The first major issue is with more COVID variants and how countries are responding to them.
Everyone is now panicking over omicron, which so far appears to be more contagious and potent for vaccines than previous variants. It also appears, at least for now, to be less deadly – although if it spreads widely it could still mean a lot of deaths. Travel bans are back. Containment could follow. The mandates of vaccines are likely to expand.
It’s all starting to look like the darker days of 2020 again – although vaccines can prevent equally high death rates.
And even after the passage of omicron, we don’t know what the next letter of the Greek alphabet will do. It is possible that the omicron will spread enough for it to become the last great wave of the pandemic. But with nearly half of the world still unvaccinated – and clear evidence that the disease can infect even the vaccinated – it’s also possible that new variants will emerge that pose new threats to the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
This will raise, once again, the thorny political questions about lockdowns, border closures, warrants and distance learning. But after two years of initial blockages, then vaccination campaigns, followed by intermittent returns to normalcy, later jeopardized by new variants, the political backlash against the new restrictions will certainly be even higher. How do you deal with another year of this?
The second big problem, resulting from the first, is that the economic disruption associated with COVID will continue.
The pandemic has disrupted global supply chains, which continue to struggle to meet high demand. Delivery delays, higher shipping costs and shortages of approximately all have become a huge headache for consumers and governments alike, who can do little to solve the problem.
Supply chain disruptions are the main factor behind the spike in inflation around the world. Rising prices will force leaders in soaring inflationary countries, such as Brazil or Turkey, to walk a tightrope between encouraging economic recovery and taking unpopular measures – like spending cuts or price hikes. interest rate – to fight inflation.
This economic frustration could, in turn, lead to anti-conformist and anti-establishment rage at the polls. There are several big elections coming up next year where those in power will not be able to say to the voters: “you are better off than before you elected me”.
Finally, there are two long-simmering geopolitical conflicts that have escalated this year and could spill over in 2022.
First, Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has amassed 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border because he does not want NATO to expand further into former Soviet territory. Putin has little to gain and a lot to lose from an actual invasion, but the risk of an invasion is higher than it has been for at least seven years, that is, since the last time. that Putin invaded Ukraine.
Russia, the United States and Europe are playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse. If Putin overshadows, America could exclude Russia from SWIFT, the cross-border payments network used by most banks around the world. Europeans, for their part, could cancel Russia’s Nordstream 2 pipeline, which would carry Russian gas that Europe depends on to keep homes warm.
Second, Taiwan. Xi Jinping has long aimed to “reintegrate” the autonomous island into the People’s Republic, but throughout 2021 China has stepped up the pressure by poking fun at Taiwanese by air and sea. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has signaled that after decades of deliberate ambiguity, it may in fact be ready to defend Taiwan.
So, will China invade Taiwan next year? Almost certainly not. Despite China’s growing military might, it would be a risky and extremely expensive endeavor, especially if the United States intervened, and it would almost certainly lead to crippling economic sanctions.
However, Xi wants to play the nationalist card by speaking grandly of Taiwan. With Sino-US relations quite icy these days, and Americans snooping around Taiwan as well, there is always the risk of a miscalculation that explodes quickly.