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What Wars to Expect. Predictions for 2024, but They Better Not Come True

What Wars to Expect. Predictions for 2024, but They Better Not Come True

Andriy Sorokin

Talks about the approach of World War III have not stopped since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But even without it, we have every chance of witnessing many more local conflicts. Andriy Sorokin, a regular contributor to Zaborona and editor of the FintechWave telegram channel, tried to figure out what they might be (with the hope that none of them will happen). Unfortunately, there are so many hot spots that one text would be too long — so we have divided this topic into two parts. Here is the first one.

NATO vs. Russia

The German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) considers this scenario likely “after the end of intense fighting in Ukraine.” The organization’s experts believe that Russia will need 6-10 years to prepare for this. It could start with the Baltic states, especially if it believes it will be successful.

Jacek Severa, head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, is much less optimistic. In his opinion, the country has no more than three years to prepare for a hypothetical Russian aggression. The same applies to other NATO members on the eastern flank, as “the Russian military industry works in three shifts.”

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believes that Russia is already preparing for a war with NATO. Analysts note that the aggressor country is deploying precious naval resources to areas outside of Ukraine and Eastern Europe to threaten the alliance and its allies in many regions. At the same time, the ISW is not sure whether Russia will be able to produce strategic warships of the proper scale and quality in the coming years.

This is not to say that the North Atlantic Alliance ignores such threats. There is an opinion that it was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that gave meaning to its existence in the first place. For example, at a meeting in Vilnius this year, the leaders of the organization pledged to invest at least 2% of GDP in defense annually. In addition, the alliance members approved new regional plans to counter two major threats — Russia and terrorism.

Whether these measures are enough is an open question. For example, Emily Ferris of the UK’s Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies (RUSI) believes that NATO countries still do not have a real strategy for future conflict. In her opinion, no one at the above-mentioned summit thought about “how to avoid groupthink in relation to an extremely dangerous enemy.”

Armenia vs. Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan regained control of Nagorno-Karabakh without much resistance from Armenia. As of December 2023, the two countries are exchanging prisoners of war (but according to the 2-for-32 formula). Their leaders issue joint statements about their readiness to achieve the long-awaited peace in the region. What can go wrong?

  • Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev needs a state of permanent war, says historian and political scientist Altay Goyushov. According to him, the country’s leader has already achieved very important goals without any serious problems, so he may well continue. Roza Melkumyan, Europe and Eurasia Program Officer at Freedom House expresses a similar view. “In light of its current successes and the need to continue to justify internal repression, the Azerbaijani government seems to be seeking additional military victories and territorial gains,” she notes.
  • The Armenian opposition claims that Azerbaijan’s rhetoric has not changed and doubts that the peace agreement will have any impact on the situation.
  • Azerbaijan’s current military positions on the border with Armenia and the huge imbalance of power mean that Yerevan will not have the best outcome in the event of a conflict. Especially given the possible pressure from “regional players” represented by Russia and Turkey, experts of the European Council on Foreign Relations Marie Dumoulin and Gustav Gressel note.
  • Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev did not rule out the possibility of new conflicts in the region. He stated that the Armenian authorities would like to take revenge for the loss of control over Nagorno-Karabakh. He also managed to accuse France of supporting Yerevan and “encouraging revanchist forces.”
  • Armenia can no longer rely on Russia as a security guarantor and is actively looking for new partners (France, Iran, India). At the same time, the “ally” in the past may well turn into an enemy in the future — for example, by giving Baku the green light to launch a new military operation in response to Yerevan’s rapprochement with the West, writes Mikayel Zolyan, a researcher at the Center for Regional Studies in Yerevan.
  • Baku continues to adhere to a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding the “Western Azerbaijan” version, according to which all or part of Armenia actually belongs to Azerbaijan, Eurasianet columnist Fin DePencier reminds.
  • Rumors of a new war over the Zangezur corridor to Nakhchivan circulated until the trip of the American representative to Baku. Today, Aliyev emphasizes that he is “tired of talking” about the absence of plans to cut through this corridor “by force of arms,” and stresses that a route through Iran has been found. But should we believe authoritarian leaders 100%?
  • Over the past 30 years, Armenia and Azerbaijan have repeatedly come close to making peace, according to the Foreign Affairs article. But each time they failed, leading to even greater militarization of the region. The publication notes that only the United States and the EU can facilitate the negotiations. After all, if Azerbaijan sees no reason to return to them, it may try to advance its interests on the battlefield, Foreign Affairs writes.

Taliban vs. insurgents/ISIS (Afghanistan)

For more than two years, the “international community” has been watching the Taliban turn Afghanistan into a branch of hell on earth. While the humanitarian crisis continues in the country, China accepts the Taliban’s credentials. And Western experts on the region write that the country is acquiring “a certain normalcy,” and even suggest that the UN take a leading role in ensuring peace and stability. The likelihood of such a scenario is low: for example, the FAO was not even able to help the starving in Afghanistan.

The Taliban resistance forces remember that negotiations with the Taliban have never yielded results, so war remains the only way out. However, the Afghan opposition has two serious problems: fragmentation and lack of adequate support from the United States and the West in general.

Meetings of opposition leaders are critically covered by the Western media, which blames constant conflicts and ambitions. But some experts see these as the first signs that the Taliban’s opponents are ready to unite. “The situation could change in 2024 if the neighbors in the region, especially Tajikistan, give the groups space to operate,” says David Loyn, a research fellow at King’s College London.

For now, the insurgents are creating political and governance problems for the current regime, but they are not strong enough to overthrow it. The United States is in no hurry to support them and seems to be more preoccupied with its domestic political agenda than with other known conflicts. Does this mean that the resistance to the Taliban will remain at the level of killing individual officials and soldiers? No, it doesn’t. After all, other terrorists are not averse to taking the place of previous terrorists, and they are no less brutal.

“Wilayat Khorasan (ISIS branch) is the most serious threat to the Taliban,” writes Voice of America. And not only to it but to the entire region, warns former CIA counterterrorism chief Robert Grenier. In 2020, the Washington Post reported that the US military even supported the Taliban by firing missiles and drones from the air at Wilayat Khorasan positions.

One thing is for sure: we should not expect a peaceful life in the region. On the one hand, some forces are ready to fight the Taliban. On the other hand, Chinese, Uzbek, and Pakistani fighters are training under the Taliban, and al-Qaeda has set up headquarters in Afghanistan, David Loyn reminds us. The latter does not bode well.

Israel vs. Hezbollah

Israel has been promised a war on several fronts since the fall Hamas attack. Eric R. Mandel, director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network), warns that one of them could be a large-scale confrontation with Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. The expert predicts it for early 2024.

As of December 2023, the Lebanese group intensified its shelling of Israeli territory. The IDF retaliates against the militants’ positions. At the same time, the Israeli authorities are looking for diplomatic ways to stop the escalation. According to Defense Minister Yoav Galant, the country is ready to make a deal with Hezbollah. The condition is the creation of a security zone along the border with Lebanon and appropriate guarantees.

Israeli officials do not have much faith that a deal will be reached with Hezbollah. Diplomats tried to find understanding from their Western counterparts and appealed to the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which established a ceasefire in the region. Did it help? A Reuters source (a Lebanese official close to Hezbollah) claims that representatives of the United States and France visited Beirut to discuss the situation. However, he called their ideas for security guarantees unrealistic. And Lebanese MP Hassan Fadlallah from Hezbollah openly stated that Israel has no right to determine the future of others.

Financial Times sources also confirm that US, British, and French officials have held talks with Israel and Lebanon. According to their estimates, the discussions are still at an early stage, and the parties will have to overcome serious differences. For example, Beirut also accuses the IDF of violating a UN Security Council resolution. Financial Times sources also point out that Hezbollah itself is not too ready for a war in the region. At the same time, they admit that the group is unlikely to ever agree to a complete withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

At the time of this writing, information is circulating online that Israel has issued an ultimatum to Lebanon: either Hezbollah withdraws beyond the Litani River (which flows close to the Israeli border) or the IDF will destroy the group’s entire infrastructure. There is no official confirmation of this. But this does not mean that a major conflict will be avoided.

Eric R. Mandel notes that Israel has two ways to regain control of the northern border. The first is to force Hezbollah to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1701 through diplomacy, which is unlikely to succeed. The second is a military operation. Defense Minister Yoav Galant has already made it clear that Israel “will be ready to act by all means at its disposal” if there is no other option.

Some in the military have already tried to convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch a preemptive strike against Lebanon, Politico reports. However, he did not support this idea, partly because of pressure from Washington, which fears that Iran will then enter the war. In this case, it could lead to a major regional conflict.

Humanity and artificial intelligence: four scenarios

The clash between humans and machines seems like something from a foreign blockbuster or science fiction novel. Especially in 2023, when the world is experiencing much more real and bloody conflicts. Nevertheless, throughout the year, various experts did not miss the opportunity to tell how AI can ruin humanity.

In this regard, here are some possible scenarios:

Humans lose control over AI, and it starts making independent decisions, potentially gaining access to weapons systems or other dangerous capabilities. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has already scared everyone that AI could pose a threat to humanity in 5-10 years.

AI mistakenly uses nuclear weapons. An unnamed scientist from the University of Cambridge told tabloid I that the system can mistake a bird (!) for an approaching threat and initiate a nuclear strike if there is no human nearby to stop it. Interestingly, this is also being written about by organizations that can hardly be suspected of striving for clickbait. For example, back in 2018, the RAND think tank warned of possible catastrophic miscalculations of AI (which has not yet reached technological maturity) if it is used to control nuclear weapons.

AI mistakenly uses weapons against civilians. Paul  Scharre, vice president and director of studies at the Center for a New American Security, believes that in this case, a war crime is obvious. But there is no one to bring to justice. However, this story can be developed to a more serious scale. For example, an AI mistakenly kills a whole group of people from another country with which it has tense relations, and as a result, it turns into a conflict between the countries.

AI systems start a war with each other, destroying all life along the way. A similar, no less frightening, but more realistic scenario could be that in the course of a particular war, people no longer cope with the constantly changing situation on the battlefield and cede most of their decisions to machines. Their actions result in large-scale destruction before humans have time to intervene. The former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and Amir Hussain, a Pakistani-American artificial intelligence entrepreneur, have called this “hyperwar.”

AI is not yet advanced enough to consider such scenarios seriously. At the same time, we should not ignore the obvious: the defense departments of the largest countries are interested in AI developments. And the more advanced they become, the more likely it is that the price of their mistake will be too high.

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