China’s failing satellite is just one example of a massive space debris problem

 March 29 at 11:36 AM 
Chinese satellite will soon come crashing down into Earth

The Tiangong-1 satellite is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere uncontrolled around April 1. This is what it would look like. 

BERLIN — If you want to catch a last glimpse of Chinese satellite Tiangong-1, you better hurry. Circling the Earth at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour every 90 minutes, the 19,000-pound satellite will probably have vanished by the end of this weekend, to reappear as a fireball for up to a minute or more somewhere over the skies of southern Europe — or perhaps somewhere else.

While nobody can be certain where exactly the disintegrating satellite may literally fall from the sky — with pieces weighing up to 220 pounds expected to hit Earth’s surface — the satellite’s fate has long been sealed. Even if you miss this one, scientists say there’s plenty more to come in the junk-strewn skies of our planet’s near orbit.

The first warning signs for the Chinese station came in 2016 when it failed to respond to commands by its operators. Tiangong-1, which translates as “heavenly palace,” would eventually, according to my colleagues, turn “into a man-made” meteor.

In its latest estimate, the European Space Agency (ESA) predicts the satellite pieces will probably hit Earth “from midday on 31 March to the early afternoon of 1 April (in UTC time).” UTC is ahead of Eastern Time by four hours. The estimate will continue to be updated by ESA over the next days.

While the threat of the debris hitting a human is extremely small, the drama that could unfold over Europe’s skies this weekend may be only be a first glimpse into a problem that will worsen over the next decades, according to some bleak predictions.

The European Space Agency estimates that there are now more than 170 million pieces of space debris in circulation, though only 29,000 of those are larger than about four inches. While the smaller space debris objects may not pose a threat to Earth because they would disintegrate before reaching the surface, “any of these objects can cause harm to an operational spacecraft. For example, a collision with a (four-inch) object would entail a catastrophic fragmentation of a typical satellite,” according to the European Space Agency. Smaller pieces could still destroy spacecraft systems or penetrate shields, possibly making bigger satellites such as Tiangong-1 unresponsive and turning them into massive pieces of debris themselves.

Since the first satellites were launched in the mid-20th century, Earth’s orbit has long been treated by nations as a waste site nobody felt responsible for. Spent rockets or old satellites now mingle with other pieces of trash left behind by human space programs. All of those pieces zoom around faster than speeding bullets.

Watch man-made objects journey from the outer solar system back to Earth

Journey from our solar system to Earth and explore the man-made objects along the way.

And while the international community is gradually becoming more aware of the challenges this poses, much of the damage is already done.

Speaking at a conference in 2011, Gen. William Shelton, a commander with the U.S. Air Force Space Command, predicted much of the orbit around Earth “may be a pretty tough neighborhood … in the not too distant future,” according to the astronomy news website The U.S. military and NASA are both in charge of perhaps the most elaborate scheme to track objects bigger than four inches to predict their flight paths and move active equipment out of the way.

The problem, Shelton indicated at the time, is that there’s already enough debris in space to cause an exponential rise in the number of circulating pieces. The more pieces there are, the higher the likelihood that they will eventually collide, creating even more smaller objects that can still be dangerous to other satellites or space labs.

On Earth, ecosystems can sometimes fix themselves to some extent, even if it takes decades or hundreds of years. But in space, the problem of debris will only get worse.

One proposed solution would be to persuade nations to limit their debris and to prevent a repeat of past mistakes. China, for example, is estimated to have produced up to 25 percent of today’s objects in circulation during an antisatellite test in 2007 in the low Earth orbit.

On these NASA graphics, you can see why the international community was outraged when China added to that zone’s debris density. Congestion isn’t spread evenly around Earth: While there are some scattered pieces farther away, there is a concentration of objects within the so-called geosynchronous region, at about 22,235 miles altitude.

This computer graphic provides a view of the object population in the geosynchronous region. (NASA)

But the highest density of objects can be found in low Earth orbit — within 1,240 miles of our planet — which is the area China targeted in its test. That’s also where most satellites can be found.

