Five wars waiting to happen: They might come to nothing, but any of these cases could degenerate into ugly conflicts with global consequences. John Torode prophesies

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The Independent Online
CUBA

CURRENT POSITION: 10 million Cubans live in a decaying Communist system. Ninety miles away, in Florida, many of the two million Cuban exiles are waiting to come sweeping home in triumph. They exercise a disproportionate influence on American policy.

The Castro regime is in economic and political crisis due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the continuation of the economic blockade imposed by the United States. In 1989, after an unhappy vist by President Gorbachev, Castro blamed perestroika and glasnost for the crisis in the socialist system and pledged to eradicate 'all market forms of activity'. Desperation has forced him to tolerate the emergence of a dollar economy and the creation of a large Western tourist industry 'to defend socialism'.

During the US presidential election campaign, Bill Clinton endorsed the Cuban Democracy Act. This forbids foreign-based subsidiaries of American companies to trade with Cuba, and denies US port facilities for six months to foreign ships that visit Cuba. President Clinton has not yet implemented the Draconian legislation; instead, he has been sending cautious signals that he might be prepared to ease Cuba's transition to a more liberal society. His moderation has infuriated many exiles, in particular the powerful Cuban-American National Foundation.

DOOMSDAY SCENARIO: Cuba has an appalling winter, and enters 1994 with widespread power failures and the near collapse of the once-vaunted health service. Clinton, unpopular at home and accused of being soft on America's enemies, attempts to turn attention to Cuba by implementing the Cuban Democracy Act. There are food riots in Havana when state- owned shops are unable to honour even the minimal ration cards.

Mothers with sick and hungry children march on the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, seeking refuge, food and medical treatment. Dozens are gunned down by members of Castro's elite State Security force, within yards of the 2,500 US marines lining the perimeter fence. Clinton instructs the navy not to intervene. He does not believe 'American mothers want their kids to die for Cuba'. The sobbing of hardened US marines as Castro's finest heave the women's bodies into trucks makes appalling prime-time television back in the US.

In Washington, the Cuban-American National Committee denounces Clinton as 'a lady-killer, a Commie- lover and a coward'. The flood of telegrams to the White House suggests that the committee has struck a chord. Congress passes an advisory resolution calling for the opening of the base to refugees. Radio and TV Marti, Florida-based stations, call for an immediate armed uprising and pledge that the exiles will return to join the armed struggle and so avenge the Bay of Pigs disaster of 1961. Congress passes a further advisory resolution pledging aid to Cuban insurrectionists, and saying that the US has an overriding duty to defend law and order and restore democratic procedures in Cuba.

Clinton flip-flops again. Within 24 hours, 100,000 US troops are pouring into Guantanamo Bay and fanning out to occupy the island. Members of a provisional government established in Miami Beach are flown in. At this point it becomes apparent that much of the 145,000-strong Cuban army, as well as many of the 135,000 army reserve and the well-trained and equipped special forces, remain fiercely loyal to Castro, at least when faced with a Yankee invasion.

Bolstered by messages of support from most Latin American nations, and a resolution from the UN General Assembly, the Cuban leader takes to the mountains and pledges resistance 'to the last drop of Cuban blood'. Riots in Mexico City threaten to bring down the pro-American government. Clinton has committed America to a conflict on the scale of Vietnam.

ALBANIA

CURRENT POSITION: The population is three million, mainly Muslim, ethnic Albanians. But Albania includes as many as 400,000 ethnic Greeks in the southern third of the country. Greece calls this region Northern Epirus and staked a formal claim to it at the Paris Peace Conference of 1946. The main Greek political party in Albania, Omonia, is banned from contesting elections. The World Council of Churches has protested at the persecution of the Orthodox church and the recent expulsion of the religious leader Archimandrite Chrysostomos Maidonis.

It is only six years since Greece ended the technical state of war with Albania which had lasted since 1945. Greece recently expelled 26,000 illegal Albanian immigrants and in July presented an 'ultimatum' to Tirana. In effect, Athens is demanding an autonomous Greek state within Albania.

The Serbian province of Kosovo, adjacent to northern Albania, is home to two million ethnic Albanians. They form 90 per cent of the province's population and have established an unrecognised, ethnically based local government in response to oppression by Serbia, which regards Kosovo as its historic and inalienable heartland. Many ethnic Albanians were killed by Serb forces in riots five years ago.

