World disorder scorecard: A guide to the top hotspots

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The daily international news is dominated by conflicts around the globe. To the outsider, they appear messy and confusing, specially as the US retreats from its role as the protector of global order.

In the post-Cold War environment, it is also hard to tell the goodies from the baddies. So the editors of the Wall Street Journal have compiled a guide to the world’s conflicts and whom to root for:

1. Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening and bribing to pull authoritarian Viktor Yanukovych away from Europe and into Moscow's orbit. Street protestors and the opposition want to join the West with its rule of law and greater democratic transparency.

Who to root for: The opposition. Without Ukraine, Russia can't become a new empire, and a democratic victory in Kiev might have a useful demonstration effect in Moscow.

2. Thailand
The elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra is under assault by opposition protestors who refuse to contest new elections and are openly begging for another military coup. The military has stayed neutral but may be tempted.

Root for: The Yingluck government. The opposition Democrat Party last won an election in 1992, and another coup would further destabilise a country that ought to be emerging as a beacon of Asian prosperity.

3. China v Japan
China is increasingly assertive in its dispute with Japan over control of the small islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkakus (Diaoyus to the Chinese). With nationalism rising in both countries, especially China, this is the world's most dangerous flashpoint outside the Middle East.

Root for: Japan, with the caveat that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stop worshioping at the shrine of World War II criminals. The US is treaty-bound to defend Japan if it is attacked, and the best way to deter Chinese aggression is to let Beijing know that it will be resisted by both countries.

4. South Sudan
The world’s newest nation is descending into civil war. The main causes are personal rivalries and enmity between the Dinka and Nuer tribes over who will benefit from the East African country's oil riches.

Root for: UN peacekeepers. Neither side merits Western support, so the goal should be to protect civilians. Some 12,000 UN peacekeepers will patrol land half the size of Western Europe, and they could use US support as the two sides try to kill each other.

5. North Korea
Kim Jong Un, the third generation in the communist world’s longest family dynasty, eliminated an internal political adversary when he had uncle Jang Song Thaek put to death last month. But that may not have ended the internal threats to Kim’s consolidation of power, as the regime's elites brawl over who gets the cash from their businesses and Western bribes.

Root for: More regime feuding and collapse. No amount of bribery will make the regime give up nuclear weapons. The West should keep squeezing the North, denying the money it needs to buy domestic support, and heightening the internal contradictions, as the world's last Marxists like to say.

6. Syria
The civil war will soon enter its fourth year, with President Bashar Assad and his Iranian protectors making gains against the divided opposition. With US President Obama's refusal to help moderates, and now his de facto alliance with Assad over chemical weapons, the opposition has become a breeding ground for Islamist fighters.

Root for: Some American strategists want a hundred year's war but as the conflict goes on the damage escalates. Lebanon is teetering, Al Qaeda is spreading from Syria to Iraq, Jordan must cope with nearly a million refugees, and a region-wide Sunni-Shiite war is possible. With the US on the sidelines, the least bad option is that the conflict burns itself out. Perhaps the country will split into de facto Shiite (Alawite), Sunni and Kurdish enclaves. The worst outcome is a victory for the Assad-Iran-Hezbollah axis.

7. Egypt
The military government has banned the Muslim Brotherhood and is rewriting the constitution to enhance its power. This has bred a domestic terror campaign that may cost thousands of civilian lives.

Root for: An enlightened military leadership. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi views this as a fight for survival with the Brotherhood, and at this stage he's probably right. The US has squandered whatever influence it had with its inconstancy since the protests began against former strongman Hosni Mubarak. Let's hope General Sisi leaves enough space for a more normal politics to develop over time and not leave Egyptians to choose only between two kinds of dictatorship – Islamist or military.

8. Iran
The greatest threat to world peace is Iran's nuclear programme and President Obama seems determined to strike a diplomatic deal that will let Iran retain much of its nuclear capacity and even to keep enriching uranium.

Root for: Political intervention from a bipartisan majority in Congress that opposes any deal short of dismantling Iran's programme and ending its enrichment capacity. It probably won't happen as the White House pressures Senate Democrats to bend, but it's the last hope other than Israeli military action for stopping the Iranian bomb.

The Journal says the US once would have led the world in defusing these conflicts, or at least trying to reduce their harm.

“But President Obama has disavowed any Pax Americana. If we can't do anything about the growing disorder, at least the scorecard can help assess the damage,” the editors say.

This article is tagged with the following keywords. Find out more about My Tags

Post Comment

12 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

China’s concerns extend in fact beyond the islands as such, and include deep seated objection to continuing US navy patrols and reconnaissance right up to China’s 12 mile coastal limit. (Terence O'Brien, CSS, Victoria University, 19/3/2013)


Re. 1: The reality is that Russian "bribes" won over EU bribes. What EU offered is a remarkable sham. The wast majority of Ukrainians are not in favour of EU offer but that is quite difficult to report. Also worthwhile mentioning in regards to Putin's photo: the strong politicians from the West are called leaders, if they come from the East, they are labeled as dictators.
No wonder the West was friendly to Yeltsin.


Ah Really not quite so simple. The battle inside Ukraine is between those who culturally look west (those whose ancestors lived under the Austrians and before them the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth and those in the eastern lands cleared of Turks and Tartars by Catherine the Great who are Russian.
The outside battle is between a potential alliance of corrupt pseudo Fascists (Putin and Yanokovich) and an Oligarch/Banker run Superstate. The EU is better for individual rights but at a price.


What about Kievan Rus?

The modern peoples of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia all claim Kievan Rus' as their cultural inheritance.'

"The Eurasian Union is a very important project for Putin. Without Ukraine, he will lose all enthusiasm for it," said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor who has also worked in Ukraine. "Without Ukraine, Putin's project is impossible."