This computer graphic shows objects in low Earth orbit being tracked. (NASA)

China has continued its military missile tests since 2007, although it has refrained from destroying another satellite in orbit. Observers still fear that other nations may launch their own antisatellite programs, provoking a sort of arms race in space.

With more than 50 nations now operating their own space programs, initiatives to limit the release of space debris have hardly become any easier. Some technological advances have had a limited impact — for instance by making spent rocket boosters fall back to Earth quicker than in the past. (Following that rationale, one could argue that this weekend’s satellite crash may in fact help to decongest the orbit.) Meanwhile, other nations, such as Britain and Switzerland, have experimented with schemes to clean up the mess by collecting the debris in circulation. But the proposed programs are costly and inefficient, legal challenges aside.

“There are no salvage laws in space. Even if we had the political will to [salvage junk], which I don’t think we do, we couldn’t bring down the big pieces because we don’t own them,” Joan Johnson-Freese, a Naval War College professor, told The Washington Post in 2014.

That’s why some academics are arguing that the lower orbit might soon be lost altogether. Instead, they believe, scientists should develop smaller satellites that can circulate closer to Earth — and in a safe distance from a part of the orbit that may eventually become a satellite kill zone.

How much to mine bitcoin? Mapping the world’s most affordable countries

How much to mine bitcoin? Mapping the world’s most affordable countries
The number of cryptocurrencies in the world has risen above 2,000 to date, with new ones appearing almost every week. However, bitcoin is still the leader when it comes to price and popularity.

In the midst of the recent bitcoin fever, many have been tempted to take their savings from under the mattress and join the ranks of crypto-investors. Other crypto-enthusiasts have acquired the necessary equipment to start mining bitcoin from home.

The idea of just plugging your computer or a specially designed mining farm into the internet and creating money out of thin air sounds extremely attractive for many people across the world. But what expenses can arise out of mining process? How much does it cost to mine bitcoin, and where on Earth can we find the cheapest place to start mining?

Researchers from lighting and furniture firm, Elite Fixtures, have analyzed differences in the price of electricity across the world and declared Venezuela the cheapest place for mining. To create one bitcoin token, you’ll need just about $530. The figure is less than half of what you’ll have to pay in the second-cheapest country on the list, Trinidad and Tobago, where it costs $1,190. In Uzbekistan, which is in the third place, a miner will shell out a significantly higher cost of nearly $1,790 to mine a single bitcoin.

Here are the least-expensive places where crypto-enthusiasts could go to mine bitcoin:

South Korea, one of the world’s biggest digital currency markets, has also been called the most expensive state for mining. It will cost you $26,170 to produce one bitcoin there, which is more than twice the present-day value of the world’s number-one digital currency.

Almost all of the top-20 states with the most expensive electricity were in Western Europe or were island nations in the Pacific. Niue, a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, was the second-most unprofitable country for mining, where it costs $17,566 to generate a single bitcoin. Bahrain was ranked third. In this Arabian Gulf country, a miner will shell out $16,773 to make one bitcoin.

Here are the most expensive countries to avoid if you want to launch your own mining farm:

The report analyzed prices for electricity from 115 different countries. The researchers also used data provided by three popular cryptocurrency-mining rigs, including the AntMiner S7, the AntMiner S9, and the Avalon 6.

Courtesy: RT

Trade wars and real wars: another perspective on the world economy

Going by growth forecasts, this is a pretty good time for the world economy. Yet a new report warns of big risks, some of which are already coming to bear through US trade policy and stock market jitters.

China Trump auf erster Asien-Reise (picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Harnik)

If positive global economic growth forecasts are what really get you going, then what a time this is to be alive.

The most recent global growth forecasts from the heavy hitters — the IMF, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and so on — talk of “buoyancy” and “sustained upswings”, of “cyclical pickup” and “rising sentiment”.

Global growth rates of between 3 and 4 percent, rising all the time in 2018 and 2019 — what’s not to love?

Plenty, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a global business intelligence research and analysis group that regularly assesses major risks to global economic health.