DOOMSDAY SCENARIO: Having digested its share of Bosnia, Serbia is by spring 1994 looking for new conquests. President Slobodan Milosevic, who assured the Serbian minority in Kosovo in 1989 that they would 'never be beaten again', engineers another round of intercommunal rioting there. Mosques are torched. Village by village, Muslims are massacred.

Milosevic sends in the Serbian army, technically to reassert control over the unlawful ethnic Albanian administration. His hidden agenda is another bout of ethnic cleansing, pushing Kosovan Albanians over the frontier into Albania proper.

Albania mobilises to protect its kith and kin - perhaps by direct annexation, responding to the demands of Kosovan Albanians who have declared their administration a 'regional government'. Milosevic flies to Athens to discuss the crisis with Greece's prime minister, Constantine Mitsotakis. Twenty-four hours later, Omonia 'spontaneously' appeals to Greece for aid, saying its supporters fear for their lives.

Greece mobilises, and gives Tirana 48 hours to recognise the 'Greek Republic of Epirus'. Albania prepares for war on two fronts against the largest and best equipped armies in the Balkans. Turkey, which covets parts of Greece and sees itself as the historic protector of Albanian Balkan Muslims, begins provocative overflights of the Greek Dodecanese Islands and north-eastern Greece (Thrace), where there is a significant Turkish minority.

Unless there is urgent UN military intervention, the world faces either a general regional war, if Turkey attacks Greece, or, if Turkey stands back, the rapid emergence of an unviable rump Albania. The latter would be a second Bosnia, containing four million impoverished and embittered Albanian Muslims, half of whom would be refugees ethnically cleansed from Kosovo and 'Northern Epirus'. How long before a PLO-style terrorist group emerges?

NIGERIA

CURRENT POSITION: Nigeria is a military dictatorship. With a population of 88 million and huge oil resources, it is Africa's most populous and potentially most prosperous nation. It obtains 90 per cent of its wealth from oilfields, which lie in the largely Christian south. But it is chronically unstable, because of the tribal split between the Ibo south-east, the Yoruba south-west, and the Muslim Hausa/Fulani north.

Nigeria exists as a single country only because Britain forcibly welded north and south together in 1917. The Nigerian army is highly politicised and dominated by northerners. Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has suffered six coups and a civil war - the Biafran War, in which two million people died. The nation is once again in a state of high anxiety following the annulment in June of the elections, which were to have restored democracy after a decade of military dictatorship.

The president and commander-in- chief, General Ibrahim Babangida (a northerner), is due to make a statement on his country's political future today. June's victor, Chief Moshood Abiola (a southerner), is refusing to take part in any re-run election. He has gone into exile and called on his followers to boycott the poll.

DOOMSDAY SCENARIO: The re- run election is a farce. President Babangida extends military rule. Abiola declares himself president and slips back into the country. The army splits on tribal lines. A coup in the south declares Abiola the nation's leader. The bulk of the army under Babangida regroups at the new capital, Abuja, and is joined by most of the air force. Abiola returns in triumph to Lagos to head the rebel administration. Troops in the north loyal to Babangida prepare to march south. In response, Abiola declares the south an independent state and appeals for recognition from the UN and the Commonwealth.

Tank battles are fought on the border between the two Nigerias in the food-producing Middle Belt. Farmers flee; there are fears of widespread famine. Babangida's air force cripples oil wells in the south, reducing the hard- currency income needed to buy food in the world market. Suddenly, millions of Nigerians are on the brink of starvation and dependent for their survival on Western charity.

KURDISTAN

CURRENT POSITION: More than 20 million Kurds are spread between Turkey (10 million), Iran (5 million), Iraq (4 million), Syria (1 million) and the former Soviet Union (1 million). They are the largest nation-without-a- state in the world.

On the face of it, this is a good time for the Kurds. After a decade of oppression by Saddam Hussein, the Kurds of Iraq are under the protection of the UN. There they have created something approaching an independent regime. Their administration is moderate and democratic and comes complete with parliament, judiciary, police force and embryonic army.

The Iraqi Kurds are pledged not to seek to create a single Kurdish state and say they will work within a democratic, federal Iraq. But their mini- state is impoverished and insecure, and extremist sentiments are growing.

