Measuring time in terms of years and expecting that the end of a year will mark the end of some trends, and the beginning of the new year will usher in changes are myths invented by mankind for their own convenience and to instil optimism that change in the year will bring change in fortunes.
Lenin is supposed to have said, “There are decades when nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happen.” The optimism about a happy 2023 may well be an illusion. The year 2023, in many ways, may just be a continuum, with many of the scars of the previous year still bleeding. A sense of comparative ease may well be relative because the dreadful memory of the past is still fresh in our minds.
To predict the future, we need to study the game-changing events of the 21st century, which will cast a shadow on the present and future events.
The 9/11 attacks, the global financial crisis, Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war were all different, but they all started out small, but continue to send shock waves around the world. To expect these events to fade away quickly is irrational as all of them have consequences for humanity. The remedial measures themselves may have consequences as they were taken in a desperate hurry, forcing the pace of science, without adequate study of their long-term impact.
Single event defining past year
The most important legacy of 2022, which may undermine 2023 is the Russia-Ukraine war. Individuals may have caused wars before, but Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was the result of his illusion of grandeur about the Russian empire. Just before the war started, Russia and China signed a treaty, which committed them to each other’s security. China’s support to Russia over Ukraine ensures Russian support to China over Taiwan.
What is in store for India?
India-Russia relations will come under strain sooner or later, even though India has not condemned the Russian invasion. 2023 is likely to witness changes in India’s relations with the US and the strengthening of the Quad, which China considers an Asian NATO.
The China-Russia ties have already become a pillar of the emerging world order, leading to a consolidation of the autocracies on one side and the democracies on the other. The space for India to take a non-aligned position between the two will become narrower in the future.
Hard lessons for the West
The world had faced devastating pandemics before and more recently, HIV-AIDS and Ebola virus posed an existential threat to humanity. The success in dealing with these through a coordinated effort of the international community lulled the developed countries into thinking that the world would be immune to such pandemics. The US had closed down a mechanism to prevent and fight epidemics on the premise that pandemics in the future will not affect a country with advanced technology and disaster preparedness.
The fear was only of patients arriving in the US and causing infections. But the US became the epicentre of the pandemic and American flights were dreaded in the developing world.
The suspicion that China had hidden the extent of the damage it had suffered, if not generated the virus in a Wuhan laboratory put China on the defensive and it prevented even a meeting of the Security Council to consider the matter. Nations were left to fend for themselves to meet the affliction that resulted in 50 million deaths.
Too early to ring out Covid-19
The expectation that Covid-19 had run out and 2023 would shape a post-pandemic world appears to have been belied as China itself was caught in a situation where anti-Covid action became a political challenge to Xi Jinping, who was forced to abandon his zero-Covid policy.
The threat of another wave of infection stares the world in the face, even though the vaccines and medicines developed in 2022 may provide some relief. But as Fareed Zakaria reminds us in his book, ‘Ten Lessons For a Post-Pandemic World’ "a world on steroids suffers unpredictable side effects". And they may manifest themselves in future at any time.
Recession too likely
The economic and financial crash of 2008 was the result of the hyperactivity in the financial market, which resulted in risk-taking by investors. The government and private firms lured more and more people to buy luxury homes with heavy loans.
Eventually, the system got so complicated that there was an economic meltdown in developed countries, which impacted the whole world. Today, there is fear of a recession in 2023 on account of the lockdowns and other associated disruptions in economic activities.
The first among the biggest events of the century, the 9/11 attacks have faded in the popular mind except when passengers undergo security checks at the airport. But 9/11 changed the notion that nuclear weapons would ensure security for nations.
Ten people with no arms or ammunition in hand defeated the most powerful country in the world and humiliated it. After 30 years of the war on terror terrorism is very much alive in the minds of fundamentalists in different parts of the globe to erupt at any time in any place.
Since years are artificially created, it is possible that there would be continuity in joy and misery in subsequent years, but hope runs eternal that humanity will be spared the suffering and agony of the previous years.