IR : What-are-the-major-world-geopolitical-faultlines -1 -2
Answer by Scott Lowe:
All of this is said with the caveat that in this crazy, mixed-up world, tensions can flare in almost any region around the world. Even though with hindsight you can see the simmering tension between the two countries, not many people would have predicted two years ago that Russia would invade Ukraine and annex some of its territory.
Also, when talking about geopolitical faultlines, you are mostly focusing on nation-states. There are plenty of areas where non-state actors are provoking a conflict, and they find it incredibly easy to cross over multiple borders and operate across nations (see Boko Haram).
South China Sea – This is one in which things are likely to go south fairly quickly if things escalate. You have a number of countries who are all competing for maritime claims in the region, all of whom have some reason to be bitter against the big one, China.
Most the claims in the above map are codified in international law. However, the nine-dash line, which indicates China’s claim, rests purely on a historical basis. The other countries in the region, including Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines, dispute this and hence see incursions into their waters by the Chinese as aggressive moves of intimidation.
That is not to say that all countries in the region are opposed to China, but there is a lot of complexity to these relationships and they need to be managed quite carefully. Not only that, but the region is a major shipping route, holds fishing grounds which allow thousands of fishermen to continue to exist, and could potentially hold billions of natural resources.
Middle East – I am sure that I do not need to tell the questioner of the different geopolitical forces operating in the Middle East right now. Suffice to say, the borders in the Middle East are somewhat arbitrary, and the conflict between the major religious groups will continue to be a source of tension for years to come. One particular thing to keep an eye on is the potential establishment of a Kurdish state, which is opposed by some countries and supported by others. With Kurds continuing to be a minority group in many of the states they are in, expect this idea (or dream) to keep going.
India and Pakistan and Afghanistan – These three countries will continue to be a source of conflict for years to come. The animosity between India and Pakistan is well known, with the volatile region of Kashmir seeing border clashes on a pretty regular basis, as well as a recent terrorist attack near the Wagah Border Crossing.
The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is also a problem. The mountainous border is virtually impossible to adequately close, which allows extremists to move in and out of the country with ease. In some cases, this benefits Pakistan as they can conceivably claim ignorance over attacks by extremists against Indian targets. In other cases, the extremists are operating inside Pakistan and have introduced even more violence to the country.
You also have India providing assistance and resources to Afghanistan, often to Pakistan's chagrin. Pakistan has continually accused Indian intelligence of providing weapons to extremists in Baluchistan, who have been waging a separatist war. So India and Pakistan are using Afghanistan as a proxy for their own fight, while still fighting in actual conflicts on their own border.
Korea – The border between the two Koreas really means nothing. It is simply the place where both sides finished up at the end of the Korean War. The heavily mined and guarded demilitarized zone already sees action and tense exchanges, not just on land but on water too. History tells us that this line will eventually be crossed, either by the North or by the South, and what happens after that is anybody's guess, but it is unlikely to be smooth.
Balkans and Eastern Europe – I have lumped these two together, although they really should be separate, as the issues that are plaguing the regions are related but different. In Eastern Europe, the main concern is the push-pull dynamic between Europe and Russia. We have seen this in Ukraine, and other countries such as Estonia and Latvia are also being torn between the two. Crimea showed just how easy it is for a more powerful country to redraw the map and Russia is certainly aiming to keep Europe and NATO from its doorstep by any means necessary. This can probably be extended to Russia’s borders with Central Asian countries, however as of 2014 seem to be more compliant and are in step with the Russian regime, reducing the risk of conflict.
In the Balkans, the conflict is more contained but still dangerous. You are unlikely to see nations like Croatia or Bosnia and Herzegovina rampaging their way through Europe, but there is continued concern that religious and ethnic tensions may boil over and bring about yet another period of war like in the mid-90s.
East Africa – There are many countries in this grouping, with individual characteristics so it may be unfair to group them all together. There is a significant risk that conflict could erupt between countries who have a shared history. You have Somalia which lacks any real form of government, you have Sudan and South Sudan fighting over oil revenue, and tribal and ethnic differences will always cause problems. Add in almost ever present food and water insecurity, and you have the potential for never ending conflict.
Perhaps surprisingly, I feel that in the Americas there is little risk for a major conflict anytime soon. North America is incredibly stable in terms of foreign interventions. Even though Central American countries such as Honduras and El Salvador are suffering under extremely high murder rates, there seems to be no reason for those nations to go to war with one another. South America seems fairly stable, as individual countries have their own problems to deal with.
Thanks for the A2A.