> Strategic Trends: Year In Review
Strategic Trends: Year in Review
from the December 26, 2006 eNews issue
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Throughout the year we have been monitoring ten specific global, social, political, and economic trends that we believe are significant to our nation, as well as the Body of Christ. We regularly examine these Strategic Trends on our website and in our various publications. Today we would like to briefly review each of these trends and take a look back over some of 2006's major milestones.
The acquisition of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons by both terrorists and rogue nations is perhaps one of the greatest threats to our national security. This past year the international community has focused its attention on Iran and North Korea in their attempts to stifle weapons proliferation. US intelligence officials have also kept a close watch on Russia and China, key suppliers of technology, components, and weaponry.
This past year Iran's uranium enrichment program has continued to be the subject of intense international scrutiny. Iran's president has boasted that his country will have obtained full nuclear capabilities by March. He also vowed to install up to 60,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium. With troops already deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush appears - at least for the time being - to be committed to finding a diplomatic solution to the standoff. Some experts have speculated that Israel may be planning a pre-emptive strike, although military action would most likely be used as a last resort. In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor when it believed Saddam Hussein was close to producing a nuclear bomb. If Israel does attack Iran it would undoubtedly bring about a firestorm in the Middle East. Unfortunately we are running out of time, and neither Israel nor the United States are willing to accept the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. If diplomacy continues to fail, military action may be our only option.
On October 9th, 2006, North Korea carried out its first-ever nuclear weapons test - officially joining the nuclear club. Experts suspect that North Korea currently possesses between six and eight nuclear weapons. However a June report from the Institute for Science and International Security said North Korea had enough radioactive material to build as many as 13 bombs. North Korea is the most unstable member of the nuclear club, and experts have expressed fear that the test may trigger an Asian arms race.
The Rise of the Far East
The geopolitical situation in Asia has grown increasingly unstable. At the same time, China has significantly increased military spending. China's military buildup seems specifically designed to fit a conflict scenario involving US air and naval forces. The Chinese military is preparing for a war with the United States, a war which its commanders believe is inevitable. Recently US defense officials revealed that a Chinese diesel-powered attack submarine came within firing range of US naval ships without being noticed. According to the Washington Times, a submarine tailed the USS Kitty Hawk undetected, surfacing within five miles of the aircraft carrier before being spotted during surveillance flights.
In November China's foreign currency reserves passed the 1 trillion dollar mark - setting a new record for the world's largest currency reserves and sparking a debate over China's economic policies. China's currency reserves have been growing at a rate of nearly 30 million dollars per hour - fueled primarily by its large trade surplus, which tripled last year to 102 billion dollars. China's red hot economy has been growing even faster than analysts predicted. The Chinese economy is now expected to grow by more than 10 percent this year.
The Struggle for Jerusalem
In January of this year the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was thrown into turmoil when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke and subsequently fell into a coma. A few weeks later the Palestinians held their much-delayed parliamentary elections, in which the terrorist group Hamas was handed a landslide victory. Hamas won 76 of 132 seats in parliament. Fatah, which was founded by the late Yasser Arafat and has controlled Palestinian politics for the last four decades, won only 43 seats - plunging the region into a period of uncertainty.
In July, Lebanese terrorists from Hezbollah crossed the border into Israel seized two soldiers, and killed at least seven others. The raid triggered a month long war in which Israel attempted to target Hezbollah's strongholds in Beirut and southern Lebanon. During the conflict Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets into northern Israel.
This past year found Israel battling on two fronts. In addition to the war in Lebanon, Israel has carried out a counter-terrorist offensive in Gaza. Tensions in the region have grown increasing fragile, and violence threatens to consume the entire Middle East. Tensions between Israel and its enemies in Syria and Iran have continued to mount. Furthermore, in recent weeks concerns have emerged that Syria, Iran, and the terrorist group Hezbollah may attempt to overthrow the fragile Lebanese government.
