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The Outlook for Multilateralism in 2024

The coming year may determine whether the international community is still capable of marshaling coordinated, united responses to shared global problems through collective decision-making bodies such as the United Nations. With wars, conflicts, and other crises spreading, the stakes may be higher than ever.

NEW YORK – To gain a glimpse of the kind of strains many countries will face in 2024, it can help to focus on the challenges facing a single country. Consider Egypt’s recent experience.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the sharp global increase in grain and fertilizer prices disrupted the Egyptian economy, which was already worn down by the COVID-19 pandemic, water shortages, and debt. Then came Russia’s withdrawal from the Turkish-mediated deal to allow Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea, which pushed prices up once again. By the time Hamas launched its barbaric attacks against Israel on October 7, Egypt’s annual inflation rate was nearing 40%. Since then, the Israeli reprisals and the unprecedented Palestinian casualties they have caused in Gaza mean that Egypt has been on the front line of a new security and humanitarian crisis. Finally, it bears mentioning that on January 1, 2024, this long-standing regional pillar of the Western-led security order will join the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

Such case studies should disabuse us of a persistent misunderstanding about the world today. The wars in Ukraine and Gaza cannot be neatly set aside from the broader “polycrisis” and reorientation of global power. The economic and climate-related disruptions that are falling hardest on non-Western countries like Egypt cannot be disentangled from the declining influence of the post-World War II multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations. What matters most in the coming year is whether global issues can still be addressed simultaneously and in unison – as they must be if workable solutions are to be found.