There is a debate as to whether things are improving with respect to the incidence of war or not. In May 2014 Dan Smith, Professor of Peace and Conflict studies at the University of Manchester wrote a paper called “The conflict horizon.” He pointed out that since the end of the cold war the number of armed conflicts had declined. There were 50 in 1990 but 30 in 2010. There were 646 peace agreements between 1990 and 2007. However he added that “The growth of peace has slowed.” There were 37 armed conflicts in 2012 and 32 in 2012. He commented: “It’s too soon to talk about a new, negative trend but the old, positive one seems spent.”
He then began to refer to causes of war: inequality (“The 85 richest people in the world owned as much as the poorest 3.5 billion”), climate change etc., and concluded: “In short, the risk of violent conflict is elevated where there has recently been violent conflict, where there are deep and growing inequalities, where basic needs are not met (or where the prospects of continuing to meet them are weak), where authority is based on arbitrary power rather than the rule of law or where institutions to address conflicts fairly are weak or non-existent. Where all these factors apply, violent conflict is likely to be endemic—if not as civil war then predation by armed militias or oppressive governments or large-scale crime.”
People like Saddam Hussein and other Middle Eastern dictators have been removed but now we have Isis, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. Then there is the Russian threat to Ukraine. We are facing the worst global refugee crisis ever. The UN reports that in 2014 60 million people have been displaced, more than any time since the Second World War. One in every 122 people is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. The UNHCR estimates an average of 42,500 men, women and children became refugees every day in 2014 – a four-fold increase in just four years. 86% of these refugees are hosted by poor, developing countries. Other states are failing in their responsibility towards them.
The 2015 Global Peace Index listed the 10 most violent countries in the world: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, DR Congo, Pakistan and North Korea. Six of them are Muslim nations, two are nations where Muslims and Christians are in conflict, one is a nation with Christian tribal conflict and one is Communist.
Sir John Sawers who was chief of MI6 from 2009 to 2014 stated recently that the modern world was “much more dangerous” than it had ever been, even during the Cold War. He added: “The stability that we had during the Cold War, or the predominance of the West that we had in the decade or two after the Cold War – that is now changing,” he said. “It’s a much flatter world, a much more multi-polar world, and there are real dangers associated with that.”
The danger of nuclear war
Dr Seth Baum spoke at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December 2014 and pointed out that whereas there were only two nuclear weapons during World War II, there are now 16,000. He said “If a nuclear war happens now, millions of people could die from the initial explosions, and potentially billions could die from the global nuclear famine that would follow … Nuclear deterrence works. The problem is, it does not always work. And when the consequences could be so severe, that’s a big problem … And then there is inadvertent nuclear war. This is when one side misinterprets a false alarm as a real attack and launches nuclear weapons in what it believes is a counterattack, but is in fact the first strike.”
An official statement from the Vienna Conference said: “Today, nine states are believed to possess nuclear weapons, but as nuclear technology is becoming more available, more states, and even non-state actors, may strive to develop nuclear weapons in the future. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error, remains real. Nuclear weapons, therefore, continue to bear an unacceptable risk to humanity and to all life on earth …. Nuclear weapons continue to pose an existential threat to all humankind. These risks are not abstract. They are real, more serious than previously known and can never be eliminated completely.
In its Report the conference stated: “As long as nuclear weapons exist, there remains the possibility of a nuclear weapon explosion. Even if the probability is considered low, given the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear weapon detonation, the risk is unacceptable. The risks of accidental, mistaken, unauthorized or intentional use of nuclear weapons are evident due to the vulnerability of nuclear command and control networks to human error and cyber-attacks, the maintaining of nuclear arsenals on high levels of alert, forward deployment and their modernization. These risks increase over time. The dangers of access to nuclear weapons and related materials by non-state actors, particularly terrorist groups, persists.”
In a final statement the conference said it was “aware that the risk of a nuclear weapon explosion is significantly greater than previously assumed and is indeed increasing with increased proliferation, the lowering of the technical threshold for nuclear weapon capability, the ongoing modernisation of nuclear weapon arsenals in nuclear weapon possessing states, and the role that is attributed to nuclear weapons in the nuclear doctrines of possessor states…”
In December 2014 ahead of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, over 120 senior military, political and diplomatic figures from around the world signed a letter saying: “Tensions between nuclear-armed states and alliances in the Euro-Atlantic area and in both South and East Asia remain ripe with the potential for military miscalculation and escalation. In a vestige of the Cold War, too many nuclear weapons in the world remain ready to launch on short notice, greatly increasing the chances of an accident. This fact gives leaders faced with an imminent potential threat an insufficient amount of time to communicate with each other and act with prudence.”
