Coronavirus is dominating the news as a major worldwide pandemic. It doesn’t seem like anybody can turn on the television or music radio stations without hearing more about the virus. But geopolitical threats don’t take a break, and many bad actors benefit from chaos, so we must consider other news in the world as well.
Skirmishes in Syria, Border Chaos in Greece
Turkey and Russian backed Syrian forces have skirmished recently in Syria. Russian airstrikes killed at least 33 soldiers in late February and tensions continue to rise. Their jockeying for position affects oil supplies (key in a current oil downturn and price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia), could expand Russia’s sphere of influence, and spark another humanitarian crisis on top of Europe’s current health crisis. If the virus seems hard to contain right now, it will be tougher along overcrowded borders and further strain European health care systems. Greece already faces a border crisis with Syrian refugees in Turkey repeatedly trying to storm their border. Meanwhile Italy’s health care system is reportedly close to collapse with the coronavirus and Germany’s Angela Merkel says Germany faces it’s biggest test since World War II.
Putin Expands His Power
Speaking of Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin is changing the law to make himself president for another 16 years. Even though he is essentially a dictator expanding his power my local newspaper, the Las Vegas Journal Review, provided one paragraph in a side bar about this event while they had dozens of articles and over five pages dedicated to virus coverage. Putin extending his reign to essentially become dictator for life provides much needed context compared to critics of Trump that call him a dictator. Everything Trump does is supposedly scary, breaking norms, and undermining democratic institutions. But actual dictators change the constitution and rules to extend their rule and it barely elicits a yawn from the Western media.
Oil Price War
This is more than just a useful comparison about myopic critics and the limited attention span of the world’s population. Putin’s rule can lead create even more problems for its own people, its neighbors, and the world. Saudi Arabia and OPEC countries deliberately spiked production so they could collapse the price of oil and collapse Russia’s economy. Russia is talking a big game and claiming its reserve funds can cover a 6-10 year price war, last time this happened in 2014 the central bank had to bail out many of the major lenders in the country and Russia still must contend with the economic impact of the Coronavirus. Much like Venezuela, this economic disruption would hurt social welfare programs when they are needed most and lead to even more oppression at home to stifle discontent. It could also lead to diversionary wars abroad if Russia senses a short, quick victory could distract its population.
Western Military Readiness is Lagging
As has already been discussed, the virus makes the American military and NATO even more unprepared for short opportunistic action. American military training abroad, such as those in Poland and the Baltic have been cancelled. America would be less practiced at performing a difficult maneuver of moving forward under heavy fire and do so with military members that either suffer from the virus or know their family members are as they are deployed on short notice very far away. Russia knows this so even though their economy and people are suffering they could have the advantage if they began an offensive action.
The Hong Kong protests have stopped, but China hasn’t stopped its propaganda war to make it appear as though it handled the coronavirus correctly. China has the advantage of claiming to have already gone through their crisis. China reported this week that they had one day with no new cases of the virus. They may still face a second wave as they relax the quarantine in and around Wuhan, but they so far, they seem to be on the back end of the curve. While the world is combating the front side of the curves they can crack down on democracy protestors in Hong Kong and those that criticize the government for its handling of the crisis. Just like Russia, China may seek a short-term preemptive action in the South China Sea while it senses an advantage. Just weeks ago there were 45 protests against Chinese aggression in disputed territory in with the Philippines. Before many gatherings were cancelled, panelists worried that China was slowly conquering the South China Sea. Analysts continue to worry that Taiwan will face conquest unless the US commits to its defense.
Finally, the Afghanistan peace process is still a mess and falling apart even more quickly than usual. It is doubtful that the Taliban will be an ally in the war on terror. The Afghan provisional government is balking at releasing the first 1,500 of 5,000 prisoners though they seem to be relenting now. The virus is slowing down the planned troop withdraw as potentially infected personnel enter quarantine. Terrorists continue to plan attacks and will flourish as American troops leave. Terrorist attacks have already increased in Afghanistan before the world became distracted by this alarming pandemic.
Americans should be worried about their safety but must also avoid being blinded by the problem right in front of them. There are still many other dangerous threats around that world. As Americans seem to have forgotten from the recent massive escalation of tensions with Iran, the problems that currently exist could escalate in a very short time from a minor threat to war. As a result, Americans must not forget these problems just because a more immediate one currently dominates the news.