Ever since the end of World War II, the United States, rightly or wrongly, but most of the time, wrongly, has fancied itself as the «world’s policeman». Even a disastrous and costly military intervention in Southeast Asia did not deter the United States from acting as the chief arbiter of what governments were «in» and which were «out» as evidenced by Central Intelligence Agency interloping in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola, Haiti, and Colombia. Two military interventions in Iraq and a U.S.-led military campaign directed against Yugoslavia were not enough to pry the United States from its self-appointed role as the chief «global cop». In fact, American neoconservatives continued to fanaticize about the United States leading the world into a post-Cold War «new American century».
The United States under Donald Trump now resembles a disabled policeman who was forced to retire on disability after being injured, not in the line of duty, but by engaging in self-destructive piques of bravado. The United States has abandoned internationalism as witnessed by Washington’s withdrawal from the free trade Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Paris climate agreement. The United Kingdom’s decision to depart the European Union in the Brexit referendum has put the final nail in the coffin of Britain’s status as a minor «superpower».
Until another nation steps forward to claim the title of chief world cop, the world will be subjected, as coined by the New Testament’s Book of Matthew, to «wars and rumors of wars».
Arising from a combination of Donald Trump’s tweets and outbursts about subjects ranging from Qatar to Taiwan and NATO to Palestine, old border disputes and diplomatic rivalries are beginning to flare up. The Trump administration also appears to be unwilling to fill a number of vacancies in the State Department, a development that has added to a de facto American hands-off approach to many simmering international disputes.
Trump’s siding with the Saudi Arabian-led bloc of Arab and Muslim nations in its confrontation with Qatar has resulted in Trump’s Saudi and other Gulf allies demanding that Qatar close down Al Jazeera and other media operations in Doha that are out of favor with Qatar’s neighbor oligarchic potentates. The Saudi-contrived demands of Qatar’s government, in return for a lifting of Saudi and United Arab Emirates sanctions against Doha, amount to nothing less than total political and economic subjugation of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, which is akin to Saudi Arabia’s de facto colonization of Bahrain. In the past, the United States would have simply ordered the Saud regime to cease and desist in making threats against neighboring countries. Saudi action against Qatar has had wide-ranging effects in the region, which include renewed border tensions between Qatar and Bahrain over some largely uninhabited islands, as well as between Eritrea and Djibouti, on whose border Qatar had provided a peacekeeping force.
In 2001, the International Court of Justice awarded many of the disputed Hawar Islands, which lie closer to Qatar than to Bahrain, to the Bahrainis. As a consolation prize, the world court awarded Janan Island to Qatar. The decision never sat well with Qatar. As the Bahrainis were announcing a mega-development project for the largely-uninhabited Hawar Islands, the pro-Saudi press in the Middle East began writing stories about Qatari intelligence operations directed against Bahrain. Press items included the interest shown by Qatari intelligence in the military deployments and readiness of Bahraini forces stationed in the Hawar Islands.
After Eritrea and Djibouti sided with Saudi Arabia in its diplomatic dispute with Qatar, Qatari peacekeeping troops were withdrawn from the Eritrean-Dijbouti border. The result was Eritrean troops quickly occupying the Doumeira mountain border area, which is claimed by Djibouti. The border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti began in 2008, when Eritrean troops occupied the Doumeira mountain and dug in. Qatar sent some 450 peacekeepers to patrol the disputed zone in 2010. With their hasty departure, the border has become a renewed flash point in the volatile Horn of Africa.
Although the African Union got involved in the border dispute, the U.S. State Department, once a nexus for geopolitical status quo enthusiasts, remained quiet. It is unusual for the State Department not to comment on such border disputes. Not only does the United States maintain the large U.S. Central Command airbase at Al-Udeid in Qatar, but it also has a major military presence at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.
China, the power that is eclipsing the United States in international importance as an arbiter of disputes, is building a military base in Djibouti. It is also establishing a maritime port in Gwadar in Pakistan, from which it can deploy naval forces to the Persian Gulf.
