the 2022 strategy, nukes and military threats remain. North Korea continues falling apart economically and politically and that has led North Koreans to do the unthinkable, which includes openly criticizing the government, putting anti-government graffiti in public places and even attacking corrupt government officials, including police. North Korea is bankrupt and not getting better. Covid19 made matters much worse because North Korea was totally unprepared to handle it and responded by shutting its borders and restricting movement within North Korea. This crippled an already weak economy and efforts to deal with the threat of another fatal famine. Even the security forces were getting less food and the emergency military food reserve was used up.
Big Brother China was openly losing patience with its unruly neighbor. China is, literally, North Korea’s economic lifeline. China is the primary or only source for essentials like petroleum, food and all sorts of smuggled goods, past a long list of international sanctions. China will tolerate a lot of bad behavior in return for obedience and maintaining order along the Chinese border. North Korea failed in both categories.
Everyone looks to China because Korea has traditionally been a Chinese responsibility and, most of the time, a difficult one. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has obediently gone to China several times since 2018 to receive advice. Kim also met with the leaders of South Korea and the United States. So far lots of the right words but little action. China and everyone else fears that North Korea is going to try and scam its way out of another tight situation and risk the very real wrath of China while doing it. Inside North Korea the official word is that the nuclear weapons are essential and not negotiable. Unofficially, more North Koreans want a change of government or a way to get out. Meanwhile South Korea continues to visibly prosper, with GDP per capita that is more than 20 times larger than North Korea. Being caught viewing videos of life in South Korea or South Korean video entertainment, is now a capital (death penalty) offense in North Korea.
This area had become quieter after 2003 and we no longer cover it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections like Iraq, Israel and Syria. The 2011 Arab Spring movement shook things up a bit and by 2015 the Kurds were once more at war with Turkey, Syria and Iran. Turkey was always outraged at the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq and the impact that had on Kurdish minorities in Syria, where an autonomous region is already a reality, for the moment. The Kurds remain under attack in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran while also suffering from internal feuds between those who are willing to fight for a unified Kurdish state and those who are willing to make deals with local governments to obtain benefits for local Kurds, like less economic and cultural discrimination and persecution. The Syrian Kurds thought the Americans might stick around after ISIL was defeated and take on Turkish and Syrian forces to guarantee Syrian Kurds their autonomy. The U.S. was willing to stick around until ISIL was suppressed in eastern Syria and perhaps longer if the Syrian Kurds provide useful support. Americans also remain in northern Iraq. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
Turkey continues to maintain its military forces in Libya and thereby block efforts to hold national elections and bring an end to eleven years of civil war. By early 2020 the Turks had sent enough troops to rescue the GNA (Government of National Accord) a failed UN and Moslem Brotherhood backed government. The GNA failed to attract a national following and now a local military leader with a locally recruited army of trained and better disciplined soldiers is doing what UN diplomacy and threats could not. The eastern force, the LNA (Libyan National Army) has been around since 2015, when it was formed in eastern Libya and proceeded to eliminate rivals, especially Islamic radical groups, throughout the country. In early 2019 all that the GNA had left was the traditional capital (Tripoli) and the nearby (to the east) coastal city of Misrata. Both cities are dominated by dozens of rival militias, many of them seeking an Islamic government but mainly looking out for themselves. The LNA went after Tripoli in early 2019, from two sides and slowly pushed back the desperate militias, who would lose their independence and lucrative criminal enterprises if the LNA succeeded. The UN condemned the LNA and ignored Turkey shipping in weapons and military advisors to assist the GNA. By the end of 2019 Turkey was threatening to send in combat troops and warships to blockade Libyan ports. The Turkish support violates the UN arms embargo on Libya, as does the support Russia, Egypt, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and a few other countries have provided for the LNA. The LNA agreed to a ceasefire and national elections. The Turks and thousands of their Syrian Arab mercenaries are still there and are prepared to stay indefinitely. Egypt, for the first time in centuries, finds hostile Turkish troops next door and is not pleased.
Since a 2012, when separatist rebellion in the north was defeated, continued high levels of corruption, ethnic rivalries and Islamic terrorism kept Mali from achieving a lasting peace and much prosperity. In 2021 the situation got worse when there was another military coup, The Mali military has staged three government takeovers since 2012. The last one, in May 2021, was an internal dispute within the military. Since the May coup foreign donors have warned that most of the foreign aid will stop coming if Mali does not carry out a significant reduction in corruption, government ineffectiveness and overall instability. None of these three military takeovers were about corruption, but rather anger at the corrupt politicians stealing money meant to finance operations against Islamic terrorist and separatist minorities in the north. The colonels running the military government are unwilling to step down and are trying to make it on their own, despite the large number of UN peacekeepers and French troops dealing with the Islamic terrorist problem up north.