It is estimated 16,300 nuclear weapons, in nine countries, still exist in the world. Pakistan is one of these countries and it is a cause of deep concern that it has had three military coups since the late 1960s and four prime ministers toppled from power since the 1980s. It also has an extreme Islamist group which is determined to remove the government from power.
Another cause of concern is that there have also been examples of the danger of nuclear conflict being started by misunderstanding. In 1960 an American U2 spy plane accidentally strayed into Soviet air space and almost started a war. In 1962 Americans dropped depth charges to force a Soviet submarine to the surface off the Cuban coast and two of the three officers in charge of the submarine voted to respond with nuclear missiles. So one man Vasili Arkhipov prevented a nuclear war. In 1995 Russian radar picked up a scientific weather rocket off the northern coast of Norway and suspected it was a nuclear missile. President Yeltsin decided not to launch a nuclear retaliation.
Another aspect of the danger is that of attacks on satellites in space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty banned weapons of mass destruction from orbit round the earth. But the situation is now much more complex. Satellites are essential to military reconnaissance, communication and targeting. There is a danger that if a nation’s satellites were attacked or even struck by space debris this could lead to that nation assuming the worst and launching a pre-emptive attack. Some nations have tested anti-satellite weapons and others are thought to be capable of doing so.
The Russian threat
In November 2014 Mikhail Gorbachev, referring to the crisis in Ukraine, said “The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it’s already begun.” The President of Finland said that Europe is on the brink of “a new kind of cold war” and in February 2015 Carl Bildt, the former Swedish foreign minister, said a war between Russia and the west was now quite conceivable. David Cameron said Britain might need to accept a new cold war with Russia rather than do nothing about Russia’s actions.
General Joseph Votel, Commander of the US Special Operations Command warned recently that, despite the Cold War being over, Russia continues to be a threat to the US. “Russia is looking to challenge us wherever they can,” he said. He pointed to the recent nuclear energy deals made this year with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as showing Moscow is seeking to expand its influence, particularly in the Middle East. He added that President Putin is seeking to divide the 28 members of NATO. “The intent is to create a situation where NATO can’t continue to thrive,” he said.
It is a cause of concern that both Russia and the West have been doing some nuclear “sabre-rattling.” Vladimir Putin said in June 2015 that Russia was buying 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles. A NATO official commented: “The Russian leadership is rhetorically lowering the threshold when it comes to nuclear weapons and this is something which should not be done. It largely wasn’t done even during the cold war.” As a consequence NATO is preparing to re-evaluate its nuclear weapons strategy.
Lord Ashdown wrote an article in February 2015 saying the crisis with Russia is partly of our own making. He explained: “The West lost the greatest strategic opportunity of recent times when we reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union, not with a long term plan to bring Russia in from the cold, but by treating Russia to a blast of Washington triumphalism and superiority. Putin has chosen to challenge, not just the sovereignty of Ukraine, but the very basis on which the peace of Europe has been founded these last fifty years. When the Second World War ended, Europe determined that it would end a thousand years of warfare driven by the assertion that large powers have the right to subjugate the freedoms (even the existence) of smaller nations, if they believed them to be within their spheres of influence. Instead Europe’s peace would in future be based on the principles of co-operation, peaceful co-existence and the right of all nations, large and small to determine their future based exclusively on the will of their people. By denying that right to Ukraine on the grounds that it is Russia’s sphere of influence, Putin asks us to abandon those principles. We cannot do so.”
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond accused Putin of “acting like some mid-20th century tyrant.” President Obama said at the G7 summit in June 2015 that Putin was deliberately ruining Russia’s economy in order to “recreate the glories of the Soviet empire.”
The danger is that, after the conflict with Ukraine, Russia will act against other countries. Andrej Illarionov, who was Putin’s chief economic adviser, said that Putin will not stop trying to expand Russia until he has “conquered” Belarus, the Baltic States and Finland. He is trying to create “historical justice” with a return to the days of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and the Soviet Union under Stalin. Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s defence minister, said: “We can see that Russia is going in the direction of restoring the influence it had at the time of the Soviet Union.”
Isis and Jihad
Isis, in its propaganda, has spoken of the organisation soon having enough money to buy a nuclear device. It acknowledges that such a weapon being made available does not seem feasible at present but they say with their billions of dollars in the bank “it’s infinitely more possible today than it was just one year ago.” Also UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, said in 2014 that Isis could become the world’s first “truly terrorist state” and she added “We will see the risk, often prophesied but thank God not yet fulfilled, that with the capability of a state behind them, the terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to attack us.” Rao Inderjit Sing, India’s Defence Minister, commented: “With the rise of Isis in West Asia, one is afraid to an extent that perhaps they might get access to a nuclear arsenal from states like Pakistan. A senior United States official, commenting on an Isis attack on Kurdish forces in Iraq in August 2015, said “We have credible information that the agent used in the attack was mustard [gas].”
