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I always find the current fuss over Iran and North Korea rather amusing. To a person of my limited education, it seems that if you could magically make Iran and North Korea go away you would only marginally increase the safety of the world.

And no, I am not a liberal. I don’t think that America is the big cause of insecurity in the world. In fact, not withstanding all its mistakes, I think that the world will have cause to regret it if/when American no longer has power to knock heads together in this world.

But I think that there are forces that will throw this world into turmoil that are beyond the power of the US to contain. Fires that will spring up that will make North Korea and Iran seem like child’s play. Here is a short list of things that worry me more than Iran and North Korea….

The implosion of Russia.

Russian demographics are awful. It is thought that Russia may lose up to one third of its population in the next 40-odd years. That number may seem alarmist, but it may very well be too optimistic. Russia is not doing very good job at handling AIDS. If that problem explodes into an epidemic all bets are off.

Compounding this problem is the fact that Russia’s government is dysfunctional. Its army beats up its own soldiers. All of its officials are corrupt. And it has a growing xenophobic movement.

These problems have all been obscured by high commodity prices and the relative competence of Putin. But both of these factors are not likely to last long. Russian gas is already unable to keep up with demand as this blog post points out...

The Industry and Energy Ministry estimates Russia’s gas shortage this year (given international commitments) at 4.2 billion cu m. By 2010 it could reach 27.7 billion cu m and by 2015 – 46.6 billion cu m. Meanwhile, Russia has the world’s second largest coal reserves and produces almost 300 million metric tons annually, with a possibility to boost production to 400 million metric tons by 2010 (it produced 426 million metric tons annually in the late 1980s).

When I look at the scale of problems that Russia faces, I can’t but help think that it is going to implode like a failed African state. The only difference is that African states do not have a thousand odd nuclear weapons.

Pakistan

Do I really need to explain this one?

It is often said that Pakistan is only a bullet away from becoming a radical Muslim state with nuclear weapons. I don’t know how true this is, but it is hard to imagine the situation in Pakistan getting better over the long haul. When you consider what Pakistan has done when the supposed good guys were in charge, the prospect of Pakistan getting worse is pretty frightening.

After all, Pakistan is already known to have helped North Korea, Iran, and Libya with their plans for nuclear weapons. It is already known to have sponsored terrorist groups.

So what would Pakistan do if it were in the hands of an avowedly anti-western government instead of a supposedly pro-western one?

Saudi Arabia

The great worry about Iran is that it could disrupt or control the world’s oil supplies if it got its hand on the bomb. I can understand this fear, but it seems to me to be a little misplaced. Even if Iran did not exist there would still be a huge risk to the world’s energy markets. After all, fall of the house of Saud is only a matter of time.

It is hard to see how the house of Saud can last past the last of Ibn Saud’s sons. It is even harder to imagine them being replaced by a ruling group that is as pro-western as the house of Saud has been.

What would we do if someone who shared the views of Osama bin Laden took charge of the Arabian Peninsula?

What can go wrong will go wrong….

I consider it fairly certain that things will get much worse in each of these countries within my lifetime. All of these areas have the potential to cause much worse problems than North Korea or Iran. But no one really knows the future; we might get hit by an asteroid and render all of our fears moot.

I am confident, though, that we are in for some interesting times.

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