The consequences of each of the four trends continue to reverberate, costing life and limb and destroying the infrastructures on which people depend. We should note that they are not mutually exclusive and do overlap. Syria is a case in point, as it began as a confrontation between the Assad regime and protestors and escalated into a civil war, exacerbating existing ethnic and religious differences. The rise of ISIS brought a direct intervention from the West and a regional coalition. Russia intervened directly on the side of the regime and every regional power has had a part in the violence. It is rare for all four trends to be present in one cataclysm, but it is also rare for there to be only one.
The battle between the West and Islamic fundamentalism is one part of a complex dynamic across the Muslim world, but the confrontation is still present, and al Qaeda, ISIS, and similar groups still have influence. While there is a focus on the central Sahel and Cabo Delgado, there is still a presence in Syria. Violence driven or exacerbated by ethnicity, identity, and religion remains the most prolific, and it has proven to be hard to resolve and prone to reescalation, with the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh one example. Successful attempts at resolution, such as in South Sudan, address political problems such as the distribution of power, addressing a root cause, but the mobilisation of ethnicity, identity, and religion, for political aims has had lingering effects. The outcomes of the upheaval known as the ‘Arab Spring’, which dominated the second decade of the twenty-first century, have yet to be realised. Competing ideas over governance are in conflict and most of the states affected had their own distinct responses. The extent of involvement by emerging regional powers, all of whom have competing interests, is a dynamic that has made the violence in Libya, Syria, and Yemen worse, and may continue to do so. The re-emergence of Cold War rivalries is at its most dangerous since the breakup of the Soviet Union. While this has taken a different form, the risk of escalation is high, and the consequences are already global. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a rare instance of inter-state conflict, and the invasion of neighbouring states is a taboo in international relations. The extent of western support is unparalleled, stopping short of direct conflict with Russia, but including effective military aid. The ‘long peace’, where the major states were not in direct conflict, is at risk, and the most bellicose critics of the invasion are those countries bordering Russia. It would not take much to tip this over the edge into a wider conflict between NATO and Russia. Meanwhile, the US and China are engaged in a confrontation in the Asia-Pacific as an emerging power confronts an existing power.
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Editor’s note: This content was substantially revised on the 16.08.22 and replaces the text of an earlier version.