“As people faint with fear at the prospect of what is overtaking the world; for the powers in heaven will be shaken” (Luke 21:26, The Complete Jewish Study Bible).
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The International Crisis Group works independently to prevent wars and shape policies that “will build a more peaceful world. Crisis Group sounds the alarm to prevent deadly conflict. Our work is urgently needed as the world is confronted with a dramatic rise in the number of conflicts, with devastating humanitarian, social and economic costs. Efforts to resolve conflicts are complicated by the profound shift in geopolitics, as well as the increasing prominence of non-state actors ranging from religious militants to criminal gangs” (www.crisisgroup.org).
At the beginning of 2018, this group reported:
- A record number of displaced refugees, most coming from three countries devastated by war: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
- At least 70 conflicts involving non-state participants, with the past five years showing worsening trends: more wars, more people killed and civilians increasingly targeted.
A look at the report’s “most ominous threats” follows. (For a detailed analysis of the threats and progress in 2018 toward resolving them, see the appendix following the article.)
- North Korea missile testing—Will North Korea continue to threaten war in the Korean peninsula?
- Saudi Arabia/Iran/U.S. rivalry—Will Saudi Araba continue to be an aggressor in the Middle East as the U.S. increases its aggressive strategy toward Iran?
- The Rohingya Crisis: Myanmar and Bangladesh—Will violence threaten the new democratic transition?
- Yemen—Will famine overtake the country as Saudi Arabia continues to threaten shipping ports?
- Afghanistan—Will the war intensify as the Taliban gain strength?
- Syria—Did Bashar al-Assad authorize the use of chemical weapons against rebels?
- The Sahel region—Can this former region of Sudan stabilize while smugglers and armed groups disrupt civilian life?
- Democratic Republic of Congo—Will President Kabila’s desire to stay in power continue to cause political instability?
- Ukraine—Will relations between Russia and the West deteriorate as Vladimir Putin conducts Russia’s largest military exercises since the fall of the Soviet Union?
- Venezuela—Will the country’s massive inflation continue to erode the oil-rich economy?
A Christian Perspective on World Issues
George Orwell, the author of the book 1984, wrote, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” Today, few want to hear those who represent Jehovah and preach his coming Kingdom. However, we must continue to convey the message of the Kingdom and remember that the battle is not ours, but the Lord’s. To whatever extent He chooses to use us, one person enlisted in the Lord’s service can make a huge difference. David, the shepherd, had no armor and no equipment. He was not battle-tested nor trained as a soldier. Yet he had one great advantage over Goliath—his confidence was not in his own strength but in His God. When Jehovah fights with His people, the enemy is always outnumbered. Let us remember that the task that the Lord sets in front of us is never bigger than the power behind us.
As we enter 2019, let us go forth with confidence that He is in control. No matter how much we see the world’s lack of progress in fixing itself, we know the final outcome. While others may tremble with fear as suggested by our theme text, we should not. The phrase “do not be afraid” appears 365 times in the Bible. It is a daily reminder to live without fear. We aspire to a transformed life. It is a continuous process and all the power it entails comes from Jehovah. As long as the Lord permits things to continue, let us be ambassadors for Christ in every aspect of our lives (2 Corinthians 5:20). Here are six ways we can be an effective ambassador in 2019 and every year after:
- Maintain high integrity
- Be alert to the dignity of others
- Be objective in our judgments
- Be independent from the world in our thinking (based on Biblical principles)
- Focus on the character development of others
- Take an interest in the major problems of the day
“Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10)!
For further reading, see the booklet, “Armageddon, Then World Peace,” found in the Free Booklets section of our website.
APPENDIX—Quotes from the International Crisis Group report and analysis of 2018 progress
- North Korea missile testing—“North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing coupled with the White House’s bellicose rhetoric make the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula — even a catastrophic nuclear confrontation — higher now than at any time in recent history.”
2018 results: In early 2018, North and South Korea began diplomatic relations. On April 27, a week after announcing that the country would freeze weapons and missile testing, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un stepped across the border into South Korea for a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The leaders signed a joint statement pledging to work toward de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula and an official end to the war between the two countries. In March 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump accepted an invitation, delivered by South Korean officials, to meet with Kim Jong-un, after which the two leaders issued a joint statement about denuclearization.
- Saudi-Arabia/Iran/U.S. rivalry—“This rivalry will likely eclipse other Middle Eastern fault lines in 2018. It is enabled and exacerbated by three parallel developments: the consolidation of the authority of Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s assertive crown prince; the Trump administration’s more aggressive strategy toward Iran; and the end of the Islamic State’s territorial control in Iraq and Syria, which allows Washington and Riyadh to aim the spotlight more firmly on Iran.”
2018 results: King Salman condemned the actions of Iran, its rival for influence in the region over conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. But the reputation of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, was battered by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. Reuter’s reported that the king had largely stepped back from active political life and handed extensive authority to his son and heir apparent, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been blamed for the murder.
- The Rohingya Crisis: Myanmar and Bangladesh—“Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis has entered a dangerous new phase, threatening Myanmar’s hard-won democratic transition, its stability, and that of Bangladesh and the region as a whole.”
2018 results: The U.S. State Department commissioned the Public International Law and Policy Group, a law firm, to send an investigative team to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh to document Myanmar’s brutal military campaign. The State Department said in its own report that “recent violence in northern Rakhine State was extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seems geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents.”
- Yemen—“With 8 million people on the brink of famine, one million declared cholera cases, and over 3 million internally displaced persons, the Yemen war could escalate further in 2018.”
2018 results: The conflict is rooted in a failed political transition intended to bring stability after the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. President Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity. Saudi-backed government forces attacked the key rebel-held port of Hudaydah, the entry point for the vast majority of aid going into Yemen and a lifeline for the starving. Yemen’s health system is on the brink of collapse.
