Saber-rattling by China over the Senkaku Islands, most recently in the form of locking weapons on a Japanese ship and helicopter, have led some analysts to warn of war between the two East Asian countries. These analysts go further to question whether the US treaty commitment to Japan’s territorial integrity would hold in this case (Wall Street Journal).
Such warnings are overblown. Militarized jostling of this sort is normal for low-intensity territorial disputes. All parties — including China — recognize that war would be counterproductive. China regularly activates media coverage with its mildly belligerent actions in order to bolster and maintain its long-term claim to the islands should the case go to an international court in future. Japan is a key US ally and trading partner. There is no question that were war to occur between China and Japan, the United States would defend its ally.
Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment recently found that most terrorists originating in the West (Europe, Australia, or the US) conduct their terrorism in conflict zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. These terrorists are defined as “foreign fighters”. When these foreign fighter veterans return to the West, they are more likely to complete attacks, which are more likely to be lethal (American Political Science Review, volume 107, no. 1, Feb 2013, “Should I stay or should I go? Explaining variation in Western Jihadists’ choice between domestic and foreign fighting.”)
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, we can expect countervailing effects on terrorism in the West. On the one hand, there presumably will be less reason to conduct terrorism, as terrorists use these wars as justification for their actions. On the other hand, foreign fighter veterans will be returning to the West, increasing the quantity, militancy, and experience of the pool of potential domestic terrorists. New justifications for terrorism — for example Western intervention in Mali and Syria — can always be found by those so inclined.