The Magog Invasion
Many experts believe that a large-scale confrontation between Israel and its neighbors could be on the near horizon. Which has made Syrias growing relationship with nations such as Iran and Russia more concerning. Russia has been carefully cultivating ties with Turkey, Iran and Syria. After losing the Mid-East foothold provided by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the Russians have been building a new axis of power based on those three key countries. These developments could be a sign that the famed battle prophesied in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is on our near horizon. It is during this battle, that God will directly intercede to protect Israel from Magog and its allies.
In recent years Russia has repeatedly expressed its desire to play a larger role in the Middle East. Russia is a key player in world energy markets and it has reaped huge economic benefits from rising energy prices. In the past year Russia has also demonstrated its willingness to use energy as a political tool. Russia holds the world's largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves, and the eighth largest oil reserves. Russia is also the world's largest exporter of natural gas. Statistics published this year by the oil cartel OPEC show that Russia has, for the first time, surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world's leading oil producer. Traditionally, Russia has had to settle for second place. But in recent years Russia has re-nationalized and modernized much of its energy industry and that policy now appears to be paying off.
In the past year Russia has increased its military shipments to nations like Iran and Venezuela, not to mention potential US adversaries like China. Russia now supplies the bulk of Irans conventional arms. In the past three years the value of arms shipments between Russia and Iran has risen from $300 million to $1.7 billion. That includes a proposed air-defense system that could serve as a deterrent against any American or Israeli strike on its nuclear installations.
Russia's arms sales to Iran have added more tension to already-strained US-Russian relations. To make matters worse, evidence suggests that Iran may be funneling arms from Russia to terrorist groups. During the recent war in Lebanon, Israel found Russian-made anti-tank missiles capable of destroying Israel's heavily armored Merkava tanks. This weapon turned out to be one of the terrorist's most effective weapons. According to one report, it was responsible for the deaths of 50 of the 118 Israeli soldiers who died in the 34-day war.
The growing partnership between Iran and Russia has greatly hindered UN efforts to put a stop to Iran's nuclear ambitions. As a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, Russia has thus far resisted any efforts to pass sanctions against Iran.
The Rise of Islam
The Muslim faith is becoming an increasingly volatile catalyst in today's international scene. Islam is the worlds fastest growing religion, and it is second in size only to Christianity. As Islam grows and spreads throughout the world, Muslim extremists have sought to shift the balance of power in many regions of the world. Muslim groups have seized power in various regions of Asia and Africa. For example, armed militiamen have taken control of much of southern Somalia in recent months where they have begun to enforce strict Islamic law. Just last week officials in a southern Somalia town warned residents that anyone who does not pray five times a day will be beheaded.
Muslim populations in Russia and the European Union continue to grow rapidly. Russia's Muslim population has increased by 40 percent since 1989, to about 25 million. Experts say that if current trends continue, nearly one third of Russia's population will be Muslim by the mid-century. Growing ethnic tensions in Russia have begun to mirror those of its European neighbors. Much like Russia, Islam has become significant part of the cultural and political landscape of Europe. There are between 9 and 15 million Muslims living throughout Europe today, and Islam has become the largest religious minority. Considering current population trends, it is likely that the number of Muslims in Europe will continue to grow exponentially.
The Rise of a European Superstate
Over the last few years we have watched closely as the European Union has emerged as a growing world power. Bulgaria and Romania are set to join the EU in January of 2007 and both Croatia and Turkey have begun negotiations for membership. In recent months there has been growing disillusionment with the progress of Turkey's entry bid. Before Turkey can be admitted to the EU it must meet a long list of requirements. Even then, its acceptance into the European community is not assured. When the EU began accession talks with Turkey last October opinion polls indicated that nearly 70 percent of Turkish citizens wanted to join the European Union. However over the past six months that statistic has changed dramatically. It seems that the optimism felt at the onset of negotiations has waned. A new poll, conducted by the EU, indicates that the percentage of Turks who look on the EU favorably has dropped to only 43 percent. The on-going disagreement over Cyprus is undoubtedly one of the biggest hindrances to Turkey's EU membership. Unless Turkey resolves the issue soon, the EU may halt negotiations.
