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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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