Three foreign policy developments to watch for in 2023

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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, second right in first row, visits a defense industry display. AP Photo

Three foreign policy developments to watch for in 2023

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From the war in Ukraine to China’s escalating hostility toward Taiwan, 2022 was a highly consequential year in geopolitics. Here are three things to watch for in 2023.

1) Further Russian reversals in Ukraine

Russia is likely to suffer further setbacks in Ukraine. The fundamental challenges facing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military in Ukraine are probably unsolvable. Russian forces are poorly led, badly equipped, running very short of artillery and other standoff munitions, and beset by low morale. In contrast, Ukrainian forces are highly motivated and generally well-equipped. We should expect Russian forces to struggle in the face of coming Ukrainian counteroffensives. If Crimea is threatened, Putin may order the limited use of nuclear weapons in a desperate attempt to force Western pressure on Ukraine to adopt a ceasefire. Whether the Russian military would follow a nuclear strike order is an open question.

Ukraine’s already highly limited appetite to consider a ceasefire will also diminish in tandem with its growing battlefield success. Putin’s ability to reopen the Belarus front in support of a successful offensive toward Kyiv is doubtful.

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2) An Israeli-Iranian showdown amid Biden-Netanyahu tensions

When Benjamin Netanyahu returns to office as Israeli prime minister, he will face two key challenges.

First, there’s the frustration of a Biden administration that despises far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition government. Second, there’s the rising threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu’s challenge is that he needs the Biden administration’s support if he is to increase international pressure on Iran significantly. Netanyahu will also need the Biden administration’s support to develop a credible military option for degrading Iran’s nuclear program. If he fails to thread the needle on these issues, Netanyahu may find himself in the unenviable position of being at once diplomatically isolated, facing an aggressive Iranian nuclear threat, an existential threat in Israeli eyes, and unable to confront that threat with confidence. Expect the Biden administration to leverage new support for Israel against greater Israeli support for U.S. concerns related to China and the war in Ukraine.

The new year may be a very significant one in U.S.-Israeli relations and for Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

3) Kim Jong Un’s return to nuclear brinkmanship

With escalating ballistic missile launches in 2022, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sought to pressure the Biden administration and South Korea into making economic concessions. But facing a more hawkish conservative government in power in Seoul, Kim’s gambit hasn’t paid off.

The new year will almost certainly entail further escalation by North Korea. While an anticipated new nuclear weapons test is yet to occur, Kim may roll the dice if he is unable to garner a more concessionary stance. There’s a significant prospect of 2023 looking more like 2017 and its repeated intercontinental ballistic missile launches. Kim may gamble that this escalation will have a greater concessionary impact on the Biden administration as the United States continues to face the distraction of the war in Ukraine and escalating tensions with China. On that point, Beijing may seek to leverage Kim’s escalation to extract its own concessions from Washington.

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© 2022 Washington Examiner

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