Munich: The world in 2024 will be characterised by a "downward trend in world politics, marked by an increase in geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainty," Christoph Heusgen, chairman of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), wrote in the conference's 2024 security report, released on Monday ahead of this week's high-profile gathering in Bavaria.
From February 16 to 18, military personnel, security experts and high-ranking politicians from all over the world will once again meet in Munich, southern Germany, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also expected to attend.
In a Munich Security Index survey published ahead of last year's conference, Russia's war on Ukraine was rated as the biggest threat to security, particularly in the G7 countries, which includes seven of the world's advanced economies.
But in the current survey — for which the MSC questioned 12,000 people in the G7 countries, as well as Brazil, India, China and South Africa — "migration through war and climate change" is now seen as even more important than the prospect of an aggressive Russia. It appears those surveyed in October and November 2023 have grown accustomed to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The MSC also asked Ukrainians about "acceptable conditions for a cease-fire," with 92% calling for a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula. Only 12% would find it acceptable if Crimea remained annexed by Russia. More than two-thirds would like Ukraine to join the EU and NATO quickly.
Entitled "Lose-Lose?" the new MSC report claims that everyone is losing out in the current global situation.
According to the survey, the risk perception of a military conflict in the Indo-Pacific between China and Taiwan has risen sharply. Fear of an increasingly self-confident China has made a big leap — especially in Japan, followed by India, the US, Germany and France.
In the G7 countries (Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Canada and the US), "large segments of the populations[...] believe their countries will be less secure and wealthy in 10 years' time," writes Heusgen. An analysis of the survey shows that people in the G7 countries expect China and countries in the Global South to increase their power and influence, with China benefiting at the expense of the other nations.
Overall, dissatisfaction with the economic situation in the world is growing, the report continues: "Despite the tremendous achievements in the post-Cold War era, key actors in
the West, powerful autocracies, and countries in the so-called Global South have all become dissatisfied with the status quo — and their own share of the proverbial pie."
Globalisation as a whole has shifted into reverse gear. Competition and a greatly increased need for security clearly prevail in today's world. Globally, less capital is flowing to China in particular, and the intensification of geopolitical rivalry has buried the belief that market-driven globalization leads to a fair distribution of profits.
The dramatic political shifts of the last few years are reflected in what the report calls the "macroeconomic reality." Western capital flows are being redirected from China to other partners. "Trade flows, too, are showing tentative signs of restructuring along geopolitical lines," according to the Munich Security Report, which paints a very pessimistic picture of networking in the world overall.
Nevertheless, Europe, and Germany in particular, stand out as an exception. "German companies also continue to invest heavily in China, defying Berlin's ambition to reduce its exposure," the report says. "German foreign direct investment in China remained at a near-record high in the first half of 2023."
Meanwhile, the German government is still pursuing its policy of "de-risking" with China — in other words, reducing economic dependency. This began with the COVID pandemic when supply chains between Germany and China collapsed. The break with the long-standing energy dependency on Russia has given this policy momentum. Nevertheless, this does not yet seem to be reflected in tangible figures.
Russia's increasing military influence in the Sahel region also played a role in the MSC's analysis. The expulsion of French troops by Niger's military junta in 2023 is just one example of France's waning interest in the region, while Russia appears to be trying to decouple the Sahel countries from Europe and the US.
Here, too, the authors of this year's Munich Security Report see only losers. "The people of the region, in turn, are losing the chance for peace and democratic progress, as each coup since 2020 has been followed by greater levels of violence."
According to the report, the increased mistrust worldwide is also reflected in the perception of danger from cyberattacks and the negative consequences of the use of artificial intelligence (AI).
"Once a driver of mutually beneficial globalization, technological progress has become a race for geopolitical dominance," the analysis claims. This is supported by the Munich Security Index survey results, according to which respondents in the US rate this threat as particularly high, followed by India.
Overall, it appears that people are becoming increasingly afraid of disinformation campaigns in the digital world.