Key point: These hot spots represent some of the most intractable geopolitical problems.
The world has avoided war between major power war since 1945, even if the United States and the Soviet Union came quite close on several occasions during the Cold War. In the first two decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall, great power war seemed virtually unimaginable. Today, with China’s power still increasing and Russia’s rejection of the international order apparently complete, great power conflict is back on the menu.
The South China Sea:
The South China Sea (SCS) has become wrapped into the growing trade clash between the United States and China. For now, that conflict is playing out in exchanges of heated rhetoric, tariffs and various other trade sanctions. The United States and Canada recently escalated the conflict by arresting an executive of the Chinese technology firm Huawei, which led to counter-steps by China against Canadian citizens and U.S. firms.
As of yet the United States and China have not drawn a tight connection between the trade war and the ongoing disputes in the SCS. However, as relations between the two countries deteriorate, one or the other might decide to escalate beyond dollars, words and legal filings. Indeed, if China and the United States conclude that their trade relationship (which has provided the foundation of global economic growth for the last two decades) is at substantial risk, and similarly conclude that further conflict is inevitable, then either might decide to “take off the gloves” in the SCS.