“Isn’t it really the first real world war we are living in, much more than the first and second world wars?” …Thomas Friedman
With the above quote Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman credibly claims that the two “world wars” in the twentieth century were not truly world wars as they did not affect the entire world but occurred in segments of the world, whereas Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the major disturbance occurring in 2022 – gave rise to the truly first world war. Friedman goes on to say: “In this seemingly “global war on air” almost everyone can either watch the fight, participate in it in some way, or be affected economically by it, no matter where they live”.
Granted. A few good things happened in 2022. It was a year where democracies around the world strengthened, and some autocracies stumbled. The countries in the West grew more united than ever before in their resolve to uphold a rules based international order. China’s economy went down and COVID raised its ugly head spoiling for the autocratic rule of the country its egotistical forward march. A bewildered Russia was thwarted in its use of force in Ukraine. COVID receded around the rest of the world prompting the World Health Organization to declare, in September, that the end of the pandemic was in sight. Both in aviation and affairs of outer space progressive steps were made, where, for example the 41st Session of the International Civil Aviation Organization adopted proactive resolutions for the future development of international civil aviation on the one hand, and the United States became the first space-faring nation to undertake to cease its original intent to test anti-satellite weapons and pledged to encourage other major powers to follow its lead.
Regrettably these proactive trends were foreshadowed by a global trend of misbehavior during the year.
Gross Global Misbehavior
On 22 February, Russia invaded Ukraine – a sovereign democratic nation which seemingly was minding its own business. Many would argue that this event was inconsistent with the fundamental rules enunciated in the foundation of international law contained in the United Nations Charter. Article 2.4 specifies that all Members of the United Nations must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. While this principle can be considered relevant to Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine on the one hand, Article 51 of the Charter can be invoked in defense of Ukraine which acted in self-defense. Article 51 states that nothing in the Charter must be deemed to impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council of the United Nations has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense must be immediately reported to the Security Council and will not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.
Article 51 gives the Security Council the power to intervene and take “necessary action” – which is further expanded in Article 41- which empowers the Security Council to take non-military measures in the first instance and the intervention of the Security Council and further expanded in Article 42 of the Charter which stipulates that. should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.
However, the legislative impotence of these treaty provisions is made blatant by the fact that such action as recognized in Articles 41 and 42 can be vetoed in limine by any permanent member of the Security Council (The 5 permanent members are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).So much for that.
Elsewhere, in the United Kingdom political turmoil was taken to unprecedented proportions when the country saw three prime ministers elected by the Conservative party in just two months. The first instance involved scandal and misbehavior during the height of the COVID crisis; the second resignation of the short-lived Prime Minister was due to feckless insouciance in economic and financial policy which upended the markets, rendering the country gravely unstable.
Tension between the two greatest powers – United States and China grew. The policy statement issued in October under the Biden administration focusing on National Security Strategy said in diplomatically frank and open terms: “China harbors the intention and, increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order in favor of one that tilts the global playing field to its benefit,” and the United States intends to “win the competition.” The policy statement was also impliedly alluding to Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea, its somewhat uncanny support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its many provocative and aggressive maneuvers and efforts calculated to intimidate Taiwan, and its alleged theft of intellectual property in vast proportions.
Coming to the Middle East a far-right government which some claim to lead to an illiberal democracy was put in place in Israel which may cause justifiable trepidation in the international community in the context of the ongoing and intractable Israeli-Palestinian issue.
One of the worst, and most egregious demonstrations of misbehavior occurred in Iran. “Morality Police” in Tehran proceeded to arrest Mahsa Amini – a twenty-two-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman visiting Iran’s capital city – on the charge of failure to cover her hair properly. She died in police custody. Mass protests erupted in September across the country, primarily led by women against this outrageous killing. The signature cry of the protesters was “Women, life, freedom!” The political situation in Iran led to an absurd claim by Iranian leaders who accused the United States and Israel of interference and misbehavior in engineering the protests. This was arguably with a view to shrouding the government’s political repression, corruption, and mismanagement of the economy. To make matters worse, the Government of Iran ordered the use of force against the protesters with a view to quelling the protests. It is reported that as many as 450 protesters had been killed on the streets by Iranian security forces by December.
Further East, on 24 December and in flagrant disregard and abuse of women’s’ human rights, the Taliban government ordered all foreign and domestic non-governmental groups in Afghanistan to suspend employing women, again with the tenuous accusation that some female employees didn’t wear the Islamic headscarf correctly. The ban was an unfortunate and regrettable follow up of an earlier move by the Taliban authorities to ban women from universities.
On a global level one of the worst examples of human misbehavior is the failure to stand together on the environmental front, where climate change is one of three major defining megatrends of our time (the other two being the looming and portentous threat of nuclear war and the exponential forward march of the technological revolution). At the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP/27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which opened on 7 November 2022 in Egypt, The Secretary General of the United Nations called the climate crisis the defining issue of our age. And the central challenge of our century. He added that the world was on the highway to hell with the foot firmly on the accelerator and that it is unacceptable, outrageous, and self-defeating to put it on the back burner . The Secretary General called for “a historic Pact between developed and emerging economies – a Climate Solidarity Pact. A Pact in which all countries make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the 1.5-degree goal. A Pact in which wealthier countries and International Financial Institutions provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their own renewable energy transition. A Pact to end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants – phasing out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040” .
One of the greatest obstacles to combatting climate change at a global level is the lack of political will which can be put down to the irresponsible indifference of States. As of September 2022 Only 38 countries had filed their National Adaption Plans . COP/27 ended with the retention of the 1.5c goal (compared to pre industrial levels) and an agreement on a fund to compensate developing countries for losses and damage caused by the climate crisis. However, the conference failed to agree on concrete steps to wind down the use of fossil fuels.
With these goings on, we can only hope that the world will conduct itself more responsibly in 2023.