Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


On 19 September 2023, opening the Annual General Assembly, UN Secretary General Guterres urged Statesmanship, not Gamesmanship and Gridlock to resolve global challenges and geopolitical tensions.

The 2022 Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine has unleashed an ongoing war. Further, nuclear disarmament is at a standstill while countries develop new weapons and make new threats.

In the Balkans a Kosovo-brawl may degenerate while across the Sahel a series of coups is destabilizing the region as terrorism is gaining ground. Sudan is descending into full-scale civil war.

Meanwhile, the global humanitarian system is on the verge of collapse.

Current situation

Ukraine’s war with Russia has been going on since February 2022, but the situation is likely to get worse. Russian president Vladimir Putin also increased conscriptions, indicating that he has long-term goals. In addition, Putin bought additional weapons from Iran and North Korea.

Kosovo authorities want the ethnic Serb minority to surrender their Serbian-issued plates. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence. Meanwhile talks mediated by the EU have failed to resolve the contention.  NATO has about 3,700 troops stationed in Kosovo to maintain the peace, and those troops are prepared to intervene if necessary. In addition, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) still has around 200 special police officers there. As history has proven, a war in the Balkans can quickly spill over to other countries.

China’s tensions with Taiwan have been rising steadily: a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is still a possibility with a conceivable intervention of the United States. China will see what will happen in Ukraine and learn a valuable lesson.

The crisis in Niger should not overshadow the war in Sudan, originating from the clash between the military and militiamen with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which may even draw in other armed factions operating on the territory. The war in Sudan has created an enormous humanitarian crisis: roughly half the population - over 24 million people - need humanitarian aid to survive.

An era of polycrisis

All this has prompted experts to speak of an era of polycrisis, where countries are dealing with cascading and interconnected crises. The World Bank estimates 23 countries - with a combined population of 850 million people - currently face high or medium-intensity conflict. The number of conflict-affected countries has doubled over the past decade. This has triggered massive refugee flows. As of May 2023, a global record of 120 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide.

This is why we must avoid tunnel vision. What we are witnessing is that the world’s gaze and assistance is so firmly focused on events in Ukraine that many other conflicts and crises producing extreme human suffering are ignored or receded into the background.

The G-20 is in a precarious state, but global problems don’t take a breather. The G-20 continues to be rocked by deep divisions. The Russia-Ukraine war has presented it with the biggest test yet. The September 2023 Summit in New Delhi showcased the great power politics pulling and pushing the grouping in different directions, as the Global South’s middle powers continue to demand reforms to the current global order.

While the United States and its partners are insisting on a blanket condemnation of Russia, most of the Global South, including South and Southeast Asian countries, sees this war very differently from the West. The Global South makes the perfectly reasonable argument that the G-20’s fundamental focus has historically been on economic governance, and matters should stay that way. The declaration from the Johannesburg BRICS Summit is a good indicator of what these states see as important. The contrast is sharp with the G-7’s own statement at its recent Hiroshima Summit.

Other flashpoints not to be ignored

Given the tectonic shifts in the international system and renewed focus on great power competition, the prospects of inter-state warfare are now receiving more scrutiny.

Two of the world’s geopolitical heavyweights - China and India - have clashed over border issues both historically and more recently in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

India has other border disputes on its periphery. In August 2023, in a part of Kashmir fought over between India and Pakistan, the Pakistani military accused Indian troops of opening fire and killing a civilian in violation of the ceasefire agreement.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, another territory where borders are in dispute, what was a frozen conflict turned hot, with Armenia and Azerbaijan fighting over the territory.

In the Mediterranean, Turkish Cypriot forces recently assaulted UN peacekeepers operating in Pyla, a village located along the so-called “Green Line,” or buffer zone that separates the Republic of Cyprus from the Turkish Cypriot territory to its north.


Many of these border disputes are in areas where the economic stakes are high:  the eastern Mediterranean is energy-rich, while the South Caucasus is a region with significant oil and natural gas infrastructure. Other disputes are in regions with historical animosities, so even a seemingly innocuous incident could spark more intense fighting. As the international system shifts to a more multipolar posture, countries like the United States, China, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and others are supporting proxies and intervening in states, regions, and territories where border conflicts are rife.

These conflicts are in many ways escalated by immigration and refugee flows, including those seeking to escape war, poverty, or climate-related natural disasters. Avoiding escalation will require sustained diplomacy and the cooperation of great powers, which seems unlikely in the current geopolitical environment. Viewing border disputes through the zero-sum lens of great power competition could make conflict in some of these flashpoints inevitable, a precarious situation that could grow more dire over time.

The war in Ukraine has made it clear that the more risks are associated with a geostrategic confrontation, the more obsolete the collective security frameworks built to deal with them appear. The mismatch between means, challenges and deterrence instruments worsens.

Limits, both individual and collective, are being tested, whether it be inflation, food security, the energy crisis, rising pressure on global supply chains and geopolitical competition, international security and governance systems breaking down, and the collective capacity to respond to it all. By accelerating the erosion of the post-1945 order, the true scope and depth of the war’s global impact is only starting to become clear. We face not only a crisis of enormous dimensions, but a new process of structural change whose end remains unknowable.

What level of disorder will prevail? Of all the many crises, which could be the black ball that drops into the pocket too soon and produces a new existential threat? Above all, as continuous vulnerability and uncertainty become the new normal, what collective responses are being built?


Major-power divisions are shrinking the space for multilateral cooperation, and the UN’s role in managing international peace and security crises is increasingly uncertain. As the geopolitical picture darkens, the UN Security Council has managed only lacklustre responses to many current crises. It has done little more than make statements of concern on cases ranging from the collapse of Sudan in April to the coup in Niger in July. Regional actors have increasingly aimed to take the lead in resolving these situations, albeit with little success, leaving the UN on the sidelines.

While UN peace operations and humanitarian assistance are helping contain conflict and suffering in many countries, the organisation’s political influence is decreasing. Hamstrung by political divisions and resource gaps, the UN’s leadership and member states must develop new strategies for mobilising the organisation’s strengths to meet peace and security challenges.

The UN New Agenda for Peace highlights the possibility of strengthening the Peacebuilding Commission, an advisory body that works with vulnerable states on recovering from or avoiding conflict, possibly by strengthening the body’s links to the international financial institutions and development banks. That could offer the UN openings to get money to states at risk of conflict or coping with the effects of climate change.