And yes, this involves North Korea.
The world remains jarringly dangerous. The diplomatic confusion of the Trump administration has only added to this danger, creating uncertainty around the world as to U.S. intentions and capabilities. While this uncertainty does not always result in opportunities for other states to step up, it does increase the chance for miscalculation in crisis and noncrisis situations. Hopefully, as Trump’s foreign policy team congeals and matures, it will develop a more coherent approach to diplomacy that will ameliorate the threat posed by some of these crises.
The world has managed to make it through most of 2017 without the return of cataclysmic, great power conflict. In some parts of the world (most notably Syria) tensions have declined significantly. In others, already difficult situations have grown even more tense. Here are five crises that could lead to great power conflict over the course of 2018.
North Korea is undoubtedly the most serious foreign-policy crisis facing the world today. The DPRK’s success in developing ballistic missiles, combined with the diplomatic inexperience of the Trump administration, have created an extraordinarily dangerous situation. Having repeatedly conducted missile and nuclear tests over the last decade, North Korea is showing no inclination to collapse under U.S. pressure. The United States has responded with diplomatic incoherence, as senior officials often contradict each other within hours of making statements.
(This first appeared in December.)
To complicate the issue, North Korea and the United States both have substantial incentives to pre-empt; the United States in order to destroy North Korean communications and installation before the missiles can leave the ground, and the North Koreans in order to avoid such a fate. This situation could easily lead to miscalculation by either side, and the potential for war that could draw in Japan and China.