The May coup was led by the army colonel who had earlier been appointed deputy head of the CNT (National Transitional Council). The colonel replaced the civilian who originally held the job as CNT leader. After that the military-dominated CNT rapidly replaced many existing CNT officials with army officers or civilians known to be pro-military. When foreign donors, including France, criticized this, the army threatened to seek financial aid elsewhere. There was no elsewhere for the Mali coup leaders, at least not one they could afford. The Mali officers’ threats said a lot about their motives, which was mainly about maintaining their power and helping themselves to a portion of foreign aid. The coup leaders did have one source of wealth, the Mali gold mines. In late 2021 protestors tried to block access to one of the largest mines but that effort only lasted a few days before the security forces cleared the roads.
This area has become quieter since the peacekeeping efforts of the 1990s and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections as needed. Mexico is still at war with the drug cartels. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
This area has become quieter since the military government allowed democracy to return in 2010. That slowly calmed things down throughout the country and for that reason we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections as needed. Burma is still subject to violence from tribal separatist militias in the north and radical Buddhist groups.
There was another military coup in early 2021, a decade after the military government (since 1962) finally gave in to demands for freedom and democracy. By 2010 the army had failed at running the economy or dealing with the rebellious northern tribes. The military negotiated a deal with the democrats that left the military with some of their political power as well as immunity from prosecution or retribution for a long list of past crimes. Once elections were held, the generals realized they had underestimated the degree of popular anger at the decades of military misrule. After 2011, with Burma governed by a government answerable to the people, not a military caste, there were calls for canceling the political privileges the military had retained as part of their agreement to allow peaceful transfer of power. The late 2020 nationwide elections put into power a government that finally had the votes, and determination, to cut the military down to size and make them much less capable of another coup. The generals moved faster than the new government and once more took control of the country on February 1st. That military government remains in control at the end of 2021, mainly because of support from China. There is growing armed and unarmed opposition to the military which has resulted in over a thousand dead, nearly 12,000 arrested. The economy is in shambles and despite that the population resists and the survival of the military government depends on how much China wants to spend. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
In 2021 the Islamic terrorists continued to fade while tribal violence was responsible for more casualties then Islamic terrorists, whose main activity now is staying alive and do so via banditry. Back in 2004, Islamic terrorist violence in the northeast appeared and created some lasting problems. There are still millions of refugees plus substantial economic damage in the northeast (Borno State), where it all began. There seems to be no end in sight because of the local corruption, but more competent leadership in the security forces reduced the violence. All this was caused by a local group of Taliban wannabes calling themselves Boko Haram. Their activity in the capital of Borno State grew for a decade until in 2014 it seemed unstoppable. It took over a year for the government to finally muster sufficient military strength to cripple but not destroy Boko Haram. This did not get much media attention outside Africa, even though in 2014 Boko Haram killed more people than ISIL did in Syria and Iraq. The main reason for Boko Haram gains in 2014 and 2015 was corruption in the army, which severely crippled effective counterterror efforts. By itself Boko Haram was too small to have much impact on a national scale but the inability to deal with this problem put a spotlight on the corruption that has hobbled all progress in Nigeria for decades. A new president (a former general who is Moslem) was elected in early 2015 and made progress in changing the corrupt army culture but that is still a work in progress even though he was reelected in early 2019. More bad news is expected because of too many tribal feuds, not enough oil money and too much corruption creating growing unrest throughout the country. This is especially bad down south in the oil producing region (the Niger River Delta). Violence against oil facilities continues. Worse, local politicians and business leaders had taken over the oil theft business. Northern Moslems want more control over the federal government and the oil money. In northern and central Nigeria you have increasing violence as nomadic Moslem herders move south and clash with largely Christian farmers over land use and water supplies. For the last few years these tribal feuds have killed more people than Boko Haram. The situation is still capable of sliding into regional civil wars, over money and political power. Corruption and ethnic/tribal/religious rivalries threaten to trigger, at worse, another civil war and, at least, more street violence and public anger.
POTENTIAL HOT SPOTS
Various places where the local situation is warming up and might turn into a war. Like Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Central Asia or Mexico. Previous items are still available in our archives.
