Is The World Safe From Global Conflict In 2019?

Saturday, January 5, 2019
By Paul Martin

by M.K.Bhadrakumar via The Indian Punchline,
Fri, 01/04/2019

Armageddon: Will it come on Trump’s watch?

Is 2019 going to be the year of the Armageddon? The answer is a definitive ‘No’. As 2018 ended, the potential for war was looming and Russian President Vladimir Putin even refused to rule out a nuclear war. But then, the statesmen grappling with international security also know that nukes are useless. They serve the purpose of deterrence but cannot be used as offensive weapons.

In fact, the nearest we came to a nuclear flashpoint was during last year over North Korea. But that point is well behind us. North Korea is no longer considered as a great threat to global security – although it is fairly clear by now, thanks to satellite imagery and other reports, that claims that Pyongyang was shutting down its nuclear weapons testing must be taken with a pinch of salt. Defusing the crisis with North Korea stands out as President Trump’s most successful summit diplomacy so far.

Coming back to Russia’s tensions with the West, no one thinks of the likelihood of the tensions cascading to a doomsday, either. Putin’s startling remark can be put in perspective. These days, what is uppermost on his mind is the planned US exit from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Putin has repeatedly warned that if the US scuttles the INF Treaty, it would trigger a Russian response.

Suffice to say, when Putin made the seemingly ominous remark lamenting that the global fears of a nuclear war have ebbed, he had a political agenda to draw attention to the growing instability due to the tensions in Russia’s relations with the West and the ensuing great depletion of a common agenda apropos international security today. What Putin implied was that if the relations continue to be in free fall, a point may come when the situation regarding nuclear weapons may spin out of control. As a Russian analyst noted, “Putin believes that nuclear weapons are Russia’s ultimate argument that should influence Western politicians’ thinking.”

However, the likelihood of western sanctions against Russia getting lifted in 2019 is practically nil. Russia has survived the sanctions but they have and are taking a heavy toll on the Russian economy. Apart from limiting imports of Western energy and other technologies, Russia’s access to international capital markets remains blocked and international investors feel discouraged to have dealings in Russia.

Indeed, Russia’s “pivot” to China is an outcome of the western sanctions and the political relations with China are at their highest level at present. The mutual trust at the leadership level is unprecedented and in overall terms, China remains Russia’s largest and strategically most significant partner in Asia.

Nonetheless, as an influential Moscow pundit wrote recently, “It’s no secret that amidst the war in the financial sector that the United States is waging against Russia, Chinese companies and banks were in no hurry to create mechanisms to bypass these (western) sanctions. Often they refused to work with Russian clients, which contrasts with the highest level of political relations between the countries and the mutual trust of their leaders… In this regard… the exacerbation of the face-off between China and the United States could be both a boon and a bane for Russia’s foreign policy.”

In the final analysis, an improvement of Russia’s relations with the US will depend on the conclusion of the ongoing inquiry on Trump’s alleged “Russia collusion.” The possibility of such a thing happening cannot be ruled out. At any rate, the chances of the inquiry getting carried over to 2020 appear rather slim. But, on the other hand, 2020 also promises to be a turbulent election year in US politics, which precludes a controversial foreign policy initiative such as on a radical improvement of relations with Russia on Trump’s part.

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