The unit has published what it determines to be the top 10 risks to the global economy over the next two years. For those high on optimism, it makes for sobering reading.

Using a metric combining the probability of a given event with the severity of its impact, the report says the two gravest threats to world economic health over the next two years come from the USA.

Watch video01:36

The growing global economy

One is a possible prolonged collapse in global stock markets, regarded as having the same level of risk as a global trade war precipitated by US protectionist policies — something which looks increasing likely after US President Donald Trump announced stringent new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Watching for the tide to go out

“They are both risks that we think have a decent chance of happening, maybe a 20 or 30 percent chance,” Philip Walker, the editor of the report, told Deutsche Welle. “They would have a severely detrimental impact on the global economy and would lower global GDP significantly.”

At the start of February, global stock markets plunged on the back of stronger-than-expected US jobs figures, which had led to fears over inflation.

“The US stock markets are incredibly sensitive to any data that points towards a quicker rate of monetary tightening than they are currently factoring in,” explained Walker.

He says that a period of “great uncertainty” is ahead for the next few months, particularly because of the growing expectation that the US Federal Reserve will normalize its monetary policy and increase interest rates, with other major treasuries around the world, such as the ECB, likely to follow.

Many of the positive global growth forecasts stem from these expectations, but the EIU’s risk practice director says there is “a certain frothiness” to much of this, particularly when it comes to company valuations.

USA Wall Street - Finanzmärkte in Panik (picture alliance/dpa/XinHua)EPReport editor Philip Walker says a period of “great uncertainty” is ahead for stock markets

“How many companies have been able to keep going because they have been able to access funds so cheaply?” he asks. “How many, when the tide retreats a little bit, are going to be left highly exposed?

Meddling with the forces of nature

The probability of a global trade war, rated at around 30 percent by the EIU, has surely increased in the last 24 hours. The announcement that the USA will charge tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum has sparked outrage from several key US trade partners.

Trump’s response, via a tweet, that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” is unlikely to sow union.

When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!

The report outlines two distinct, short-term risks with regard to global trade. One is the kind outlined above, that the Trump rhetoric of 2016 and 2017 — largely aimed at China — will turn into action in 2018, as it seems it already has.

The second is the possibility that the USA will pull out of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), something which would have a deep global impact, according to Philip Walker.

Watch video02:06

US tariffs could spark trade war

“We are in a situation where global supply chains are so much interlinked, this (NAFTA threat) isn’t just a North American issue, or an America-China issue — it is global,” he says.

What is clear, according to this report, is that the primary risk around global trade relates to how China will react to US protectionist policies. So far, the reaction from the world’s second largest economy to the US policy shifts of 2018 has been relatively measured.

On January’s decision to slap tariffs on washing machines and solar panels, Beijing’s Commerce Ministry’s said it would collaborate with the WTO to defend its interests. On steel and aluminum — which China does not import in big volume to the US — the reaction was notably chilled.

“Nothing can be done about Trump. We are already numb to him,” said Li Xinchuang of the China Iron and Steel Association.

“If China were to react disproportionately” warns Walker, “or if the US were to react incredibly disproportionately, that is how you could see that very quickly magnifying into a wider trade issue.”

Nuclear threats, cyberattacks, proxy wars

Plenty of other threats to global economic stability abound, some more likely, and indeed more chilling, than others.

Many of the other risks relate to overt war. The third highest relates to the possibility of hostilities breaking out in the South China Sea over territorial disputes, with China claiming territorial waters as far south as the Malaysian coast.

Bildergalerie Jahresrückblick 2017 International (Reuters/KCNA)Tensions are high on the Korean Peninsula

Then there’s the possibility of something dramatic happening on the Korean Peninsula, where the North Korean nuclear program continues to stoke major tensions. The EIU sees this as a low probability event, with South China Sea hostilities seen as significantly more likely.

Then there are fears over the possibility of outright war between Middle Eastern rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose long-running geopolitical dispute has prompted several proxy wars in the region and an increasing polarization over where different countries’ loyalties lie.

