China, Russia and Iran will seek to advance their geopolitical ambitions in 2022
Prepare for 2022, a year to be lived dangerously.
Many of the most important post-WWII global gains will be tested. The security of Europe and Asia, the resilience of democratic governance, the advancement of open markets, the sanctity of individual rights and the certainty of human progress all hang in the balance.
Never in the 30 years since the end of the Cold War has a US president entered a new year faced with such an explosive mix of geopolitical and domestic political uncertainty. They intertwine like a Gordian knot that only daring action can untangle.
The convergence of these external and internal perils, amid a deep American political divide and international mistrust, increases the level of difficulty of any effective response.
Then, overlay it all with the most disturbing rise in inflation in three decades and the lingering torments of Covid-19. Add to this the certainty that all of these problems will create an even greater rift between rich and poor countries and peoples, and increased global volatility seems inevitable.
That said, these are the three external factors that should concern us the most immediately in 2022:
A revengeful Russia is determined to regain control of Ukraine; China, likewise, is stepping up its threats against Taiwan’s independence (make no mistake that Ukrainian and Taiwanese freedoms can be separated); and Iran is moving so quickly towards a nuclear weapons deployment capability that Israel may be compelled to respond.
These dangers are intensifying at a time when Chinese, Russian and Iranian leaders – having witnessed the withdrawal of the Biden administration from Afghanistan and its understandable focus on domestic issues – may see 2022 as the best time to move their agenda forward. geopolitical ambitions.
The optimists among us can take comfort in the fact that there is a possible path through this patch of heather. Advances in technology, healthcare and greater human access to knowledge could very well usher in a new era of global progress.
There is also more than enough evidence that democracies, especially the United States, have enough resilience to bounce back and come together.
History has also shown that the most authoritarian forms of government are ultimately the most fragile.
China’s remarkable rise as the world’s first capitalist-communist experiment is met with a series of setbacks, most of them self-inflicted.
President Xi Jinping is stepping up domestic repression and strengthening the Communist Party’s control over China’s most successful companies, especially in technology. In doing so, he is choking them off international financial markets – and he may be killing the panda that made China’s economic miracle.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia seems to be a country on the move, swollen by soaring energy prices and the geopolitical contraction of Syria in Donbass. However, the brunt of existing and new economic sanctions, Russia’s demographic challenges, and an economy wholly dependent on energy will hamper Putin’s aspirations to undo the humiliations in his life.
In a documentary broadcast on Russian television last Sunday, Putin said that the fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago remains a tragedy for most of his fellow citizens. He spoke for the first time in public about how he had to work driving a cab during that time to make ends meet.
“After all, what is the collapse of the Soviet Union? He asked. “It is the collapse of historic Russia as the Soviet Union.”
As for Iran, how long can the regime still endure such endemic corruption? The republic has produced so little for its people, while embarking on countless and costly adventures abroad – in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Yet all of this points perhaps to the greatest danger of 2022: the whirlwind of uncertainties around the United States. Opponents and allies challenge our internal cohesion, our external capacity and our will to act.
The glue that held the world system together for most of the post-WWII period, the United States, appears to be loosened to many around the world. America does not want China or anyone else to replace its traditional role as a world leader, and it is not withdrawing from the scene. But he’s struggling to find up-to-date and effective ways to shape world affairs.
To be fair, the Biden administration and its remarkably accomplished foreign relations team diagnosed each of these challenges early and brilliantly.
Indeed, in this space a year ago, I wrote, “Joe Biden has this rarest opportunity that history offers: the chance to be a transformative foreign policy president.”
In March, Biden himself said, “Our world is at an inflection point. Global dynamics have changed. New crises demand our attention. … One thing is certain: we will only succeed in advancing American interests and defending our universal values by working together. with our closest allies and partners, and by renewing our own sustainable sources of national strength. “
Turning rhetoric into execution is never easy, but that is what 2022 must be. A president’s first year in office is always complicated, and this one especially has been.
The real test of Biden’s second year will be less whether his administration understands the historic nature of the challenges (it does) and more whether it can organize nationally and internationally to handle the geopolitical challenges of 2022.
Worse than questioning our values, our partners and allies worry about our ability and our competence to act.
This life-threatening year will get off to a quick start with the Winter Olympics in Beijing and more Russian troop movements near Ukraine. It will end with a Chinese Communist Party congress likely to make Xi the leader for life and US midterm elections.
In this year of life-threatening, however, it may be the United States, more than any other actor, whose actions and inactions will drive the intrigue.
–Frederic kempe is President and CEO of the Atlantic Council.