As U.S. influence fades, old border disputes, diplomatic competition flare

Arising from a combination of Donald Trump’s tweets and statements about subjects from Qatar to Taiwan and NATO to Palestine, old border disputes and diplomatic rivalries are beginning to flare up. The Trump administration also appears to be unwilling to fill a number of vacancies in the State Department, a development that has added to a de facto American hands-off approach to many simmering international disputes.

Trump’s siding with the Saudi Arabian-led bloc of Arab and Muslim nations in its confrontation with Qatar has resulted in renewed border tensions between Qatar and Bahrain, as well as between Eritrea and Djibouti.

In 2001, the International Court of Justice awarded many of the disputed Hawar Islands, which lie closer to Qatar than to Bahrain, to the Bahrainis. As a consolation prize, the world court awarded Janan Island to Qatar. The decision never sat well with Qatar. As the Bahrainis were announcing a mega-development project for the largely-uninhabited Hawar Islands, the pro-Saudi press in the Middle East began writing stories about Qatari intelligence operations directed against Bahrain. Press items included the interest shown by Qatari intelligence in the military deployments and readiness of Bahraini forces stationed in the Hawar Islands.

After Eritrea and Djibouti sided with Saudi Arabia in its diplomatic dispute with Qatar, Qatari peacekeeping troops were withdrawn from the Eritrean-Dijbouti border. The result was Eritrean troops quickly occupying the Doumeira mountain border area, which is claimed by Djibouti. The border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti began in 2008, when Eritrean troops occupied the Doumeira mountain and dug in. Qatar sent some 450 peacekeepers to patrol the disputed zone in 2010. With their hasty departure, the border has become a renewed flash point in the volatile Horn of Africa.

Although the African Union got involved in the border dispute, the U.S. State Department, once a nexus for geopolitical status quo enthusiasts, remained quiet. It is unusual for the State Department not to comment on such border disputes. Not only does the United States maintain the large U.S. Central Command airbase at Al-Udeid in Qatar, but it also has a major military presence at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.

China, the power that is eclipsing the United States in international importance, is building a military base in Djibouti. It is also establishing a maritime port in Gwadar in Pakistan, from which it can deploy naval forces to the Persian Gulf.

Elsewhere in Africa, a border dispute over Lake Nyasa has erupted after a 50-year dormancy between Malawi and Tanzania. A dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula also shows signs of re-erupting. At issue are natural gas deposits under Lake Nyasa and oil in the Bakassi region. Sudan and Egypt are, once again, bickering over control of the Halayeb triangle border region, currently under Egyptian control.

Two NATO allies, Croatia and Slovenia, are awaiting a decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on its decision in a border dispute. Croatia has accused the Slovenians of conspiring with the judges. Croatia also likely distrusts the United States and its Slovenian-born First Lady Melania Trump in influencing the court’s decision in favor of Slovenia. The court’s decision is expected on June 29, 2017.

The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union has re-triggered sovereignty issues between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar and Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands and Dependencies and British Antarctic Territory.

The “Trump Effect” is also being felt in South America, where Ecuador has irritated Peru by building a border wall on its frontier with its neighbor to the east and south. Peru claims the wall is illegal because it violates a 1998 agreement prohibiting border construction within 33 feet from the border.

Trump’s much-ballyhooed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has also prompted Botswana to start construction on an electrified fence along its border with Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s Deputy Home Minister Obedingwa Mguni lashed out at Botswana’s decision, telling the Zimbabwe press: “We should not copy the United States of America’s idea of putting a border wall on its border with Mexico when we are actually one people who are related.”

The U.S. has not weighed in on the Ecuador-Peru wall or the Botswana-Zimbabwe electrified fence. However, China is now becoming much more active in Africa and Latin America, having recently snatched away from Taiwan, diplomatic relations with Sao Tome and Principe and Panama.

There are other long-simmering border disputes emerging from “cold war” status to hot button issues in Asia, the Arctic, the Pacific region, and the Caribbean.

The American neoconservatives predicted the 21st century would be a “New American Century.” Instead, it is becoming a “New Chinese Century,” with the United States still believing, wrongly, that it is the “leader of the free world” and a “super power.” As Mao Zedong once stated, the United States is a “paper tiger.”

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2017 WayneMadenReport.com

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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