Other risks identified by the EIU are:

  • A major cyberattack crippling corporate or government activities
  • China suffering a prolonged economic downturn
  • Oil prices falling if the current OPEC deal breaks down
  • Multiple countries withdrawing from the eurozone

Risky business

It’s not all doom and gloom. There is one “positive” risk, namely the chance of global growth surging above 4 percent. But the overall picture points to danger lurking around most corners.

The EIU assess the top ten global risks once a month, but it has decided to publish the latest findings as it believes the global economy is facing its highest level of risk in several years.

Read more: In Davos, the world’s elite are optimistic

“What we see over the last few months is this disconnect between the global economic story and the global geopolitical and financial risk story,” explains Walker.

Watch video02:13

Cyberattacks, drought, natural disasters among biggest global risks

Unemployment may be low, inflation may be seemingly under control and economic forecasts are positive but behind all that, there is a sense in this report that major tectonic plates, especially in the US-China relationship, are shifting.

“Around these changing relationships, we are seeing so many potentially devastating risks crop up but yet we have this bright economic picture. It’s that disconnect that we wanted to try and give voice to in this report,” says Walker.

“There are major risks at play. We are not saying any of them are certainly going to happen but for the companies, governments and organizations that use us, we want to help them prepare for a world in which something catastrophic does happen.”


Populism is eroding human rights across the world, says Amnesty International

The human rights watchdog has published its annual report, urging more human rights protections. Amnesty has warned that “hate-filled rhetoric” from US President Donald Trump and others has eroded human rights globally.

Watch video04:19

New Amnesty report – DW exlusive with AI’s Markus Beeko

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Thursday published its annual report, warning of increased violations across the globe.

Amnesty International’s David Griffiths told DW that they made a conscious choice to release the report in Washington, given “how President (Donald) Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric has translated into reality.”

“There are complex links between human rights abuses and social inequality,” Griffiths added. “But one of the ways we see them connected is how many leaders have exploited people’s fears about economic fragility in order to promote hatred and fear.”

Read more: Is Europe doing enough to protect human rights?

But the United States isn’t the only place to witness a dangerous erosion of human rights due to populist leaders. Across the globe, Amnesty said, political leaders have used divisive rhetoric to shore up support for their causes, including in Turkey, Hungary and Myanmar.

Defenders targeted

The report said that at least 312 human rights activists were killed in 2017 because of their work. Journalists and media workers are increasingly being targeted by state actors, it noted.

Griffiths said the number of human rights defenders killed in 2017 marked an “increase on the previous year.”

Read more: EU launches initiative to ban trade of torture products

“But it is not just killing; it is also intimidation and smears and harassment, making life very difficult for those who choose to stand up for human rights,” he said. “And those threats are coming from lots of different places, whether it is governments or armed groups or companies or others.”

70 years since Universal Declaration

The report called on Germany to do more at the international level to defend human rights, especially for the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told DW that the human rights situation is “getting alarmingly worse in many places” across the globe.

“It seems people are forgetting it now, and that’s very worrying because then you risk a repeat of many of the awful things that have happened in not-so-distant history,” Colville said.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, backed by 48 of the 58 UN member states in 1948, was created in response to the atrocities committed during World War II.

“The anniversary this year is a critical opportunity to try and reclaim those values that are articulated so beautifully in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the idea of the fundamental dignity and equality of every member of the human family,” Griffiths said.

Watch video02:03

Rohingya crisis – pictures keep memories alive


Legacy of 1968 protests: How a leftist revolution helped capitalists win

Slavoj Žižek
Slavoj Žižek is a cultural philosopher. He’s a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University, and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London.
Legacy of 1968 protests: How a leftist revolution helped capitalists win
The May 1968 protest movement changed the western world. Now, almost 50 years later, it’s clear a supposedly leftist movement ultimately helped capitalism to dominate.

Although an immense abyss separates the social revolution of the 1960s from today’s protests, we are witnessing a similar re-appropriation of the energy of revolt by the capitalist system.

