The world in 2024
- December 22, 2023
- Engelsberg Ideas
- Themes: Geopolitics
Experts look ahead to 2024 and outline what they believe will be the most important geopolitical developments of the coming year.
Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History at Oxford University and author of The Earth Transformed: An Untold History
Even the sunniest optimist would find it difficult to turn in to 2024 feeling upbeat. These last twelve months have been extraordinarily challenging: hopes of a breakthrough in Ukraine in the summer were stymied on the battlefield; the future of the Middle East, which Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, said was ‘quieter today than it has been in two decades’ just days before the horrors of 7 October and the immense suffering that has followed, looks ominous and potentially catastrophic. Then there is China, which is going through a wave of economic turbulence while trying to set its engagement with the outside world; or Iran, which withdrew the accreditation of several nuclear inspectors; or North Korea with its erratic military posture.
If the stiff geopolitical currents are one set of problems, then climatic changes provide another: 2023 was the warmest year on record. If 2024 is close to that record, let alone equalling or beating it, then we should be thinking hard about agricultural yields and food supply, about water demand, and about disease environments that have expanded significantly over the last decade. There is the prime-time, guaranteed drama of the US presidential election of 2024 that will make our own general election look like a genteel tea party. Throw in pressures on public finances, changing demographics, rising inequality, political polarisation, migration and more and the coming year looks potentially X-rated.
And yet, perhaps things are not quite so bad after all – at least not everywhere. The US markets end 2023 within a whisker of an all-time high, with the Dow Jones 500 more than doubling in value over the last decade. New technologies might seem terrifying, but the opportunities and benefits far outweigh potential downsides. Friends and colleagues in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines – home to almost 25 per cent of the world’s population – talk about their hopes and ambitions, not their fears and concerns.
Here in Europe, there is no question that we have some tough decisions to make. Much depends on a clear-eyed hierarchy of priorities – and on devising a plan to go about addressing the problems that lie here or just ahead. 2024 is a year of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. You never know: ‘if necessity is the mother of invention’, there might even be some pleasant surprises along the way.
Linda Yueh, Economist at Oxford University and London Business School and author of The Great Crashes: Lessons from Global Meltdowns and How to Prevent Them
2024 is the biggest year for elections in history. Over half of the world’s population, some four billion people will go to the polls. There will be elections in the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, India, Taiwan, among many others, including in Africa. The potential policy changes that could result make next year a year characterised by geoeconomic uncertainty, that is, where economics will be greatly impacted by geopolitics. When this is layered on top of a weakly growing world economy with volatile inflation, 2024 is replete with uncertainty.
This is part of a rising trend of geoeconomic tensions whereby economic policies such as trade and investment restrictions are ‘weaponised’ in terms of being deployed to achieve non-economic aims such as furthering foreign policy objectives or as part of an arsenal of tools in the era of great power competition that has seen the US and China compete in a wide range of arenas to set global standards for technology. When this is considered alongside geopolitics, particularly the wars in Russia-Ukraine and Israel, the US election could be particularly consequential as one prominent example.
Therefore, 2024 could see a realignment of geopolitics which could see policies shift, both by the US and by a number of countries toward the US or China or away from both toward the non-aligned camp. For instance, the impact on supply chains could be significant as businesses have been reconfiguring their global value chains to avoid trade and investment restrictions as well as respond to technological change and consumer preferences. This uncertainty about where to invest will only be heightened in 2024, which could delay investments that won’t help the world economy.
Thus, we should brace ourselves for a year of geoeconomics that could worsen uncertainty at an already challenging time for the global economy and the world.
Neil Brown, Commodore Royal Navy (Rtd), Geopolitical Adviser to Lord Hintze and Senior Associate Fellow at the Council on Geostrategy
A lot of people are going to be disappointed in 2024. Not just in Gaza and Ukraine where wars will start the year and the risks of escalation will remain; where the IDF will continue until they remove Hamas’ ability to attack Israel without warning; where Western support for Kyiv will continue and Russia will begin to show weakness. But also in the north of South America, the wider Middle East and North Africa, and in the Sahel – fragile states from which large numbers will migrate to the US and Europe.
Elections in 2024 will dominate headlines, but also distort priorities and distract from the job of government, especially in Europe where when elections end, coalition building generally begins. Despite the political volatility amplified by unprecedented election interference which will undermine legitimacy and threaten civil disorder, many in France and Germany wish they also had elections in 2024; there, domestic political drift will continue, and remove the EU’s lodestar.
Against a background of lingering inflation, the EU will wrestle with seemingly impossible choices including: Expand before reforming? Agree and enforce fiscal discipline and deliver increased green and defence ambition? Decarbonise and decouple from China? It will struggle to compete with both China’s subsidies and an American economy turbocharged by massive fiscal stimulus which the Biden administration (fearful of a late intervention by independent candidates), hopes will give independent voters in five swing states a feeling of economic health in time to see off the threat of Trump. Beijing’s economy will continue to trail, tempering global energy and commodities demand, as Xi, fearing the loss of political control, ignores the reforms needed to stimulate consumer and investor confidence. This will weigh on his risk-reward calculus across a region where he will continue to be assertive, especially around Taiwanese elections.
The transition to a new version of globalisation will continue, fuelled by political choices and geopolitical realignment in an increasingly bipolar world that will add cost, debt, and uncertainty. The US-led West and China will court the Global South but settle for partial alignment and complex new interdependencies. Governments and market participants will be faced with the reality that growth and peace are no longer inevitable and that, on top of everything else in 2024, nuclear North Korea and near-nuclear Iran have not gone away. What price for sovereignty, resilience and deterrence?