In Turkey, state violence against the Kurds has eased in recent years, but those who refuse to assimilate are subject to brutal repression. In Iran the ayatollahs are attempting to placate their Kurds because they fear that the UN-supported Kurdish regime in Iraq is part of an anti-Iranian front.

Things could go disastrously wrong because of the activities of the most ruthless and effective Kurdish group, the Syrian-backed PKK. This Marxist group claims a guerrilla force 10,000 strong in northern Turkey, where it regularly commits atrocities against Turkish officials and those Kurds it regards as collaborators. Recently it attacked Turkish consulates in Europe. The PKK is holding Western tourists hostage and has declared its intention to destroy the Turkish tourist industry.

DOOMSDAY SCENARIO: A winter of bombings of tourist and commercial sites throughout Europe has left several hundred English, French, German and American citizens dead. Damage to Western property runs into several hundred million pounds. In the worst incident, the PKK bombs a Turkish Airlines charter from Heathrow to Izmir; 312 British holidaymakers die.

In Turkey, martial law is declared after Tansu Ciller, the prime minister, is gunned down at a memorial ceremony for Kemal Ataturk. At least a thousand Turks and several thousand Kurds die in the subsequent violence.

As spring comes, Kurdish eastern Turkey slips into a state of semi-insurrection. 'Freedom fighters' slip across the border into 'Free Kurdistan'. The moderate Kurdish government in northern Iraq - increasingly restive about PKK terrorism - is overthrown by a PKK coup. The Western allies denounce the coup and end the supportive Operation Provide Comfort and the air exclusion zone over northern Iraq. The PKK regime calls on Kurds in Turkey and Iran to revolt and join them. There is a joyous response.

The Turkish army systematically massacres Kurdish villagers in eastern Turkey before sweeping into northern Iraq. The Iranian army napalms dissident Kurds in eastern Iran. Saddam Hussein uses poison gas on a grand scale to regain control of northern Iraq. Within weeks, hundreds of thousands of Kurds have been killed.

Turkey, Iran and Syria have been in regular contact about the menace of Kurdish nationalism since 1992. It becomes apparent that these three states plus Iraq have agreed on a genocidal solution to the Kurdish problem. Can the West stand idle?

NORTH KOREA

CURRENT POSITION: 22 million live in the Communist-run Democratic People's Republic of Korea, facing 43 million compatriots across the demilitarised zone in South Korea. The command economy of North Korea is on the verge of collapse, in the wake of the drastic reduction of Soviet trade and barter deals, and the decline in Chinese aid. Its ruler is the geriatric Great Leader Kim Il Sung (Ever-Victorious Captain of the Korean People, The Greatest Genius Humankind Has Ever Had, and so forth) and his even more extreme son, Kim Jong Il. The unstable youth is yearning to take supreme power from his father.

North Korea has the fourth-largest standing army in the world (the country is still technically in a state of war with the south) and is on the verge of building its own nuclear weapons. It is in conflict with the International Atomic Energy Authority and the United States because it refuses to permit IAEA inspection of its nuclear sites, required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

DOOMSDAY SCENARIO: Kim Senior dies and is replaced by Kim Junior. The new dictator celebrates his elevation by repudiating the Non- Proliferation Treaty and making bellicose noises about the imminent liberation of South Korea. President Clinton repeats his warning of July 1993 that if nuclear weapons are used by North Korea in such an endeavour, 'it will be the end of their country'. He also repeats demands for international inspection of nuclear plants.

A defiant Kim finally claims responsibility for the bombing of a South Korean civil airliner in 1987 in which 115 people died, and for the bomb attack that killed four members of the South Korean cabinet in 1983 while on an official visit to Burma. He warns that, as an ally of South Korea, the United States might not be exempt from similar attacks. A primitive but effective nuclear device explodes near a US air base outside Seoul, the capital of South Korea, killing several hundred people.

That night, in a series of surgical strikes, US missiles and planes based in the South blast North Korean nuclear installations and communications centres. As dawn breaks, the first battalions of the one million strong People's Liberation Army pour into South Korea.

The first Korean War lasted three years and cost four million casualties. The replay seems likely to be more rapid but at least as bloody.

(Photograph and map omitted)

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