After turbulent 2014, next year may be no calmer

After turbulent 2014, next year may be no calmer

NEW YORK - From financial crisis in Russia to cyber warfare with North Korea, 2014 has generated new flashpoints right into its final days, setting 2015 up to be just as turbulent.

Almost all of the major confrontations, such as the battle with Islamic State militants, the West's stand-off with Russia over Ukraine and the fight against Ebola, will rumble on. Others could erupt at short notice.

"Normally after a year like this you might expect things to calm down," said John Bassett, former senior official with British signals intelligence agency GCHQ now an associate at Oxford University. "But none of these problems have been resolved and the drivers of them are not going away."

The causes are varied - a global shift of economic power from the West, new technologies, regional rivalries and anger over rising wealth gaps.

In June, a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace showed world peace declining for the seventh consecutive year since 2007, reversing a trend of improvement over decades.

The same group said in November deaths from militant attacks leapt 60 per cent to an all-time high, primarily in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, this at a time when the West's ability to respond militarily is constrained as Washington and its European allies cut defence budgets.


While Western policymakers hope Russia's economic crisis will curb Vladimir Putin's ambitions, others worry it could make him more unpredictable.

"It's not necessarily going to make Russia any better behaved," says Christopher Harmer, a former US navy pilot now senior fellow at the Institute for Study of War.

NATO officials say the alliance would treat any aggression, even covert, in NATO member Baltic states as an act of war.

China is building up its military might. It lays claim to almost all the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.

In the East China Sea, a string of islets claimed by both China and Japan have strained ties severely.

Some officials and analysts say Western overstretch means a confrontation in one part of the world can encourage potential adversaries elsewhere to try their luck, a potential factor in North Korea's increased assertiveness.

Washington has accused Pyongyang of launching a cyber attack on Sony Pictures after its film on the fictional assassination of leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea has rejected the charge.

"The recent hack on Sony has highlighted the vulnerability of the West to the growing threat posed by cyber attack," said Alastair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura.

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