Russia and China are big nations, and whether they seek more territory out of nationalist pride, increased security or a desire for control of more resources, their expansion is always going to bring conflict – conflict which due to alliances and friendships, will always contain the potential to explode into worldwide conflicts.
"This potential is in part a product of the emergence of collective security; a phenomenon that has grown from the peace-time alliances that emerged from the First World War, and which has been cemented by time, becoming in the post-Cold War era the norm. This has produced problems, as it has often induced nations to reduce defence expenditure for budgetary reasons - considering it safe to do because they feel secure in the group.
"The result of this is weakness; and responding to expansion events, or potential expansion events, from a position of weakness makes conflict more likely because forces will have to be handled more aggressively to create the same level of deterrence."
Dalibor Rohac, a King's graduate and now research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC, fears that Vladimir Putin's aggression in the Ukraine crisis could be a sign of worse to come.
Mr Putin's aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine contravened not just international law but also the security guarantees that the West extended to Ukraine in the form of the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. Mr Putin's harassment of the Baltic states may call into question the credibility of Article 5 of Nato's founding document, effectively eroding the security order existing in the West.
"There is little indication that Mr Putin's ambitions stop in Donbas, yet the West's response so far has been amazingly ineffective. Unless serious efforts are undertaken to contain and deter the regime, one ought to worry about the future of the hundred million people that liberated themselves from the shackles of Soviet dominance 25 years ago."
Fighters from the Ukrainian volunteer Donbas battalion take part in military drills not far from the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol
China’s rise and power shifting in the Indo-Pacific
Harsh V. Pant, professor of international relations at King's, believes China's rise should be feared more than Mr Putin or Isil.
Forget the present turmoil in the Middle East and Putin’s shenanigans, the biggest challenge to global stability will come from the unfolding transition of power in the larger Indo-Pacific in the coming years. The Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands) in the East China Sea have become emblematic of the bitter rivalry between Beijing and Tokyo.
"Chinese revisionism is also evident in the South China Sea where recent reports indicate that China is making rapid progress on building an airstrip on a reef, thereby reclaiming land and changing realities on the ground to the detriment of other regional states.
"China’s revisionist forays are not restricted to east and southeast Asia alone; the contested Himalayan border with India has also seen a number of crises in recent times. Repeated transgressions by the People’s Liberation Army into the Indian side of the frontier have become the norm, rather than the exception.
"The Indo-Pacific, from the waters of the Indian Ocean to the farthest ends of the Pacific, is becoming a cauldron of major power politics with significant implications for the future of the world."
Unfinished business in the Taiwan Strait
Jeroen Gelsing, a PhD candidate in War Studies at King's, says the undetermined status of Taiwan is what threatens the world's stability.
Looming ever larger as a threat to the balance of power in the Pacific – and world stability – is the undetermined status of Taiwan. Even as Taiwanese public opinion drifts towards continued independence from China, Beijing is having none of this – it brands recovery of Taiwan a ‘core interest’. The force that stands between it and fulfilment is the American commitment to Taiwan’s defence, and more specifically, the might of its Seventh Fleet, anchored in Japan. Yet the time is fast approaching where China’s military is strong enough to deploy force against Taiwan and see off a US military response, should it decide to do so. This critical point could be reached by 2020, Taiwan defence reports say.
"Conflict in the Taiwan Strait would shatter the US and China’s uncomfortable co-existence in the Asia-Pacific and might turn ‘strategic rivalry’ into outright superpower conflict, with reverberations across the globe."
Anti-Japanese protesters marched through the streets of Datong in protest at the Japanese claim to the Senkaku islands
Unbridled nuclear proliferation
Richard Brown, non-proliferation analyst, International Centre for Security Analysis, fears the rise of nuclear technology around the world.
The Iran negotiations have gone about as well as could have been hoped, but it remains the case that the spread of nuclear technology around the world - and the concomitant risk of those technologies being deployed for the purposes of nuclear weapons development - has not been adequately reduced.
"The list of states seeking high-risk 'dual-use' technologies is troublingly long, and all will have been watching the Iran case for precedents. Ultimately, the tensions and contradictions inherent in the present non-proliferation regime can only be glossed over for so long; they can't, under current conditions, be resolved. In the near term, more and more states will reach a latent 'hedging' capability: the effect is inherently destabilising."
Political transition in the Middle East
Jonathan Hill, a reader in postcolonialism and the Maghreb, believes that democracy is important for the Middle East but fears that it gives a voice to those hostile to the West.
The West has to be seen to support it yet democratisation is a difficult and unsettling process, and also provides opportunities to groups and figures which are suspicious and hostile to the West."
Eugenio Lilli, a researcher, agrees with Mr Hill.
Unless these demands for freedom and economic opportunities are earnestly addressed, the Middle East will remain a region exposed to the risk of cyclical waves of unrest. Meanwhile, the failed uprisings created the enabling environment that, in turn, led to the rise of serious threats. Peaceful popular protests have been replaced by bloody conflicts among armed groups and militias in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
"The terrorists’ narrative, holding that change in the Middle East can be achieved only through violence has gained new currency. Tellingly, old (al-Qaeda) and new (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) extremist organisations have intensified their activity across the region."
