2024 will usher in a trickier and edgier world, where tensions will begin between states, but whose impact will be felt the strongest on companies, workers, and citizens
This essay is part of the "What to expect in 2024"
Geographies may be static, but the underlying is constantly shifting. In 2024, the velocity of these shifts will increase. From the straightforward political boundaries of Ukraine having been invaded by Russia to the maze of physical and psychological tunnels in the Israel-Hamas conflict, the year ahead will remain a chessboard of war, looming and real. Beyond the bombs and the beheadings, the new wars will also veer around political psychology. Citizens and their leaders will be expected to align their interests around two-corner boxing rings. From Russia in Ukraine to the barbarity of terror in Israel, geopolitics will further polarise extant positions. Ideological conflicts will reflect themselves in the United Nations (UN). Oil, technology, trade and religion, whose weaponisation has been accelerating during the past five years, will converge and compound in 2024.
From the straightforward political boundaries of Ukraine having been invaded by Russia to the maze of physical and psychological tunnels in the Israel-Hamas conflict, the year ahead will remain a chessboard of war, looming and real.
But what will set the next 12 months apart is the fact that, even if the with-us-against-us binaries dissolve, they will not always make way for mature understandings or deeper engagements of ideas. The more the legitimisation of violence, physically or intellectually, the greater will be the retort. A world that has turned deaf and blind to individual suffering, unless packaged in the appropriate religious box and political ideology, will need stronger hearing aids and thicker lenses to engage with human distress. It will need more than ideas to counter this. It will need new leaders backed by new aspirations. This will not happen in 2024. Despite talks, the year will be reserved for retribution.
The deeper interests, particularly of great powers such as the United States (US) and China, and emerging powers like India, will swing to serve domestic needs; values will glide on the skateboard of international relationships. Multilateral groupings such as the UN, the G21 or the BRICS will become platforms for hard bilateral conversations around borders and intrusions—physical and digital—behind curtains of soft collective alignments around peace, green and sustainability. Narrow interests will dominate such conversations.
A world that has turned deaf and blind to individual suffering, unless packaged in the appropriate religious box and political ideology, will need stronger hearing aids and thicker lenses to engage with human distress.
These interests could be simple, such as sourcing energy from countries that are at war, or they could be more layered, such as market depth of, foreign investment from, and technological intrusions by China. Values-based consistency died in 2022, debasing itself into empty virtue-signalling—the shaming of India by Europe around Russian gas, for instance. Even democracy as a form of government or free speech as a tool of democracy will be further reduced into serving shallow political interests, as Canada showed in 2023 by hyphenating itself with Pakistan by supporting Khalistani terrorism against India on its soil while using the cover of free speech rhetoric. All this while the world’s biggest adversary—China—and its authoritarian allies continue to weaponise democracy against democracies.
The control and protection of geographical resources such as oil, gas and critical minerals such as rare earths on the one side and intangible resources such as data, technologies and narratives on the other will accentuate in 2024. Beginning October 2023, all eyes are—and will remain through 2024—on Venezuela, against whom the US has eased sanctions. While this will result in an overall increase in the supply of oil and gas, how fast it reaches the market will be key. This will also be the year when Venezuela while becoming a supplier of energy, will also cut geopolitical deals around the world. The US, China, and India will be its major markets. If better sense prevails, the country could start diversifying into other sectors—as Saudi Arabia is currently doing—to attract global investment and leverage its oil and gas assets to light fires of growth beyond them.
Geopolitical alignments in 2024, as they have been since 2019 following the Coronavirus, will be driven by the US and will pivot around China, which manufactured and disseminated the physically and economically debilitating disease. Using its economic, military and strategic clout, the US has been on a front foot, from banning and getting allies to ban Chinese firms from their 5G rollouts to restrictions on semiconductor and advanced chips sales to China. This has found resonance across most of the world. Banning Huawei, for instance, began with Australia. Then it reached India—which has kept Huawei out of its 5G rollout—and was joined by most of Europe, barring Germany and France. On its part, China has placed restrictions on the export of critical minerals such as gallium needed to produce semiconductors. In 2024, the world will experience the pains of geopolitical dysconnectivity.
Using its economic, military and strategic clout, the US has been on a front foot, from banning and getting allies to ban Chinese firms from their 5G rollouts to restrictions on semiconductor and advanced chips sales to China.
This will lead to either the understanding of a one-world future, elegantly defined by India through its ancient currency of unity, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) and the related tributaries of geopolitical healing. Or it will head towards stances that will further harden, create deeper fissures, and experience greater grief as a run-up to a fumbling unity that will remain evasive in 2024. Given that the UN has now proved itself to be the world’s most expensive and ineffective institution that has failed in delivering the first reason it was created for—peace and security—the world will conclude that the UN may be too big to dislodge but is not too big to fail. This institutional debate will veer around the fact that four out of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are overtly, and China covertly, engaged with war, not peace.
The compounding of geopolitical tensions is not the problem of governments alone. They trickle down and impact everyone. There is hardly a corporate boardroom today where—directly or indirectly—geopolitics and its financial tributary, sanctions, is not on the agenda. Here, the constantly disrupting geography of alignments will become a starting base—a new normal. But engaging with these alignments will be tougher. It is fine for strategic analysts to demand a decoupling from China. But exiting a geography involves mega investments, a workforce that has spent years training on the job, a related ecosystem of knowledge inputs, and a market that absorbs the products and creates profits and valuations; companies exiting geographies is not as easy a task as taking a flight. It needs a longer-term analysis that balances the interests of shareholders and employees, today and tomorrow.
Despite geopolitical tensions on the border and a rising deficit, for instance, China is still India’s second-largest trading partner; Indian soldiers standing up to save the border has had an inverse impact on Indian consumers seeking cheap goods.
That companies such as Apple are beginning to exit China and come to India and Vietnam is possibly a sign of things to come. In 2024, these faultlines will widen, tighten and brighten. On the other hand, products from China will continue to flood the market. Despite geopolitical tensions on the border and a rising deficit, for instance, China is still India’s second-largest trading partner; Indian soldiers standing up to save the border has had an inverse impact on Indian consumers seeking cheap goods.
The year ahead will see the demand for new expertise in the form of a geopolitical department in large companies. The word ‘risk’ will have an increasing bearing on not just people, products or policy; it will embrace international developments and their offshoots. Things will get more complex and more uncertain before settling down. Effectively, 2024 will usher in a trickier and edgier world, where tensions will begin between states, but whose impact will be felt the strongest on companies, workers, and citizens.
Gautam Chikermane is a Vice President at the Observer Research Foundation
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Gautam Chikermane is a Vice President at ORF. His areas of research are economics, politics and foreign policy. A Jefferson Fellow (Fall 2001) at the East-West ...Read More +