Geopolitical contestations continued to sharpen in 2021 though there were some hopes of a positive turn after a truculent Trump administration led by the combative Republican President Donald Trump in the United States was succeeded by what was expected to be a milder Democrat President Joe Biden.
While the rhetoric may have changed a notch or two -hyphenation and contestations with the principal global rivals of the United States – Russia and the United States has continued and will remain the first mega trend of 2022 as well which will define much of the geo-politics
Mega Trend 2022/1 – COVID 19 and Geopolitical Impact
One of the perceptive predictions on trajectory of COVID 19 in 2022 is by Bill Gates founder of Microsoft and philanthropist at large who has made substantial investments in universalising vaccines. Gates predicts in his blog, that the acute phase of COVID 19 will come to an end in 2022. “I am hopeful, though, that the end is finally in sight. It might be foolish to make another prediction, but I think the acute phase of the pandemic will come to a close some time in 2022,” writes Gates in his blog.
The emergence of Omicron variant marked as of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is an indication that there will be more mutants that humans will face of the deadly corona virus, yet initial reports indicate that Omicron severity is lower than its predecessor Delta resulting in fewer hospitalisations and deaths. Though this is an initial reading and more data needs to come in before a definitive understanding of the trajectory of the Omicron can be made.
While the virus will fade away as Gates has predicted, the geo-politics of COVID 19 witnessed in much of 2021 and 2022 is expected to continued with rivalry over vaccines, supply chains and technologies impacting the way in which nations will engage with one another. Thus COVID 19 will continue to have a dominant global impact ahead.
Mega Trend 2022/2 – US – China/Russia Contestation to Confrontation
Despite the summit held by US President Joe Biden with the Russian President Vladmir Putin (Two in 2021) and the Chinese President Xi Jinping, there are issues that could lead to growing confrontation. There are enough differences that point towards such a scenario including Ukraine with Russia and Taiwan with China. Ukraine and Taiwan thus appear to be the triggers for such a confrontation.
The recent United States Department of Defence 2021 Global Posture Review suggests anticipation of what is termed openly as “aggression”.
Thus in the Indo Pacific the United States is strengthening defence posture along with partners and allies to, “deter potential Chinese military aggression”.
In Europe the desired US defence posture is to create, “combat-credible deterrent against Russian aggression and enables NATO forces to operate more effectively”. As a quid pro quo of sorts, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov holds briefing for foreign military attaches in Moscow in December stated unequivocally that, “more than 95% of the launchers of the ground-based strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation are in constant readiness for combat use,” implying mating of warheads with delivery systems.
Mega Trend 2022/3 – Ukraine
Reports of Russia massing 175,000 troops on the Ukraine border have been flagged while the International Crisis Group states in Crisis Watch November 2021 indicated that, “Russia’s military build-up along Ukraine’s border increased domestic and international concerns about a potential invasion and renewed armed conflict in the east”.
Bolstering support to the Ukraine government, “Govt and U.S. 10 Nov signed new Charter on Strategic Partnership that expands defence and security cooperation, supports Ukraine’s right to decide its own future “including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO”.
During the Foreign Ministers Meeting in Riga, NATO ministers flagged concerns over development, while President Joe Biden in his secure video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin has, “made clear that the U.S. and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation. President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy”.
US President Joe Biden similarly reassured the Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during his call the following days.
Mega Trend 2022/4 – Afghanistan – Humanitarian Crisis
Gradual receding of Afghanistan into instability in the last four months or so may become critical given the humanitarian crisis that is evident with United States and the West unrelenting on release of funds to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan government. International Crisis Group has in fact predicted one million fatalities in Afghanistan during the winter due to lack of subsistence support. Apart from lack of international will, there is also absence of capacity to deliver of the present administration in Kabul. Thus for instance hypothetically speaking even if the money was released relief at the grassroots may be limited.
While the danger of resurgence of global terror from Afghanistan looms large, this is unlikely to manifest in 2022 as it may take some time for groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda to regroup their forces and reorganise them in Afghanistan for projecting a major threat.
Mega Trend 2022/5 – Iran – Israel/United States
Iran the United States have commenced indirect talks [Iran is holding direct talks with other parties E 3 + 2 – France, Germany, UK, China and Russia] for return of the latter to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the Iran nuclear deal inked in 2015 but reneged by the United States in 2018. Consequent to the same, Iran has carried out substantial proliferation in terms of nuclear enrichment to 60 % increased the level of weapons grade material and denied access to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) representatives to nuclear facilities as Karaj claiming sabotage by Israel. The talks commenced at Vienna on November 29th and are now in the second round in December after a short break. Proposals by Iran on commencement are said to be negative and castigated even by China and Russia who have been generally supportive of Tehran.
Israel and the United States have meanwhile flagged that they are ready for alternate military options.
In an exclusive report Reuters news agency has stated that United States and Israel are considering holding military drills for a possible Iran scenario in case the nuclear talks fail.
Mega Trend 2022/6 – Global Terrorism Surge
The pull out of the United States and NATO from Afghanistan, political crisis in Iraq, uncertainty in the Kurdish areas bordering Turkey and Syria, bleeding civil war in Yemen has created space for proliferation of terror groups such as the Islamic State and al Qaeda who are on the look out for ungoverned spaces and unstable regimes for expanding their influence. Ability of these groups to create a cohort that can launch a major terrorist attack remains high and could be a key mega trend for 2022.
Outlined above are six mega trends that may impact global polity and security. There are numerous others which are consequential but is felt that their influence could be limited to the bilateral and regional sphere and would not extend globally be it contentions in the South China Sea, Taiwan, India China Line of Actual Control disputes as well as the cyber sphere.
These will be covered in the respective regional trends separately.