Editor : HARSH V. PANT

Special ReportsPublished on Dec 29, 2023 PDF Download
ballistic missiles,Defense,Doctrine,North Korea,Nuclear,PLA,SLBM,Submarines

The World in 2023: An Epilogue


The year 2023 marked the final nail in the coffin for what had remained of the global order. The disarray in the world continued as multiple conflicts shaped the global environment, faultlines among major powers sharpened, and international institutions continued their debilitating streak. The fragmentation of the global economic order accelerated as emerging technologies became the most important determinants of the global power balance. The void in leadership at the global level has also contributed to the inability of the extant international system to effectively make provisions for global public goods.

With the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts, it is becoming clear that war is back at the centre of inter-state relations. The instrumentality of force is now evidently a key part of the contemporary global order, and its potency is a reminder that the anarchic nature of international politics continues to exert its pressure on the behaviour of states. Institutions, markets, and norms offer no respite; the strong continue to do as they wish, while the weak continue to suffer as they must. The new normal is the age-old normal that the international system seems to have forgotten at its own peril.

These conflicts are occurring simultaneously with the sharpening of the great power contestation between the US and China. The Indo-Pacific remains the cockpit of the contestation, and tensions in the region are at an all-time high. The current global disorder requires a collective leadership, which appears to be missing. The world is therefore ushering in 2024 with a foreboding that past assumptions may no longer be enough to ascertain future trends.

The shadow of violence has always defined the parameters of inter-state interactions. The ferocity of hard power also reflects the complacency of certain actors in engaging with global affairs. While China accumulated hard power, Europe was dismantling its military structures. The EU’s struggle to emerge as a relevant actor in global geopolitics reflects its desire to give up on hard power. Further, as American adversaries join forces, the US military machine is finding it hard to balance them across multiple theatres. 

Not surprisingly, most nations are trying to ensure their security by relying on their own capabilities. The Indo-Pacific has become the critical theatre where the centre of gravity of global politics and economics has shifted. It is here that military expenditures are booming and defence forces are trying to adapt to new strategic realities. It is in the Indo-Pacific that the EU has been forced to come to terms with its own inadequacies in shaping the regional and global balance of power. Even Germany and Japan have started reassessing their strategic choices with a single-minded focus on their hard power capabilities, in testament to our changing times.

India’s G20 presidency came at this crisis-ridden time and allowed India to be at the helm of a troubled global order and advocate for New Delhi’s brand of multilateralism. India’s aim was to steer the diverging great powers back to the negotiating table at the G20 and, in so doing, bolster its own credentials as a leading power on the global stage.

India’s G20 presidency was aimed at moving the world away from polarisation towards a greater sense of solidarity. Its own reality of being a multicultural democracy prepared it to bring together highly diverse stakeholders to cogitate and act on global challenges. The theme of the 2023 G20 Summit—Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: One Earth, One Family, One Future—encapsulated India’s conceptualisation of the global order and its own role within this order.
New Delhi has shown that it does not dwell merely on rhetoric. In 2020, as COVID-19 first surged, New Delhi insisted on the need for the international community to work together and help those struggling with the least resources, even as developed nations focused inwards, with some of them hoarding enough vaccines to inoculate each adult five times over. At a time of grave worldwide crisis, New Delhi effectively used all the instruments and platforms available to India to make a case that, instead of nations becoming more inward-looking, global engagement should be the norm. This is also an attempt to fill the leadership vacuum in the global order when both China and the US have exposed their vulnerabilities. India has shown that a nation with limited capabilities can also emerge as a leader by outlining the concerns of likeminded countries and working with them to build capacities in smaller states. In 2023, the contrast between a world struggling to generate a sense of order and an India ready to shape global outcomes in a positive manner could not have been starker.

This report outlines the key trends that have shaped the global landscape in 2023. Like previous years, this year, too, we asked our researchers to delineate three meta trends in their respective domains. The first section, on major powers, highlights how key global players are adjusting to rapidly evolving domestic and global realities. Both the US and China continued to grapple with domestic economic and political challenges even as they struggled to find a modus vivendi with each other. While Europe saw growing war fatigue as the Ukraine war dragged on, Putin’s Russia seemed more confident of muddling through the Ukrainian quagmire with economic resilience and military recalibration. 

The second section, on key geographies, examines the changing regional dynamic in different parts of the world. While the Indo-Pacific saw a significant consolidation of partnerships amid intensifying security challenges, in the Middle East, the optimistic trends of regional economic cooperation were challenged by the violent re-emergence of traditional political rivalries. The Central Asian Republics have been forced to re-evaluate their overdependence on Moscow’s economy and logistics amid the Russia-Ukraine war even as the Latin American landscape has seen domestic and regional concerns superseding geopolitics. Africa also continued to grapple with political and economic uncertainties even as its weight in global governance has grown. In the age of the Indo-Pacific, regional states in South Asia continue to be courted by key global players despite the dominance of India and China. 

The final section delineates some key global themes and issues of the past year. New technologies continued to shape the operational realities of warfare. Fragmentation and disharmony prevailed in the United Nations Security Council and global trade. The global climate agenda was reaffirmed by dire warnings from the scientific community regarding the irreversible impacts of climate change, with the launch of the Loss and Damage Fund at COP28 aimed at addressing the losses and damages resulting from the climate crisis. Global technology governance continued to evolve, as innovative technological solutions for development merged with growing concerns around the speed and scope of emerging tech and its potential for disruption. On the global health front, the integration of advanced technologies in diagnostics and healthcare has revolutionised the domain, even as the drive towards health equity has accelerated. 

As we usher in 2024, the overarching trends outlined in this report will continue to shape our external environment. It is our aim that the analyses presented here will generate more debate and lead to a more productive policy conversation—not only to understand the world around us but also to navigate it effectively by being more forward-looking. 

Read the report here.

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