Analyzing the world’s hot spots for 2023
With every new year, several think tanks, humanitarian organizations and risk analysts produce lists of the top conflicts, hot spots and trends to watch. The 2023 reports offer insights into key parts of the world that could pose challenges for global peace and security.
The reports use different methodologies and have different purposes. For example, the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations produces the Preventive Priorities Survey, which draws on a survey of experts and specifically focuses on “risks to US interests that could conceivably lead to the United States deploying and using military force.” The report is designed to help US policymakers with conflict prevention and mitigation. In a different example, the International Rescue Committee’s annual list of 20 humanitarian crises that are likely to deteriorate over the next year takes a different approach with the goal of helping the international humanitarian community direct resources.
While these and other reports vary in their approaches and priorities, comparing them can provide helpful insights into understanding what areas of conflict and crisis will pose the most serious potential challenges to the world in 2023.
The war in Ukraine makes most of the lists this year. From a humanitarian perspective, the war has taken a terrible toll on Ukrainians’ lives, with thousands killed and many people with reduced or no access to food, fuel and other essential supplies and services. In less than one year, the war has displaced more than 6.5 million Ukrainians within the country and created more than 7.6 million refugees who fled to other countries. From a geopolitical perspective, the war in Ukraine has significantly heightened tensions between Russia and the US and Europe. It has strengthened and will likely expand NATO, raised questions about political stability within Russia and forced costly European efforts to cut reliance on Russian oil and gas.
The war’s impacts also go far beyond the borders of Ukraine and Russia. From a humanitarian viewpoint, the war drove spikes in global food and fuel prices. From a strategic point of view, the war renewed Cold War-style political and military alignments around the world, prompted major changes in how Europe views its own defense and raised concerns about the potential for nuclear warfare.
China does not show up on lists of humanitarian crises, despite economic woes and a major COVID-19 outbreak, but it is a major factor on lists focused on geostrategic risks or human rights. Relations between Washington and Beijing deteriorated in the last year, worsening from an already low point. In particular, statements from both sides increased risks around a potential military confrontation over Taiwan. Growing rivalry between the world’s two top economies and two of the world’s largest militaries will play a key role in shaping global security in 2023. This year and beyond, the ideological competition between the US and China also will help to shape the future world order.
While Afghanistan has dropped down the rankings in some reports, it remains a major concern. For US and European policymakers, Afghanistan is no longer a top priority. However, it remains a source of potential instability with regional and even global implications. Furthermore, the humanitarian situation in the country remains dire. The economy has largely collapsed since the 2021 US withdrawal and Taliban takeover. Nearly the entire population lives in poverty and struggles to meet basic needs. Furthermore, the Taliban’s increasing measures to force women out of public life severely undermine the delivery of humanitarian aid, especially for women and children.
The Horn of Africa is another hot spot. Somalia tops the International Rescue Committee’s 2023 list, which notes that “the country is on the brink of famine” due to a combination of conflict, environmental disasters and Somalia’s heavy reliance on wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine. Somalia also has long-presented security concerns that extend beyond its borders and US troops are active in the country to fight Al-Shabab.
In Ethiopia, the war in Tigray and conflict in other parts of the country created extreme humanitarian disasters; fortunately, a November peace deal offers hope for ending conflict and improving humanitarian access. Nonetheless, parts of the country desperately need assistance and the ongoing risk of conflict threatens the broader region.
Syria is another country that presents both humanitarian and security concerns. While the defeat of Daesh has removed the country from top security concerns for Washington, conflict within Syria continues to affect the broader Middle East. More than 90 percent of the population lives in poverty. Inflation, ongoing conflict in some areas, a lack of working infrastructure and insufficient healthcare continue to drive humanitarian needs.
Annual reports can provide helpful insights into understanding what areas of conflict and crisis will pose the most serious potential challenges.
Kerry Boyd Anderson
There are many other areas of global concern. While sub-Saharan Africa rarely poses global security threats, conflict and other factors drive humanitarian disasters in parts of the Sahel, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yemen presents humanitarian and security concerns. Violence in Central America and economic collapse in Venezuela pose humanitarian and security problems in the Western Hemisphere, while state collapse in Haiti drives a humanitarian disaster in the Caribbean. North Korea and Iran continue to pose serious security risks.
A look at hot spot lists also emphasizes the role that key trends play in exacerbating risks around the world: Climate change, inflation, great power rivalry, failing migration policies, demographic imbalances and weakened global institutions and norms accelerate all other risks. Successful efforts to address specific crises need to also respond to these broader trends.
- Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 18 years of experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risk. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica. Twitter: @KBAresearch