Special to WorldTribune.com
By John J. Metzler
The political reverberations following America’s Afghanistan pullout debacle still shake the geopolitical landscape from Ukraine to the Taiwan Straits. But shall pending military calculations in Moscow and Beijing take advantage of a perceived power vacuum in the wake of the Afghan fiasco or will diplomacy deflect the sword of aggression?
As we enter the New Year 2022, let’s go to the proverbial snow globe and peer into the future. Presidential elections are scheduled in France, Brazil, and South Korea.
Now let’s review some global hotspots.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s possible plans for Ukraine are bound both by a nostalgic nationalism and a murky national mission in reviving and rebuilding spheres of influence into a Greater Russia. Putin’s perception is that the West will talk tough, act macho
and then fall back to stern sounding Communiques and tepid economic sanctions.
But would the Kremlin attack Ukraine in mid-Winter? Russia’s armor and mechanized infantry units would not be at their optimum in such weather conditions. Never underestimate General Winter! Moreover, are Moscow’s plans aimed at carving away more of eastern Ukraine, thereby reinforcing an already de facto
occupation since 2014, or to seize the entire country?
Despite a lack of defense treaty commitments, can the United States and NATO be pulled into a conflict to defend Ukraine?
Germany’s federal elections tilted the country to the center-left. For the first time in 16 years a Social Democratic/Green government has assumed power in Berlin. Early indications are mixed, but in a bow to the powerful environmental lobby, the new government wants to close remaining operating nuclear plants and switch to additional energy supplies from Russia.
Germany and most of Central Europe are already intertwined in a dangerous dependency on a web of Russian natural gas pipelines. Now the newest Nord Stream 2 Gazprom link, to which the Biden Administration gave the green light, still needs to get regulatory approval from both Berlin and Brussels. There’s an uneasy nervousness in Germany having supported this new pipeline.
Watch the Balkans. Bosnia’s fragile peace has been quietly unravelling amidst a Serb power grab in the ethnically divided land. The Yugoslav civil war of the 1990’s should be a lesson but stealth plans by the Bosnian Serbs could reignite this Balkan powder keg.
The pendulum for now has shifted from the divided Korean peninsula to the long-overlooked Taiwan Straits separating communist China from the democratic island of Taiwan. Over the past few decades despite massive economic links between the two Chinas, the perception emerged that military threats were nearly nil.
But Beijing has never renounced
the use of military force to retake its “renegade province” and has militarily bullied Taiwan for over a year with airspace intrusions and provocative probes by 940 military jets.
The Winter Beijing Olympics offer a chapter break; China’s communist regime must stay on best behavior until after the Games. Is this the moment for the forced “reunification” with the communist Mainland through a military attack on democratic Taiwan? Probably not quite yet. Nonetheless grey area
warfare and an incremental squeeze on the small island may increase with additional air force and possibly fishing fleet probes into Taiwan sovereign airspace/territory.
What is the U.S. response? Jimmy Carter abrogated the formal U.S. defense treaty with Taiwan back in 1979. The United States has many serious options but no legal military commitment to defend Taiwan. Still there’s strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and the Biden Administration to protect Taiwan in some manner; it used to be called “strategic ambiguity” as to keep the Chinese communists guessing. Washington’s policies are no longer so nuanced.
The Biden Administration’s appalling pullout from Afghanistan spilled blood in the water tempting aspiring aggressors.
The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen churn on with War, refugees and humanitarian crises being the bloody byproduct.
The political win of the presidency by the hard Left in Chile, a fairly prosperous and democratic country, follows a similar electoral victory a year earlier in Argentina. Will upcoming elections in Brazil and Colombia continue this trend?
More than 5 million people have died worldwide from the virus with more than 816,000 in the USA alone. Ironically during 2021 more Americans died from Covid than during 2020 before there were vaccines. Covid has inflicted massive human, economic and psychological stress and suffering globally.
But beyond Covid concerns there’s rising inflation, higher gas and fuel prices and national malaise.
Our era has a very 1970’s feel to it.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]