The war in Afghanistan may be over, but the troubles for the U.S. military, its diplomats and the American government are far from finished. The world in 2022 is a world full of rivalries, conflicts, and ongoing tensions that could explode at any moment.
Every year brings something new: new leaders with new policies, new flashpoints, and new developments in old issues. The United States is still a global leader and as President Joe Biden enters his second year – and midterm election year – everyone will be looking to him for foreign policy wins.
1. Russia and Ukraine
Throughout 2021, it looked as though Vladimir Putin’s Russia was poised to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, to finish what it started when it seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. In the last few weeks, that posturing has become a reality; just yesterday Russian forces began closing in on Kyiv. The death toll continues to climb while Ukrainians defend their country at all costs.
2. Brexit threatens the peace in Northern Ireland
While Ireland may be a separate and independent nation from the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, a small chunk of land on the same island, is not. Between the 1960s and 1998, forces loyal to the UK and Ireland fought a low-level conflict over control of Northern Ireland. The 1998 Good Friday agreement settled those issues.
Back in 1998, however, Britain and Ireland were members of what would become the European Union. Britain has since left that agreement, leaving border issues a prime concern for the Irish and British governments. A critical component of the Good Friday Agreement was that Northern Ireland’s citizens could identify as either Irish or British and move freely. New border controls are just one way in which the provisions of the agreement could collapse.
3. Legal status of Taiwan in Allied Nations
For most of the world, there is only one unified China, acknowledging the People’s Republic of China’s assertion that Taiwan is a part of China. Countries that refuse to see it that way become persona non grata to the Chinese, an increasingly important member of the global economy. When an American ally strays from that policy, it’s a big deal for Washington.
As China grows increasingly aggressive with its neighbors and relations, it is prompting many in the European community to question that unquestioning policy. Case in point is European Union and NATO member Lithuania, who not only agreed to recognize Taiwan asa separate entity, but exchanged diplomatic ties with the island.
4. Ethiopia, its neighbors, and itself
In 2020, Ethiopia’s leader was hailed as a peacemaker (and awarded a Nobel Prize) as he loosened the government’s tight grip on its people. Things have since changed. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front has been fighting government forces for around a year, and there seems to be little hope for a peaceful resolution.
At the same time, Ethiopia continues its work on a hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile River, one that could threaten its neighbor’s access to the critical waterway, a tributary of the Nile River itself. Ethiopia risks the ire of Sudan and Egypt, but won’t back down on what it believes is its territorial right to dam the river.
5. Iran, Israel, and the United States
Upon taking office in 2021, President Joe Biden reentered what is known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, an agreement that will allow the Islamic Republic to enrich a small amount of uranium for domestic electric production, monitored by outsiders with any needed uranium fulfilled by Russia.
Hardliners in Iran are no longer happy with the terms of the deal and refuse to give up their enrichment schemes at this point – and no one is sure what those are. Israel, America’s closest Middle Eastern ally has vowed to keep Iran from enriching weapons-grade uranium, but Israel also has new, unproven leadership and just how to keep a war from breaking out between the two intractable positions is unclear.