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Not So Happy New Year: The Conflicts That Could Lead to WWIII in 2017

from Sputnik News:

President-elect Trump will have a lot on his plate in dealing with foreign policy hotspots when he steps into the Oval Office. Last week, the Council on Foreign Relations listed a possible NATO-Russia war, a Korean peninsula standoff and terrorism as the main ‘high impact’ threats to the US. But there are other dangers. Sputnik takes a closer look.

Last week, the CFR, an influential US think tank which has many senior US politicians, academics and senior media figures as members, released its annual survey of the “top international concerns” for US national security for 2017.

According to the think tank, the most serious dangers include a possible “serious military confrontation” between Russia and NATO, and an escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula amid the ongoing military buildup there. Cyberattacks by foreign powers and large-scale terrorist attacks in the US are also serious concerns.

The think tank also cited increased instability in Afghanistan, Turkish-Kurdish violence and an escalation of the war in Syria as important problems, although these conflicts’ impact on the US has been categorized as only ‘moderate’. Other threats include a possible military confrontation between China and US allies in the East and South China Seas, although the CFR optimistically rated its likelihood as ‘low’.

The CFR’s assessment has prompted National Interest columnist Robert Farley to offer his own take on the major threats to global security in 2017. In a piece for the magazine’s site, the columnist suggested that a series of important factors have combined to create a situation where the great powers of the US, Russia and China face “more uncertainty [today] than at any time in recent memory.” This uncertainty will force leaders to “navigate” to prevent “several extremely dangerous flashpoints that could ignite, then escalate, conflict” between them, he stressed.

Pyongyang-Washington Standoff

Essentially agreeing with the first danger listed in the CFR’s assessment, Farley writes that tension in the Korean Peninsula may very well be among the most dangerous challenges for the incoming Trump administration. Citing Pyongyang’s ongoing efforts to build up its nuclear and missile capacities, the analyst suggested that a hawkish approach in Washington including musings about a preventative strike could accidentally lead to all-out war, particularly in case of a North Korean miscalculation to strike first.

“As was the case in 1950, war on the peninsula could easily draw in China, Russia, or Japan,” the observer noted. This last point has been driven home recently by the Obama administration’s decision to deploy anti-ballistic systems in South Korea, a measure China sees as a threat to its security, including its nuclear deterrent capabilities. If the Trump administration continues Obama’s line in Korea, tensions in the region aren’t likely to abate anytime soon, and could escalate.

On the campaign trail prior to his election, Trump warned that the US may give up its security guarantees to countries including South Korea and Japan if they do not compensate the US for its assistance and increase own defense spending. At the same time, however, Trump also made headlines when he said he wouldn’t rule out negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un out of hand. It remains an uncertainty whether he will fulfill his numerous and perhaps contradictory campaign promises on the issue after stepping into office.

Syrian Escalation?

Syria may well be the second major possible flashpoint, according to Farley. Although the CFR downgraded the conflict’s importance to US interests from ‘high’ to ‘moderate’, and Farley admitted that the Trump administration seems unlikely to seek confrontation with Damascus and Moscow, the dangers of an accidental collision and subsequent escalation remains.

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