HONG KONG – The eighteenth-century German military strategist Carl von Clausewitz defined war as the continuation of politics by different means, and, like the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, believed that securing peace meant preparing for violent conflict. As the world becomes increasingly tumultuous – apparent in the revival of military struggle in Ukraine, continued chaos in the Middle East, and rising tensions in East Asia – such thinking could not be more relevant.
Wars are traditionally fought over territory. But the definition of territory has evolved to incorporate five domains: land, air, sea, space, and, most recently, cyberspace. These dimensions of “CLASS war” define the threats facing the world today. The specific triggers, objectives, and battle lines of such conflicts are likely to be determined, to varying degrees, by five factors: creed, clan, culture, climate, and currency. Indeed, these factors are already fueling conflicts around the world.
Religion, or creed, is among history’s most common motives for war, and the twenty-first century is no exception. Consider the proliferation of jihadist groups, such as the Islamic State, which continues to seize territory in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram, which has been engaged in a brutal campaign of abductions, bombings, and murder in Nigeria. There have also been violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar and southern Thailand, and between Islamists and Catholics in the Philippines.
The second factor – clan – is manifested in rising ethnic tensions in Europe, Turkey, India, and elsewhere, driven by forces like migration and competition for jobs. In Africa, artificial borders that were drawn by colonial powers are becoming untenable, as different tribes and ethnic groups attempt to carve out their own territorial spaces. And the conflict in Ukraine mobilizes the long-simmering frustration felt by ethnic Russians who were left behind when the Soviet Union collapsed.