A year full of unknowns

(To Renato Scarfi)

If 2022 was the year of Russian aggression against Ukraine, which brought the high-intensity conflict back to European territory, and 2023 confirmed the upheaval of global geopolitical balances, the beginning of 2024 presented us with a particularly difficult international context which, during the first two months, further grew in complexity.

A new and fierce international strategic competition seems to be the feature of this leap year, with new reasons for friction that add to the unresolved ones of previous years.

The main areas of crisis/conflict

The disturbing situation in Ukraine is of particular concern also because, while the awareness that support for Kiev is fundamental for the continuation of its war effort in response to Russian aggression remains firm, the promised Western and, above all, US economic aid is going through a moment of decline. Aid that could compensate, at least in part, for the greater availability of guns and young lives thrown onto the battlefield by Putin. A decline that first caused Kiev's action to become bogged down and then the resumption of aggression by Moscow, which has recently taken control of some areas that had returned under legitimate Ukrainian control. Putin certainly wants to try to optimize the moment of decline in the conflict, also returning to spreading disquiet and challenging the West with a great classic from his repertoire, the nuclear threat.

This new offensive thrust is also favored by the transformation of the Russian system into war economy, which allows an exceptional production of armaments. However, given that there are no free meals, the (forced) choice should have significant social implications in the medium term, especially in a country that did not already shine in terms of per capita wealth.

To aggravate the overall situation of the area so close to us, it should be underlined that the renewed Russian strength in Ukraine could also be reflected in the naval posture in the waters of the Mediterranean, a basin of extreme geopolitical and strategic importance, which the Voenno Morskoy Flot (VMF) has been trying to “Russianize” for some time now, occupying all available spaces (read articles “NATO makes 32"And / or"The new Russian maritime strategy").

Finally, to fuel the confusion generated by the disinformation coming from Moscow, in the Western (and Italian, as underlined by the recent annual report of our intelligence) the ideological propaganda of pseudo-pacifists continues, who continue to be indignant if anti-aircraft defense systems are sent to Ukraine (with the aim of preventing Russian missiles from entering homes), while they look indulgently towards those who kill defenseless civilians using drones (read article “Influencers at war").

In 'Middle Eastern area a quick solution seems increasingly remote and, while the threat of new clashes is always present on the Israeli-Lebanese border, with Tehran in the background, the split within Hamas is becoming more and more evident.

A new front then opened on the Red Sea, where attacks on naval traffic by the Ḥūthī are negatively affecting world maritime trade and, therefore, the global economy (read article “Maritime spaces and international security").

Despite the over two hundred targets destroyed by RAID Americans and British, in fact, it seems that the firepower of the rebels, who manage power in the Yemeni territory overlooking the Red Sea north of Aden, has not diminished. The vehemence of the attacks seems to be able to somehow make up for the lack of technological complexity of the weapons in use (short-range missiles and drones). In some cases the damage caused was extremely limited, while one attack caused the ship to sink and the cargo to be lost. Partial successes celebrated by the rebels, who issued a statement warning that all ships transiting off the coast of the Yemen they must identify themselves via radio or email, otherwise they will be considered hostile. Successes that would not seem possible without "external" information help and the presence of an Iranian ship in the same waters where the most precise attacks occurred has raised more than one question.

On the Red Sea, therefore, there is a security problem that has profound economic implications and causes significant damage both to some Arab-Muslim countries, such asEgypt, which saw revenues collapse due to the passage from Suez, but also to countries (such as Italy) heavily dependent on maritime trade for the import of raw materials and energy resources and for the export of processed products. Not only that, the redirection of commercial maritime flow via the Gulf of Guinea has caused an increase in transport costs (freight and insurance) and an increase in the movement of European ports on the Atlantic, impoverishing the Mediterranean ports, including Italian ones.

