As a new feature for TopTenz, this list recaps the ten more important developments in world news from the past month that all world citizens really need to be aware of. This list will countdown the top ten key international developments in a concise manner so that readers understand the key points of what happened and why these events are important. Think of this list as something of a study guide of the history of this past month and what it means for the coming year. This list will focus on historically significant events (no, getting duped in an online girlfriend hoax does not really have long-term ramifications as the entries on this list does!). For each entry on this list, I have provided a recommended external link where you can further educate yourself on the topic and why it is significant. You may notice that I selected articles for a variety of news sources. As a historian, I prefer to review multiple sources rather than any one source when writing and researching a topic. I encourage you to do the same so as to avoid reading only one biased account of things. It is good to understand the world from the perspective of people with different cultural, gender, and religions backgrounds than ourselves.
10. Queen Beatrix announced that after over thirty years as queen she will abdicate the Dutch throne at the end of April.
While modern constitutionalist European monarchs may seem largely politically impotent compared to the absolutist monarchs of the early modern era, they do represent long traditions that have been with humanity for generations. The Dutch monarchy dates back to 16 March 1815, although a Napoleonic Kingdom of Holland also existed earlier from 1806 to 1810. At its height, the Kingdom of Netherlands had colonies around the world and as such, it has established tremendous cultural influences well beyond Europe. Although the Dutch have lost many of their colonies, they still retain Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten. As such, the resignation of Queen Beatrix is a changing of the guard if you will in one of history’s most influential civilizations that still has political, economic, and cultural influence in Europe and the Caribbean. For more information on this important story, please see source.
9. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office urged British nationals to leave the Libyan city of Benghazi immediately due to a “specific and imminent” threat to Westerners.
As we saw last year with the death of an American diplomat in Libya, the ouster of the self-proclaimed King of Kings of Africa (you know who I mean!) did not result in all roses and sunshine in Libya. Factional fighting has continued for the past year and has cost over a thousand lives. This conflict has already resulted in foreign deaths, including of four Americans and continues to burn in an already war torn region. North Africa has been in a state of almost non-stop crisis since the Arab Spring began and now we have continuing violence in Mali, Libya, and Egypt, while in the nearby Middle East the Syrian Civil War has finally caused Israel to act with a military strike. As such, we are looking at a potential strip of the world stretching from Mali in West Africa all the way to Pakistan in Asia in which Islamist militants of different ideologies threaten to engulf this massive region of the world in a broad and diverse conflict with no immediate end in sight. The longer these conflicts persist, the more lives lost, the greater cultural treasures destroyed, the increased likelihood of an economic toll, and the further risk to the lives of Americans, Europeans, and others attempting diplomacy or even military intervention into these conflicts. For more information on this important story, please see source.
8. At least 24 militants were killed in clashes between the Tehrik-e-Taliban and Ansarul Islam in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan, while a suicide bombing at a market in the Afghan city of Kunduz killed at least ten people and wounded up to twenty others.
Yes, despite the death of Osama bin Laden, the war in Afghanistan and neighboring North-West Pakistan still rages. This conflict has continued since 2001 and has resulted in close to 15,000 civilian casualties, nearly 15,000 coalition casualties, and an unknown but sizable number of Taliban and its terrorist allies killed and wounded as well. The war is one of America’s longest and represents yet another era of bloody conflict for that long-war torn region of the world. Moreover, that it involves nuclear armed Pakistan and that Afghanistan borders American’s critic Iran, it just serves as yet another potential source for further disasters to come. Just keep in mind that at the same time while this conflict continues involving Islamic terrorists and America, tensions between Israel and Syria as well as Israel and Iran remain incredibly intense and as such if a major war broke out that pitted Israel against Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran and it extended to include the United States, one would have to think America having forces in Iran’s neighbor Afghanistan would certainly come into play. For more information on this important story, please see source.
7. Two people were killed in clashes between protesters and police on the edge of Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The Egyptian Revolution did not simply end with the fall of former president Mubarak. In fact, not many revolutions just end with one man’s deposition. England faced serious violent problems well after Charles I’s beheading as did France after the execution of Louis XVI. Thus, in these various Arab Spring countries, ongoing violence remains a critical concern and a threat for further destabilizing in strategically and culturally important locales. Egypt has many historic treasures that can be damaged in any ongoing instability, not to mention that it is the host country of the Suez Canal and borders former enemy Israel. A situation spiraling out of control in Egypt therefore threatens the border between Asia and Africa. For more information on this important story, please see source.
6. French troops took over Timbuktu Airport as they entered the city without any resistance from the Islamists.
Egypt is not the only crisis zone in Africa. The fleeing Islamists set on fire the Timbuktu library containing the Timbuktu Manuscripts. The extent of the damage is still unknown. Yet, from videos, such as those seen at http://corpun.com/vidmlj01.htm it is clear that the Islamists in Mali are brutalizing both people and historic archives as well. These developments are important for a variety of reasons. First, the book burning deprives us of our knowledge of history. Second, the French intervention in one of its former colonies reflects continued French military influence on the world stage. Third, the ongoing and increasingly disturbing tensions are exactly the kinds of things that could draw in further intervention by other countries (see below). For more information on this important story, please see source.
