5 Big Foreign-Policy Things We’re Watching in 2022

FP experts identify the important trends and events to look out for in the coming year.

Farmers burn an effigy with pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (top) and Uttar Pradesh state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during a demonstration on the outskirts of Amritsar in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on Oct. 5, 2021.
Farmers burn an effigy with pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (top) and Uttar Pradesh state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during a demonstration on the outskirts of Amritsar in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on Oct. 5, 2021.
Farmers burn an effigy with pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (top) and Uttar Pradesh state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during a demonstration on the outskirts of Amritsar in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on Oct. 5, 2021. NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images

2021 brought a whirlwind of foreign-policy developments: a war in Gaza and a new prime minister in Israel, a new conservative administration in Iran, a coup in Sudan, a power grab in Tunisia, a presidential assassination in Haiti, and a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, just to name a few. And although some of these events were completely unpredictable, others were the result of longer-term trends that experts were already watching.

Nobody can accurately predict the future (and if you can, please let us know), but we can identify some of the trends and events that may have significant impact in the future. Foreign Policy asked some of our smartest contributors to tell us what important trends, events, and elections they’re keeping an eye on in 2022. Here’s what they had to say.


1. Uttar Pradesh and the Future of India

by Sumit Ganguly, columnist at Foreign Policy as well as distinguished professor of political science and Rabindranath Tagore chair in Indian cultures and civilizations at Indiana University Bloomington

2021 brought a whirlwind of foreign-policy developments: a war in Gaza and a new prime minister in Israel, a new conservative administration in Iran, a coup in Sudan, a power grab in Tunisia, a presidential assassination in Haiti, and a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, just to name a few. And although some of these events were completely unpredictable, others were the result of longer-term trends that experts were already watching.

Nobody can accurately predict the future (and if you can, please let us know), but we can identify some of the trends and events that may have significant impact in the future. Foreign Policy asked some of our smartest contributors to tell us what important trends, events, and elections they’re keeping an eye on in 2022. Here’s what they had to say.


1. Uttar Pradesh and the Future of India

by Sumit Ganguly, columnist at Foreign Policy as well as distinguished professor of political science and Rabindranath Tagore chair in Indian cultures and civilizations at Indiana University Bloomington

The most populous state in India, Uttar Pradesh (literally “northern province”), which has a total population of around 241 million, goes to the polls in March 2022 to elect a new legislative assembly as well as a new chief minister—and the outcome of the election will be immensely consequential for the future of India and its secular democracy.

The state’s current chief minister (the principal elected representative) is Yogi Adityanath (born Ajay Mohan Bisht), a Hindu priest and religious zealot who belongs to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The state has long had some of the worst social indicators in the country, and matters certainly have not improved since Adityanath assumed office in March 2017. Instead of focusing on socioeconomic development, he has spent the bulk of his energy demonizing Muslims and other minorities, building Hindu temples while caricaturing previous governments for ostensibly pampering Muslims, and squandering the state’s limited revenues on populist schemes, even as the state faces significant budgetary shortfalls.

Given that Uttar Pradesh enjoys the largest number of seats in both houses of India’s national parliament, maintaining control over the state’s legislature remains a critical imperative for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP Hindu nationalist government. To that end, Modi has been working closely with his acolyte Adityanath to boost the latter’s electoral prospects.

Not surprisingly, Modi has resorted to every possible tactic to win over the bulk of the state’s electorate. In late November, along with Adityanath, Modi laid the foundation stone for a new international airport in Uttar Pradesh not far from the national capital of New Delhi. And in early December, with considerable fanfare and publicity (and one eye firmly cocked on the Hindu majority in the state), Modi—with Adityanath in tow—visited one of India’s most prominent Hindu shrines, the Kashi Vishwanath temple, located in the Uttar Pradesh city of Varanasi.

As both Modi and Adityanath are ardent Hindu nationalists who share a common vision of transforming India into an ethnocracy, the electoral outcome in Uttar Pradesh this March will bear watching. Given the significant advantages of incumbency and a divided opposition, barring unforeseen pitfalls, there is a high likelihood that Adityanath will return to office. His victory could well pave the way for the triumph of Hindu majoritarianism.


2. Staffing Shortages on the High Seas

by Elisabeth Braw, columnist at Foreign Policy and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute

In 2022, I’ll be watching seafarer recruitment. “What an incredibly narrow subject to watch,” you might say. Not so. Ships transport 80 percent of the world’s trade by volume, which translates into 1.5 tons of goods delivered to each person on the planet every year. Without maritime shipping, we’d simply not receive most of the items we depend on every day.

But while shipping has been experiencing phenomenal growth as a result of globalization, people have become less willing to go to sea. People in the West, that is. Today’s more than 50,000 ships are crewed primarily by citizens of China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Russia, and Ukraine. India, too, ranks among the top suppliers of seafarers. Every country, especially the world’s most advanced economies, depends on these countries’ seafarers to transport vital goods.

Even before COVID-19, the shipping industry was battling staffing challenges. And what if seafarers, who must still endure longer-than-normal stays on their ships because pandemic-weary countries won’t let them disembark, decide they’ve had enough? If even one-tenth of the world’s estimated 1.6 million seafarers were to quit, the world would experience massive supply chain disruptions. The Ever Given’s misfortune in the Suez Canal in March 2021 and the delays at the Port of Los Angeles portend what that might look like.

For us ordinary citizens, shipping is out of sight, out of mind. Indeed, seafarers’ lives don’t interest most of us (well, except for that whole sea shanty TikTok trend that suddenly exploded around this time last year). But in 2022, I’ll intently be watching seafarer recruitment and retention—and so should everyone else who depends on their services, because few crises would affect us more than a seafarer recruitment one.

Remarkable, isn’t it, how people who get so little attention have the power to make our lives extremely convenient or extremely miserable?


Les Republicains right-wing party's candidate for the 2022 presidential election Valerie Pecresse (center) celebrates during a meeting following a closed-door session with party officials in Paris, on Dec. 11.
Les Republicains right-wing party's candidate for the 2022 presidential election Valerie Pecresse (center) celebrates during a meeting following a closed-door session with party officials in Paris, on Dec. 11.

Valérie Pécresse (center), the right-wing Les Républicains party’s candidate for the 2022 French presidential election, celebrates during a meeting following a closed-door session with party officials in Paris on Dec. 11, 2021. BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images

3. Political Developments in the Middle East

by Steven A. