From conflict in the Middle East, to Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine, to shifting geopolitical landscapes and historic humanitarian crises worldwide, 2023 underscored the critical need for American development and diplomacy to protect and build a safer, more prosperous world.
As we look ahead, here are 6 key development and diplomacy issues we are watching in 2024:
- Two Wars and Growing Global Conflicts: This February will mark two years since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s campaign to undermine the global order. But even as fighting between Ukraine and Russia has increased over the new year, the future of international assistance remains uncertain. The direction of the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel is also uncertain, with desperate humanitarian needs in Gaza and risks of growing regional instability. Elsewhere, Houthis are attacking Red Sea shipping lanes from Yemen impacting global supply chains, Iran’s proxies in the region threaten U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria, and a rash of coups and ongoing fighting in West Africa, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia raise concerns about conflict spreading in already fragile environments. These multiple unfolding crises place a premium on thoughtful and sustained U.S. diplomacy. To that end, the United States will be hosting a NATO summit in July, which is expected to feature crucial talks on the state of global security.
- Global Poverty and MCC@20: After decades of progress, the last several years have been considered ‘lost years’ for global poverty reduction where many of the gains have been halted or reversed due to a combination of economic and social backsliding from the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing humanitarian shocks. The SDG Summit last fall helped galvanize global attention around the need to redouble focus on global development. 2024 is likely to be met with continued challenges to not only get global poverty reduction measures back on track but to make up lost ground, which is critical to build jobs and economic security around the world, as well as to spur progress in health, education, and basic infrastructure. The 20th anniversary in January of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a bipartisan foreign aid program with a long track record of success in poverty reduction, provides an opportunity to demonstrate that progress is possible and that we can set a path forward to build global resolve in combatting poverty.
- Mounting Humanitarian Needs and Worsening Food Insecurity: As conflicts, climate emergencies, and economic instability threaten to wreak havoc on communities worldwide, humanitarian needs will likely only grow more acute in 2024. As 2023 ended, the United Nations launched its 2024 annual appeal with a clarion call for continued assistance to the 300 million people across the world who will require assistance this year, even as many governments are faced with a pull for attention and resources.
In 2023, record levels of food insecurity continued due to the intersecting challenges of climate, conflict, and ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 783 million people across the world face hunger, and last year saw a 10 percent increase in the number of people facing life threatening hunger globally compared to 2022. This increase illustrates continued levels of extraordinary food insecurity resulting from Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, extreme weather, and slow global economic growth. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Food Program warn that acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further in 18 hunger hotspots from Central America to Africa to the Middle East.
- Economic Security, and Technology: Recovering from the lingering economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting the ongoing challenges with China, and ensuring our economic security will require the Unites States working with global partners to diversify supply chains, reduce reliance on geopolitical competitors, counter economic coercion, and bolster local and regional manufacturing.
Technology will also play an increasingly important role in foreign policy. The rapid rise of artificial intelligence and the ensuing debate on how to best regulate it will have consequences for global development and geopolitical competition this year. In 2023, we saw China move early to roll out AI regulations, the G7 adopt a code of conduct on AI, President Biden sign a landmark Executive Order on AI safety, and the European Union agree to one of the world’s first comprehensive AI regulation acts. This year, the race to innovate and regulate AI will impact global development as countries diverge on how to harness its opportunities – including around disaster response, supporting smallholder farmers, and detecting infectious disease patterns. The growth of AI further underscores the need to build the rules of the road across countries, to close the “digital divide” and to ensure that the benefits of technological development are broadly shared.
- Climate & the Environment: Even as temperatures and weather-related disasters were on the rise last year, the end of 2023 resulted in important developments for global cooperation in the fight against climate change that will carry into 2024. This includes the establishment of a new loss and damage fund to help support communities devastated by climate-related impacts, agreement by governments at COP28 on a roadmap transitioning away from fossil fuels, and greater policy attention to the intersection of climate, health, and humanitarian needs. Members of Congress across both aisles participated at COP in a strong display of U.S. leadership. But 2024 is expected to be the hottest year on record, and there is a risk that the planet’s global annual temperature may reach 1.5 degrees Celsius for the first time, further exacerbating such crises at home and abroad.
- A Wave of Global Elections and Continued Geopolitical Divides: With more than 70 elections expected to impact nearly half the world’s population, 2024 is gearing up to be perhaps the biggest election year ever. From here at home in the United States to South Africa and other African countries, Taiwan, Mexico, the European Parliament, India, Russia, and Ukraine, this year will be a consequential test for democracy and the values that underpin democratic systems. These elections will take place against a backdrop of continued political divides, with both China and Russia expressly calling for a replacement of the current liberal economic order. There is also a heightened risk of election interference, with the potential for AI manipulation, cyberattacks, and similar efforts testing democratic values and norms around the world.
Despite the plethora of challenges ahead, 2023 saw global progress in development and diplomacy to build on. Partnerships were strengthened, NATO remained more united than ever, and new U.S. embassies opened across the Pacific. Global health saw improvements with a new anti-malaria vaccine and Africa’s first mRNA vaccine facility. And in Congress, even amidst overall gridlock, there were indications of bipartisan support for America’s development and diplomacy programs: State Department authorization was included in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, the House relaunched the Effective Foreign Assistance Caucus, and the bipartisan China Select Committee recognized the integral role development and diplomacy plays in America’s China strategy. One thing is for sure; 2024 will prove to be a decisive year for how the U.S. chooses to engage in a world it cannot afford to abandon.