The five top international problems of the 21st century:
1) Destabilization of key areas due to global climate change.
Much of the human population lies within a few hundred meters of sea level. Many of the largest cities in the world- New York, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Miami, Dhaka, and others lie right on the coast. Thus, when sea level begins rising due to global warming, these areas, where perhaps ½ of the world population lives, will be the first affected. Billions, perhaps trillions will need to be spent to pay for levees, floodwalls, and such in order to keep the people in these areas safe. For wealthy countries such as the Us and Japan, this will be a fiscal nuisance, money that could be better spent elsewhere. However, for poverty-stricken countries such as Bangladesh, Nigeria, Vietnam, and others, the money needed for these projects is non-existent, leaving these countries vulnerable to rising tides. Hurricanes and cyclones will increase, both in numbers and intensity, leaving the inhabitants of these countries even more destitute then they are currently. Poverty breeds instability, and the developed world may see a reaction grow amongst poorer developing countries. Finally, already there have been record droughts in places as diverse as California, Australia, and Russia, causing greater strains on agriculture to feed the increasing number people.
We need to work to minimize the effects of climate change by doing our part to reduce greenhouse gases.
2) The Middle East
The situation in the middle east is not unlike early Bismarckian Europe. Entangling alliances between populous countries such as Israel, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, coupled with a poor population and nationalistic tendencies, makes it increasingly likely that a major crisis will occur involving the entire middle east sometime this century. The possibilities are endless for a crisis: Iran obtaining nuclear capabilities, frightening both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supporting and arming jihadi militants in the Syrian civil war, against Iranian-backed Assad. A fight to the death in Egypt between Mubarakesque military forces and Morsi-supporting islamists in Egypt, which has left Israel guarded. Turkey taking a nationalistic stance against non-Muslims. The Arab Spring was a huge simplifier. It brought to power popularly-elected governments in many countries. However, this has opened the door to the possibility of a popular war, one caused by nationalism and fanned by extremism. The protagonists are united and yet divided. Yet the field is beginning to simplify, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey drifting away from U.S. influence with Iran drifting in a favorable direction. Much as in World War I, we may see that unambiguous alliances and loyalties are the catalysts for conflict.
There is not much we can do in the Middle East, besides working for popular stability in the gegion, nd by trying to defuse the Iranian threat via diplomatic means.
It is quite possible that we will be facing a worldwide pandemic this century. Innovation on antibiotics has slowed to a trickle, and some diseases, such as SARS, have become resistant to most of our vaccines. Sanitation remains at low efficacy in most poor areas of the world. Overcrowding persists in areas such as Mumbai, Cairo, Kinshasa- perfect conditions for a virulent disease to appear and grow. With globalization comes the fact that diseases can be brought to other countries by plane, ship, or automobile, increasing the ability of a disease to spread rapidly before precautions can be taken.Such a disease could potentially dwarf the Spanish flu of 1918, due to the above factors.
We need to continue developing new antibiotics in anticipation of a major pandemic. This effort could be led by the NIH or the WHO.
4) Foreign relations between the three superpowers: Russia, China, and the US.
Relations between Russia and the United States took a turn for the worse this year, after American whistleblower Edward Snowden escaped to Russia, and the United States and Russia took opposites sides in the Syrian Civil War. Considering the ambitions of both U.S. Presidents in general as well as Russian leader Vladimir Putin, it is possible that the post Cold War detente could deteriorite into truly icy relations.
Relations with China are also somewhat strained, as china’s economy continues to grow during the recession, despite recent signs of slowing down. It will be interesting to see whether or not China manages to make the transition to a consumer driven economy, as opposed to the produce-driven economy of today. It’s growing power has begun to rattle Japan and South Korea, among other nations, such as its claim to the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
We need to take a harder line stance on Chinese labor conditions as well as human rights abuses in both Russia and China.
5) Growing extremism in Europe
The most recent recession has wracked europe particularly hard. Many countries, such as Greece, Ireland, and Spain, have been forced to implement austerity. Unfortunately, this has led to a further tanking of the economy, with unemployment reaching 25% in Greece. The general misery has led to an increase in extremist groups who decry austerity. In Greece, they are represented by the extreme leftist party SYRIZA, and on the right by neo-fascist party Golden Dawn.
Currently at stake is the survival of the European Union. If conditions become worse in Greece, a far right group, possibly buttressed by Golden Dawn, could withdraw Greece from the EU. This could possibly lead to the demise of the EU as a working institution. The various European countries would begin competing against each other, rather than with each other, and nationalism could rise to the forefront yet again.
Golden Dawn has been outlawed by the Greek government on account of corruption. However, it is only a cover to the real problem. So long as destabilization continues, we will continue to see a weak EU, and a weak EU means a weak US.
Austerity must end. The primary goal now should not be to cut debt, but to take the European Union out of recession.