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What will 2024 bring? War, ‘mega threats’ and the West and Israel in the dock

There is a pall of gloom hanging over this new year, and a powerful sense that no one in power is willing or able to prevent the horrors unfolding each day
A Palestinian child lights candles during a mass at the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City on 7 January 2024 amid the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza (AFP)

Few would say that 2023 was a good year for world peace or economic prosperity. An Ipsos survey of 34 countries around the world found 70 percent said 2023 was a bad year for their country and 53 percent that it was a bad year for themselves and their family.

For 70 or more years faith in progress, despite challenges, was the underlying belief in western society.

The obliterating horror of Gaza, and before it Russia's siege of Mariupol, has made it clear, in case anyone had any doubt, that the idea of progress - towards democracy, human rights, self-determination and peace - was a fragile hope rather than a reality.

Today we are in the age of “megathreats" in the coinage of economist Nouriel Roubini. We are returning to the global instability of 1914-45.

Perhaps the truth was already written in Syria, where untold horrors unfolded, some recorded by the new mechanism of global social media, others in the darkness of Bashar al-Assad’s death prisons where no light enters or leaves, and yet the perpetrators got away with it. 

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Western liberals - until last October - remained smug that “we” would never engage in such methods to fight our wars and defend our regional allies in the Middle East. Let’s overlook Iraq and the horrors unleashed there by the destruction of the state and army and the unleashing of sectarian militias, all part of the plan to let “stuff happen”, in the immortal words of the late Donald Rumsfeld.

Eighty years since the Holocaust, are we back to square one - the global law of force and aggression?

But in 2023, decades of propaganda about the “only democracy in the Middle East” came home to roost when Israel, embedded in the western political system through strategic and military ties, and entrenched media support, launched a war of annihilation against the Palestinians of Gaza. Following Hamas’s attack on 7 October, the West backed Israel to the hilt.

As 2024 begins, there is a pall of gloom and impending apocalypse hanging over this new year, and a powerful sense that no one in power is willing or able to prevent the worst that has happened in Gaza and its surrounds, or the further horrors unfolding each day. I write as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken does another pointless Middle East tour, offering Israel new "rights" to fight its war against Hamas to the last Palestinian.

False progress

The progress that followed the Second World War and the decolonisation of Asia and Africa over the following decades - indeed the very idea of international order - feels more and more like an illusion, or just a byproduct of the cold war balance of terror between Washington and Moscow. 

Eighty years since the Holocaust, are we back to square one - the global law of force and aggression?

Given that the leadership of the West has been wholly complicit in Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza, and has sought to suppress voices critical of the war through repression and witch hunts, this is not hyperbole. 

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Elsewhere, the western-backed wars in Libya and Yemen gave birth to the monster of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, the go-to militia for tyrants in the Gulf and European powers seeking to limit migration from Africa. After gaining wealth and firepower in these conflicts, the RSF leaders turned their guns on Khartoum, sending millions fleeing and bringing chaos to Africa’s second-largest country in the war that began in April.

In Europe and the UK our leaders obsess over the “threat” of migration from war zones, blithely overlooking how people are fleeing from the wars the West fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

The refusal of our political elites to offer any significant solutions to the major problems we face as societies - inequality, poverty, record debt levels, failing public services - other than more privatisation and austerity, is a mirror image of the failings in their approach to global problems. 

In a year of record temperatures, megafires and deadly floods, Cop28 at the end of 2023 was a tragic farce - led by an oil minister from Abu Dhabi, and stymied by energy lobbyists and oil states. The conference offered no tangible means by which the urgent need to end fossil fuel use could be realised other than at some distant too-late point.

There are rare exceptions, like Colombia under left-wing president Gustavo Petro who told Cop28: “Colombia has stopped signing contracts for the exploration of coal, oil, and gas.”

Small empire-defying nations

By contrast, the enthusiasm and fervour with which western leaders backed Ukraine’s fight against Russia after its invasion in February 2022 was unprecedented. Russia had invaded and the West wanted to help. The little matter of Nato’s rearming of Ukraine and its bombardment of the Donbas since 2014 was but a minor detail eclipsed by Putin’s aggressive invasion.

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The gulf between the West and the rest was now a chasm. The global rest stood back and saw America and Europe coming to the aid of its white Christian brethren in Ukraine, while opening its doors to millions of Ukrainian refugees. Meanwhile the refugees of the Middle East and North Africa drowned in the Mediterranean. 

Where is justice for today’s war criminals? The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian president over Ukraine, whose war crimes in Chechnya and Syria should be enough to put him in the dock. But the crimes of powerful states never lead to any accountability. Serbian, Congolese or Sudanese war criminals may face justice. Putin, Bush, Biden and Blair are safe.

Perhaps all is not lost. If South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the World Court is successful, a semi-pariah fate may yet beckon for Benjamin Netanyahu and his generals.

Fifty years ago, the last post-colonial wars in Asia and Africa came to an end as western powers finally gave up the ghost. The last wars in Africa against settler colonialism and its mercenaries - in Namibia, Angola and Mozambique - ended more than three decades ago. Thanks to Cuba and Fidel Castro’s heroic solidarity with the liberation movements of southern Africa, the end game arrived for the South African apartheid regime.

Nelson Mandela said the key Angolan battle of Cuito Cuanavale against South African troops in 1988 “destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor”. Echoes of the ongoing 100-day battle in Gaza between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops, or the Yemeni campaign in the Red Sea in support of Gaza: small empire-defying nations can do what the world will not.

End point

Today’s era of globalisation and financial capitalism has reached a dead end. Yet the current political order has shown itself incapable of bringing about a transition to a sustainable, equitable, peaceful global order. In the past when old social orders failed to renew themselves, and wealth became concentrated in a tiny elite, revolution was inevitable. 

The current political order has shown itself incapable of bringing about a transition to a sustainable, equitable, peaceful global order

The last great era of globalisation, from 1870 to 1914, ended after the world had been carved up by the colonial powers and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II sought to redraw the map of Europe according to his imperial plan. Trade ground to a halt, and the young men of Europe were sacrificed in the muddy plains of Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele. 

The war ended with the Russian and German revolutions, and the collapse of the Ottoman and Austrian empires. Three decades of crisis, totalitarianism and war followed.

The revolutions of the 20th century were bloody and brutal but they did radically change the social order, creating unprecedented advances for workers, women and colonised peoples.

The problem today is imagining what kind of process or international reordering could cut the Gordian knot of military-industrial imperialism that currently governs capitals in Washington, London, Brussels and Moscow. 

Perhaps 2024 will provide an answer. If not revolution, then further geopolitical or economic shocks seem nigh on certain.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Joe Gill has worked as a journalist in London, Oman, Venezuela and the US, for newspapers including Financial Times, Morning Star and Middle East Eye. His Masters was in Politics of the World Economy at the London School of Economics. Twitter @gill_joe
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