Fighters with Northern Storm guard the Sharia court that was previously controlled by Isis in Azaz, Syria
The rise of nationalism and other politics of identity
Pablo de Orellana, teaching fellow, department of War Studies, says the growing nationalist ideologies encouraged by world leaders threatens the world.
Nationalism links exasperation with grievances such as social dislocation, lack of opportunity, economic dissatisfaction, even demographic and health threats, to divisions among social, racial or national identities. At the same time nationalist ideologies delimit identities: defining who is or isn't of a certain group, be it by birthright like Ukip or Lega Nord, ethnic group like BNP and 1930s fascists or claims upon the political meaning of culture and history as Ukrainian and Russian nationalists do today.
"In sum the subject excluded by nationalist ideas becomes the bearer of different, lesser, rights. He can be governed differently, as recent anti-immigration European nationalists demand, or he can be killed, expelled, enslaved or brutalised as we are seeing in Ukraine. Nationalism is the greatest single political idea in terms of mobilising large-scale political support worldwide; it has and will continue to lead to acts of war, terror and political dislocation."
Russian infiltration in Western politics
Giorgio Bertolin, PhD candidate in the defence studies department, believes Russia funds fringe movements to undermine European stability.
The co-opting of Western leaders is an integral part of Russia’s hybrid warfare. In an attempt to undermine the system containing its aggressive expansionism, the Kremlin directly funds a plethora of fringe movements that leverage the frustration of large segments of the population with Western institutions.
"This approach jeopardises the basic architecture of European and Atlantic stability from within. This represents a threat at all levels, with national as much as international effects."
Katherine Stone, MPhil/PhD War Studies candidate, believes corruption is linked to and exacerbates every major security threat in the world.
Corruption is a threat to every aspect of peace and stability - political, economic, developmental, environmental and military. Corruption underpins and exacerbates every major security threat. It undermines public trust in governments and institutions and is a catalyst for violent revolutions such as those that have made up theArab Spring. It is a key driver and enabler of insurgency, including those of Isil and Boko Haram, and a core source of funding for international terrorism and organised crime.
"It allows dangerous regimes to thrive and hastens the failure of states such as Somalia and Sudan. Failure to adequately recognise corruption as a paramount security threat only increases the risk it poses."
Much of the violence around the world today can be linked back to U.S. imperial adventures abroad.
Like a lot of Americans, each morning in elementary and high school, I had to stand up before the U.S. flag, put my hand on my heart, and pledge allegiance to the United States of America.
'Not Who We Are?' No, this IS Unequivocally the USA
While it was a mindless routine for most of us, the meaning behind the ritual was clear: that the U.S. was exceptional, a beacon of liberty and justice in the world. But after considering the trail of blood, coups and bombs that continue to follow the U.S. flag wherever it flies, it’s safe to say that the U.S. is exceptional in many things; liberty and justice are not among them.
Take the following statistics: Roughly 405,000 people have been killed as a result of the violence and infrastructure damage of the U.S.-led War in Iraq. The U.S. is number two, behind Russia, in its nuclear weapons stockpile, with 7,400 warheads (Third is France, with 300.) The U.S. leads the world in military spending, with more than US$7.6 trillion spent on the military and homeland security since 9/11. Washington is also a major threat to its own citizens: the U.S. is the world’s largest incarcerator of people, both in numbers and in proportion to its population, with 2.3 million in prison, 1 million of whom are African American.
Much of the violence around the world today can be linked back to U.S. imperial adventures abroad. The rise of ISIS in Iraq has been traced to the U.S. war in the country. In an article on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the New York Timesexplained, “At every turn, Mr. Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.” As far as the recent terrorist attack in France, University of Michigan History Professor Juan Cole writes that one of the attackers was pushed toward “fundamentalist vigilanteism” by the war in Iraq and by Abu Ghraib torture. The wave of drug war-related violence sweeping Latin America is also directly tied to the U.S. role in militarizing the region in the name of the war on drugs, a conflict which since 2006 has taken over 100,000 lives in Mexico alone.
Of course, this is all nothing new. In an interview in 2013, Noam Chomsky critiqued President Obama’s claim that the U.S. has been "the anchor of global security" for seven decades. Chomsky said,
accepted without comment.”
This imperial legacy was put into focus once more by the U.S. Senate’s torture report released last December. Mother Jonessummarized the findings of the 600-page document in this way: “The torture was far more brutal than we thought, and the CIA lied about that. It didn't work, and they lied about that too. It produced so much bad intel that it most likely impaired our national security, and of course they lied about that as well. They lied to Congress, they lied to the president, and they lied to the media. Despite this, they are still defending their actions.”
In the wake of the report’s release, President Obama said that "no nation is perfect" but that "one of the strengths that make America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better." Obama implied that because of U.S. exceptionalism those who orchestrated the horrific torture will not be prosecuted.
Washington’s torture, war crimes and military industrial complex are consistently propped up by the concept of U.S. exceptionalism. These bullets and beliefs make the U.S. the biggest threat to world peace. An empire relies on mindless patriotism and uncritical support, from students pledging allegiance to the U.S. flag to presidents evoking U.S. exceptionalism to defend torture. Understanding this web of complicity is a key part of disassembling the empire from the inside out.
Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books "Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America," and "The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia."