Monday, February 9, 2015
Four threats and a promise
Will a new Cold War begin over the hot war in Ukraine? Will the European Union crumble, sparking another global recession? Will Iran go nuclear? Will the tottering Arab world collapse?
Tyranny is cruel, but anarchy may be worse. Ask anyone living in one of the increasing number of failed (or failing) states around the world as 2015 stumbles toward … what?
“Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order,” writes Henry Kissinger, chief architect of U.S. foreign policy for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, in his recent book World Order. During tumultuous times, Kissinger engineered Nixon’s historic 1972 opening to China. He also helped craft détente — the easing of decades of nuclear-armed tensions with the Soviet Union.
Today, however, order and agreement are becoming hard to find.
“Chaos threatens side by side with … the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the disintegration of states, the impact of environmental depredation, the persistence of genocidal practices, and the spread of new technologies threatening to drive conflict beyond human control or comprehension,” Kissinger warns. “Are we facing a period in which forces beyond the restraints of any order determine the future?”
If Kissinger can’t answer that question regarding world affairs, I certainly won’t try. But here are four key threats to monitor this year, according to risk assessments from the Eurasia Group, the World Economic Forum, Stratfor Global Intelligence and other globe watchers:
1. Russia and Ukraine — As conflict in eastern Ukraine intensifies between government forces and Russian-backed rebels, peace prospects seem to be fading. Western economic sanctions (and lower oil prices) have crippled the Russian economy, and the United States is now considering sending arms to Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin frames the struggle as a new assault by the West generally, and the United States specifically, on Russia and its essential interests — and threatens a return to Cold War footing. But will Putin stay in power long enough to act on his warnings? He’s popular at home, for now. But the longer the Ukraine crisis goes on, some observers say, the more likely it is that Putin’s regime will eventually collapse under the weight of economic trouble. “And if Russia destabilizes, it is the destabilization of a nation with massive nuclear capability,” reminds Stratfor chief George Friedman.
2. Europe on the edge — National economies in Europe continue to stall or decline. Unemployment continues to rise, threatening the still-fragile global recovery from the Great Recession. Fear of social and political chaos grows as angry populist movements on the left and the right blame the continent’s ills on the European Union, economic austerity measures, immigrants, Muslims — and Europe’s age-old target, Jews. Ugly anti-Semitism is on the rise in the continent that has promised “never again” since World War II.
3. State collapse — ISIS isn’t the only “non-state actor” with the potential to overwhelm whole governments. Rebels, terrorists and international criminal cartels have been able to do that for a long time. But this bloodthirsty band of Islamists has morphed from one faction in the Syrian civil war into an army that aims to conquer multiple countries. And they’re not alone. Kissinger: “In the Middle East, jihadists on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide tear at societies and dismantle states in quest of visions of global revolution based on the fundamentalist version of their religion. The state itself — as well as the regional system based on it — is in jeopardy, assaulted by ideologies rejecting its constraints as illegitimate and by terrorist militias that, in several countries, are stronger than the armed forces of the government.”
4. Iran versus Saudi Arabia — These two states, though challenged from multiple sides, will continue to struggle for effective control of the Middle East, influencing regional conflicts, the Sunni-Shia feud, the security of Israel, the price of oil and other flashpoints. If Iran develops nuclear weapons, the competition could escalate beyond control.
As followers of Christ, what are we to do in chaotic times? Fear not (the most frequent command in Scripture). Trust God. Pray hard. Act in obedience. And keep going to the nations.
Major gospel advances almost always come during periods of struggle and change.
“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth,” the Lord declares (Psalm 46:10, NASB).
That is a promise, a guarantee — regardless of the historical moment. The church has flourished in harder times than these.