In February of 2022, I could not imagine a scenario where Ukraine, without any other military allies, would be able to repel a Russian invasion, much less start winning back some territory that they lost. True, many got it wrong, but what did we not see? I overestimated the competency of the Russian military and assumed greater demographic resources would be sufficient to explain the result of the conflict. More importantly though, I underestimated the galvanizing force that nationalism would have on a country under attack. If Ukraine wasn’t the most cohesive ethnic group with a cohesive national identity, this Russian invasion strengthened the cultural cohesion and the political identity to successfully fight back. The video below is a good explanation of the changes in the war from 2021 to Sept. 2022.
This map can go a long way towards explaining what the Donbas region is, and why it is seen as strategically important to both Russia and Ukraine. This BBC article makes a strong argument that capturing all of the Donbas region would now be Putin’s primary objective. What “winning” this war has meant for Russia has changed; especially now given that a quick takeover of the entire country of Ukraine is impossible. I see 4 reasons why Ukraine has done better in the first month of this war than some expected: 1) the government did not collapse under pressure, 2) the Ukrainian people took up the cause with patriotic fervor, 3) the Russian military was not the power that many expected, and 4) the international sanctions were more impactful in an integrated, global 21st century economy than they would have been just 50 years ago. At the start of the war Russia had (IMHO) much grander ambitions on what would have constituted a victory, but now, control of the entire Donbas region is still the prize that they’ve coveted and would represent an new idea victory. SOURCE: BBC
“If there were a contest for the 2020 event with the most far-reaching implications for global peace and security, the field would be crowded. From the coronavirus pandemic to climate change’s growing impact, the Trump administration’s scorched-earth policies after Joe Biden’s election, the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and a deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, it has been an eventful year. In 2021, the world will be dealing with the aftermath and sifting through the debris.
In Sudan, Lebanon, and Venezuela, to mention but a few examples, one can expect the number of unemployed to grow, real incomes to collapse, governments to face mounting difficulties paying security forces, and the general population to increasingly rely on state support at a time when states are least equipped to provide it. The lines separating economic dissatisfaction from social unrest, and social unrest from outbreaks of violence, are thin.”
SOURCE: Foreign Policy
There are always some ‘hot spots’ around the world that might boil over into armed conflict, and some that are already at that stage, but that we collectively might have forgotten about during the pandemic. These 10 conflicts are highlighted to list some of the geopolitically most pertinent conflicts in the world right now.
- The Sahel
- Climate Change
“The deadliest violence in India’s capital for decades leaves 23 people dead and scores injured.” SOURCE: BBC
It is so disheartening to see the news that India is undergoing a wave of religious unrest. As citizen and immigration laws have been enacted that have a religious component to it, many feel that this is unfairly targeting Muslim migrants and refugees. Some see this as the beginning of a delegitimization of Muslim citizenship within India. As people are protesting these laws, there are groups that are also a violently clashing with protesters in the streets. Some are targeting Mosques, and the police have been unable to keep the peace. This is some nasty business that I hate to see anywhere, but if you need an example of how religion can be a centrifugal force in a country, this is a perfect example Here is an NPR podcast (and article) that also nicely covers the topic.
“What began as a targeted protest against a controversial extradition bill in June has transformed into what feels like a battle for the future of Hong Kong. Protesters are not just fighting their local government. They’re challenging one of the most powerful countries on earth: China.” SOURCE: Vox–9 Questions about Hong Kong protests
They have been protesting for months in Hong Kong, at first about the extradition bill, but now about so much more as well. The government has backed down, and withdrawn the hated extradition bill, and now it’s remains to be seen if the protestors will continue with their demands or will be appeased with this compromise. China doesn’t back down very often with their citizens so this still a potentially volatile situation.
"The Philippines’ oldest newspaper recently made what could be considered a provocative gesture towards China regarding its notorious nine-dash-line."
I’ve shared some more substantial resources about maritime claims in the South China Sea than this flippant political cartoon. Still, this cartoon beautifully illustrates a geopolitical perspective quite powerfully. As always, use your own discretion when sharing resources in your own classroom (my college students love this).
Calling out human rights violations shouldn’t stray into bias against Jews.
This is a very partisan article, but some of the ideas brought up in it are worth discussion in non-partisan settings as well. The author takes a very liberal perspective critiquing Israeli policies, while loving Judaism, Jewish history, and the right of the Israeli state to exist. Blanket "good guys" and "bad guys" narratives are always sloppy, but in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it may be even more pernicious.
“Mukul Kesavan, a perceptive Indian historian, sees this region-wide propensity for majoritarian nationalism as a sad if natural outcome of the awkward struggle to build new nation-states. The most egregious recent example is Myanmar, whose 90% Buddhist majority felt so threatened by a Rohingya Muslim minority of barely 1% that it sanctioned burning, pillage, murder, rape and enforced exile. Bangladesh chased non-Muslim tribes into India, and its once large and prosperous Hindu minority has dwindled alarmingly in the face of constant pressure. In the name of orthodoxy, extremists in Pakistan have viciously hounded not only Christians and Hindus but also Shia Muslims, Ahmadis and allegedly unorthodox Sufis. Sinhalese have historically dominated the island [of Sri Lanka], a fact forcefully reasserted in 2009 when the Sri Lankan army brought to a bloody end a 26-year-long insurgency by mostly Hindu ethnic Tamils, the largest minority group.”
In recent years, democratic reforms have swept through Myanmar, a country that for decades was ruled by a military junta. As the reforms took hold, however, things were growing progressively worse for the Rohingya, a heavily persecuted ethnic Muslim minority concentrated in the country’s western state of Rakhine. The 2012 gang rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men ignited violent riots in which hundreds were killed as Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya attacked each other. In the following months, tens of thousands of Rohingya were rounded up and forced to live in squalid camps; Human Rights Watch deemed the attacks crimes against humanity that amounted to ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. Thousands of Rohingya have since attempted to leave the country, fueling the region’s intricate and brutal human trafficking network.