Meanwhile, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland announced it will deploy 330 military personnel to Mali and other West African countries in support of French forces operating in the area. Indeed, as expected, France’s ally Britain is indeed coming to help in this expanding crisis. The fact that two major European powers are intervening could be indicative of things to come in the sense that other countries, such as the United States of America might be drawn into the crisis. The conflict already involves a host of other countries beyond France and Britain and has resulted in hundreds of deaths, including spilling over into neighboring Algeria where a hostage crisis ended with 11 militants and 7 hostages killed. This even therefore has the potential to become more than just a civil war as it draws in intervention from other world powers and causes violence in bordering countries as well. For more information on this aspect of this important story, please see source.
5. Prime Minister Shinz? Abe of Japan vowed to defend the Senkaku Islands “at all costs” in a speech aimed at the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
The above headline refers to the The Senkaku Islands dispute between China, Taiwan, and Japan. China and Taiwan claim that Japan seized these islands during the 1895 Sino-Japanese War as an illegal act of military imperialism. Japan, however, claims that they have had these islands for over a hundred years and formally purchased them from their private owner in September 2012. Since mid-January, Japan and China have had considerable diplomatic tensions over the islands and although things seemed to cool later in January, just this past week, we had the Prime Minister issue the above statement. Obviously, an actual confrontation between the world’s most populous country that is also a nuclear power to boot (China) versus one of the most economically significant countries in the world (Japan) would have cataclysmic consequences for the world. There is no way that a war involving China, Japan, and/or Taiwan would not have ripples for just about the entire world’s economies, let alone the threat of escalation. I am not sure how likely an actual war is here versus in the Middle East which is why I did not rank it higher, but if a war did break out, it has the potential to be something we would shudder to imagine. Please see such articles as http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/feb/3/china-japan-war-would-imperil-entire-region/ for a sense of why this dispute over essentially uninhabited islands matters!
4. Iran’s state news agency announced that the Iranian Space Agency successfully sent a monkey into space aboard the Pishgam rocket.
Yes, the monkey reportedly came back okay. What makes this development worth knowing is simply that someone capable of launching a rocket into space can arguably send rockets against other countries. Iran of course is not exactly a friend of the nearby country Israel nor of American forces in Afghanistan. As such, as they continue to develop rocket technology, both Israelis and Americans alike are become increasingly concerned with what they might do with their rockets. 2012 was a year filled with talks of possible Israeli or even American strikes on suspected nuclear sites in Iran. Advances in Iranian technology could further encourage such preemptive strikes or conversely could mean that in an Iranian attack against Israeli or American forces the Iranians may have the means to do an unfortunate amount of damage. If we are lucky, it could just represent another advancement in humanity’s efforts to explore space, but we should not be so optimistic as to be naïve. For more information on this important story, please see source.
3. South Korean media reports claim that North Korea has been placed under martial law with another nuclear test considered to be imminent.
Obviously, any time Koreans rattle their sabers, the world gasps. Both halves of the Korean Peninsula have been rivals for decades now and fears on another Korean War seem to always loom over that particular peninsula. Only this time, the North now possesses at least a few nuclear weapons. The danger here is of course yet another case of potential escalation and a possible foreshadowing of the horrors to come. If nothing else, a nuclear test by the North would be another reminder of just how dangerous that largely isolated country is and what a second Korean War might entail, namely it potentially being a nuclear war. Few manmade things could have more consequences for humanity than a nuclear war. For more information on this important story, please see source.
2. Israeli forces attacked an arms convoy on the Lebanon–Syria border overnight destined from Syria to Hezbollah.
Here we see another potential powder key that is arguably already burning. Any time Israel and any of its Arab neighbors exchange even a small amount of gunfire it has the potential to escalate into something with regional if not global significance due to the importance of Middle Eastern oil and the interest of three major world religions on holy sites in the region. The Syrian Civil War has been raging since the Arab Spring destabilized the region over a year ago. Tens of thousands have died in the conflict and it keeps threatening to involve its various neighbors from Turkey to Iraq and perhaps most critically to Israel. After Israel struck the convoy to prevent Hezbollah terrorists from acquiring weapons, both Syria and Iran have threatened retaliatory strikes on Israel. Should they follow up on those threats, we could have a major regional war on our hands that once again could also draw in the United States. A major war involving Iran will almost assuredly spike up oil prices and cost numerous lives on both sides of the conflict. For more information on this important story, please see source.
1. The United States Senate confirmed John Kerry to become United States Secretary of State by a vote of 94–3.
Kerry succeeds outgoing Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton on February 1 and will inherit the various international crises mentioned above. Given America’s prominent position in the world, the country’s leading diplomat plays a fundamental role in negotiating with other world powers and as such Mr. Kerry will have to contend with a host of political, military, and economic crises currently plaguing our world. The role the United States will play in any of the above mentioned crisis zone whether they be in the Middle East, North Africa, or East Asia. As such, Kerry has a chance to influence the outcome of many of the other above indicated events and accordingly is ranked first for the month of most significant world events. For more information on this important story, please see source.
By Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, FINS and the author of Meteors That Enlighten the Earth: Napoleon and the Cult of Great Me.