Tue, Jul 03, 2012 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: World on the edge of a precipice

Just like in 1913, the year before World War I started, the world is teetering dangerously on the verge of a series of vast global conflicts. Only this time, the fault lines are criss-crossed through Syria and Turkey, instead of the Balkans.

People in East Asia may think that since Syria and Turkey are far away, the conflicts there have nothing to do with this part of the world — which is a misconception. Similarly to the strife in the Balkans before World War I, the border tensions between Syria and Turkey are a powder keg that could ignite any minute, sending shockwaves throughout the world.

Here is how that scenario might play out:

The Syrian military shoots down another Turkish jet, or Syrian soldiers shoot Turkish soldiers across the border while aiming at Syrian refugees. Whether Damascus is provoked into doing this by the presence of Turkish forces on Syrian soil or in Syrian airspace is beyond the point, because once those Turkish troops are killed, Ankara has the right to call on NATO for help.

Turkey then decides to invade Syria to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and force a transition of power. The move would be sanctioned by some UN members, but opposed by Russia and China. Turkey secures NATO backing to initiate a military strike.

Moving in lockstep with Turkey and NATO are the US and the Arab League, providing Syrian rebels with weapons and supplies and setting up no-fly zones.

Iran would not sit by idly in all this, because Tehran feels that once the Syrian regime falls, it could be next. Iran would fund the Syrian military, sending weapons and money, and maybe even engaging with coalition troops on the ground.

In the meantime, Russia and China would continue sending weapons to the Syrian military while insisting on non-intervention.

In the middle of all this military posturing is Israel, which could make any number of moves, including launching pre-emptive strikes on Iran, thus ensuring its involvement in the conflict, or perpetrating direct attacks on Syria.

A war like this would wreak more instability in Europe, which would in turn negatively affect Chinese exports to the region, and that would cause Taiwanese exports to suffer as well. Moreover, there would be political ramifications if China were to take Syria and Iran’s side in the conflict. Beijing taking such a stance could result in a trade sanctions battle between China and the EU and between China and the US. This would affect Taiwan, because many of its exports go to those markets through China.

If a conflict of this magnitude were to start, things in Asia could start changing very rapidly as well. A regional war in the Middle East involving international players on either side would mean that the US’ ability to mediate situations in East Asia would be greatly diminished. This would leave a power vacuum for China to exploit, thus potentially leading to conflict in East Asia as well.

This last scenario is much less likely than another war breaking out in the Middle East, but an East Asian war would undoubtedly cause political and economic changes in Taiwan, which would be long-reaching and difficult to grasp.

Exactly as fighting in the Balkans sparked a conflict that swept the globe, the violence in Syria could end up having world-wide ramifications.

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