As we examine the events of this past year we must acknowledge the growing influence of the United Nations. The UN is often seen as the future embodiment of global government, and in recent months the world body has continued on a path toward broad reform. Government reinvention is frequently an effort to avoid the consequences of failed policies in the past, or to justify a government's continued expansion by posing solutions to the problems it has created. Historically, government never downsizes voluntarily; it always increases its power and minimizes accountability to its citizens. Over the last decade, the United Nations has unabashedly pushed for what it calls "global governance." The UN is positioning itself for global power, no doubt it will use the scandal and the ensuing "reforms" to advance closer to that goal.
It may seem difficult to imagine the world united under one ruler and one religion, especially with the bloody ethnic battles taking place in the world today. However, the violence caused by religious and cultural conflicts could in fact be the catalyst that brings about drastic change. The desire for world peace, the deterioration of moral values in the Western world, the restriction of religious freedom in America, and the continued persecution of Christians in other parts of the world could all pave the way for the emergence of a global religion.
The Decline of the US
This year the United States has faced growing threats to its security, both from abroad and from within our borders. The blood shed on September 11, 2001 became the catalyst in the war on terrorism. That tragic event briefly united Americans in a common cause, however that unity has splintered. National tragedy may have amalgamated the masses, but growing differences in values and philosophy have driven a wedge down the middle of American society. Americans are fighting a battle both in foreign lands and here at home. In the war against terrorism our enemy is easily defined, however the domestic battle lines are more muddled. It would seem that, as a nation, we have begun to abandon the faith and values of our founding fathers.
Controversial topics like same-sex marriage, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and teaching intelligent design in public school classrooms have continued to divide the populace. Unlike the war on terror, however, this confrontation has primarily taken place in courtrooms rather than on battlefields.
Biotech & Global Pestilence
Throughout the past year there has been a great deal of public debate on issues such as euthanasia and assisted suicide, as well as various areas of biomedical research, such as therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cells. Meanwhile, bioethicists warn that regulations governing biomedical research have not kept up with the rapid advance of technology and experimentation.
This year the federal government enacted a law creating a national umbilical-cord-blood stem cell bank. In July, President Bush issued the first veto of his presidency when he struck down a law that would have expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Congress attempted to override the veto, but could not get enough votes in the House of Representatives. In November, Missouri voters passed an amendment that legalized human cloning for biomedical research. Also, a law which would have legalized Oregon-style assisted suicide in California was defeated. Attempts to legalize assisted suicide were also thwarted in Vermont, Hawaii, and Arizona.
There have been a number of positive advances in biotechnology utilizing less-controversial adult stem cells. For example, researchers have successfully used adult stem cells from the olfactory system to help restore feeling in people who have been paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. Also, in experimental studies adult stem cell therapies were found to help patients with Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. Meanwhile, researchers still have not developed embryonic stem cell therapies for routine clinical use. Experts say it could be ten years, maybe longer, before embryonic stem cells produce cures.
According to the National Institute of Health infectious diseases remain the leading cause of death worldwide, and the third leading cause of death in the United States. Diseases thought to be obsolete have once again become a global threat, and in recent years new pathogens have emerged, some of which carry antibiotic-resistant genes or mutations enabling them to move across different species. This year the World Health Organization announced that a "virtually untreatable" form of tuberculosis has emerged. It has been seen worldwide, including in the US, Eastern Europe, and Africa.
The Big Picture
With the wealth of information at our fingertips, it is sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. The events of this past year are both exciting and frightening. When examined as a whole, they indicate that we are being plunged into a period of time about which the Bible says more than it does about any other period in human history - including the time when Jesus walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee or climbed the mountains of Judea. Examine the scriptures for yourself and you will discover that the Bible is as relevant and accurate today as it was two thousand years ago.
Our mission as a ministry is to facilitate and encourage serious study of the Bible as the inherent Word of God. We hope to assist you in gaining a clearer perspective of the times in which we live, the times of the signs, as well as a renewed sense of urgency and determination in pursuing Gods plan for your life. It is a plan in which we are called to be ambassadors for Christ, bringing the light of life and hope into a world full of darkness, death, and decay.
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