Since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, favored by an improvident Franco-British decision, the Sahel countries have experienced growing instability, both from a political and security perspective. To the threat jihadi, in the area which has been permanently active since 2003, other instances have been added which have brought the region to a worrying level of instability and, in some cases, to coups d'état which have started a spiral of violence which has rapidly involved the region and other areas of the African continent. In this context, it must be said that all of Africa is unfortunately becoming the epicenter of jihadism worldwide, with five theaters that stand out for their criticality and violence: Sahel, Somalia, Chad, Mozambique e Northern Africa.

More generally, Africa is establishing itself more and more every day as a theater of polycrises where the few balances, when achieved with difficulty, remain extremely precarious. The causes of this instability do not lie only in the activities of Jihadists, but they are numerous and partly linked to the existence of fragile states, often characterized by endemic poverty, the lack of prospects for young people, the corruption of leaders and also to atavistic rivalries between ethnic groups present in the same territory.

A continent that also has enormous natural resources, which whet the appetites of increasingly voracious and cynical actors, who aim to control local wealth, often through the work of actors external to governments, such as national or transnational armed groups (read article "A look at sub-Saharan Africa”). In this picture the easternmost area of ​​the city emerges Democratic Republic of Congo, the one on the border with Uganda, Rwanda e Burundi1, where a bitter conflict has been ongoing for some time for the control of agricultural resources and its vast mineral deposits of enormous value such as cobalt, a fundamental element for the battery industry.

All this makes Africa a terrain for the projection of influences, an eminently geopolitical and geoeconomic space, where strong endogenous tensions could lead to further riots and popular protests, increasing the overall instability of the continent (read article "African instability and its geopolitical consequences").

In Far East, China continues to fuel tension across and towards the China Sea Taiwan, conducting naval exercises and sending unmistakable signals (read article “Beijing and Taipei”). In addition to the well-known political reasons for definitively absorbing the island within Chinese territory, Beijing is in fact convinced that it is surrounded by hostile neighbors and sees Taiwan as the fulcrum of its maritime defense (read article "The Chinese maritime strategy").

In the area, the military balance is shifting in its favor, but China is apparently held back from carrying out forceful actions by the possibility that an open clash with Taipei could constitute a casus belli with Washington. An eventuality that, at the moment, Beijing does not seem to include within the range of possible evolutions of Sino-American competition.

In all this instability, the North Korea works under the radar, continuing to arm itself and strengthen its ties with Russia (supply of weapons and ammunition) and China, helping to strengthen the Moscow-Beijing-Pyongyang axis, with the aim of weakening the West (read article “North Korea's naval instrument").

Political aspects

From a political point of view, Kiev and all Western capitals are watching with extreme attention the American elections of November 5th which, quite anomalously, are characterized by particularly harsh tones and extremely aggressive and, at times, offensive and vulgar language. . In this context, if the unpredictable Trump actually keeps what he has declared in the past and what he is promising during the election campaign, the Republican victory could mean not only the end (or a drastic reduction) of aid to Kiev from Washington , but also a change in the balance within NATO and, probably, also the further polarization of the international scene. Changes that are not felt necessary, especially in a period of extreme fluidity (read instability) like the current one.

THEXNUMX-XNUMX business days is preparing for the next elections (6-9 June), in which citizens of the member countries will be called to vote for the renewal of Parliament. Furthermore, mainly under the pressure represented by the Russian threat, but also taking into account what Trump said during his term as president, it is preparing a plan to become more autonomous in the defense sector, increasing the production of weapons but, above all, optimizing European industrial capacities in the sector, through the increase (at least 40%) of joint purchases between member states. Whatever the outcome of the Ukrainian conflict, in fact, according to many international analysts the Russian threat will not cease to loom over the Old Continent, On the contrary. Just reflect on what is already happening today Moldova-Transnistria.

And so, while Kiev has made the prospect of joining the EU more concrete, Brussels is preparing for at least 2035% of European armaments to be produced by Union industries by 65. In this context, the legislative proposal for the European Defense Industry Programme (EDIP - European Defense Industry Programme) was presented by the European Commission on 5 March. However, becoming an independent producer won't be easy.

