Geopolitics in 2022 will continue to be defined by superpower rivalry between America, China and Russia, with potential for imminent conflict in Ukraine.
Is the new year fated to repeat 2021’s disastrous failures of global leadership, evidenced by the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Lebanon’s continued disintegration, and breathtaking naivety in the face of Iran’s aggressive expansionism? Here are six areas where energetic diplomacy and popular activism could have a decisive impact.
China: The world cannot afford to demonize China with its extraordinary economic and demographic weight, and its leadership’s achievements in lifting millions of citizens out of poverty. But Beijing’s increasingly assertive authoritarian ideology, its brutal treatment of Hong Kong and the Uighurs, and its flexing of military muscles in the Pacific region, all necessitate a tough response.
Beijing can and must evolve into a constructive player on the world stage. A principal challenge is that, compared with 20 years ago, international law and multilateral forums have been dangerously weakened. If our multipolar world cannot establish collective principles for peaceful coexistence, while enshrining justice and fundamental human rights, we risk setting ourselves on the path toward mutually assured annihilation.
Russia: President Vladimir Putin respects strength. The West must therefore demonstrate resolve, not appeasement and indecision, in preempting any invasion of Ukraine and further Russian encroachment into eastern Europe. With Russian expansionism also on flagrant display in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, we must demonstrate to autocrats in China, Russia, Iran and Turkey that such violations of sovereignty can never be accepted by the civilized world.
However, elements of this Russian aggression stem from a sense of inferiority and a perception that Moscow is not accorded its due respect on the world stage. Whether we like it or not, Putin has forged Russia back into being a world power, and it deserves mutual respect — if it plays by the rules. With Russia’s economy already in a dire state, Biden has wisely reminded Putin of the consequences if the West chose to sever Moscow from the global economy.
Lebanon: The past year was another one of heartbreak, suffering and rapid decline under the twin hegemony of Hezbollah and Tehran, underpinned by their corrupt alliance with President Michel Aoun and Gebran Bassil, and the latter’s destructive quest for the presidency. Hezbollah dominates the state, but exists outside the principles and values of the state, and undermines the state’s sovereignty and legitimacy. Aoun delayed elections until May because he knows his Free Patriotic Movement will perform disastrously. When (and if) these elections do occur, citizens must vote decisively for change — kullun yaani kullun, all of them means all of them! Nevertheless, even the best possible outcome of these elections would be only a modest first step in Lebanon’s long journey out of the darkness. The Arab nations of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq will never flourish without assertive and ambitious GCC and Arab involvement, capable of dwarfing Iran’s hostile meddling.
Iran: US diplomats I speak to recognize that Tehran is cynically playing for time in nuclear negotiations. The microscopic compromises that Iran may be willing to countenance will have zero impact in neutralizing the Islamic Republic as a global threat and an exporter of terrorism, paramilitarism, narcotics and weapons proliferation.
With Tehran months away from nuclear break-out capacity, 2022 is the make-or-break year when the world must grasp the implications of what is required to prevent the ayatollahs from menacing the world with nuclear and ballistic weapons. Will 2022 be the year when courageous Iranians bring down their hated leaders? Or the year when the long-expected confrontation between Israel and Iran finally erupts? Drastic diplomatic action is necessary to forestall this latter apocalyptic scenario.
Iraq: Iran-backed militants from Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi performed abysmally in elections, but they still hope to exploit their paramilitary and economic muscle to obstruct any curtailing of their political power. The world has the perfect opportunity to knock these terrorists down to size, through drastic cuts to Hashd funding and enforcing laws which dictate that these forces should cease existing as independent entities. In a state drowning in corruption, the Hashd’s aggressive brinkmanship risks dragging Iraq back into conflict, with some of the most brutal rivalry in evidence within the Shiite camp itself. Iraq and Lebanon face a stark choice between restoring their independence, identity and sovereignty, or a slow and painful demise as militia states.
Religious diversity: It has never been more important to halt the inexorable eradication of Christians and other minorities across the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, where chronic instability has made life unlivable. Christian, Jewish, Druze, Palestinian and Yazidi communities have immensely enriched the region’s cultural heritage. But such has been the rate of coerced emigration, due to economic collapse and the horrors of persecution, that historic communities are falling to levels where they are scarcely sustainable. This is a catastrophe for the world.
This year should be the one when conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya are finally resolved, with renewed commitment to muscular diplomacy, and Libyans likely to soon gain their opportunity to vote. Meanwhile, while the world prevaricates, Afghanistan teeters on the brink of complete collapse and mass starvation, and Afghan women have been utterly divested of their hard-won rights. Palestinians continue to be squeezed out of existence. After the unimpressive Glasgow 2021 climate change summit, intensified worldwide efforts are necessary to rescue the planet.
Plagued by the afflictions of populism, intolerance and nativism and the rise in anti-democratic forces, the past decade witnessed a progressive Western withdrawal from the world. This encouraged predatory powers to expand, giving rise to profound illiberal, authoritarian and retrogressive tendencies — just one manifestation of which has been media purges and killings of journalists.
We hope that 2022 will witness a turn in this tide, as people realize that if we desire a stable and prosperous world that reflects our values, then we must be vigorously involved in the world, and influence it for the better. So much can be achieved in 2022, but only if leaders, diplomats and citizens cooperate in the cause of global peace and stability, in a just and laws-based world.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
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