World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland | Photo by WEForum via Wikimedia Commons
Analysts, experts, and think tanks, especially here in Washington, D.C., are carefully watching the developments in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region, particularly because these have created a ripple effect impacting the future of the rest of the world. Undoubtedly, the far-reaching consequences of the Ukraine war are of major concern, especially coming on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Undoubtedly, the continuing conflict between Russia and Ukraine is at the top of the list of global threats in 2023, an assessment that analysts, risk consultancy groups, and the like collectively agree upon.
According to Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer, one of the top 10 global risks of 2023 is the possibility of Russia turning into “the world’s most dangerous rogue state” if cornered – thereby posing a threat to global security. Bremmer points to an escalation in Vladimir Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling and warns against “Kremlin-affiliated hackers” who could mount increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks on Western firms, governments, and infrastructure – inflicting untold damage not only to Europe and the US but beyond.
New York-based The Arkin Group also flagged geopolitical developments that leaders should watch out for in navigating this “new and evolving world order.” While Putin will persist in his assault, Ukraine will not back down and will continue to prevail (as seen in the major offensive launched at the start of the year that resulted in the death of an estimated 400 Russian soldiers).
Ironically, what Putin must have envisioned to be his crowning glory could turn out to be his undoing. The shock-and-awe tactic at the start of the invasion in February last year was bogged down by the fact that Russian soldiers initially deployed were under-equipped and undertrained and proved to be no match for Ukrainians who were not only ready to defend their country to the death but also had strategically prepositioned anti-aircraft gunners. Another significant factor would be the anti-aircraft missiles and drones from countries supportive of Ukraine, like the US.
Saying the world took a dangerous turn in 2022, the Council on Foreign Relations lists several Tier 1 (high priority) risks or potential conflicts to watch this 2023, based on the results of the 15th annual Preventive Priorities Survey conducted by its Center for Preventive Action.
The International Monetary Fund has also sounded the alarm over the Ukraine conflict’s “severe economic repercussion in Europe, with higher energy prices, weaker consumer confidence and slower momentum in manufacturing resulting from persistent supply chain and rising disruption costs,” at the same time warning that about half of the European Union will be in recession in 2023.
An escalation of the armed conflict in Ukraine resulting from the employment of unconventional weapons, the spillover into neighboring countries (including cyberattacks on critical infrastructure and/or the direct involvement of NATO members) has become a real danger, warned CFR. It also points to the continuing tensions between the US and China – describing the relations between these two majors as plummeting – because of their differences over Taiwan.
“As if Taiwan and Ukraine were not enough to worry about, several disputes in other parts of the world also became more menacing in 2022, notably those involving Iran and North Korea,” CFR also noted, its assessment echoed by other think tanks that have expressed concern over the probability of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state, as well as North Korea’s relentless missile launches with Kim Jong Un ordering the “exponential” expansion of their nuclear arsenal.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold its annual forecasting conference this Thursday regarding policy challenges in the Indo-Pacific Region. Growing regional tensions are a major cause of concern, especially with the intense strategic competition between the US and China. I was asked to deliver a keynote speech for the event, where a CSIS team of experts will be conducting panel discussions on the political and economic developments in the region. Immediately after that event, I will proceed to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, where I was invited to its Americas Ambassadors Forum to share our foreign policy thrusts and priorities as well as my perspectives on the geopolitical and economic challenges that impact the Philippines and the region.
Given the continuing challenges nations face in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, a key priority would be economic recovery more than pursuing military might. Many experts have noted that a nation’s military supremacy has its foundations in superior economic development. Put another way, the main driving force for most countries is still the economy, which largely determines their relationship with other nations.
Taken in that light, the US has to step up to the plate and up its game because China and even Russia are using economic interests to influence the foreign policy decisions of nations.
Take India, for instance, which has become the biggest buyer of Russian oil after European countries stopped buying as part of the sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine. For India, it’s really simple: they need oil, Russia is selling at very cheap prices, and there is nothing anybody can do about it.
While the threat of global recession looms, there is optimism that the Southeast Asian region will fare better, with solid growth expected due to the resilient performance of ASEAN economies. As I’ve pointed out, opportunities are there if we play our cards right – let’s just not drop the ball this time around.