The major event in 2021 was the Philippines realizing that making peace with China was not possible when it came to Chinese claims on Filipino territory in the South China Sea. Inside the Philippines it was a different story. Decades of effort finally reduced or eliminated the internal threat of leftist and Islamic rebellions. Now most Filipinos are more concerned about endemic corruption, widespread drug addiction and the resulting economic stagnation. There is also the Chinese threat, with more Chinese warships showing up in what had been, until recently, unquestionably Filipino controlled waters. Most Filipinos see China as a threat but not as crucial as the internal problems with drugs, corruption, Islamic terrorism and unemployment. Since elected president in 2016 Rodrigo Duterte did what most Filipinos wanted to reduce crime and drug violence. Duterte had been doing this locally (as mayor of a major southern city) successfully since the 1990s and was ready to try and make it happen nationally. He did and his term-limited job as president ends in mid-2022. His successor will find Duterte a tough act to follow. The new president won’t be known until May 2022. Duterte presided over peace with Moslem separatists in the south and an end to leftist rebel movements. He told the Islamic minority in the south (led by the separatist MILF) that he would get the 2015 peace deal that gave it more autonomy but not its own country and the expulsion of non-Moslems, approved by the legislature. There was one condition. MILF had to help destroy Abu Sayyaf, the ultra-radical Islamic terrorist group in the south that is responsible for most of the kidnappings and terror bombings down there. Some MILF factions refused to accept the peace deal and had, along with Abu Sayyaf, aligned themselves with ISIL. Abu Sayyaf integrated itself with the local clan culture and became very difficult to eliminate. The Moslems have, as always, lots of clan feuds and internal violence which will survive the autonomy deal with the government. By 2020 Islamic terrorists and communist rebels were much less active because there were a lot fewer of them and there was much less popular support. Duterte may not be the solution to the many problems the country faces but he was the most radical, and promising, one to come along in decades. He continues to receive record high approval ratings from the voters even as local and foreign critics accuse him of atrocious behavior.
President Vladimir Putin ended 2021 by threatening war with NATO to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and the European Union. Putin believes Ukraine is part of Russia and the Ukrainians disagree. Since 2014 Russia has been making a lot of headlines but not much else. The economy is a mess, as in stagnant and shrinking. Russia has fewer friends or allies and the future looks dim. Sending troops into Ukraine (2014), Syria (2015) and Libya (2016) has not helped solve any of the fundamental problems there but made for great propaganda. What went wrong? Russia entered the 21st century with a new elected government dominated by former secret police (KGB) officers who promised to restore economic and civil order. They did so but in the process turned Russia into a police state with less political and economic freedom. Many Russians opposed this and the government responded by appealing to nationalism. Russia has turned into what Germany had become in the 1930s. This included police state ways and the traditional threatening attitude towards neighbors. Rather than being run by corrupt communist bureaucrats, the country is now dominated by corrupt businessmen, gangsters and self-serving government officials that characterized the last czarist government of a century ago. The semi-free economy is more productive than the centrally controlled communist one but that just provides more money to steal. A rebellion against the new dictatorship has been derailed by astute propaganda depicting Russia as under siege by the West and NATO. Opinion polls show wide popular support for this paranoid fantasy but some Russians continue to struggle for better government and beneficial reforms. For now, most Russians want economic and personal security and are willing to tolerate a police state to get it. But the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions did more damage than the ruling politicians expected. That atmosphere, plus the anxiety generated by having troops fighting in Syria, Ukraine and Libya has scared away a lot of foreign investors and many Russian ones as well. Russia can downplay this in the state-controlled media but without all that foreign and Russian capital the economy cannot grow. Since 2014 most Russians can see daily that they are worse off than before. Meanwhile China, the only real threat to Russia, quietly makes progress in the east. There China has claims on much of the Russian Far East and is openly replacing Russia as the primary economic, military and political force in Central Asia.
RWANDA & BURUNDI
This area has become quieter over the last decade and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in the
section when there are details of the new civil wars brewing here. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
Despite relative peace and prosperity, in 2021 Somalia was unable to turn that into a more permanent condition by holding national elections. Somalia has long been a failed state and over a decade of peacekeeping, massive foreign aid and visible progress, corruption and tribalism are still blocking progress. Al Shabaab, a local Islamic radical group, was defeated and driven from cities and towns in 2011 but is still around. So is the traditional clan (tribal) violence, organized crime and banditry. All these are ancient Somali traditions and al Shabaab survives by reverting to that and becoming the major criminal organizations in some parts of the country. Extortion, smuggling, ransoms and so on have sustained the Islamic terror group. One of the most lucrative sources of plunder is the elected Somali government, propped up by foreign aid, most of which gets stolen, that showed up after 2012. Despite all that Somalia is still a failed state that defies every attempt at nation building. The situation is worse than it appears because Somalia was never a country, but a collection of clans and tribes that fight each other constantly over economic issues (land and water). The country remains an economic and political mess, a black hole on the map. Not much hope in sight. There is not a lot of enthusiasm among local leaders for a national government, but all that foreign aid is welcome because it can be taken without risking another clan feud. Somali smolders as it always has and not a lot has changed.