- Afghanistan—“The War in Afghanistan looks set to intensify in 2018. The United States’ new Afghanistan strategy raises the tempo of operations against the Taliban insurgency, with more U.S. forces, fiercer U.S. airstrikes, and more aggressive ground offensives by Afghan forces.”
2018 results: In June, the Afghan government and the Taliban observed a three-day cease-fire during the Eid al-Fitr holiday, the first formal cessation in fighting since the war began in 2001. President Ashraf Ghani extended the cease-fire for several days—a move the Taliban rejected—and reiterated a call for the Taliban to enter into peace talks without preconditions. In July 2018, it was reported that U.S. government officials met with Taliban representatives in Qatar to discuss potential talks. Further discussions were rejected and the Taliban continues to carry out attacks. The Taliban continue to make territorial gains and have carried out high-profile attacks across the country as well as in Kabul. 2018 also saw a continued U.S. military campaign against the so-called Islamic State-Khorasan Province, also known as ISIS-KP, the Islamic State’s local affiliate with a presence in several eastern Afghan provinces.
- Syria—“After nearly seven years of war, President Bashar al Assad’s regime has the upper hand, thanks largely to Iranian and Russian backing. But the fighting is not over. Large swaths of the country remain outside regime control, regional and international powers disagree on a settlement, and Syria is an arena for the rivalry between Iran and its enemies. As the Islamic State is ousted from the east, prospects for escalation elsewhere will increase.”
2018 results: Suspected of using chemical weapons throughout the seven-year war, the government of President Bashar al-Assad launched the harshest attacks on rebel enclaves. The Syrian Foreign Ministry urged the United Nations Security Council to condemn what it called “terrorist crimes” and to take “deterrent, punitive measures against the nations and regimes that support and fund terrorism.” Russia, which has sent troops and military advisers to support Mr. Assad, also blamed rebels for the attack. Late in the year, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
- The Sahel region—(Historically, this region was known as the Sudan region. It includes the African regions of parts of northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, the extreme south of Algeria, Niger, the extreme north of Nigeria, central Chad, central and southern Sudan, the extreme north of South Sudan, Eritrea, Cameroon, Central African Republic and the extreme north of Ethiopia.) “Weak states across the Sahel region are struggling to manage an overlapping mix of intercommunal conflict, jihadi violence, and fighting over smuggling routes. Their leaders’ predation and militarized responses often make things worse.”
2018 results: The Sahel region is faced with instability from multiple factors including security threats, illicit trafficking, money laundering, unplanned migration, environmental challenges and the spread of violent extremism from radical armed groups. The situation is further exacerbated by the vulnerability of the Sahel countries due to irregular rainfall and persistent drought. In 2017, it was reported that more than 30 million of people in the region suffered from food insecurity and 4.9 million fled from their homes as Internally Displaced People (IPDs) or as refugees.
- Democratic Republic of Congo—“ President Joseph Kabila’s determination to hold on to power threatens to escalate the crisis in Congo and a humanitarian emergency that is already among the world’s worst.”
2018 results: At least seventy armed groups are believed to be currently operating in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite the stabilizing presence of nineteen thousand UN peacekeepers, the stronger militant groups in the region, like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), continue to terrorize communities and control weakly governed areas of the country, financing their activities by exploiting the country’s rich natural resources. Millions of civilians have been forced to flee the fighting: the United Nations estimates that currently there are at least 2.7 million internally displaced persons in the DRC, and approximately 450,000 DRC refugees in other nations. President Joseph Kabila caused further political instability by postponing the scheduled 2016 election to stay in power after his term ended. Moise Katumbi, a popular opposition leader who was governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province, declared his candidacy for the presidential election in early May 2015. Since his announcement, mass protests and clashes between the police and civilians have become increasingly tense and common.
- Ukraine—“The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed over 10,000 lives and constitutes a grave ongoing humanitarian crisis. While it persists, relations between Russia and the West are unlikely to improve. Separatist-held areas are dysfunctional and dependent on Moscow.”
2018 results: The conflict in eastern Ukraine has stalemated, but shelling and skirmishes still occur regularly, including an escalation in violence in the spring. In January, the United States imposed new sanctions on twenty-one individuals and nine companies linked to the conflict. In March, the State Department approved the sale of anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, the first sale of lethal weaponry since the conflict began in 2014. The U.S. Department of Defense announced has now provided $1 billion in defensive aid to Ukraine. In October, Ukraine was joined by the U.S. and seven other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries in a series of large-scale air exercises in western Ukraine, after Russia held its largest military exercises since the fall of the Soviet Union.
- Venezuela—“Venezuela took yet another turn for the worse in 2017, as President Nicolás Maduro’s government ran the country further into the ground while strengthening its political grip. The opposition has imploded. Prospects for a peaceful restoration of democracy appear ever slimmer. But with the economy in free fall, Maduro faces enormous challenges. Expect the humanitarian crisis to deepen in 2018 as GDP continues to contract.”
2018 results: Although Venezuela is rich in oil, and has the largest proven reserves in the world, it is this wealth that underpins many of its economic problems. Oil revenues account for about 95% of its export earnings, forcing the country to import nearly all consumer goods. When oil prices plummeted in 2014, Venezuela was faced with a shortfall of foreign currency. Imported items became scarcer. Prices rose and hyperinflation set in. Prices have on average been doubling every 26 days and the inflation rate topped 83,000% in July. Many cannot afford basic items. Until the currency’s redenomination in August, Venezuelans needed 25 of their highest denomination notes – the 100,000 bolivar bill (one U.S. dollar = 248,488 bolivars) – to pay for a cup of coffee. The pile of bolivars needed to buy a roll of toilet paper is taller than the roll itself.