By Anil Madan
As mentioned in my last piece, I find it not very useful to pretend to know what will happen in 2023. I am, however, prepared to take a stab at predicting — well, yes, it’s guessing — what will not happen in 2023. In a way, these thoughts are a sad commentary on the state of the world. Come look with me as I peer into an imaginary crystal ball and watch it cloud over when specific subjects are mentioned.
“Afghanistan is not going to emerge from the 12th Century and suddenly plant itself in the 21st. Iran is not going to emerge from the 12th Century and suddenly plant itself in the 21st. On both these counts, I have the sense that I could be wrong. The Ayatollahs are messing with Iran’s women and the Taliban are back to messing with Afghani women. Revolutions inspired by women are far more likely to bring change than protests by men…”
There is no dearth of trouble spots in the world, no shortage of problems, no lack of conflicts. What hope there is that any of them will be resolved is not supported by experience. So, for example, I cannot predict that there will or will not be a nuclear weapon used in 2023 or that peace will or will not come to Ukraine and so I’ll leave those types of predictions to others.
Aside from the war in Ukraine and the rising danger of the use of a nuclear device, the three other most significant concerns are the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, a possible Chinese attack against Taiwan, and adverse weather-related events such as forest fires, floods, massive snowstorms, drought, cyclones and hurricanes.
Covid-19: The Covid-19 pandemic will not be resolved in 2023. The experiences of the US, Canada, India, Britain, Europe, and some other countries have shown that broad-based vaccine campaigns and some measure of acquired immunity short of herd immunity allow these societies to conduct business almost as normal. China’s experience, on the other hand, shows what happens when a government ignores science and imposes draconian lockdowns and isolation rules. China is well behind the curve on containing Covid-19.
Cases in the countries I have mentioned are spiking. This is due to a convergence of factors. Variants more transmissible than the first iteration of Covid have proliferated. Vaccines cannot be developed rapidly enough to contain all variants. Lockdowns and isolation have left many people resentful and alienated from their governments. This, in turn, has led to vaccine hesitancy when it comes to boosters.
Human beings crave normalcy. Having to live in a perpetual state of emergency, consumed by fear is not the default. So, whether it is wishful thinking or a rebellious streak, we revert to behaviours that make it easier for the virus to strike. China’s sudden easing of lockdowns and social restrictions is generating millions of new cases of Covid infections. It is only a matter of time before this creates mutations that will generate new strains of the virus.
Taiwan: China will not attack Taiwan. This is the expression of a hope as well as a prediction of what will not happen. It is not clear that China has the capability to mount an amphibious invasion against Taiwan without suffering massive casualties. Of course, China can impose a blockade across the Taiwan Strait and around Taiwan, but aside from doing so for short periods of time to make the point that it has that capability, it likely will not.
What is clear is that China has much to lose from an economic blockade of Taiwan as does the US. It is not in the interest of either the US or China to destroy Taiwan’s economy and particularly, its semiconductor manufacturing capability. China has little to gain from incentivizing the Taiwanese to sabotage their own semiconductor manufacturing plants to avoid a Chinese takeover.
Weather-related events: Significant damage from weather events will not be curtailed or controlled much less prevented. This prediction is an easy one. Let us face it, the world has done literally nothing by way of mitigation adaptation when it comes to forest fires, floods, massive snowstorms, drought, cyclones, or hurricanes. Regardless of the cause, unless Mother Nature shuts herself down, things will go on as they have.
Carbon consumption and renewable energy: There will be little change on this front and things are unlikely to change for decades to come. The world is dependent on fossil fuels for energy and will remain dependent until there is a major new technology that can meet the world’s energy needs. In the meantime, the industrialized countries are not going to shut down their factories and transportation infrastructure and developing countries will refuse to work in the dark.
Simply put even if the world’s nations do more than paying lip service to the idea of cutting carbon consumption, there will have to be a massive and coordinated commitment of resources to research and development of new technologies and solutions. It is unrealistic to think that energy from fusion is realistically achievable within the next two to three decades. Things will go on as they are.
North Korea: Kim Jong Nuke will not use a nuclear weapon. This is more or less a hope rather than a prediction of what will not happen. But it seems fairly obvious that Chairman Kim likes the leverage that having nuclear weapons and missile tests gives him. One point that few consider is that Kim’s nuclear weapons are as much a threat to China as they are to South Korea, Japan and the US. For now, barring a major change in the attitude that the US has adopted with respect to engagement with North Korea and lifting sanctions, the stalemate will continue.
Afghanistan: Afghanistan is not going to emerge from the 12th Century and suddenly plant itself in the 21st.
Iran: Iran is not going to emerge from the 12th Century and suddenly plant itself in the 21st.
On both these counts, I have the sense that I could be wrong. The Ayatollahs are messing with Iran’s women and the Taliban are back to messing with Afghani women. Revolutions inspired by women are far more likely to bring change than protests by men.
India/Pakistan: These two countries will not find rapprochement. After Pakistan was hit by devastating floods, a Pakistani Minister said that his country would allow imports of vegetable and critical food supplies from India due to shortages but only for a few months.
However, the Prime Minister of Pakistan has stated that he wants to have permanent peace with India as war is not an option for either country. It is not clear if the Prime Minister of India will see this as an opening worth walking through. Don’t hold your breath because there are plenty of voices on the Pakistan side opposed to any deal with India.
Ukraine: This has me flummoxed. I cannot tell what will happen. I cannot tell what will not happen. Russia’s forces apparently lost the will to fight a long time ago, but Russia’s leaders have not lost their will to inflict wanton damage and destruction. Ukraine’s people have not lost the will to fight but there are at least three more winter months ahead and their ability to continue their fight is dependent on support from the West as well as their ability to fight the elements.
Trump: Finally, Donald Trump seems slowly to be losing his mind as he reacts to the January 6 committee’s report and criminal referral, as well as to the ongoing investigations in multiple fora. He will not regain his sanity (note: I do not suggest he ever was sane).
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 30 December 2022
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