2023: A Clarion Call for Recalibration

Nabil Fahmy
Saturday 9 Dec 2023

Just over a year ago, analysts and think tanks were confidently churning out projections on international affairs in 2023.


While it is important to assess whether these projections were on target or not, it is even more crucial to evaluate our current position and determine the way forward as we approach a new year.

Five Key Events in 2023

In the Global North, attention centred around five key events anticipated to unfold in 2023. Initially, the war in Ukraine, which was generally dismissed as improbable by Western experts in 2021, and then assumed by many to be a cakewalk with a quick Russian victory, proved both predictions wrong. As 2023 comes to an end, the military stalemate in Ukraine endures.

Secondly, the projections that Western solidarity around Ukraine would swiftly crumble also proved false, despite Joe Biden’s “America First” economic policy emerging as a new point of division with Europe. Concerns were particularly raised by French President Emmanuel Macron regarding two laws that subsidized US industry and discriminated against producers outside of the US, potentially fragmenting the unity of the West.

Thirdly, President Biden and many Western leaders believed that the primary global division was the rift between democracies and autocracies. This perspective raised polarizing concerns about Western ambitions for a hegemonic world order. Additionally, the Ukraine crisis paradoxically brought Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran closer together, despite varying levels of involvement and sensitivities in each country.

Fourthly, tensions over Taiwan were of high concern due to President Xi Jinping’s commitment to reunify China. The Visit by the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, President Biden’s declaration of defending Taiwan in case of any aggression, and the US Chief of Naval Operations’ warning of a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan before 2024, further intensified these concerns. However, these projections proved inaccurate, and the year ended with an attempt towards a recalibration of the US-China Summit in San Francisco.

Fifthly, the turmoil in Iran has been another key issue on the agenda, encompassing various challenges. One of the key questions is whether the Islamic Republic will survive until the end of the year amid the domestic challenges it faces. These challenges include the outbreak of protests after the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody, a stagnant economy, and the imposition of tougher sanctions. Additionally, there are concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme and the potential for increased regional aggressiveness, possibly serving as a tactic to divert attention from domestic issues. Here again, projections fell short of realization.

Rising Uncertainty

In fact, at its outset, analysts even questioned whether 2023 would be a year of escalation or one of small de-escalations that reduce geopolitical tensions and their economic impact. This uncertainty arises due to several factors:

Inefficient Global Collective Security Frameworks: The post-World War II concepts have failed to prevent conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine or elsewhere.

Collision of Green and Digital Transitions: Sanctions have disrupted markets and affected global energy patterns at the expense of climate change.

Forecasted Global Economic Recession: While growth has slowed, the global and industrialized economies have not yet fallen into a recession.

Crisis of Access to Basic Goods: The world is still grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic, raising concerns about access to essential goods.

Widespread Instability and Social Discontent: The “permacrisis” has led to widespread instability and social discontent, highlighting concerns about a disenfranchised global order.

The End of an Era of Abundance: The era of cheap and abundant products is coming to an end, raising concerns about market economies and the free flow of goods and services.

Regulatory Fragmentation and Sectoral Globalization: Rising polarization and crises have made regulatory fragmentation and sectoral globalization increasingly problematic, undermining consensual global rules and regulations.

Testing Geopolitical and Socioeconomic Limits: Tense geopolitical and socioeconomic paradigms, coupled with inefficient sanction-influenced markets are projected to increase risks.  

Time for Recalibration

Numerous projections for 2023 proved inaccurate, with some situations being less dramatic than expected or conversely being underestimated. This led to false pretences and obtuse aggressive policies that proved ineffective and resulted in an increased use of force. Therefore, it is now an opportune time for reflection and contemplation to recalibrate our course.

The significant discrepancies in projections were influenced by several factors. One factor is that the projections primarily and disproportionately focused on major powers and the Global North while disregarding a substantial part of the world. Additionally, these projections were based on concepts and assumptions of an outdated, archaic world order that no longer reflects the prevailing global paradigm.

A notable manifestation of these dysfunctional realities is the approaching end of the year, with global attention fixated on the war in Gaza, where thousands of lives have been lost. This comes months after false assumptions were made that Palestine was no longer an issue on the global agenda and just a month after the United States National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, published an article asserting that the Middle East was more secure than ever before.

And, given the diverse sources of tension, as a global community, it is urgent to once again revert to diplomacy as the cardinal tool for engagement in international relations. This is particularly pressing in ongoing or imminent conflicts such as Ukraine,  Palestine, Sudan, Yemen …etc.

Depolarizing the global order is also another pressing issue, as it can help prevent large-scale military conflicts and destructive economic and trade wars. In this regard, both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy play a crucial role in achieving this goal. 

Demilitarization and renewed vigour in global and regional disarmament efforts are imperative. This is especially important as we witness the abandonment of long-standing agreements, particularly between the US and Russia, in addition to the upgrading of military capacities by them and others, the heightened posturing in outer space, and the development of new emerging technologies with dual-use potentially- bringing destructive capacities to both state and non-state parties.

Encouraging and embracing cohabitation, preferably as one global community, is crucial to addressing the challenges of non-military global threats such as pandemics and climate change.

In conclusion, it is important to reaffirm that developing countries have legitimate reasons to challenge and question the accuracy of annual projections on international affairs and to express dissatisfaction with the lack of equitable treatment. The evidence supports this claim. However, more importantly, they should address this issue by increasing active engagement with analysts and experts within their countries to develop and provide narratives that reflect their unique perspectives and concerns. These narratives should then be shared and balanced with those of others.

*Nabil Fahmy is former foreign minister of Egypt 

*The article is published in collaboration and with permission from the Future for Advanced Research & Studies, a UAE-based think tank.

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