Elsewhere in Africa, a border dispute over Lake Nyasa has erupted after a 50-year dormancy between Malawi and Tanzania. A dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula also shows signs of re-erupting. At issue are natural gas deposits under Lake Nyasa and oil in the Bakassi region. Sudan and Egypt are, once again, bickering over control of the Halayeb triangle border region, currently under Egyptian control.
Two NATO allies, Croatia and Slovenia, are awaiting a decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on its decision in a border dispute. Croatia has accused the Slovenians of conspiring with the judges. Croatia also likely distrusts the United States and its Slovenian-born First Lady Melania Trump for possibly influencing the court’s decision in favor of Slovenia. Mrs. Trump’s parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, have visited the White House and they are in a perfect position to deliver to President Trump, «personal» messages from the Slovenian government. The court’s decision is expected on June 29, 2017.
The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union has re-triggered sovereignty issues between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar and Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands and Dependencies and British Antarctic Territory. Britain also saw a stinging rebuke over its treatment of the Chagos Islanders in its unilaterally-created British Indian Ocean Territory. In the late 1960’s, the people of the Chagos Islands, which include the island of Diego Garcia, were deported from the islands to Mauritius and Seychelles to make way for a U.S. military base on Diego Garcia. In a 94 to 15 vote, the United Nations General Assembly ordered the case of the legal status of the Chagos Islands to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. If the court rules against Britain, the United States will have to make a new long-term lease deal with Mauritius, the original legal administrator of the Chagos Islands, to keep the base at Diego Garcia.
In the UN vote, Britain’s soon-to-be-former European Union allies abstained. The United Kingdom, backed by the Trump administration, saw NATO and EU members France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, and Greece abstain. Canada, a «Five Eyes» intelligence partner of the United States and Britain, also abstained. Voting with the United States and Britain and against Mauritius were a collection of countries that are nothing more than beggars for U.S. and British military aid: Afghanistan, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Israel, Lithuania, Montenegro, and South Korea, in addition to the other Five Eyes spy partners Australia and New Zealand. The Maldives no vote is based on a competing claim for the Chagos Islands by Maldives, which views Diego Garcia and the 64 other islands as the southern part of the Maldives chain. Mauritius claims sole sovereignty over the same islands. The eclipse of U.S. and British dominance in the Indian Ocean sets the stage for several conflicts over islands and sea beds.
The «Trump Effect» of a diminished U.S. role in international affairs is also being felt in South America, where Ecuador has irritated Peru by building a Trump-style border wall on its frontier with its neighbor to the east and south. Peru claims the wall is illegal because it violates a 1998 agreement prohibiting border construction within 33 feet from the border. Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has also prompted Botswana to start construction on an electrified fence along its border with Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s Deputy Home Minister Obedingwa Mguni lashed out at Botswana’s decision, telling the Zimbabwe press: «We should not copy the United States of America’s idea of putting a border wall on its border with Mexico when we are actually one people who are related».
There are other long-simmering border disputes and secessionist movements emerging from «cold» status to hot conflicts in Asia, the Arctic, the Pacific region, and the Caribbean. As U.S. State Department dominance fades, in addition to Halayeb, Bakassi, and Chagos, the world will soon see headlines concerning flashpoints having other unfamiliar names – Ladakh, Baltistan, Riau, Otong Java, Rotuma, Chuuk, Pemba, the Rif, Cabinda, and Oduduwa – and those with more familiar names – Biafra, Zanzibar, Scotland, and Catalonia.
The American neo-conservatives predicted the 21st century would be a «New American Century». Instead, it is becoming a «New Chinese Century», with the United States still believing, wrongly, that it is the «leader of the free world» and a «super power». As Mao Zedong once stated, the United States is a «paper tiger». And Mao had another prediction: «The day will come when the paper tigers will be wiped out». That day is now upon us.