2021 was fraught with tension, as Biden’s administration grappled with domestic issues, all while attempting to return America to the diplomatic stage. Early on in his presidency, Biden’s leadership was challenged by events in Myanmar, Ukraine, and Afghanistan, as the world watched and gaged his response. Here are some areas events we’ll be keeping a close eye on in 2022.
Analysts and independent sources have rumored that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could occur anytime in January-February. Though Biden and Putin have made admirable progress in facilitating diplomatic talks, a border escalation could provide Putin with all the justification he feels necessary to invade Ukraine. Biden has made it clear that in regards to Russian aggression, there will be no appeasement. He has pledged strong economic sanctions and responsive military coordination with eastern NATO allies in the event that Putin acts.
However, whether Putin will take these threats seriously, is another question. Putin’s Russia has, in the past, made a mockery of American diplomatic efforts and sanctions. Though not unaffected, Putin’s previous actions have shown a willingness to persist despite economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation. Biden’s tough stance, as well as his cooperation with NATO allies, has sent a clear message to Russia regarding its activities in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence has also made clear that it identifies Russia’s paramilitary forces and “little green men” as a part of the Russian military, hence Putin cannot safely use them and expect to be held unaccountable.
Following the coup and arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s internal conflicts have spiraled further out of control. Ethnic militaries and pro-democracy forces are rallying to take on the government, as the military commits atrocities across the nation. Recently, the Myanmar Army commit the Mo So massacre, a horrendous act on Christmas eve that led to the death and disappearance of 57 people. Among the dead were many women and children, as well as two workers from the Save the Children Fund, a British humanitarian organization.
Though reports have surfaced of some soldiers deserting, it is becoming abundantly clear that Myanmar will enter some state of civil war, with two or more sides depending on the actions of separatist ethnic armies. How the international community will influence Myanmar’s internal conflicts is yet to be seen; though much of the world has condemned the coup, certain nations have seemed far more reticent to take action against the Myanmar military government. China and Russia in particular, the former of which has been rumored to have connections with the coup, both vetoed a security council resolution to condemn the coup.
It is clear that the status quo is too unstable to last, and whether Myanmar will dissolve into a civil war or an authoritarian regime is yet to be seen. But the actions the international community takes (and the actions they refuse to take) will heavily impact the chance for democratization in the region.
The Kashmir region has always been heavily contested, yet in the context of the 21st century, it has often been glossed over by the media. Save for, in volatile moments of violence and tension that have frequently occurred, providing for doomsday headlines of war between Pakistan, India, or China. In particular, clashes between India and Pakistan and India and China, and the subsequent propaganda war between the three states in regards to accurate casualty statistics, have made the Kashmir region murky in terms of discerning truth from fiction.
2022 will likely only exacerbate these issues, and provide a continuation of skirmishes on one of the world’s most dangerous borders. Actions taken by the three governments away from Kashmir, in regards to their neighbors (such as Myanmar and Pakistan) can lead to ceasefires and truces being compromised. As long as the Kashmir conflict exists, none of the three nations, save for Pakistan and China, will be able to come together for substantial peace talks, yet there is little common ground and agreement to be found between all present parties.
South China Sea
China itself is the focus of many conflicts around the world, as its sphere of influence slowly expands. The South China Sea has become ground zero for military confrontation between the U.S. and China, as the U.S. recently announced the formation of AUKUS, a nuclear ‘NATO’ of the pacific.
Though AUKUS’ expansion is at the present unlikely, it will undoubtedly cooperate closely with states such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
Similar to Russian ‘little green men’ in Ukraine, China has been rumored to employ an entire paramilitary navy, known as ‘little blue men’, in order to secure the region. Though the Chinese government has previously denied their existence, they have reportedly infringed upon the Philippines’ territorial waters, using ‘fishing vessels’ supported by larger ships. Additionally, Chinese jets have repeatedly violated Taiwanese airspace, causing a heightened diplomatic crisis near the end of Trump’s term, where General Mark Milley called Chinese General Li Zuocheng, assuring him there would be no overt American offensive.
2022 and COVID
Many other theatres will develop in 2022, as Biden’s second year as president cements America’s return to the global stage. Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, Korea, and the ongoing crises in Cuba, Venezuela, South Sudan, and Ethiopia are all volatile as well. But nothing will dictate 2022 more than the progress of the COVID pandemic, as new variants surface to ravage the world. The refusal to vaccinate, and the difficulty of access to vaccines in certain parts of the world, have prolonged the severity of the pandemic far beyond what it should have been. In 2021, we saw the rise and cementing of authoritarian governments as a result of the pandemic, including Hungary in the EU. To secure a safer world for diplomacy and cooperation, COVID must be fought and subdued, in whatever capacity necessary to return to some modicum of pre-2020 life.
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