S. C. M. Paine, William S. Sims University Professor of History and Grand Strategy at the US Naval War College and author of The Wars for Asia 1911-1949
While the new Cold War persists, global growth rates will not match those of the inter-Cold War period. After the last one, Russia ceased funding armed groups, China focused on economic growth, so civil wars died down and wealth compounded. Now Russia and China, joined by Iran regionally, are funding armed groups and propping up dictators globally, with growth-killing consequences.
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have ‘unlimited objectives’ for the international rules-based order. Invading neighbours signals plans, not to reform (a limited objective), but to replace it. However flawed the rules are, negotiated improvements are far less wealth-reducing and life-destroying than wars to rewrite them.
Dictators regard democracies as existential threats, because citizens choose their leaders and prosper, while dictators haemorrhage cash to dominate citizens and neighbours alike. This is the essence of Xi’s Taiwan problem and Putin’s Ukraine problem.
Compromise with adversaries pursuing unlimited objectives is called appeasement because the compromise positions them to return for the kill. In 2024, the West faces the choice: either position Ukraine to reclaim territory or allow Russian material superiority to dominate. Ukrainian defeat would be a pivotal event, meaning no way back to the world of before.
Retaining Crimea would position Putin to ingest Moldova and the Baltic states, creating an arc of instability threatening the Dardanelles, Poland, and Scandinavia. Without Crimea, Russia lacks basing for Middle Eastern military adventures and onward into Africa. Ukraine’s defeat would embolden China to carry out longstanding threats to attack Taiwan. The last time regional wars in Europe and Asia went unchecked, they merged into the Second World War.
Then the West chose a pound of cure over an ounce of prevention. Today’s cure could entail megatons of nuclear weapons ending global warming with nuclear winter. Far cheaper to keep us out by keeping the Ukrainians in.
(Disclaimer: The ideas expressed are those of the author alone.)
Anna Rosenberg, Head of Geopolitics at the Amundi Investment Institute
In 2024, geopolitical realignment will continue, eroding American and European influence and inspiring protectionism; natural resources are being used for blackmail, increasing the risk of economic warfare; and elections in Taiwan, the United States and elsewhere will prompt further economic uncertainty.
As with everything, however, where there are losers, there are winners. Over the coming year, it will become clearer which states will benefit from the political and economic turbulence.
You can group these winners into three categories. Firstly, you have the winners of influence. These are the nations, like India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Brazil, which are gaining leverage in the international system through their growing power and utilisation of resources and programmes around nuclear and domestic energy.
The second group are the winners of new defence treaties which are being signed with the United States, like the Philippines. With these treaties come a lot of investment promises from the US in order to guarantee those partnerships.
The final group are the winners of diversification. These are countries that are benefitting from energy diversification, such as Qatar and Angola because of their reserves of liquified natural gas (LNG). There are also those, in Central Asia and Latin America, that are getting a lot of attention because of their rare earth minerals. The most interesting set of nations to watch, however, are those who sense the opportunities of supply chain diversification happening in Asia away from China and Taiwan. It’s Japan and South Korea, for example, with technology investments; it’s Vietnam and Thailand with logistics and supply chain movements. Morocco benefitted from the car sector moving away from Central Europe because of the war in Ukraine and increased geopolitical tension will offer further such opportunities.
Overall, a lot of countries are refusing to take a side in a bipolar world and nations in the Global South have a lot more negotiating power. They can leverage and play the United States and China off against each other, and that gives them a lot more sway.
This is not guaranteed, however. A question that will play out in 2024 is: does a country that has these opportunities and resources have the right political structure and long-term strategy to actually make them into meaningful economic growth?
Francis J. Gavin, Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and Director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS, and author of Thinking Historically – Reflections on Statecraft and Strategy, forthcoming with Yale University Press
Assessing the long-term historical impact of events and phenomena as they unfold in real time is a vexing challenge. Imagine taking a time machine back to Christmas, 1979. Looking at a stagnant economy, a weak presidency, urban decay and rising crime, a fractured western alliance, and a deteriorating geopolitical landscape, observers would have been forgiven if they were not especially bullish on the long-term future of the United States or indeed the west. Yet only a decade later, the revolutions in Central Europe ushered in the end of the Cold War, largely on Western terms, setting the scene for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, the global expansion of trade, market liberalisation and democratisation, and decades of US primacy. The sources for this profound transformation were many – wise grand strategy and Western cohesion certainly played a critical role – but deeper, often hidden forces, ranging from revolutions in technology and finance to upheavals in rights and identity, consumer behaviour, and cultural change were equally important.
Might the same be true in 2024?
The ongoing war, brutal war in Ukraine, turmoil in the Middle East, tensions in East Asia, global economic uncertainty, doubts about American leadership and western solidarity, and increased political polarisation certainly generate 1979 vibes. New planetary challenges, including an overheating planet and terrifying new technologies, add to the toll. Deeper, more positive tectonic forces, however, may also be at work. Ten years from now, might we see the positive results of revolutions in food and energy production, medicine, and manufacturing and knowledge creation? Might the concrete improvements produced by such innovation again reveal the comparative benefits of messy but open societies versus their authoritarian competitors? One can’t know – plausible scenarios can paint a future world closer to popular dystopian shows like ‘Silo,’ ‘The Last of Us,’ and ‘Civil War.’ History reminds us that the future rarely moves in the linear, predictable manner we expect.