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The State of the World in 2024: Variability and Shifting Power Dynamics

Misha Glenny

Misha Glenny

Misha Glenny is the Rector of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. An award-winning journalist and broadcaster, he is the author of McMafia and DarkMarket: How Hackers became the New Mafia and is a former UK Digital Security Journalist of the Year.

There’s only one piece of advice you need in the new year: Brace yourself for more uncertainty. In 2024, countries making up over 50% of the global GDP will undergo decisive elections including those of the US and several other major powers. Political trends point to a lack of geopolitical coordination heightening the risk of prospective shocks to an already precarious economic environment.

Changing governments worldwide

The most pressing geopolitical issues are the war in Ukraine, which seems further from a resolution than ever, while the ramifications of the distressing conflict between Israel and Hamas are being felt well beyond the Middle East.

To this you must add to the mix 40 national elections (yes, FOUR ZERO) scheduled for next year including South Africa, Britain, and Indonesia. Russia is also going through the motions of a presidential election, but the betting has closed on that one. The year kicks off with Taiwan (Chinese Taipei)’s vote on 13 January, which could set the tone for Sino–American relations and may even impact on the US elections in November.

US and Chinese woes

The Biden versus (presumably) Trump race is casting a long shadow over the geopolitical landscape. Some of the US’s most influential conservative voices have now joined Democrats in warning that if Donald Trump is returned to the presidency for a second term, he intends to dismantle the institutions of accountability upon which a healthy democracy depends. It would also place a big question mark over NATO’s future, a fact not lost on Russia’s President Putin as he seeks to grind down Ukraine’s defensive capability.

Abstract illustration of voters submitting their ballots

The multiple foreign policy crises facing Joe Biden hang around his neck like an iron yoke. However, the president recently received an important boost. His Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping has been responding to White House signals that the two countries should cooperate in reducing the tensions generated by the so-called polycrisis. Beijing has been toning down its anti-American rhetoric just as Washington has fought successfully to reinstate high-level collaboration between the two capitals.

The slowdown in the Chinese economy is worrying analysts around the world. But it appears to have prompted Xi to extend an olive branch to Biden that might in turn calm down some of the more volatile global hotspots, notably Ukraine.

The continued struggles of the Global North

Turmoil in the US is mirrored in Europe where elections to the European parliament will be accompanied by important national polls. Driven by factors from opposition to migration, to the war in Ukraine, to faltering economic performance, the surge in far-right parties, crowned by the victory of Geert Wilders in the recent Dutch elections, is set to continue next year across the European Union and in key national polls, such as in Austria. Europe is on course to become less globalist and more inward-looking, and faces increasing calls to stop channeling weaponry and funds to Ukraine.

All this is expanding opportunities for the more powerful countries in the Global South to flex their muscles. India is looking increasingly confident on the international stage even if strongman Narendra Modi faces serious opposition in both the state and national elections scheduled for the spring.

The expansion of BRICS across the Global South

India was one of the two BRICS members that quietly expressed misgivings about China’s push to expand the bloc to include new members. With this strategy, Beijing is seeking to create a forum with the most powerful voices from the Global South but with China in the lead. Brazil shares India’s concerns. Neither country wants to be seen to be cosying up to Beijing as they enjoy important trading and political relations with the West, but in the end, both decided that they would gain more than they would lose with the BRICS expansion.

The five countries joining BRICS are a mixed bunch. There is no love lost between Iran on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other. Argentina, Egypt, and Ethiopia had clearly not been selected by dint of their economic prowess — more weighty countries like Türkiye are conspicuous in their absence. Now that Argentina’s self-styled anarcho-capitalist president, Javier Milei, has announced that Buenos Aires is no longer interested in BRICS membership, the viability of the entire strategy is questionable.

The move from Euro-America to the East

Nonetheless, the debate about an expansion of BRICS remains an indicator of how the US and the EU no longer exert the political attraction they once did.

Together with the growing influence of the G20 at the expense of the G7, this is a concrete manifestation of waning Western power and the shift towards Asia. Five years ago, one might have said the shift towards China. But within Asia, China’s relative economic power is declining as India, Indonesia, and other ASEAN countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam are registering impressive growth rates.

Precarity in South America and South Africa

Prospects for South America and Africa remain hard to predict. The former is likely to see a significant increase in revenues in the mining industries as the US, China, and Europe vie for access to both continents’ rich supply of critical raw materials that are essential for the ‘green transition’.

Following Indonesia’s example of imposing strict national controls on its vast nickel supplies, Chile has placed its two largest lithium extraction companies under government control. The management of lithium, copper, and rare earth metals in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile will have a significant bearing on South America’s political power as well.

But populism is also impacting on the region’s prospects. The victory of President Lula da Silva in Brazil calmed domestic and international investors alike. But Javier Milei’s victory in Argentina’s presidential election meant that the huge trading deal that MERCOSUR, the South American trading bloc, was due to sign with the EU in December was in serious jeopardy. 20 years in the making, this trade deal was set to supercharge South America’s external trade revenues. Without it, investors may well shy away.

In Africa, all eyes will focus on South Africa’s general election in the second half of 2024. After 30 years with a monopoly in the National Parliament, the African National Congress could well lose its majority. And not many have the confidence to predict what that might mean.

The general trend remains steady. A decline in American and European influence and a jostling for power among the Asian ‘big boys’. Never before has the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s famous warning about unpredictability seemed more appropriate. When asked about the greatest challenge facing a statesperson, he replied, “Events, dear boy, events.”

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