In October 2021 there was another military coup in Sudan because the military felt that the transitional government, in the form of the SNC (Sovereign National Council) despite being a military-civilian hybrid, was at a stalemate in restoring democracy. The coup was supposed to be a temporary condition to speed things up. That backfired as a lot of the pro-reform civilians declared the military government another effort to restore dictatorship. That’s how Omar al Bashir the dictator from 1989-to-2019, got his start. What form post-Bashir Sudan will take is still unknown. The situation in South Sudan, one of the results of Bashir’s misrule, is more settled.
The two Sudans had become quieter since the long-lasting Bashir dictatorship in Sudan was removed by determined popular resistance. South Sudan ended its post-independence civil war when everyone realized that they were destroying what they were allegedly fighting over and maybe a shouting-match was preferable to a death match. That has brought peace to both Sudans for the first time since the 1989 coup where then general Bashir took power and led Sudan on a downward trajectory. With peace and reconciliation breaking out in both Sudans we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections that still cover nearby nations like Somalia, Israel/Egypt and Yemen. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
The ruling Assad clan of Syria chose peace over religion in 2021 by quietly abandoning long-time ally Iran for new deals with Russia and the Arab League, as well as Israel. That’s how the Assads, who belong to the Shia minority of Syria, have survived; by changing alliances when necessary. This most recent shift began after the 2011 rebellion of the Sunni majority against the Shia minority. The Assads almost lost but by late 2018 it was clear they had won. The fighting persisted into 2021 because the main participants, like Russia, Turkey, Iran, the Assad government and several remaining rebel factions cannot agree on how to deal with the loose ends. Although initially considered likely to win, the rebels lost because of factionalism. So far over 500,000 have died and a third of the population has fled, mainly to Turkey and Lebanon. Meanwhile the Assads received over $16 billion worth of Iranian aid since 2012. That was joined by assistance from Russia (2015) and Turkey (2016). The civil war also morphed into a proxy war between Iran and the Sunni Arab states and their Western allies. The major factor in the rebel defeat was ISIL, which began as one of many Sunni Arab Islamic terror groups, but mainly al Qaeda and ISIL, who wanted to turn Syria into a religious dictatorship. Most Syrians just wanted peace and prosperity. The Islamic terror groups, as was their custom, put a priority on determining which of them was; “the true savior of Islam”. ISIL was definitely the most ruthless and best organized and many groups submitted to ISIL, if only temporarily. That weakened the rebel effort sufficiently for the Assads to hang on and become part of a larger anti-ISIL coalition. One thing everyone could agree on was that ISIL had to be destroyed first and by late 2017 that was accomplished. While ISIL reduced to small groups carrying out terror attacks, the remaining rebels were still not united. At the time ISIL was crushed the rebels controlled about a third of the country but were outnumbered by the Assad forces and most Syrians were increasingly war weary. Most of the deaths occurred after 2013. The killing diminished a bit in 2015 because of sheer exhaustion and picked up again in 2016 because of the Russian air (and other) support. The stubborn Assad dictatorship had a chance to win after 2015, something some Western nations saw as preferable to Islamic terrorists taking over and requiring a Western invasion to remove such a threat. In August 2016 Turkish ground forces entered northern Syria to seal the border from ISIL and Turkish separatist PKK Kurds as well as to weaken the Syrian Kurds. The Turks were basically helping the Assads and hurting ISIL and all that made an Assad victory more likely. Before the Assads could resume control of the country they had to deal with the fact that Israel, Jordan and the Sunni Arab oil states are opposed to the Iranian effort to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. The Assads were not happy with Iranian domination but had to keep quiet about that. Turkey was opposed to any autonomous Syrian Kurdish area in the northeast as well as a permanent Iranian presence. Turkey and Russia are technically allies of Iran in Syria and the reality is that no one trusts Iran. The Russians have quietly made it clear they would side with Israel if it came down to that. The Turks are NATO members and traditional foes of Russia and Iran. The current Turkish government is unstable and increasingly unpopular with Turks as well as the neighbors. The unrest in Iran and growing financial problems have reduced Iranian efforts in Syria. The Assads quietly patched things up with the Arab League, with help from Russia and, unexpectedly, Israel. At this point Iranian leaders were aware of what the Assads were going but were unsure of how to deal with it. Iran could probably kill the Assads, but that would be difficult because the key Assads tend to avoid joint meetings, the better to keep the clan alive, even if some key members get killed. This is how Middle Eastern politics has been conducted for thousands of years.