Putin also hopes to woo several other former Soviet republics that were being courted by EU leaders at a summit in Lithuania on Friday. But none is more important to Putin than Ukraine, a huge market and the cradle of Russian civilization.

The opposition-minded Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta described the situation as a love triangle in which Ukraine was a cheating husband, the EU an attractive mistress and Russia an angry wife. Who would win out in the end was unclear.


What about Cambodia? The situation in Phnom Penh at least is very unstable.


So Thailand, what you are saying is root for a government controlled by the sister of the exiled former Prime Minister Taksin Shinawatra?

A billionaire who is addited to power and has maniuplated the system to try and pass a law through his sister to grant him access back into Thailand after being convicted of fraud/abuse of power whilst in goverment.

Clearly a puppet and a puppet master in effect here, if thats not blatantly obvious i dont know what is. Would New Zealander's or anyone else stand for this? Nope.

Stability isn't the issue, its the longer term freedom of the people, and the peoples will, will decide their fate.


Thanks Shane, but should democracy be based on cultural orientations and/or historical motivations or else. I witnessed in person a couple of days ago in Bangkok what kind of "democratic" chaos an overwhelming minority can create. Should we now be under the dictate of minorities just because their cultural orientation is towards the West? The real issue is that West is not "offering" anything tangible and it's struggling with its own demons (the individual rights are sort of an oxymoron here). The EU offer is a cheap talk, peppered by Brussels bureaucratic (quite possibly fascistic in the near to medium future) sugar wrapped promise of better life.
Those "blind" Ukrainians need to go to Greece and Spain for a week or so for some reality check (some deeper drilling is required for Italy and France). The big picture strategically is the division of Ukraine (the civil war would be an US preference but EU is more careful with that).
The EU is a false socialist experiment on a much more massive scale than USSR used to be.


The new EU Chargé d'Affaires for New Zealand, Michalis Rokas, met NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully just after beginning his tour of duty in January 2012. The two had a lot to talk about - numerous upcoming EU visits to NZ, a new EU strategy for the Pacific, NZ's approach to foreign affairs as well as the EU-NZ relationship. A good basis was established for the personal EU-NZ relationship over the coming 4 years.

What are your goals for 2014?: The goal is to have the voice of the EU heard better in New Zealand because we always sense that what is reported about the EU comes most of the time directly from the English press, which does not necessarily give a deep understanding of how the EU operates. (New Zealand Herald 7/1/2014)
Ambassador series: NZ and the EU building on our strong ties


Who cares what the EU desires. People in New Zealand need to remember that the EU is an economic enemy of this country. It was the EU that stopped our trade with Britain, that tarrifed and custom barriered us into 20 years of recession. They subsidize their farmers and dump their agricultural products all to our detriment. May they rot in recession.


Talks on a free trade agreement between the European Union and New Zealand would be premature at this point, says EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht.

"We would like to discuss a framework agreement, with much more structuring of contacts, but a free-trade agreement including market access and tariffs would be premature, for two reasons," de Gucht said.

"First, let's see what the Doha round gives, because this would be a discussion, I believe, among other things, about agriculture. And secondly, we have engaged with several big trading partners [in South America and Canada] and we cannot do it all at the same time."
(Brian Fallow, New Zealand Herald, 21/3/2011)
The EU's free trade agreements – where are we? (18/6/2013)


In 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin lamented: "The collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century."

Exactly 10 years later, Putin plans to bring post-Soviet countries into a Russia-led Eurasian Union (EAU). In November 2011, the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus signed an agreement with Russia to launch the Eurasian Union and make it fully operational by 2015.

Membership in the EAU entails uniting economies, legal systems, and customs services - and military coordination with Russia. In order for the ambitious plan to work, Russia needs to lure strategically important ex-Soviet states such as Ukraine into the game. (Al Jazeera, 6/10/2013)


Audrey Young interviews Iran's man in NZ (Herald, 9/1/2014):

Where were you posted before you came to New Zealand three years ago? I was in New Zealand in 1993 to 1997 then after that, in 2003, I was in Helsinki. After that I was in Tehran for a few years before being appointed as ambassador to New Zealand. I had lots of interim missions to Europe, to Vietnam, to Geneva, to Japan, shorter visits and missions.

What is the most pressing issue facing Iran at the moment? Right now the negotiations between Iran and Five plus One (on Iran's nuclear power) is one of the key issues.
Is there something you would still like to do in New Zealand? I would like your Prime Minister, your Foreign Minister, your Trade Minister to visit Iran. It could be a very good market for New Zealand. I would like your Prime Minister to go to Iran and my President to come here. That is the aspiration for any ambassador. We need to learn more from each other, not just politics, but human values.


Post New comment or question

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

NZ Market Snapshot


Sym Price Change
USD 0.7753 0.0056 0.73%
AUD 0.9491 0.0022 0.23%
EUR 0.6307 0.0068 1.09%
GBP 0.4948 0.0008 0.16%
HKD 6.0129 0.0429 0.72%
JPY 92.0630 0.6080 0.66%


Commodity Price Change Time
Gold Index 1189.4 -7.590 2014-12-17T00:
Oil Brent 61.2 -2.590 2014-12-17T00:
Oil Nymex 56.8 0.570 2014-12-17T00:
Silver Index 15.9 0.176 2014-12-17T00:


Symbol Open High Last %
NZX 50 5496.6 5532.8 5521.3 -0.05%
NASDAQ 4712.4 4724.6 4644.3 1.56%
DAX 9711.6 9811.1 9544.4 2.79%
DJI 17367.8 17625.5 17356.9 1.25%
FTSE 6336.5 6466.0 6336.5 2.04%
HKSE 22878.3 22935.0 22585.8 1.09%
NI225 17143.0 17274.2 16819.7 2.32%