What might 2023 bring for the security situation in Europe in view of the ongoing rivalry between the superpowers, the war in Ukraine and the economic crisis?
The ramifications of the era-defining year that was 2022 will continue to be felt in 2023 – from the return of war to Europe and its multifaceted aftermath (social, humanitarian, economic, and geopolitical) to the accelerating great power competition between the US and China. As a result, several complex and dynamic factors will influence the security situation in Europe in 2023. Despite the apparent thaw post the Xi-Biden meeting on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Bali, the ongoing rivalry between superpowers US and China will continue to be predominant in shaping the world order, which is in transition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasing isolation, including the castigation at the G20 by even allies like India and distancing by China, will have a twofold impact on the war in Ukraine: fears of a nuclear showdown will continue to plague Europe as Putin will no doubt harden his tactics against the West but the war of attrition will reconfigure international solidarity, especially from quarters which were so far hedging their bets (e.g., the acutely affected developing world). Nonetheless, the war in Eastern Europe will remain the major source of tension and instability in Europe.
At the same time, Russia’s propensity to use force has encouraged Europe and the United States to concentrate on working together while Brussels builds strategic autonomy to better safeguard the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s eastern and northern flanks. This allows the European Union (EU) to work with the US and other democratic partners to prevent the Indo-Pacific from becoming a Chinese sphere of influence, where the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy likewise works to cement its role.
Europe’s quest for strategic autonomy may take a backseat in favour of developing and recasting partnerships with the US and its allies (including rising Indo-Pacific middle powers like India, Japan, and South Korea) in order to quell Xi Jinping’s relentless drive to transform the existing liberal global order. This is especially significant post the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October last year where Xi strengthened his coterie of yes-men.
Thus, continued focus on the Indo-Pacific will come from Europe, with more EU member states launching individual Indo-Pacific strategies as well, although the effectiveness of these will ultimately rest on continued institutional backing by the EU towards the Indo-Pacific cause. The EU’s dual stance on China as strategic rival and cooperation partner will come under greater stress.
The latest economic crisis will also have a drastic impact on the security situation in Europe, as economic challenges could lead to social unrest and other forms of instability. After the 2008 financial and economic crisis which caused the subsequent Eurozone crisis, and the COVID-19 epidemic, the war in Ukraine is the third asymmetric shock the Union has encountered in the past twenty years. The Ukraine war-induced high levels of inflation and severe energy crisis is likely to put pressure on the EU stability and unity. Hence, improving resilience of the European economy, drastic reduction of Russian energy imports, and advancement of substantial European defence strengthening will continue to be the underlying themes of 2023 that will require consistent and equal focus.
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