Global Tipping Points Converge

Posted on Monday, May 6, 2024
by Herald Boas

Tipping points in war, international affairs, cultural trends, and domestic economies happen all the time, but rarely do they occur globally and all at once — as they appear to be doing just now.

When they do seem to converge, it is usually followed by worldwide transformation and change. But as they appear initially unresolved or little understood, their consequences are unknown.

There are two major armed conflicts now in process, as well as many minor ones.

In Ukraine, there is a stalemate, with both sides enduring heavy casualties. After years of air attacks and heavy damage to its cities and infrastructure by the Russian military, Ukraine has begun drone attacks on Russian cities and military installations, especially in Crimea, and on the Russian navy. The front lines of combat in this war have changed little in recent months. NATO members have been assisting Ukraine. China and Iran have aided Russia. Both sides are experiencing manpower shortages. Russia has often ominously made threats of using nuclear weapons, and NATO allies of Ukraine fear Russian expansion of the war into Europe.

In the Middle East, Israel responded to a barbaric surprise terrorist attack by Hamas by sending its armed forces into Gaza to destroy Hamas. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has succeeded in defeating Hamas militants in northern and central Gaza and is preparing for a final battle with the remaining Hamas brigades in southern Gaza at Rafah.

Media coverage of civilian casualties (the numbers of which have apparently been exaggerated by Hamas for propaganda purposes) has succeeded in creating international pressure from Israel’s allies, most notably the U.S., for a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, after the October 7 attack, Iran, through its “proxies” in Lebanon (Hezbollah), Yemen (Houthis), Syria, and Iraq has been sending rocket attacks into Israel from all directions and made the Israeli northern border with Lebanon a second front. Israel has responded, and after Israel eliminated a top Iranian general in Syria, Iran launched a massive air attack against the Jewish state from its own territory. Israel then retaliated and struck targets in Iran, and international fears arose that the conflict would expand into a large-scale Middle East war.

Despite Biden’s opposition, the IDF seems poised to complete its mission in Gaza, while Iran’s imminent development of nuclear weapons threatens the peace of the entire region.

As throughout history, there are several other smaller and local violent disputes, some of which could draw in larger forces and greater human suffering.

An interesting political development is also occurring in Argentina, where the country’s visionary new president, Javier Milei, is attempting to end that nation’s century-long inflation and economic distress. His application of conservative and libertarian policies is beginning to work but has created unpopular hardships for many in the short-term. With the nation’s (and continent’s) history of violence and instability, it is not yet clear that Milei will be allowed the time to complete his economic program.

At the same time, China’s growing militarism and economic might have created a chronic crisis in Asia. In addition to Beijing’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims, China has also taken over Tibet and ramped up its claims on the island of Taiwan, which is now a functionally autonomous democracy. Further problems come from China’s neighbor and ally North Korea, which has threatened South Korea, and helped raise tensions for Japan, the Philippines, other Southeast Asian nations, and Australia.

Meanwhile, the world’s other new economic power, India, which now has the largest population of any country in the world, remains in conflict with its neighbor Pakistan and is only now emerging from past isolation and instability to be an economic and political rival to nearby China.

This is also the moment when so many Western democracies will hold their national elections. In North America, this includes the United States, Canada, and Mexico — the first two possibly abruptly changing ideological directions. In Europe, France, Great Britain, and Germany each also face major ideological change (like many other European nations already have), as does the European Union Parliament, with elections set for early June.

While all these military, economic, and demographic crises remain unresolved, technology has also brought humankind to a series of momentous turning points.

The least understood perhaps is the sudden rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in the aftermath of the computer and the internet revolution. The transformation of global communications, along with the almost universal availability of cell phones and smartphones has made the world more connected than ever before. With computer and other advanced device technology changing so rapidly, and the introduction of AI into so many aspects of daily life, issues of privacy, security, and safety have also appeared, with few answers or reassurances.

Human life in our time has also been profoundly affected by astonishing advances in medicine, treatment of disease, and prolonging longevity. The exponential speed of these advances, as well as exponential advances in device technology, have been accompanied by rapid developments in military weaponry and other tools of warfare, some of which pose an existential threat to the survival of humankind.

As if the phenomenal rise of human-made change is not enough, the world recently endured a global pandemic, which had a seismic effect on global daily life. More such biological disasters could lurk on the horizon.

In addition, our planet is always at geophysical tipping points with periodic earthquakes, floods, volcanos, hurricanes, tornados, cyclones, and other disruptive natural events.

It is a wonder that daily life, with all of the above threats, challenges, and disruptions, goes on in some methodical fashion, but with so many of the events unresolved and unpredictable at this point in time, a historic level of careful and determined vigilance might be required by everyone who values human advancement, freedom, opportunity, and prosperity.

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