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Monday, February 13, 2017

What's The Most Dangerous Place On Earth?

Here's an interesting question:  what's the most dangerous place on earth?  I'm not talking about individual danger, but of danger to world peace.  In other words, the place most likely to start a nuclear war is what we are looking for.

There are a number of candidates for the title:  1) North Korea where its crazy leader keeps threatening missile attacks on countries like South Korea, Japan and the USA;  2) Ukraine where the Russians continue to try to take significant territory from their neighbor; 3) Syria/Iraq where ISIS is launching battles to establish its declining caliphate; 4) Iran where the mullahs continue developing nuclear weapons and ICBMs that could strike anywhere in the world; 5) the South China Sea where China is trying to take control of some of the most important shipping lanes in the world by building and militarizing small islands in areas claimed by many other countries as well as by the international community; or 6) India/Pakistan where nuclear armed powers confront each other in a relationship that at best would be called "hate-filled".

It seems pretty clear that we can rule out the Ukraine.  The Russian attack there has petered out and the fighting has been reduced to sporadic events.  We can also rule out Syria/Iraq.  ISIS may be detestable, but it cannot bring the world to nuclear destruction.  India/Pakistan also seems unlikely to cause a nuclear war.  Those countries have confronted each other for decades across a hostile border, but the hasn't been a war since India overran East Pakistan and turned it into Bangladesh many decades ago.  Iran is a possible candidate in our search, but the Iranians don't have nuclear weapons yet.  Nor do the mullahs have functional ICBMs.  Things look bleak with regard to Iran, but the problem is not immediate.  Even North Korea can be ruled out for now.  The leader of North Korea may be crazy, but he has never seemed suicidal.  He knows that any major attack  on the South Koreans, Japanese or Americans would result in the total destruction of North Korea and the death of millions of his people including, most likely, himself.

That leaves the South China Sea.  I think that region is the clear winner in our contest.  Given the nature of the contest, maybe we should call it the clear loser.  In any event, the militarization of the international waters in the region by China presents a clear challenge to a whole host of Asian countries as well as to the world's maritime powers led by the USA.  By planting military bases on new islands in the region, China has to be affronted each time the warships of another country pass through the huge area that China now claims as its territory.  That means that each passage by a US navy destroyer through the region will be regarded by China as a provocation.  When the Royal Navy sends one of its ships through the area, the result will be the same.  The real question is what the Chinese will do in response to these supposed provocations.  Will China just sit by and watch as other nations ignore China's claims to the region, no matter how specious?  Will China seek to block access to the seas in this area?  If China takes an aggressive action, will the USA and its allies sit by and let China just grab international waters as its own?  Will the other nations involved take aggressive actions?  The number of possible flash points are large, and the countries involved in the dispute have the military power to cause a major war.

There is very little focus today on this dangerous region.  We all need to start paying more attention to it.

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