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The Age of Polycrisis

The Economist’s “World Ahead 2024” report labels the coming year as a “multipolar, global chaos year” due to conflicts and intensifying geopolitical competitions. The multitude of crises occurring one after the other worldwide indicates that 2024 will be an unstable and tumultuous year.

London-based risk consultancy firm Control Risks believes the coming year will witness high levels of crisis complexity and destructiveness, potentially creating an ‘extreme risk management burden.’ Other organizations, including the World Economic Forum, are pointing to the threshold of an ‘age of polycrisis.’

A quote from Lenin says, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Indeed, in recent years, we have felt centuries of change flowing into our lives in a matter of days. Covid, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the war between Israel and Hamas, climate changes, the rise of artificial intelligence…

The term ‘age of polycrisis’ is not new. Governments and think tanks are trying to learn the best way to respond to this crisis. According to Professor Adam Tooze of Columbia University and Director of the European Institute, what makes the polycrisis so insidious and frightening is that each successive crisis has a greater impact than the last. For the renowned academician specializing in disaster studies, from the 2008 financial crisis to the global economy’s struggles with the Covid pandemic, “In a polycrisis, shocks are different; they interact, making the whole more overwhelming than the sum of its parts.”

Tooze emphasizes that we live in an ‘age of polycrisis’ with multiple aspects: economic, political, geopolitical, social, and ecological. “The convergence of these elements is so confusing that solving them or producing a solution challenges us,” he says.

Wars, mass migrations, climate changes, and other adverse events converge, posing threats even to countries with strong economies. Wars in Ukraine and Gaza and the US-China tension have damaged international relations. The negative atmosphere created by multiple crises and unyielding diplomatic relations makes the future outlook troublesome. Next year, the number of elections worldwide, including in the US, will add to this uncertainty.

The world will continue to be on edge with escalating geopolitical tensions and market fluctuations. The shift to a more multipolar world will accelerate, but multinational corporations will remain under pressure. As global power shifts continue, countries overshadowed by major powers will play a role in shaping geopolitics.

The most significant strategic dynamic next year will be the trajectory of US-China relations. Although these two global powers have recently revived their relationships to avoid an uncontrolled war, geopolitical interests will not significantly soften their relations.

Biden’s national security strategy is based on encircling China. However, China will increase its security level, straining relations. Military competition will escalate, and Taiwan will continue to be a dangerous flashpoint for both countries.

Consultancy firm Control Risks believes that due to the US presidential elections and China’s economic problems, both countries are focused on internal issues, leading to a wait-and-see phase in tensions. Most assessments by international think tanks and investment firms believe conflict is highly unlikely. However, many countries are concerned about an accidental clash in the Asia-Pacific region, known as a strategic stage for US-China relations.

The tension between East and West will deepen next year with the ongoing war in Ukraine, possibly leading to a stalemate. The absence of serious peace efforts means that a prolonged conflict will continue to strain East-West relations, causing significant damage to the global economy.

Global attention has shifted from Ukraine to Israel’s war against Gaza. This conflict, plunging the Middle East into a vortex of violence and instability, will be remembered as “a painful moment defining new generations in the Middle East,” as some Arab experts say.

The long-neglected Palestinian issue is now at the forefront of the international agenda. The US policy of ignoring Palestine while normalizing relations between Arab states and Israel has proven to be extremely flawed and unsustainable. The Abraham Accords, once seen as a significant strategy, have been shelved following the outbreak of war.

Next year, Arab governments and major powers face a tough test in finding a fair solution to the Palestinian issue. Pressure on Israel for a two-state solution and establishing lasting peace in the region will be challenging.

In dozens of elections worldwide, over 4 billion people will vote. The outcomes of next year’s elections will directly affect regions where tensions are high.

The most important of these elections is the US presidential race. Everyone knows that if former President Donald Trump returns to power, it will negatively impact the entire world. Trump’s likely continuation of destructive foreign policies will directly affect relations with China, the war in Ukraine, and alliances. Trump’s tense foreign policy will further fuel the fire of this year of multiple crises.

One of my most pressing questions is whether the results of more than 50 elections next year will lead to democratic backsliding. Although it’s uncertain whether more authoritarian regimes will emerge worldwide, many countries’ democracies already struggle with polarization, intolerance, and toxic politics.

To see the erosion of freedoms, especially media freedom, in countries, one need only look at the current political regime in Turkey.

The recently published ‘Global Report on Democracy’ by the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance highlights a record number of declines. The report reveals that over two-thirds of the global population live in declining democracies, authoritarian, or hybrid regimes.

One of the greatest threats facing the digital world is cybersecurity issues. Advanced technology, dubbed weapons of mass destruction, will continue to be a nightmare for states in the coming year. Artificial intelligence, especially in military applications, will bring numerous dangers.

Whether the age of polycrisis we have entered increases solidarity among people is unknown, but hopefully, 2024 will not bring numerous challenges and destructions.

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YÜKSEL DURGUT is a journalist with a primary focus on global politics and foreign affairs. He serves as the Foreign Relations Director of the International Journalists Association e.V. and holds the position of Editor-in-Chief at Journalist Post.

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