Arguably at no other time since the last days of the Cold War in the late 1980s has the future of the world looked more uncertain. Today, most international intelligence experts believe that a global war is a matter of when and not if. Their pessimism is fired by two key factors.
One is the largely uncontained threat of extremist Islam. When Osama Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 by American Special Forces, there was palpable relief across the world. Across the West and in the United States especially, hopes were high that the termination of the symbolic head of Al-Qaeda would lead to the eventual unraveling of the group and create an opening for a rapprochement between aggrieved Middle Eastern countries and the United States. There were also suggestions that the US operation to kill Bin Laden may have provided African countries like Nigeria which are plagued by terrorism with an opportunity to re-evaluate their war against terror.
As things turned out, however, such hopes were misplaced. While Al-Qaeda is no longer the menace it used to be, the bad news is that it has since been replaced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, popularly known as ISIS. ISIS was established in 1999, but it has used the vacuum created by Bin Laden’s killing and the crisis in Iraq and Syria respectively to lay a strong claim to the affections of all manner of religious lunatics and anyone willing to pick a fight against the West, including deluded Western citizens seeking adventure.
Purporting to execute a vague Quranic mandate to unite the entire global Muslim Ummah under the aegis of a Caliphate, not only does ISIS continue to wreak havoc in parts of Iraq and Syria where it controls vast swathes of territory, it continues to launch terror attacks against western targets in Europe, Asia, and Africa. At the same time, murderous epigones of ISIS like Boko Haram (Nigeria) and Al-Shabaab (Kenya and Somalia) remain prime disturbers of regional peace, and continue to cost a fortune to contain.
Besides ISIS, a resurgent Russia is the other distinct threat to world peace, the rhetoric of violence emanating from North Korea notwithstanding. Under the leadership of the inscrutable Vladimir Putin, Russian nationalism, tamed briefly after the debacle of socialism, has rediscovered its zing. Largely egged on by a populace apparently eager to return to the heyday of Soviet power, Putin, a former KGB operative, has acted largely as if time-worn diplomatic norms were mere suggestions. He has sought to project Russian power across Europe by striking up various dubious alliances, often with the main intent of creating destabilization in Western countries.
Naturally, Putin’s bellicosity—his ostentatious testing of the SS-18 “Satan” Missiles for one—has stirred other major powers in Europe and Asia into action. Kremlin missile corps reportedly unleashed the new warhead which is said to be capable of hypersonic flight, carrying a nuclear payload at Yasny Launch Base in Russia, last Tuesday. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said: “The test was a success. The warhead was delivered to Kura field.” Russia’s Defence chiefs believe that the devastating Hypersonic Glider Vehicle (HGV) will be able to beat any missile defence shield in the West, and wipe out areas as big as Texas and France. Tensions have indeed escalated, and Britain is reported to have sent 800 troops, tanks and drones to the Russian border. The Baltic States–Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and Poland–have been arming themselves and looking in the general direction of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for help. Ukraine, bereft of the Crimea since 2014 following Russian military action, remains on permanent alert.
Since the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945, the world has enjoyed a period of relative peace. The antics of Russia, coupled with the determination of ISIS to re-impose its vision of medieval life on the whole world, have now taken the world to the precipice of a global disaster. The United Nations, the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and other regional and multilateral organisations should step in before it’s too late. Avoiding World War III, the countries can rededicate themselves to the cause of world peace and prosperity.