Is China’s power peaking? And other major national security issues for 2022
From the January 6 insurgency to the omicron variant of COVID-19, 2021 has been a wild ride, with its fair share of unforeseen developments. So what are the main risks to worry about in 2022? The short answer is that 2022 will be a lot like 2021, but more volatile, as many of the issues brewing this year could reach a boiling point.
The COVID-19 crisis: COVID is not just at the top of the list; it intensifies many other risks. It’s not just the obvious risk of the omicron variant spreading across the United States like a locust storm. Low vaccination rates in much of the developing world – less than 10 percent of people in Africa are vaccinated – risk spawning even more new mutant variants, possibly more contagious or even resistant to vaccines.
Global instability: A host of other risks – caused or made worse by COVID-19 – can put global financial and political stability at risk. Many developing countries have been hit hard economically by COVID-19, facing deepening debt crises, as global middle classes fall back into poverty and food insecurity.
The World Food Program has warned that 45 million people are on the brink of famine in 43 countries. Such realities can foster political instability and turn some fragile states – Haiti, South Sudan, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and, at the top of the list, Afghanistan – into failed states. There is a high risk of state failure, with humanitarian catastrophe, regional instability and massive refugee flows all possible results in Afghanistan. The economy (other than drugs) has come to a halt, with massive unemployment, from its central bank institutions to the health system collapsing and some 23 million people facing starvation.
China peaks: Despite all the fears of a rising China, its weakness can pose an equally great risk. Why? The concern is that energy shortages, demographic decline, declining growth and productivity and debt, exemplified recently by beleaguered real estate giant Evergrande but worsening much more, reflect an outdated economic model. Chinese debt now represents 290% of its gross domestic product. Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s crackdown on the technology sector and now the real estate sector, which represents about 29% of the Chinese economy, highlights the fragility of the country’s economic system.
Yet Xi could see the necessary market reforms promised in 2013, but then rejected, as too difficult to implement politically. Instead, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) opted for strengthening state-owned enterprises and control of the private sector, despite private enterprises which have been the engine of growth and innovation.
Something must give. Some fear that Xi may divert attention from the stagnation with a more aggressive military policy towards Taiwan to consolidate the CCP’s nationalist legitimacy. But an economically struggling China could also undermine global stability: China has been responsible for around 30% of global growth over the past decade. In addition to being more confrontational, a weak China could thus hamper economic growth around the world while disrupting financial markets and supply chains. The resulting loss of wealth and jobs could trigger unrest and / or unrest within the party in China.
Russo-Ukrainian clash: Russia’s significant military build-up near its border with Ukraine has heightened concerns that the Russian president Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich Poutin Kazakhstan, rich in resources, invites Putin to keep his henhouse. Former Kazakh intelligence chief arrested on suspicion of treason amid Democratic unrest, Cruz prepares to confront Russian pipeline MORE considers his neighbor as an “unfinished business”. If Putin, who seems increasingly concerned with shaping his legacy, were to act on such instincts, he has an array of options: negotiate a list of demands for security guarantees he gave Biden; limited military action in eastern Donbass in Ukraine; an all-out military invasion to seize Ukraine as a soft buffer in Russia’s sphere of influence.
Some observers argue that Russian fears of potential retaliatory measures such as the cancellation of the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany and US sanctions against Russian banks would deter Russian military aggression. But Putin’s desire to avenge NATO expansion and reclaim former Soviet space may outweigh the likely costs of intervention.
Failures of US-Iranian diplomacy: The Iranian government has stepped up its nuclear enrichment efforts and increasingly asked the United States to ease sanctions and give assurances that Tehran will agree to a new deal to curb its nuclear program. Israeli cyber attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities – and Iran’s response to those activities – are escalating.
Pressure from Congress intensifies President BidenJoe Biden Are we investing trillions in what matters? Biden praises Reid as a fighter “for the America we all love” at Fox News memorial service tops ratings for coverage of the events of January 6 MORE to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. Military action against Iran’s nuclear program by the United States or Israel cannot be ruled out if diplomacy fails. Iran, meanwhile, could carry out missile and drone attacks against Gulf oil facilities and US military bases – and use surrogates to engage in a shadow war against Israel.
American democracy continues to deteriorate: Freedom House’s 2021 report, which documented a global democratic setback, found an 11-point drop in its freedom score for the United States over the past decade, placing the country 51st on its list of freedom. The report cited the Jan.6 attack on the United States Capitol and seeking to overthrow the 2020 presidential election as indicators on the basis of false allegations of electoral fraud that the formerPresident TrumpDonald Trump Fox News tops the charts for covering the events of January 6. Preview of Sunday broadcasts: Congress marks January 6; US, Russia to hold talks amid mounting tensions Democrats must close the perception gap MORE and much of the Republican Party still promotes it. Polls suggest that around 70% of Republican voters and 30% of voters overall believe Biden was not legitimately elected, despite all evidence to the contrary.
The US political divide appears to be widening as the 2022 election approaches, with each side viewing the other not as opponents but as enemies. An alarming number of Americans now see violence as acceptable, including nearly a third of Republicans. Gerrymandering and new election laws in at least 19 states, some of which empower more partisan state legislatures rather than state election officials to determine election results, could rock the results. With the GOP positioned to take over the House and possibly the Senate in 2022, there is little evidence that these trends will abate.
These are the highlights of a new, larger report on Top Annual Risks and Global Trends that my colleague Mathew Burrows and I wrote, drawing on our experience at the National Intelligence Council to forecast global trends and scrutinize the horizon for policymakers. On a low to high spectrum, we rate the risks discussed above as medium to high. 2022 will not be a boring year.
Robert A. Manning is a senior fellow of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and its New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council. He was Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs from 2001 to 2004, a member of the US Department of State’s Policy Planning Team from 2004 to 2008, and the National Intelligence Council’s Strategic Future Group. from 2008 to 2012. Follow him on Twitter @ Rmanning4.