American news media barely touches on these stories at times — they certainly don’t always make the top headlines. Maybe a conflict has been going on for so long that it barely seems like news anymore or maybe it doesn’t affect the American public the way other stories do. Perhaps these conflicts don’t get airtime because, simply, they don’t sell newspapers or commercial time like other stories.
So, here’s a rundown of the most intractable crises in the world right now, complete with why they started, how old they are, and what makes them so damn tricky.
6. The Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar
The Rohingya are Muslim people in Buddhist Myanmar (or Burma if you prefer) who are considered one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. On top of religious differences, they speak a different dialect and they’re a different ethnicity. They live in Myanmar (as they have for centuries), but are not considered citizens.
The Burmese government doesn’t see them as Burmese, but rather as squatters from neighboring Bangladesh that they’re now trying to expel (using violence and persecution) after centuries of living in Burmese ghettos. As a result, 700,000 of the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya have fled their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries.
5. Venezuela and the US
Venezuela’s relationship with the United States has been on the decline since the days of Hugo Chavez. Chavez’ long time in power saw Venezuela move from the U.S. camp in favor of traditional American adversaries, like Cuba and Iran. Relations have been pretty much ice cold ever since. After Chavez died, his successor, Nicolas Maduro, took over. Being neither as popular nor as charismatic as Chavez, Venezuelans have been less than thrilled with his economic performance.
The U.S. is increasingly critical of Maduro’s authoritarianism. While Venezuela’s economy remains in steep decline, the Obama and the Trump administrations both tried to force Maduro from power using sanctions, which he strongly resists. Meanwhile, Russia and China both continue to forge business partnerships in the country, making any political progress driven by economics difficult.
4. Iran and everyone
Iran fights so hard to maintain a degree of independence from the outside world. Its foreign policy is designed to keep other countries from fighting in Iranian territory. While much of the past 20 or so years have seen a lot of death and destruction in the region, areas just within Iran’s borders are noticeably untouched. Why? The Quds Force and Revolutionary Guard’s activity in Shia areas in the Middle East force other countries to fight there, instead of in Iran.
But Iran has more to worry about. The Iran-Saudi conflict, the Iran-Israeli conflict, the Iran-U.S. conflict are all wars of words (and in some areas, like Yemen, proxy wars) where neither side is talking to one another. There’s a lot of fighting with no diplomacy that could easily escalate into a greater war. In the meantime, fighting in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen will continue even as Iran struggles with its own internal politics.
There are so many trouble spots in Africa that it’s difficult to understand where U.S. foreign policy should start. American forces already intervene in the Horn of Africa and Niger. Meanwhile, French troops take the point on more recent conflicts and uprisings in West African countries, like Mali. But that’s not all. Fighting in the area known as the Congo has been ongoing for decades.
Africa is not the center of any geopolitical struggle like the Middle East is. African “Big Man” politics have not traditionally welcomed Western outsiders dictating their next courses of action – and when they did, it was usually to make a power play for money or arms against a superpower’s rival. The best course of action is for outsider to form unified support for the African Union and give that organization real teeth.
2. North and South Korea
Since August of 1945, there’s been an ongoing conflict between North and South Korea. In the early 1950s, the Korean War pushed peninsular violence to its zenith, until a stalemate was declared in 1953. Since then, fighting has continued in the form of words and sporadic violence along the ironically-named Demilitarized Zone. In that time, North Korea has become something no one could’ve seen coming — the world’s only Communist Stalinist state with dynastic family rule. Even a widespread famine after the fall of the Soviet Union, taking much of the DPRK’s subsidized food away, couldn’t topple the Kim Regime.
Eventually, South Korea became a worldwide economic powerhouse and a regional military hegemon (with the unquestioned, continued support of the United States). Now, at a point where a conventional war could easily reunite the peninsula under the South Korean flag, North Korea leveled the playing field with tactical nuclear weapons that could keep the war of words going for another 60-plus years.
The slight warming of relations at the 2018 Olympic Games notwithstanding, North Korea is seemingly immune to economic sanctions, so threats of war and violence are often the only way to bring any attention to the conflict.
1. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
This is an ongoing conflict that has seen many potential ends-in-sight but narrowly averted them in order to continue the status quo. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not so much a war for independence as it is a divorce: both sides want the house and the car and the kids, but neither side is willing to concede anything or negotiate in real earnestness.
Not only has this been a conflict brewing since the British promised the land known today as Israel to both Jewish and Muslim Palestinians, any attempt at mediation has either led to widespread opposition, unintended consequences, or, even worse, an excuse for violence in the region against innocent Israelis and Palestinian civilians.
The latest moves by the Trump administration extend the divorce metaphor further: Now that Judge Trump gave Israel the house (Jerusalem), most people in the West Bank believe they are further from a two-state solution than ever before.