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[Park Sang-seek] Two threats to world peace: New Cold War and tribalism

If we look at the world map, we can see that the Eurasian continent and North America are getting involved in a new type of cold war, while the African and Latin American continents are getting mired in increasing tribal conflicts and the Arab world in intensifying religious sectarian fights.

Consequently, humanity suffers from the new Cold War, tribalism and religious conflicts simultaneously. In a sense, humanity suffers more from these new conflicts than the old Cold War.

In the new Cold War Russia and China form an invisible coalition to destroy the US-dominated unipolar system: Russia’s strategy is to disintegrate Western Europe and weaken the US-Western European coalition and to secure a sphere of influence in the Arab world, while China’s strategy is to secure its influence or dominance in Central Asia, the two Chinese seas, and the Indo-Pacific region.

In Europe, Russia first retook its strategic outpost in Crimea and provided military support to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, using the ouster of the pro-Russian Ukrainian president as a pretext. It has refused to negotiate with the EU on this issue. Russia has also made every effort to prevent its former satellite states in Eastern Europe from joining the EU but has failed to do so.

In addition, it has been trying to prevent the EU from becoming one single political unit. In this regard, it must have felt schadenfreude when the UK withdrew from the EU, hoping that this would have a domino effect. In order to counter this unification movement in Western Europe, Russia has made strenuous efforts to transform Central Asian states into an economic union similar to the EU.

As a result, the Eurasian Economic Union was formed in 2014. Its membership includes five former republics of the Soviet Union including Russia. It should be noted that the Eurasian Economic Union is not comparable to the EU because the former consists of one-third of the 15 former Soviet Union republics, whereas all members of the EU are independent sovereign states. More importantly, the ultimate goal of the EU is to merge the member states into one single state. But in the case of the EEU even if Russia seeks a similar goal, other members will oppose it because they formerly belonged to the Soviet Union ruled by Russia and if they do, they will lose independence which is their raison d’etre.

On the other hand, Russia and China jointly initiated the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001. The membership also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. The SCO is basically a regional security organization to maintain security within Eurasia and to pre-empt America and Western Europe from expanding their influence into the region. The Indo-Pacific strategy which has recently become important to the US, India, China and Japan can also be interpreted in the context of the new Cold War.

Securing the safety of the sea route between the Indian and Pacific Oceans will become very important to China, Japan, Russia and the US if the new Cold War becomes a reality. The closer the US and India become, the closer Russia and China will become. This will also make the US and Japan closer than before. China’s One Road One Belt strategy consists of one overland silk road in Eurasia and one maritime route (an Indo-Pacific maritime route). It is already known that China has been making every effort to expand its sphere of operation in the Chinese Seas and the Pacific Ocean through anti-access/area denial capabilities by expanding its air and naval forces.

The above developments show that in the Eurasian continent, Russia has been consolidating its sphere of influence in close cooperation with China, while in the Indo-Pacific region, China has been trying to expand its sphere of influence. Russia-China cooperation is taking place without taking any explicit form. As a result, the clouds of a new Cold War are darkening over the Eurasian continent and North America.

In contrast, the dark clouds of tribalism and religious sectarianism are rapidly spreading over developing countries. Among the 59 ongoing armed conflicts in the world, ethnic conflicts account for 16 and religious sectarian or inter-religious conflicts 21, while the combined number of ethnic and religious conflicts is three.

The absolute majority of religious conflicts originated from Islam and is taking place in the Middle East and Africa.

Except for one, all the conflicts had started since World War II. These religious and tribal (ethnic) conflicts have increased gradually from three in the 1940s, eight in the 1960s, four in the 1970s, eight in the 1980s, seven in the 1990s, 10 in the 2000s and 17 in the 2010s. This shows that the number of ethnic and religious conflicts has been increasing consistently regardless of the Cold War.

Another phenomenon is that globalization which started in the mid-1960s has failed to weaken tribalism and religious sectarianism. Globalization has actually stimulated tribalism and religious sectarianism. Ironically, globalization that originated from the West has exposed the whole world to ethno-nationalism and interreligious and inter-sectarian conflicts.

As the victims of ethnic and religious conflicts in Africa and the Middle East desperately flee to the West, the tribal and religious self-protective instincts of Westerners have been rekindled. In some Western countries including the US, ultranationalists have emerged. These ultraconservatives uphold a primitive instinct similar to the tribal instinct and radical religious dogmas in the non-West. Racism and xenophobia are expressions of such a mentality.
In a word, the whole humanity is becoming less and less civilized because of and despite the historically unprecedented wealth and new discoveries for material abundance and human longevity.

How to prevent the reemergence of the Cold War and primitivism is the most urgent task for all humanity.

By Park Sang-seek

Park Sang-seek is a former rector of the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies, Kyung Hee University and the author of “Globalized Korea and Localized Globe.” -- Ed.