Guns of August: Ongoing Wars Around the World

Guns of August: Ongoing Wars Around the World

The potential for renewed political and ethnic violence in Kashmir may be the most important news today, but there are several other places where war is already raging. In honor of one of the great works of 20th century political and military history, Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, here's a quick look at some of the worst, or most intractable, conflicts in the world today.

Yemen – The five-year-old war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and government forces backed by Saudi Arabia (with help from the US) has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Despite recent steps towards peace, this conflict — a major flashpoint in the Iran-Saudi rivalry—threatens to spill beyond Yemen's borders as Houthis step up rocket attacks on Saudi Arabia.


Syria – A conflict that began with protests against Bashir al Assad's government in 2011 has killed about 400,000 people, driven 5.6 million from the country, and made internal refugees of another 6 million. Assad, with support from Russia and Iran, has won the war. But repeated attacks on Idlib Province, the last rebel stronghold, continues to kill civilians, including children. The United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, al Qaeda, and various militia groups have all been directly or indirectly involved in the fighting.

Libya – Since the death of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has descended into civil war. A UN-recognized Government of National Accord rules in Tripoli. A rival government led by General Khalifa Haftar controls much of the country's east. Each side controls oil fields within its territory, and each has its own central bank. Haftar's bid to capture Tripoli has (so far) failed, but it has killed more than 1,000 people, including more than 100 civilians, since April. The UN estimates that 1.3 million people need urgent humanitarian help.

Ukraine – Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have fought to a stalemate in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Fighting has killed more than 10,000 people. Moscow has used the conflict to try to pressure Ukraine's government into a rewrite of its constitution that would give regional governors in these provinces—and therefore Moscow—veto power over Ukraine's national foreign and trade policies. Russia's intervention has blocked some moves by Ukraine to move toward the EU and NATO, but has not returned Ukraine to Russia's orbit. Despite a recent ceasefire, sporadic fighting continues.

Democratic Republic of Congo – The victory of opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi in presidential elections last year sparked hopes of a path to end a quarter century of violence that has displaced 4.5 million people. But over one hundred armed groups continue to wreak havoc in the eastern part of the country in a conflict fueled by access to the country's lucrative mineral reserves. Meanwhile, the DRC struggles with a year-old Ebola outbreak that has been declared a Global Health Emergency.

Afghanistan – The longest war in US history continues, 18 years after Washington first sent troops to crush the Taliban, who still control much of the country. Hundreds of civilians are still losing their lives every month. Amid fresh peace talks, Washington is currently trying to convince the Taliban to engage directly with the enfeebled Kabul government, something the militants have thus far refused to do. The Trump administration wants out — but can Washington broker something that achieves that objective without giving away too much?

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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