This area has become quieter over the last few years and we are no longer covering it regularly as a separate category. Thailand has quieted down because the Moslem separatists in the south have lost a lot of popular support. That was a gradual process that took over a decade to reach the point where the separatist violence was no longer a constant threat. For the other 97 percent of Thais, the arguments over the monarchy and the mainly monarchist military are no longer threatening to slide into civil war. Because of this we will no longer cover Thailand regularly as a separate category. There will still be coverage as needed in other sections that still cover nearby nations like China. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
This is a new addition to our regular updates because Turkey has, in the last decade, become more of a problem for itself and many other nations in the region. This mischief remained active in 2021 and the economic and diplomatic damage to Turkey and its leader for the last two decades is threatened with early retirement. The next elections are in 2023 and accusations of vote rigging during previous elections remain unresolved.
By 2010 this area had become quieter and we no longer covered it regularly as a separate category. There is still coverage as needed in other sections (mostly Congo and Somalia) because of Ugandan participation in a growing number of peacekeeping operations in Africa. Original coverage is still available in our archives.
The Iran-backed Shia rebels are losing but refuse to make peace, in part because of continued Iranian support and partly out of fear of the consequences. Yemen has proved to be an embarrassment for Iran and the Saudi/UAE backed Yemen government. The other Arabs are not willing to suffer the heavy casualties a quick victory would require. The war drags on into 2022 or until Iran just decides to halt support. Iranian withdrawal is a possibility because of growing popular protests in Iran against the expensive foreign wars in Syria and Yemen. Until late 2017 there was not much progress in the Yemen fighting, a development that favored Iran. But by early 2018 the Shia rebel coalition began unraveling and Iran suddenly had its own domestic uprising to deal with back home. Worse, the U.S. government had changed in early 2017 and was much more aggressive dealing with Iran. There was also a radical (for Arabia) new government in Saudi Arabia with a young Crown Prince in charge and organizing more effective resistance to Iranian aggression. That played a role in causing the Yemen unrest evolving into a full-scale civil war in 2015. That was when Shia rebels sought to take control of the entire country. Neighboring Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, quickly formed a military coalition to halt the Yemeni rebel advance. The Arab coalition succeeded and by 2016 pro-government forces were closing in on the rebel-held capital. The coalition did not go after the capital itself because of the expected heavy casualties and property damage in the city. The coalition concentrated on rebuilding the Yemeni armed forces, recruiting allies from the Sunni tribes in the south and eliminating al Qaeda and ISIL groups that had grown stronger as the Shia rebels gained more power. As the fighting intensified in early 2015 Iran admitted it had been quietly supporting the Shia rebels for a long time but now was doing so openly, or at least trying. Many Yemenis trace the current crisis back to the civil war that ended, sort of, in 1994. That war was caused by the fact that, when the British left Yemen in 1967, their former colony in Aden became one of two countries called Yemen. The two Yemens finally united in 1990 but another civil war in 1994 was needed to seal the deal. That fix didn't really take and the north and south have been pulling apart ever since. This comes back to the fact that Yemen has always been a region, not a country. Like most of the rest of the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa region, the normal form of government until the 20th century was wealthier coastal city states nervously coexisting with interior tribes that got by on herding or farming or a little of both plus smuggling and other illicit sidelines. This whole "nation" idea is still looked on with some suspicion by many in the region. This is why the most common forms of government are the more familiar ones of antiquity like kingdom, emirate or modern variation in the form of a hereditary secular dictatorship. For a long time, the most active Yemeni rebels were the Shia Islamic militants in the north. They have always wanted to restore local Shia rule in the traditional Shia tribal territories, led by the local imam (religious leader). This arrangement, after surviving more than a thousand years, was ended by the central government in 1962. Yemen also became the new headquarters of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) when Saudi Arabia was no longer safe for the terrorists after 2007. Now there is ISIL and an invading army composed of troops from oil-rich neighbors. By late 2017 the rebels were slowly losing ground to government forces who, despite Arab coalition air support and about five thousand ground troops, were still dependent on Yemeni Sunni tribal militias to fight the Shia tribesmen on the ground. While the Shia are only a third of the population, they are united while the Sunni tribes are divided over the issue of again splitting the country in two and with no agreement on who would get the few oil fields in central Yemen. Many of the Sunni tribes tolerate or even support AQAP and ISIL. With the Iranian smuggling pipeline much reduced the Shia rebels, and their Iranian sponsors are now on the defensive and seeking a tolerable way out of the mess they made. They are aided by the UAE and Sudan pulling their troops out of Yemen and the southern separatists refusing to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in defeating the rebels.