One of the well-known graffiti slogans on the Paris walls of ‘68 was: “structures do not walk on the streets,” meaning one couldn’t explain the large student and workers demonstrations of ’68 in the terms of structuralism. And this is why some historians even posit 1968 as a date that separates structuralism from post-structuralism which was, so the story goes, much more dynamic and prone to active political interventions.

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s answer was that this, precisely, is what happened in 1968: structures DID descend onto the streets – the visible explosive events were ultimately the result of a structural shift in the basic social and symbolic texture of modern Europe.

Light My Fire

The consequences of the ‘68 explosion prove him right. What effectively happened in the aftermath of the ‘68 was the rise of a new figure of the “spirit of capitalism.” Indeed, the system abandoned the Fordist centralized structure of the production process and developed a network-based form of organization founded on employee initiative and autonomy in the workplace.

Thus, instead of hierarchical-centralized chains of command, we now have networks with a multitude of participants, organizing work in the form of teams or projects. Which are intent on customer satisfaction, and a general mobilization of workers thanks to their leaders’ vision. This new “spirit of capitalism” triumphantly recuperated the egalitarian and anti-hierarchical rhetoric of 1968, presenting itself as a successful libertarian revolt against the oppressive social organizations of corporate capitalism AND “really-existing” socialism.

The two phases of this new “cultural capitalism” are clearly discernible in the stylistic changes within advertising. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was the direct reference to personal authenticity or the quality of experience that predominated, while later, one can note more and more the mobilization of socio-ideological motifs (such as ecology and social solidarity). In fact, the experience referred to is the experience of being part of a larger collective movement, of caring for nature and the welfare of the ill, poor and deprived, and of doing something for them.

Helping Hands?

For instance, here is a case of this “ethical capitalism” brought to the extreme: Toms Shoes, a company founded in 2006 on a premise: with every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. “One for One.” Using the purchasing power of individuals to benefit the greater good is what we’re all about.

Because among the planet’s 7.6 billion people, four billion live in conditions inconceivable to many at the top of the tree. But now the sin of consumerism (buying a new pair of shoes) can be atoned for and thereby erased by the awareness that one of those who really needs shoes received another pair free of charge. Meaning the very act of participating in consumerist activities is simultaneously presented as participating in the struggle against the evils ultimately caused by capitalist consumerism.

In a similar way, many other aspects of ‘68 were successfully integrated into the hegemonic capitalist ideology and are today mobilized not only by liberals, but also by contemporary Right, in their struggle against any form of “socialism.” For example, “freedom of choice” is used as an argument for the benefits of precarious work. So, forget the anxieties of not being sure how you will survive the next few years and focus instead on the fact that you gain the freedom to “reinvent” yourself again and again, to avoid being stuck to the same monotonous work.

Utter Upheaval

The 1968 protest focused its struggle against (what were perceived as) the three pillars of capitalism: factory, school and family. As a result, each domain was submitted to post-industrial transformation. Leading to factory-work becoming more and more outsourced or, in the developed world, reorganized along the post-Fordist non-hierarchical interactive team-work. Meanwhile, permanent flexible privatized education is more and more replacing universal public education and multiple forms of flexible sexual arrangements are replacing the traditional family.

At the same time, the Left lost in its very victory: the direct enemy was defeated, but replaced by a new form of even more direct capitalist domination. In “postmodern” capitalism, the market is invading new spheres which were hitherto considered the privileged domain of the state, from education to prisons and security.

When “immaterial work” (like education) is celebrated as the labor which directly produces social relations, one should not forget what this means within a commodity-economy. That new domains, hitherto excluded from the market, are now commodified. So, when in trouble, we no longer talk to a friend but pay a psychiatrist or councilor to take care of the problem. And instead of parents, paid baby-sitters and educators take care of children.

Heavy Burden

One should, of course, not forget the real achievements of ‘68. The movement opened up a radical change in how we treat women’s rights, homosexuality and racism. After the glorious 60s, we simply cannot engage in public racism and homophobia the way we still could in the 1950s. Thus, ‘68 was not a single event but an ambiguous one in which different political tendencies were combined: this is why it also remained a thorn in the heel of many conservatives.

