Weekly The Generation, Year 1, Issue 17
December 26, 2023
by Ramisa Rob & Mahadev Ghosh
Contrary to expectations of progress and stability in the wake of recovery from the Covid, 2023 unfolded with significant turmoil and challenges. Marking a grim start to the year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to a mere 90 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been, signalling the risk of an imminent disaster in a year fraught with heightened global tensions and uncertainties. As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres aptly summarised at this year’s G20 Summit, “Our world—particularly developing countries—face a perfect storm: Growing inequalities, climate chaos, conflicts, and hunger.” But he may have overlooked the biggest victim of this consequential year: democracy, and humanity.
Freedom House announced 2023 as the 17th straight year in which global freedom and democracy declined, putting to rest all hopes of a fourth democratic wave. Starting with Asia: the Indian government made headlines suspending 142 opposition lawmakers, and arresting vocal opposition leader Rahul Gandhi in what was called an attack on democracy. This was followed by accusations that the government misused laws to arrest its critics. Thailand danced around democracy as their progressive party won decisively, only to have it be taken away by the military. For Pakistan, on the brink of bankruptcy, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, popular with the masses, emerged as a leader with the potential to shatter the military’s political power—only to be defeated.
Across the pond, former US President Donald Trump increasingly echoed fascist rhetoric and even promised to be a dictator for one day while maintaining a dominant lead on all polls. The incumbent President Joe Biden, however, floundered on foreign policy. As tensions simmered between the US and China, Biden rebuked Xi Jinping, calling him a “dictator.” But Biden’s support for Israel, in the wake of Hamas’ attack, showed (more clearly than ever) that the US’ value-based order is a selective political tool, misusing human rights and democracy to maintain the nation’s dominance globally.
Europe, on the other hand, saw a far-right resurgence while restricting freedom of speech using regulations such as the landmark Digital Services Act. The parties in power have also impeded hard-earned progress on climate change regulation, coddled far-right conspiracies, and endeavoured to erode democratic institutions and progress.
A staggering one in six people is estimated to have been exposed to conflict so far in 2023. The year also saw a 27-percent increase worldwide in political violence, with 50 countries categorised as “turbulent” or “extreme,” according to an ACLED report. Africa experienced significant turmoil this year, with over 35 armed conflicts primarily in its sub-Saharan region. Africa also faced a severe humanitarian crisis, with over 40 million people displaced, partly due to these conflicts and exacerbated by extreme climate events, including floods and a drought in the Horn of Africa declared worse than the 2011 famine.
In 2023, a year marked as the hottest on record, the world experienced a dramatic increase in extreme weather events, ranging from wildfires in the Northern hemisphere to cyclones in the Southern hemisphere. At COP28 in the UAE, attended by 85,000 delegates, a landmark agreement was reached, hailed by the UN as the “beginning of the end” for the fossil fuel era. The agreement underscored the critical urgency of the situation, as the Earth is on course to surpass the target temperatures established by the Paris Agreement, but fell short of addressing concerns in developing countries.
This year also marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of artificial intelligence, with more countries beginning to embrace AI in governance. The EU passed the world’s first AI regulation during what is widely being called the Year of AI. These developments revolutionised scientific and biomedical research, offering a glimpse into the transformative potential of AI in our future. Inevitably, companies and even governments plunged into the forefront of the “AI Gold Rush,” driven by the vision of endless possibilities. China has prioritised its goal to lead the world in AI by 2030. Concurrently, prominent figures, including the “Godfather of AI” and Elon Musk warned of grave potential danger. Warnings of the dangerous use of AI in governance was evidenced in Israel using its AI target-creation platform, “The Gospel,” to target civilian structures, sparking concerns of producing a line of targets that officials have called a “mass assassination factory.”
Regardless, the AI boom sparked a year-long stock rally that kept markets alive in spite of the Fed interest rate hikes. Accompanying these developments were record-high global debt levels, prompting warnings from various experts about an impending debt crisis. This had a significant geopolitical impact, notably affecting Ukraine’s funding in its conflict with Russia, as the US reported that it ran out of money for the war as it reached its second anniversary.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has largely remained a stalemate with no large victories on either side. Russia has made a net gain of 188 square miles and even though reports of heavy casualties were seen, they continue to outnumber Ukraine’s troops nearly 3:1 on the field. There was also a growing sense of apathy in what is being called “Ukraine Fatigue” as Republicans remained hesitant to send further aid. Undoubtedly, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine was overshadowed in the second part of the year with the first official declaration of “war” between Israel and Hamas since 1973.
The Israel-Hamas war erupted during a time that had been considered relatively peaceful in the Middle East, an era influenced in part by the Abraham Accords, and marked by growing regional stability. It also occurred as normalisation ties between Israel and Middle Eastern countries were inching closer. Israel’s response in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks is smattered with allegations of “violations of international humanitarian law” and “genocide” by Israel and a deliberate disregard for Palestinian lives. The death toll has already reached 20,000 civilians, with the majority being women and children. Israel’s military operations in Gaza for 70 days have used heavy munitions with intense ferocity, carpet-bombing a whole population—something which the world has not witnessed in recent history.
Initially supporting Israel, the US and its allies have begun to express concern in light of reports of indiscriminate bombing, indicating a shift in the lop-sided diplomatic posture. But the outlook for a peaceful resolution acceptable to all parties, particularly the Palestinians, remains bleak. This unresolved situation in the Middle East is part of a broader pattern observed in 2023: a year marked by a discernible escalation in armed conflict, casting a shadow on the future of global democracy.
The geopolitical landscape was further dominated by rivalries between superpowers and aspiring superpowers, leading political discourse to consider the possibilities of a multi-polar world. India, hosting the G20 Summit this year, unveiled the Indian-Middle East-Europe Corridor, a vision set to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. IMEC positions India in a key role in global connectivity, and serves the US in the Cold War with China, by providing it with an opportunity to enhance its trade and investments. Growing US-China rivalry unravelled the expansion of BRICS to dismantle dollar domination. It signals an effort to introduce an alternative world order—championing the importance of the Global South on a surface level—but also reflects symptoms of deeper malaise in the geopolitical fore. Disagreements in a club of nations that don’t see eye-to-eye on many global issues has overtaken the initial focus of economic collaboration to geopolitics. On the other hand, global trade is projected to have decreased by 4.5 percent—a change attributed to the geopolitical landscape now playing a more significant role in shaping international commerce than market factors alone.
As 2023 concludes, the year’s global events have underscored the need for unified solutions to the complex challenges we face, highlighting the importance of global cooperation in addressing the multifaceted issues that transcend national boundaries.
Author Mahadev Ghosh is an independent researcher based in the UK. Ramisa Rob is a journalist in Bangladesh.