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What challenges await us in 2022?

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Tensions around Taiwan

In Asia, China represents the main geopolitical challenge. At the end of 2021, hostilities crystallized around Taiwan. Is there a risk of conflict breaking out?

Even if it is not very likely in the short term, it cannot be ruled out, says J. Michael Cole, principal researcher at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, based in Taipei.

If the decision-makers act rationally in Beijing, I don’t think this is going to be a war., says Cole. However, he adds, if there was political instability in China, the regime could try to rekindle popular support and create a distraction by launching an attack on Taiwan. He could do it too if the island made a declaration of independence, which would be seen as a provocation.

In China, internal policies can lead to decisions that, from the outside, may seem irrational to us.

A quote from J. Michael Cole, Principal Investigator at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
The bridge of the boat.

The US missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur conducts routine operations in the Taiwan Strait.

Photo: Associated Press / Zenaida Roth / US Navy

Relations between China and Taiwan, a democracy independent from mainland China since 1949, became strained with the coming to power of Xi Jinping in 2013, followed by the election to the Taiwanese presidency in 2016 of Tsai-Ing. Wen, an independentist.

Since then, Beijing has increased its military, diplomatic and economic pressure on the rebel island. In October 2021, on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution, the Chinese president promised a reunification with Taiwan and reiterated strong determination […] of the Chinese people to defend […] territorial integrity.

The United States is not tied to the island by any agreement, but maintains a strategic ambiguity, because they provide Taiwan with military equipment to defend itself, without explicitly promising aid in the event of a Chinese attack.

Tensions in Eastern Europe

A soldier carrying a weapon in a winter landscape.

A Ukrainian soldier patrols the Donetsk region.

Photo: afp via getty images / ANATOLII STEPANOV

In Europe, tensions have escalated around Ukraine after a reinforcement of Russian troops at the border at the end of October. Is an invasion in the plans?

Difficult to say, believes Marie Dumoulin, director of the Wider Europe program at the European Council for International Relations (ECFR), who thinks that Vladimir Poutine is rather increasing the pressure to obtain a dialogue with the Americans. The Russian president wants them to commit to putting a stop to the expansion of theNorth Atlantic Treaty Organization to the former Soviet republics. A meeting is scheduled for January to discuss it. Will the West agree to give the Russians the written guarantees they are asking for?

The conflict with pro-Russian separatists has claimed some 13,000 lives in eastern Ukraine since 2014.

In the same region, Belarus is also to be watched, notes the researcher. The Europeans accuse President Lukashenko of having instrumentalized migrants, whom he allowed to enter his country and then push them towards Poland and destabilize the EU’s external border, supports the latter. He would thus have tried to avenge the sanctions that the West imposed on him after his controversial re-election in the fall of 2020 and the repression that followed. If the crisis currently seems to be over, Lukashenko could start again anytime, argues Dumoulin.

We are dealing with a rogue regime which wants to regain legitimacy as an interlocutor and which will not hesitate to use all the means at its disposal to achieve its ends.

A quote from Marie Dumoulin, from the European Council for International Relations

The Middle East still in turmoil

A child holds the hand of a woman covered with a chador.

Families held in Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria prepare to return to their homes in the Raqa region.

Photo: Getty Images / DELIL SOULEIMAN

In the Middle East, a neglected issue that risks coming to the fore again is that of the 60,000 prisoners of the Islamic State armed group, held in camps in northeastern Syria.

It’s very unpopular for a government to want to repatriate IS fighters, but we should talk about it, because it poses a lot of security questions., believes Arthur Stein, doctoral student at the University of Montreal and specialist in civil wars.

Some prisoners, whose degree of radicalism is unknown, escaped. In addition, a large number of children and women are detained. It is a rather vague situation in legal terms, since these people have not been tried., specifies the researcher.

Another still unresolved issue is that of Iran’s nuclear program. Talks began in Vienna at the end of November between Tehran and the major powers signatories to the 2015 agreement, but it is unclear whether Iran is in good faith or is only trying to buy time, notes Mr. Stein.

Wary of Iran, Israel opposes the negotiations and would prefer a military solution. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also called on negotiators not to give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail, against which he did not rule out a unilateral action.

The influence of Iranian militias in the Middle East also remains an issue, says Arthur Stein.

Iran boasts of controlling four capitals: Damascus, Beirut, Sana’a and Baghdad. This is more or less true, but there is a potential for destabilization which is real.

A quote from Arthur Stein, doctoral student at the University of Montreal.
An armed man is standing in front of a wall on which you can see a hook in a box.

An armed man stands guard outside an office of the Libyan High Electoral Commission in Benghazi on December 16, 2021.

Photo: Reuters / ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI

Finally, the situation should also be monitored in Libya, a powder keg that risks exploding, according to the researcher. The elections, scheduled for December 24 and which were to help the country emerge from a decade of chaos, will ultimately be postponed. In the meantime, tensions remain high, as disagreements between the rival camps, supported by various foreign powers, could plunge Libya back into war.

Democracy in decline

In Africa, beyond one-off crises, it is the state of democracy that preoccupies Marie-Ève ​​Desrosiers, associate professor at the School of International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa. We hear a lot about the ancestry of China or Russia, but we overlook the forms that the rise of authoritarianism and the decline of democracy take elsewhere in the world., she remarks.

While we expected, in the post-Cold War period, greater political liberalization, the opposite is happening, thinks the researcher, with authoritarian consolidation everywhere, despite a semblance of democracy in institutions and speeches.

What is more, this decline in democracy is not limited exclusively to the political apparatus, but also concerns the populations who, before wanting political rights, demand above all a functional government that brings them security as well as political stability and economic.

We have been sitting on our laurels for too long, thinking that liberal democracy would be the model that every citizen would like to embrace. But the tendency to turn to alternative models, even in an authoritarian context, is on the rise. Liberal democracies are not sufficiently aware of this.

A quote from Marie-Ève ​​Desrosiers, professor at the University of Ottawa
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