The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) focuses on four foreign policy news stories to follow this year. “Any one of them,” the CFR website says, “could turn into the dominant news event of the year — or fade away. We’ll know in 12 months which will sizzle and which will fizzle.”
The top four are:
- COVID-19 persists
- United States-China Tensions Continue to Bubble
- Russia Continues to Threaten Ukraine
- Iran’s Nuclear Program Advances
Covid-19 Persists. The sheer logistical challenge of distribution cited by the World Health Organization (WHO) is key. As 2022 dawned, the Omicron variant emerged. It appears to be even more transmissible than the existing forms of the epidemic.
A piece of good news, the CFR says, is the arrival of anti-viral treatments that substantially reduce the risk of hospitalization or death. Developing countries won’t get there, however, because of formidable shipping and distribution problems. So, WHO is unlikely to meet its goal of having 70% of the world’s population vaccinated in 2022.
U.S.-China Tensions Continue to Bubble. Relations between the two superpowers are “frosty.” PRC leader Xi Jingping sees China as an ascending superpower capable of reshaping the global order to his liking. President Biden, on the other hand, has vowed that the United States will prevail in strategic competition with Beijing. He kept in place United States trade tariffs against China, sent American naval vessels through the narrow Taiwan Strait separating that independent nation from the mainland.
Mr. Biden persuaded NATO and other allies to issue tough warnings to the PRC. Beijing last year had increased its aerial presence surrounding Taiwan, raising concerns it was rehearsing for an invasion of the island. Both Washington and Beijing have good reasons to keep their differences contained. But 2022 is likely, the CFR website says, “to bring about testier relations.”
Russian Threats Against Ukraine. Some estimates are that Moscow may have deployed as many as 170,000 troops on the border of eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, however, has recently supported joint NATO-Ukrainian military drills. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently warned that NATO would cross what he termed “a red line,” if the alliance expanded into Ukraine. “Diplomacy,” says the CFR, “may provide an off-ramp to prevent a conflict neither side wants. But history is rife with examples of off-ramps missed.”
Iran’s Nuclear Program Advances. As the CFR asks: “Is Iran poised to become the world’s newest nuclear state?” Mr. Biden came to office last year hoping he could avoid that from happening by persuading Tehran to return to compliance with a nuclear deal it had signed seven years ago.
“The Biden administration though looks to be no more eager to use military force against Iran than its predecessors were. But, the Council warns, “if military force is off the table, and sanctions won’t change Tehran’s calculations, then a nuclear, or almost-nuclear Iran, looks to be almost inevitable.”
I prefer to put it all in context. In the words of the late Pope John XXIII: “Consult not your fears, but your hopes and your dreams. Now is the time to set aside past setbacks and failures and look with confidence to a new day called tomorrow.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More