The year 2014 brought significant new challenges for international security in addition to the continuation of previous and more conventional threats. In the previous year, territorial disputes and infringement on the sovereignty of other states continued to be one of the most significant causes of conflicts in the international arena. The conflicts in Syria and later in Iraq continued their escalation in 2014 and have been the most significant agenda items for international security. With the rise of ISIS and the formation of the international coalition, the struggle acquired a more international dimension. In Asia on the other hand, territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China and its various neighbors over the question of the Spratly Islands and in the East China Sea between China and Japan over the problem of the Senkaku Islands, have been the most hotly contested topics during most of 2014. In various instances, strained relations between different Asian countries turned into significant crises between countries and brought them to the brink of war. In the midst of Eurasia, a major conflict emerged over Ukraine. These were mostly conventional challenges for international security that erupted during 2014, most of which will continue during 2015. Meanwhile, counterterrorism operations, especially through drones, and nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 constituted other significant issues in international security.
In addition to these conventional threats, in 2014 we also witnessed other less conventional problems emerging in international relations. On the one hand, a group called ISIS, which is different from ordinary terrorist organizations and classic insurgency groups, attracted the attention of the international community by their rapid rise as well as their scary tactics and operations. In fact, a new type of threat emerged that is very difficult to deal with using well-known counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies. In its current form, ISIS controls a huge area and more than 15 million people. It looks like an army, an insurgency and a terrorist group at the same time. Its main source of motivation is very local grievances; however, its message passes across borders, and it can recruit fighters from different parts of the world effectively. It is not clear how long the control of this group will survive in Syria and Iraq; however, this new notion and concept can inspire and mobilize various groups in different parts of the world. For now, it is almost certain that in 2015 fighting this group will constitute a very significant priority for international security.
Another significant threat to international security in 2014 has been the Ebola crisis. The virus, which killed thousands in Western Africa, started to spread to other countries in the last weeks of summer. Although contained effectively in many countries, the diseases and epidemics demonstrate that they can shake the basic tenets of human security and that they can create different types of insecurities. The role of these epidemics as potential destabilizers started to be more frequently discussed by the public. The panic and anxiety that people went through while governments and health agencies were trying to deal with Ebola demonstrated the psychological impact of these diseases, which may become more difficult to contain and control. In fact, Ebola types of diseases may pose significant threats for international security in the coming decades, and international organizations and other actors may need to develop better skills and capabilities to deal with these threats.
Finally, in the last days of 2014, due to a controversy over a movie produced by Sony, the dispute between the U.S. and North Korea turned into low intensity cyber warfare. Although we learned about Operation Olympic Games and cyberattacks against Iran a few years ago, the hacking of the Sony website and subsequent Internet outage in North Korea demonstrated a new dimension of international conflict, which may be more frequently utilized and instrumentalized in the coming years. For several years now, different intelligence agencies of the U.S. government have been warning the administration about the cyber threat that the Chinese government poses to the U.S. and cyber-espionage activities. However in the case of North Korea, a new dimension to cyberattacks has surfaced. Just like the Internet, cyberattacks have also become an equalizer of difference between countries’ cyber capacities. Regardless of the differences, countries can seriously damage each other’s information technology infrastructure. In 2015, we may hear more about this new type of conflict among different countries, which may escalate into a real conflict.
On top of all these, new threats and problems for international security can emerge during 2015. In most instances we witness states and security agencies having difficulty pre-empting these threats, and only after their emergence do they come up with possible ways to deal with these emerging problems. In 2015, states and other international actors have to deal with conventional threats to international security as well as the problems and risks inherited from the less conventional threats of 2014. In addition to all these, there is always the risk of the emergence of new threats in 2015 that states may need to fight alone or together with other actors.
This article was originally published in the Daily Sabah on December 27, 2014.