Picture: Ludovic MARIN/various sources/AFP) – In this screen shot made on Ocober 12, 2022 French president Emmanuel Macron (R) speaks during an interview by French journalist and TV host Caroline Roux (L) in front of pictures of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of a new show entitled “L’evenement”, in Saint-Denis, northern Paris, on October 12, 2022.
By David Monyae
We are a few days away from the end of what has been an eventful year in terms of global politics.
Perhaps the biggest geopolitical event of the year was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, marking Europe’s first inter-state war in 77 years. Russian President Vladimir Putin justified his country’s invasion of Ukraine on the existential threat that Russia would face if Ukraine had gone on to join Nato.
Ukraine, for years, has toyed with the idea of joining the EU and Nato as a way of pulling itself from the Russian orbit. However, Putin has consistently argued that Nato’s eastward expansion was a national security threat for Russia and a violation of balance of power principles. Hence, the only way to stop its expansion to the Russian border was to topple the Ukrainian government and replace it with one that is sympathetic to Russia’s position.
The war escalated the already high geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West. The latter, led by the US, swiftly imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia, led a spirited campaign for the global isolation of Moscow at the UN and provided massive military assistance to Ukraine, which has aided its war effort. So tense have geopolitical relations been that Putin has alluded to the possibility of a nuclear war on a number of occasions.
The geopolitical divide emanating from the war has gone beyond the Russia-West dichotomy to encompass other powers such as China and India and regions like Africa and South America. These powers and regions have refused to toe the Western line and have resisted the campaign for the economic and political isolation of Moscow.
The war has had a devastating impact on a global economy that is still recovering from the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic. As both Ukraine and Russia are major producers of critical commodities such as wheat, corn, sunflower, fertiliser, oil, iron and steel and gas, the global markets were thrown into turmoil. The chaos that set in paved the way for higher energy and food prices, thus driving global inflation, constraining economic growth, exacerbating food insecurity, and raising the risk of political instability in affected countries across the world.
The war has been raging on since February as none of the parties seems to be willing to negotiate. While the war is being fought in Eastern Europe, it has massive global implications. Most importantly, it is an armed and active push-back against the attempts by the West to extend the frontiers of their global dominance and influence.
As such, as the war marks the limits of Western power, it could prove to be turning point for those actors, including Africa, who have been clamouring for an alternative global order.
In other areas, Britain’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth III, died on September 8 after leading the world’s most prominent monarchy for 70 years. Queen Elizabeth left behind a fabulously rich monarchy valued at $28 billion. Her own personal net worth was estimated at $500 million.
Her death had global reverberations because of the global legacy of the institution she headed. Early in her reign she oversaw the shrinking of the British colonial empire in the 1950s and through the 1960s. She would proceed to establish numerous charity organisations and non-governmental organisations focusing on various causes, including poverty, education and the environment.
However, Queen Elizabeth was criticised across the world for failing to apologise for her monarchy’s past involvement in slavery and colonialism. Much of the British identity had come to be embodied in her person. It remains to be seen how Britain’s identity will adapt to her absence.
On the political side, it has been a tumultuous year for Britain which has seen three prime ministers, with one of them in office for less than two months. Liz Truss, who succeeded Boris Johnson, had to make way for Rishi Sunak after only 45 days in office following her failure to implement her agenda.
On August 2, the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, defied fierce protests from China and visited Taiwan, which Beijing claims to be part of China.
China’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Yi, criticised Pelosi’s visit as a violation of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Pelosi claimed that the visit was a way of showing solidarity with Taiwan and reaffirming democratic principles.
Beijing responded by conducting military exercises and firing short-range missiles over Taiwan while the US Navy deployed warships and an aircraft carrier during Pelosi’s visit. This was a major military stand-off between the two most powerful countries in the world that echoed the 1960s Cuban missile crisis which almost sparked a war between the Soviet Union and the US.
Further, South America’s largest country and economy, Brazil, turned back the clock when it elected former president Lula da Silva into office for the second time after he defeated the incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, in October.
Lula’s election win against a right-wing candidate who had befriended the former US president Donald Trump was a major win for the left-wing forces. Lula’s presence on the global stage is expected to push the climate justice agenda forward, revitalise the BRICS grouping and strengthen the campaign for the reform of global institutions, especially the UN Security Council and the International Monetary Fund.
Another major political event was the election of Chinese President Xi Jinping to a third term as the leader of the Communist Party of China at its congress in October. This means that the world should brace for a more assertive China in the next five years, bent on expanding and entrenching its global influence using diplomatic, economic and military channels.
The bookend of the year saw the world gathering in Egypt for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27). One of the major outcomes of the COP27 was the establishment of the loss and damage fund which is intended to support countries’ recovery from the effects of droughts, floods, the rise in sea levels, increasing temperatures and other disasters caused by climate change. While this was a progressive move, the details of the fund are yet to be agreed upon.
However, COP27 failed to get the countries to agree on a decisive move away from fossil fuels, only committing to phase down their use. Also notable, the countries at COP27 agreed that between $4 trillion and $6 trillion would be needed annually to invest in renewable energy, albeit without clarifying where the finance would come from. Despite warnings that, at the current pace, the world will not be able to keep temperatures below the 1.5°C threshold, the conference failed to act with the required decisiveness. As it stands, the climate disaster is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.
David Monyae is Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science and Director for the Centre for Africa and China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.