In any case, the American elections will not be the only political element of attention in 2024. In fact 76 countriesin fact, national elections are scheduled this year, starting with Russia (15-17 March) which has brought the war back to European soil and which is using aggression and war crimes and crimes against humanity (recently the International Criminal Court has issued two arrest warrants for two Russian officials2) as a method of obtaining his “living space”.

In this context, Putin, who has been in command for a quarter of a century, is essentially running alone to obtain his fifth mandate. While its success (probably plebiscitary) is not in question east of the Urals, where the population is extremely poor and quite fragmented across the territory, it will be interesting to see the outcome of the consultations in the big cities, starting from Moscow and St. Petersburg, where it is possible (with a certain risk) to find independent information and where dissent towards the war is continually expressed in various forms. According to some, in fact, around 52% of Russians would like peace and around 17% would like to return the occupied territories to Ukraine3.

As we were saying, many national elections which see, among others, the citizens of India, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, Ethiopia and ambiguous Turkey (31 March). Elections in which the 51% of the world population he will find himself choosing who and what form of government he wants to have. Among these, while the new Argentine president is upsetting Chinese plans, Peru, Venezuela and Haiti should also go to the polls in a context of great instability, fomented by the presence of actors inserted ad-hoc by external powers.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has already made a choice, despite strong Chinese pressure. The victory of the pro-independence candidate irritated Beijing which, however, in addition to the renewed and well-known declarations on the issue, will have to deal with a significant economic crisis during 2024.


The word “war” seems to be becoming quite common in our daily discussions. This is due to the increasingly widespread application of brute force and the "fait accompli" policy by some illiberal states which, having acknowledged the ineffectiveness of the UN and the substantial paralysis of its Security Council, are now moving within the system of international relations with extreme cynicism, with contempt for human life and without any respect for the international law, a book that is opened or closed like a picnic table, depending on the need of the moment.

These are, in fact, countries that fill their mouths with the principle of "sovereignty" referring only to their own, not that of those who are brutalized by their arrogance and violence. Russia in Ukraine is an example. But also China, in the South China Sea, where it demonstrates an extremely assertive attitude towards other coastal countries, or theIran, which continues to support the Hitzballah in Lebanon and to supply the rebels with drones Ḥūthī who are setting fire to the Red Sea, attacking international merchant traffic and severing submarine communication cables, in a sort of challenge to the Western powers.

Added to these serious threats today are a multiplicity of epochal global challenges, such as the climate, overpopulation, migratory flows, artificial intelligence, the search for energy resources, which must be faced by societies that today appear more fragmented, with greater endogenous tensions and a greater propensity for international conflict. A cocktail not at all pleasant.

We are, therefore, immersed in a very delicate period, in which too many elements are trying to add fuel to the fire of rivalries. A situation not dictated by destiny but the result of human responsibilities, often perfectly identifiable. Collaboration or confrontation, shared norms or arrogance, multilateralism or individualism, the future is never already written and the possible alternatives are only our choice. The electoral consultations could provide some answers, providing us with elements of evaluation to try to understand the possible evolutions of the global scenario.

We have just begun a year full of unknowns, during which we hope to dispel, at least in part, the clouds that are gathering over this unfortunate planet.

1 I am referring to the Ituri, North and South Kivu regions, including the area of ​​the Virunga Mountains National Park.

2 I'm the Lieutenant General Sergei Ivanovich Kobylash and Admiral Viktor Kinolayevich Sokolov, during the period 10 October 2022 – 9 March 2023 respectively Commander of the Long-Range Aviation of the Russian Air Force and Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, as allegedly responsible for war crimes for launching attacks on targets civilians and causing excessive harm to civilians or civilian facilities, and crimes against humanity.

3 Antonello Guerrera, La Repubblica, 14 March 2024