As a prelude to this article, I must say that my university studies concerned international relations and conflict management, causes and results of the wars with emphasis on the Middle East. A couple of years ago, I researched my tail off trying to find a linchpin point that could turn the world into a bloody mess, much like the Great War or the Arab Spring. After many hours of research and problem solving, I have isolated a region that could possibly be the start of a lethal global situation.
There’s a theory in international relations commonly known as the “linchpin theory”. Basically, it is an occurrence, a small one, seemingly minor, that could explode into a society-ending situation. A couple of good examples are the above mentioned WWI and the Arab Spring.
First linchpin was on June 20,1914, when Bosnian student Gavrilo Princip assassinated one of the heirs to the Austro-Hungarian empire in Sarajevo, Bosnia. After the killing came a period of back and forth diplomatic adventures and it slowly broke down to an alignment of countries that would lead to the first great war of the 20th century. On July, 1914, the Austro-Hungarians decided to punish Serbia for the act of assassination. Russians could not chance to lose their influence in the Balkans and therefore decided to come to the rescue of Serbia and, just like dominoes, countries fell into the trap of war: France, Germany, Britain, the Ottoman Empire and much later the USA, among the others, entered the bloody war. In the end, it was to change the face of Europe forever: the Sublime Porte and its sultan were both gone, so were Russia and its tsar, with Austro-Hungary collapsing. All with a total of about 3 million dead, because of one minor situation. The assassination was the linchpin needed.
My second example is the Arab Spring of a year ago. It must be said that the term “Spring” referred to recent political upheavals was an invention by the media to conjure up visions of the revolts by several Eastern European countries against the authority of the USSR (and modern-day Russia) as well as the revolts across North Africa and the Middle East, which encompassed almost every country in the region (Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, to a lesser extent Bahrain and Oman, and even an authoritarian state like Saudi Arabia). There were many things that have added fuel to the fire of revolt, such as unemployment, economic inequalities, extreme poverty, political corruption and human rights violations, but it all began with the actions of one man.
The catalyst for the current escalation of protests was, in fact, the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi. Unable to find work and selling fruit at a roadside stand, on December 17, 2010, a municipal inspector confiscated his wares. An hour later, the young man doused himself with gasoline and set himself afire. One seemingly minor situation, but he was to become the face of a region ripe for change, he was the linchpin that started a region on a path to revolt and change.
In today’s world, where high unemployment, austerity, corruption and class divisions are getting increasingly deeper, I share that line of thought according to which it is only a matter of time before a large-scale global event happens, and it will all begin with a single, seemingly unimportant occurrence.
I have been an observer of the situations in Western Asia for over thirty years, first as a student, then as a participant in the region, and now as a researcher of almost every aspect of the area daily. In my research, I’ve found a couple of areas that could be the linchpin I’ve been looking for: the Middle East is one, most accurately the area around southeastern Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Territories, namely one of the most volatile regions in the world.
However, the area that I feel could have the best chance of being the linchpin that starts an endless war and possibly total destruction is… (insert drum roll and trumpet blasts)… the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian.
Why? This region is full of hatred for one group or another: Chechens hate Russians, Armenians hate Turkey, South Ossetians within the borders of Georgia call for independence, Kurds within the borders of most of the area’s countries have an argument with Turkey, Dagestan people within Russia are a smoldering problem, waiting for more fuel. The Kremlin has had its nose disjointed by what they called an “Azerbaijan snub”, and furthermore, the government is cracking down on the press and other civil liberties. Very little of this region can be called stable, and there’s the rub. This is the area that could produce the next history-altering conflict, it bears watching.
Another destabilizing factor has added up to the sum when the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) has made its presence known in this region. ISIS Spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani declared the creation of a new ‘wilayat’ (governorate) in the North Caucasus region of Russia on June 23, 2015. Al-Adnani named “Abu Mohammad al-Qadari” the leader of the group, and congratulated “the soldiers of the Islamic State” in the Caucasus. Adnani’s statement followed the circulation of a Russian-language audio statement on Twitter on June 21, in which ISIL supporters in the regions of “Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and KBK (Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay)” pledged allegiance to Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. These areas represent four of the six subdivisions that constitute the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus (IEC) militant group. Salafi fundamentalists in these four have most frequently conducted domestic attacks in support of the IEC’s stated goals of establishing a Caucasus emirate under sharia law and waging global jihad. This announcement is likely to make the region even more unstable.
Moscow has its hands full trying to subjugate the Chechnya region, Washington D.C. and NATO are sending troops and equipment to Kiev and the surrounding countries in an attempt to stall Vladimir Putin’s advancements. All this just adds to the chance of a single occurrence turning into a global war.
While the Greater Middle East is volatile and dangerous, probably it won’t be the linchpin starting an apocalyptic WWIII. The Caucasus region, on the contrary, seems to have all the characteristics of a linchpin event.
P.S.: There’s another source that sees the region in question as a growing problem.
From The Desk Of Chuq at the Inkwell Institute.