The return of war to Europe is in fact the news of 2022, to the point that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has earned – despite himself – the cover of Time’s “Person of the Year” while his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, is considered public enemy number one by the vast majority of countries in the world today. Suffice it to say that in the vote on the UN resolution last October which condemned the illegal referendums in the Donbass regions and Moscow’s own attempt to annex that area, only five were against: Russia – obviously – together with Belarus, its ally military, then North Korea, Nicaragua and Syria. For many Western politicians, the aggression against Kiev is the most important crisis of the moment: a brazen, bloody and unjustified war that inevitably marked an epochal moment in the old continent, reawakening military and economic strategies in the main European capitals and reinvigorating the alliance transatlantic. At the same time, however, the crisis has brought about a series of knock-on effects – shocks to supply chains, energy markets and global food systems – that have exacerbated other distant crises. The Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank specializing in foreign policy and international affairs, has released its annual survey of US preventive priorities (Preventive Priorities Survey) by interviewing more than 500 U.S. government officials, politicians, and academics and asking them to identify and rate 30 ongoing or potential conflicts based on how likely they are to escalate or occur in 2023. The purpose of the survey is to guide state policy decisions United by placing the prevention of conflicts more concretely at risk of escalation and the mitigation of crises already underway at the top of the list of priorities.
A look at Asia
The first of the seven most pressing threats for 2023 that emerged from the survey is the advent of “a serious crisis between the two sides of the Formosa Strait” that would drag the US into a confrontation with China over Taiwan. “Every conversation I’ve had about Ukraine this year has turned to Taiwan at some point,” said Suzanne Maloney, vice president and director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, a leading Washington-based research center. China has in fact taken ambiguous positions regarding Russian aggression, and in the first week of the new year, Beijing has launched new military exercises at sea and in the airspace around the island. Biden’s concern is that it is the prelude to a real invasion. The spotlights also remain on possible escalations in Ukraine that include “the spread of unconventional weapons”: it is not explicitly mentioned, but reference is made to the nuclear threat.
Still around the conflict in Ukraine, according to the survey, in 2023 revolutionary uprisings could be generated within Russia itself, which as a result of sanctions and international isolation risks economic collapse and consequent social unrest: to date the repression of dissent has worked well thanks to the measures put in place by the Kremlin against the free expression of thought in the streets or in the media, but it doesn’t necessarily hold up for long in the face of the worsening living conditions of the lower-middle class. Among the internal threats to the United States then, Washington fears a widespread and joint cyberattack on all the critical infrastructures of the state machine. From the south, the US also fears the risk that new natural disasters and social unrest in Central America will generate massive migratory flows towards the country from Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, where poverty, violence, lack of economic opportunities and food insecurity push ever-increasing numbers of people to try to cross the border.
The unknown Netanyahu
In addition to the Taiwan crisis, Asia remains at the center of the dossier also for a possible intensification of tests with nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles in North Korea. Pyongyang now conducts military experiments every month to flex its muscles in the face of international sanctions: towards the end of the year, on December 31, it completed the launch of its most advanced ICBM ever, which landed in the East Sea, also known as the of Japan.
The latest alarm bell sounded by the Council on Foreign Relations rings out in Jerusalem, after the inauguration of the sixth government Netanyahu, considered the most right-wing in history given the entry for the first time of extremist parties in the majority that supports Likud in the Knesset. During the oath, the prime minister cited the neutralization of the efforts made by Iran to acquire a nuclear potential as the first objective of his executive: with the progressive expiry of the agreements reached with the United States, the country will be able to start operating advanced atomic centrifuges again in the 2026 and to enrich uranium to high levels starting in 2031, a scenario that Israel has harshly criticized and which could result in airstrikes on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities.
This list of crucial points of international tensions that most concern US observers does not take into account another report, presented last month by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian relief NGO, according to which there are 20 countries at risk of humanitarian calamity in 2023. Among these also Ukraine, which although it is under constant Russian bombardment appears “only” in tenth place. Other nations are in even more dire conditions: at the top of the list are Somalia and Ethiopia, the first torn apart by a civil conflict led by the terrorist group al-Shabaab and the second grappling with the confrontation between the forces of the Popular Liberation Front Tigray and the army of Addis Ababa. Both are affected by a situation of extreme drought.
Then there’s Afghanistan, which fell off the top spot on the watch list only because of the severity of the crises in East Africa. The economic collapse, exacerbated by the Taliban takeover, has plunged much of the country into misery, and the political impasse hanging over Kabul – with the Taliban’s foreign reserves frozen by US sanctions – is only making the situation worse. “Most of the crises in the report are not new,” wrote IRC president and chief executive David Miliband in the foreword to the annual report. “But the fact that these crises are protracted – he explained – does not make them any less urgent. The main reason we are seeing new worrying escalations is that three key factors such as armed conflicts, climate change and economic instability are taking long-standing emergencies to new extremes. And, in some cases, they are also opening new ones».
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