2024 in preview: Flashpoints, elections, humanitarian crises

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler, December 31, 2023

Looking into the snow globe, it’s that time of year to predict and prognosticate what awaits this tired world in the New Year. There’s a certain trepidation in the air as we view the current and emerging crises, especially during a highly contested election year in so many key countries.

Flashpoints

Iran Showdown: The USA will inevitably clash with one of Iran’ s many  proxy forces, if not the Islamic Republic directly.  The Red Sea shipping crisis will expand with Yemeni Houthis, the Iran backed militia, firing on Western merchant vessels. Then there’s Hezbollah in Lebanon and  Hamas in Gaza.  This is an unfolding scenario which could be capped off by the Tehran regime acquiring and testing a nuclear weapon.  Conversely, domestic discord inside the Islamic Republic could prove to be the Achilles heel of the mullahs.

Ukraine war:  Where do we go from here?  Two years into this bloody war, Diplomatic moves to end this bloodshed on Europe’s doorstep are being discussed in Western capitals. Despite some notable Ukrainian military successes, Russia’s military grip hasn’t been broken.  Massive American and European military commitments to the Kyiv government will continue, but with waning Western support.

An Israeli strike on Rafah in southern Gaza is seen on Dec. 20. / AFP

Gaza/Israel: The Military slugfest continues with appalling  humanitarian consequences. Israel’s 120 remaining hostages MUST be released.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks weak in the wake of Israel’s massive 7 October intel failure, literally 50 years since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. This fighting will continue for quite some time as Israel has little choice but to eradicate the Hamas terrorists in Gaza’s urban landscape.

Korean Peninsula: Communist North Korea will continue to probe its boundaries with illegal missile firings and shall likely stage another nuclear test. Nonetheless North Korea’s population  still faces endemic food shortages.  Kim Jong-Un’s regime could be weaker than we assume.  Count on continuing North Korean bullying to all East Asia, especially Japan.

Elections

Taiwan holds Presidential elections in January; free elections always become a lightning rod for Beijing’s intent towards the democratic self-ruled island.  Taiwan’s major political parties, the incumbent DPP  and the opposition Nationalists (KMT),  differ dramatically over their view of China.Though known as the Republic of China, Taiwan’s ruling DPP downplays ethnic Chinese roots while the KMT holds to the view that both the Mainland and Taiwan are fellow “Chinese with different political interpretations.” Any future government must keep the delicate cross Straits balance and status quo; don’t give the PRC regime any excuse to attack. Beijing’s massive Grey Area warfare with Chinese aircraft circling the island like vultures serves as a dark provocation from the communists. Contrary to South Korea and Japan, the ROC on Taiwan doesn’t have a formal U.S. military security treaty.

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The USA holds Presidential elections in a highly polarized country which will test stamina and sanity. What regrettably looks more like a long-running political soap opera has dangerous consequences for the U.S. and the world. Yet the unprecedented flow of more than six million illegal migrants into the USA during the Biden Administration along with its foreign policy foibles, coupled with a lackluster economy don’t give Joe Biden a strong political hand.

Venezuela.  The contested and oil-rich Essequibo region of Guyana is claimed by the Maduro regime, who shall use a recent referendum to solidify Venezuela’s claim to the Florida-sized region. Nonetheless millions of Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years. Maduro’s socialist regime may make “regaining Essequibo” an election ploy.

India holds  Elections for Parliament in April or May.  Prime Minister Modi’s magic continues as the world’s largest democracy promotes and encourages an expanding economy and middle class.  Equally India has moved politically closer to the United States in recent decades and can be viewed as a counterbalance to China.

Humanitarian Crises

Afghanistan faces a massive humanitarian catastrophe since Biden’s shameful pullout in 2021. The UN cites widening famine and gender persecution under the Taliban regime. For the past two years women and girls have been further marginalized in public life and from higher education.  Neighboring Pakistan has announced repatriation of “illegal foreigners” and more than 450,000 Afghanis have returned according to UN relief agencies.

Syria. More than a decade after the bloody conflict started, millions of Syrians have fled their country and millions more are internally displaced inside the country.  International humanitarian appeals have been woefully underfunded as the catastrophe continues out of the limelight.

Our world is overwhelmed with conflicts but equally with crisis fatigue. The resolve, fortitude and focus of American leadership is questioned by both allies and more ominous adversaries.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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