A world in crisis even without the pandemic: Five looming problems

  • 14 May 2020
  • From the section World
A woman wearing a protective face mask reads a newspaper as she walks in a street on the deserted Ile Saint Louis in Paris Image copyright Reuters

Perhaps understandably, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced many other international stories off the news agenda.

It is global, it is deadly and it is multi-faceted, raising all sorts of questions, not just about how we respond to the initial crisis, but about the way we organise our societies and the way we run our affairs.

Some major international problems have been pushed to the sidelines since the outbreak of the crisis and it may now be too late to deal with them. Others have been made much more intractable. And some governments are seeking to use the distraction of the Covid-19 pandemic to pursue long-held ambitions.

Here are five issues that we should be keeping an eye on in the weeks and months ahead.

A renewed nuclear arms race?

The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New Start, that limits the long-range nuclear arsenals with which the US and Russia threaten each other, expires in early February next year. Time is getting short if it is to be renewed. This is the last of the great arms control agreements inherited from the Cold War which still survives.

Image copyright Reuters

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US-Iran war of words raises fresh fears of Gulf clash

Handout photo from US Navy showing Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels near US vessel in the Gulf (15 April 2020) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The US Navy said Iranian vessels "harassed" US ships in the Gulf last week

Last year, President Donald Trump in a speech stated that America's revolutionary army back in the 1770s "took over the airports" from the British.

So in this light, his tweet on Wednesday that called on US Navy commanders to "shoot down" Iranian gunboats that harass US warships was only a minor mis-statement.

Read full article US-Iran war of words raises fresh fears of Gulf clash

Coronavirus: Pandemic fact v pandemic fiction?

  • 5 April 2020
  • From the section World
Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in Tehran to halt the wild spread of coronavirus in March 2020 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some scenes from the current pandemic seem right out of the darkest science fiction

Is truth stranger than fiction, as the American writer Mark Twain once suggested?

Now we all have a chance to judge for ourselves, for the veteran US journalist Lawrence Wright has just written a thriller novel, due out later this month, called The End of October.

Read full article Coronavirus: Pandemic fact v pandemic fiction?

Coronavirus: A ticking time-bomb for the Middle East

An internally displaced Syrian girl wears a face mask as members of the Syrian Civil defence sanitize the Bab Al-Nour camp Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Aid organisations fear coronavirus could sweep through camps for Syria's displaced people

War and pestilence have combined to create disaster throughout history, and as the coronavirus slowly begins to penetrate the Middle East, the human and political consequences could be devastating.

The virus has already arrived in the region. Israel - a country with a sophisticated Western-style health system and a significant capacity to mobilise resources - is already beginning to struggle with the potential consequences of the pandemic.

Read full article Coronavirus: A ticking time-bomb for the Middle East

Coronavirus: US-China battle behind the scenes

  • 24 March 2020
  • From the section World
Cardboard cutouts of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with protective masks widely used as a preventive measure against coronavirus disease (COVID-19), near a gift shop in Moscow, Russia Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The coronavirus pandemic has worsened relations between Donald Trump's America and Xi Jinping's China

It is clearly not a good time for the world and it is not a good time for relations between the US and China. President Donald Trump has repeatedly chosen to call the coronavirus the "Chinese virus". His hawkish Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls it the "Wuhan virus", something that causes huge offence in Beijing.

The president and secretary of state have both denounced China for its failings in the initial handling of the outbreak. But Chinese spokesmen have utterly rejected any idea that they were less than transparent about what was going on. Meanwhile, social media in China has spread stories that the pandemic has been caused by a US military germ warfare programme; rumours that gained considerable traction. Scientists have demonstrated that the virus structure is entirely natural in origin.

Read full article Coronavirus: US-China battle behind the scenes

Coronavirus: Five things the military can do during pandemic

  • 21 March 2020
  • From the section World
The changing of the guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Grenadier Guards are now taking their posts at the Palace without the usual music and ceremony

"They're changing Guard at Buckingham Palaceā€¦" begins the famous poem by AA Milne, creator of the much-loved children's character, Winnie the Pooh.

But it's not usually like this. The Grenadier Guards are now taking their posts at the Palace without the usual music and ceremony.

Read full article Coronavirus: Five things the military can do during pandemic

How Russia's Putin became the go-to man on Syria

  • 5 March 2020
  • From the section Europe
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin last month Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) has made himself a central player in the Syrian crisis

President Recep Tayip Erdogan of Turkey needs to extricate himself from a difficult situation in Syria so he heads for the one capital that matters, not Washington but Moscow.

How times have changed. Not so long ago it was the Americans who were the dominant external player in the region.

Read full article How Russia's Putin became the go-to man on Syria

Syria war: Brutal endgame in Idlib risks spilling over

A Turkish-backed Syrian fighter fires a lorry-mounted gun in Idlib. Photo: February 2020 Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Idlib is Syria's last province largely controlled by rebel groups

The crisis in Syria's Idlib province - already a humanitarian catastrophe - is fast becoming a geopolitical one as well.

The Syrian conflict has long had a dual aspect - both civil war and proxy war, with several outside players backing various parties to further their own strategic ends.

Read full article Syria war: Brutal endgame in Idlib risks spilling over

The potential diplomatic impact of the coronavirus crisis

  • 23 February 2020
  • From the section World
Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects the novel coronavirus prevention and control work at Anhuali Community in Beijing Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Xi Jinping's government has been accused of a slow response to the outbreak

As China struggles to contain the spread of the epidemic, the immediate impact of the coronavirus crisis is already upon us.

Small numbers of foreign nationals are already ill. Governments whose citizens abroad have been unlucky to be caught up are weighing up the dilemmas of repatriation and isolating those who may be carriers of the virus once home.

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Global defence spending is on the rise in an unstable world

  • 14 February 2020
  • From the section World
Soldiers of the German Bundeswehr, pictured in March 2019 in Berlin Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Germany accounts for a third of Europe's increase in defence expenditure

In 2019 global defence spending rose by some 4% over 2018 - the highest year-on-year increase in a decade.

The figures are included in this year's Military Balance - the annual publication of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which is to be launched later this morning at the Munich Security Conference.

Read full article Global defence spending is on the rise in an unstable world