Nicholas Sarkozy admitted it when he said in his electoral campaign in 2007 that his great task was to make France finally get over ‘68. One should, of course, not miss the irony of this remark: the fact that Sarkozy, with his clownish outbursts and marriage to Carla Bruni, can be the French President is in itself one of the outcomes of the changes in customs brought about by May ‘68.

So we have the legacy of “their” May ‘68 and “our” May ‘68. In today’s predominant collective memory, “our” basic idea of the May demonstrations in Paris and the link between student protests and worker’s strikes, is forgotten. The true legacy of ‘68 resides in its rejection of the liberal-capitalist system, in a NO to the totality of it best encapsulated in the formula: Soyons realistes, demandons l’impossible!

The true utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely and that the only way to be truly “realist” is to endorse what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossible. The fidelity to May ‘68 is thus best expressed by the question: how are we to prepare for this radical change and to lay the foundations for it?


[Several sections of this article have been excerpted from previous publications by Slavoj Žižek.]


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy: RT

Why the sun will soon get dimmer

By 2050, our sun is expected to be unusually cool.

It’s what scientists have termed a “grand minimum” — a particularly low point in what is otherwise a steady 11-year cycle.

Over this cycle, the sun’s tumultuous heart races and rests.

At its high point, the nuclear fusion at the sun’s core forces more magnetic loops high into its boiling atmosphere — ejecting more ultraviolet radiation and generating sunspots and flares.

When it’s quiet, the sun’s surface goes calm. It ejects less ultraviolet radiation.

Now scientists have scoured the skies and history for evidence of an even greater cycle amid these cycles.


One particularly cool period in the 17th century guided their research.

An intense cold snap between 1645 and 1715 has been dubbed the “Maunder Minimum.”

Chief astronomer and director of the Franklin Institute Planetarium Derrick Pitts explains what can be learned

In England, the Thames river froze over. The Baltic Sea was covered in ice — so much so that the Swedish army was able to march across it to invade Denmark in 1658.

But the cooling was not uniform: Distorted weather patterns warmed up Alaska and Greenland.

These records were combined with 20 years of data collected by the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite mission, as well as observations of nearby stars similar to the sun.

Now physicist Dan Lubin at the University of California San Diego has calculated an estimate of how much dimmer the sun is likely to be when the next such grand minimum takes place.

His team’s study, “Ultraviolet Flux Decrease Under a Grand Minimum from IUE Short-wavelength Observation of Solar Analogs,” has been published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

It finds the sun is likely to be 7 percent cooler than its usual minimum.

And another grand minimum is likely to be just decades away, based on the cooling spiral of recent solar cycles.


A quiet sun has a noticeable effect on its planets.

For Earth, Lubin says it first thins the stratospheric ozone layer.

Report: U.S. economy lost an estimated $694 million because people were focusing on the historic event

This impacts the insulating effect of the atmosphere, with flow-on effects including major changes to wind and weather patterns.

But it won’t stop the current trend of planetary warning, Lubin warns.

“The cooling effect of a grand minimum is only a fraction of the warming effect caused by the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” a statement from the research team reads.

“After hundreds of thousands of years of CO2 levels never exceeding 300 parts per million in air, the concentration of the greenhouse gas is now over 400 parts per million, continuing a rise that began with the Industrial Revolution.”

One simulation of a grand minimum on the Earth’s current climate anticipates a reduction of solar warming by 0.25 percent over a 50-year period between 2020 and 2070.

While the global average surface air temperature appears to cool by “several tenths of a degree Celsius” in the initial years, this reduction was rapidly overtaken by ever-increasing trends.

“A future grand solar minimum could slow down but not stop global warming,” the study finds.

“Now we have a benchmark from which we can perform better climate model simulations,” Lubin says. “We can therefore have a better idea of how changes in solar UV radiation affect climate change.”