Australia’s Foreign Minister believes Isis is capable of building chemical weapons. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, said: “It is very evident that Isis are putting much time and effort into training its jihadis in the use of chlorine as a terror weapon and in particular in IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”
In November 2014 Isis and similar groups carried out 664 attacks, killing 5,042 people. In July 2015 a document, believed to be a genuine Isis paper, claims the group is planning attacks on India and also to create a united army with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. It says the organisation plans to create terror in the Middle East and South Asia in order to draw the US into an “apocalyptic” war.
Tensions are growing between China and the US over artificial islands in the middle of the South China Sea. They are called the Spratley Islands, a chain of seven semi-submerged reefs. One of them, Fiery Cross, once was only a metre above sea level. But now the Chinese have made it into about 500 acres (200 hectares) of reclaimed land with a 2 miles long airstrip and a large harbour. The US have detected artillery weapons. There is a dispute over maritime sovereignty over the islands between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. But China has taken them over. The Spratleys lie on a shipping route which is estimated to carry £3 trillion ($5 trillion) worth of trade per annum. They lie in a rich fishing area and near a major oil reserve. The surrounding sea is also very deep which is good for keeping Chinese submarines hidden.
However, what is happening in the Spratleys is symptomatic of a more serious trend. The US is perceived as retreating from its international role and China (like Russia and Iran) is seeking to fill the void left by the Americans.
China is seeking to dominate the world, as the US has in the past. Its economy has grown very quickly. Many of its neighbours seek US protection against China but are economically dependent on China. In particular, China is aiming at what it sees as rightful possession of almost the whole South China Sea, an area of 1.35 million square miles.
China is developing the largest submarine fleet in the world, including many with nuclear ballistic missiles. It is also building many aircraft carriers and battleships.
Like Russia, China is seeking to regain its place as a preeminent, top rank global power. It was robbed of this position by European imperialism followed by American dominance. It would seem that China’s actions in the Spratleys is aimed at curbing the freedom of the US navy.
China may well seek to achieve its aims as much as possible through diplomacy but some experts believe that confrontations are inevitable.
North Korea is thought to have up to 20 nuclear missiles and the ability to increase that number in the coming years. There is a real danger of nuclear accidents in this small, extremist regime. There is also the possibility of political turmoil or chaotic regime change which would make ensuring the safety of the nuclear weapons difficult. Even more serious, some experts have commented that if the leadership becomes financially desperate it could be tempted to sell nuclear assets even to terrorists.
N Korea has massively built up conventional weapons in the demilitarised zone between N and S Korea and it certainly has the ability to fire nuclear weapons into S Korea.
The nuclear attacks on Japan
The anniversary of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki focus attention on the horrors of nuclear war. Some 140,000 were killed Hiroshima – about 70,000 on the first day. Others followed. Bill Travers, the Born Free star, was amongst the first to visit Hiroshima and he wrote: “The place disintegrated; there were no holes. Bricks became dust. Trees became blackened stubs. Bottles melted and assumed grotesque shapes. Pieces of metal curled and folded like silk. “There were no rags or pieces of paper; those and wooden beams and planks had disappeared as completely as the flowers and human beings who lived there.”
Christians were amongst the dead. Christianity had been banned in 1614 and all missionaries were expelled or killed. Many Christians were burnt to death or crucified. Then in 1868 religious freedom was established and 15,000 Christians emerged from the shadows. In 1914 a huge Gothic cathedral was consecrated in Nagasaki. It ceased to exist on the 9th August 1945 when the nuclear bomb exploded directly above it.
Kazumi Matsui, the Mayor of Hiroshima, recently called nuclear weapons “the absolute evil and ultimate inhumanity” and criticised nuclear powers for keeping them as deterrents. But there was also criticism of the plans by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reduce the restrictions on the Japanese military which have been in place since 1945. Survivors of the Nagasaki blast said the new policy “will lead to war.”
We live in a world where there is increasing tension between the great powers: China, Russia, the EU/NATO and the US. There is also great instability in the Middle East, largely caused by extreme Islamists such as Isis. But there is a great deal of terrorist action elsewhere, in Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then there is the continuing threat of nuclear weapons, including of nuclear accidents and the possibility in the long term of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons. We need to remember Jesus’ prophecies of wars and rumours of wars and to pray both for peace with justice and for those affected by war.