This story originally appeared in

Courtesy: RT

‘World on the brink,’ warns Munich Security Report

With the US’s international role waning, Europe must define its own future, says a highly anticipated report. This assessment sets the agenda for leaders in the run-up to Germany’s pre-eminent conference on security.

Helicopter with a rising full moon in the background

Security experts are rarely optimists and security reports rarely optimistic. That holds true for the latest Munich Security Report published on Thursday. Titled “To the Brink — and Back?” it forecasts a new era of uncertainty on the horizon.

“In the last year, the world has gotten closer — much too close — to the brink of a significant conflict,” wrote Munich Security Conference (MSC) Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger, who has served as Germany’s former ambassador to the US and UK.

Ischinger pointed to ever-louder saber rattling between the US and North Korea, the growing rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and ongoing tensions between Russia and NATO in Europe.

Read more: Germany’s Angela Merkel needs a Donald Trump strategy

American ‘sabotage’

The latest MSC report followed up on last year’s forecast that the United States under President Donald Trump could forfeit its established role as the guarantor of international security by acting unilaterally and furthering an American-centric vision at the cost of its traditional allies.

Under Trump, the US has given up on policies based on shared values, showing little interest in developing regional or global institutions that shape international relations, and instead favoring bilateral ties that serves its own interests, according to the report’s assessment.

That attitude goes hand-in-hand with the White House’s lack of interest in advancing diplomacy. The budget at the US State Department has been mercilessly slashed since Trump came into office while defense spending has increased significantly.

“The world’s most powerful state has begun to sabotage the order it created,” the report said, quoting John Ikenberry, a US foreign policy expert at Princeton University.

A new era for Europe

For Europeans, the US’s policy shift means doing more to provide for their own security, including rethinking defense spending, streamlining capabilities and defining a defense union.

If EU member states and Norway would abide by NATO’s so-called “2-percent rule” and invest 2 percent of their GDP in defense, it would translate into a spending increase of nearly 50 percent, taking total expenditures up to roughly $386 billion (€314 billion).

But if the EU’s militaries are to become more efficient, they will need to become better connected. The report’s authors pointed to what they describe as the “interconnectedness and digitization gap” in Europe. However, to close this gap, EU countries would need to commit even more funds. Meanwhile, a consolidation of Europe’s scattered defense industry would be crucial to securing the continent’s own capabilities.

Read more: What would Europe’s ‘fate’ be without the US?

Even with such challenges, the report managed to identify a few positives on the horizon. One is that European states are growing closer to one another in some respects. For instance, 25 states have decided to coordinate their defense and security policy on an EU-wide basis in what is known as the Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO.

Meanwhile, France and Germany have declared their desire to design and build a new generation of fighter aircraft. Moreover, the idea of a joint European army has found a major supporter in French President Emmanuel Macron.

The report quotes German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a reminder of Europe’s newfound predicament: “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over … We Europeans will have to take our fate into our own hands.”

Climate change, conflict, migration

While the report detailed traditional and non-traditional threats to liberal order and international relations, it noted that climate change should continue to be a major factor when states consider security risks. The report pointed out that 2017, which was one of the hottest years ever recorded was marked by catastrophic storms, droughts and floods.

Moreover, the US’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and its decision to remove climate change as a security threat from its latest National Security Strategy (NSS) is a step in the wrong direction, according to the report.

Climate change’s impact on international relations will also go beyond natural disasters. “While climate change will affect economic, security and political systems all over the world, it will mainly act as a ‘threat multiplier’ in those states with limited capacities to deal with it,” the report said.

Read more: The world at 3 degrees: What it means for five cities

Notably, low-income countries will be hit hardest. Climate disasters, especially droughts, will continue to have a knock-on effect, especially in parts of Asia and Africa, where it has the potential to fuel conflict and, consequently, displacement.

For Europe, which has witnessed hundreds of thousands of migrants make the dangerous journey from Africa to its shores each year since 2015, that means taking decisive action on how to re-position its development strategy south of the Mediterranean.

Understanding the interconnected nature of today’s threats and how to stop them from snowballing will continue to be a core challenge for the international community, especially in the years to come.


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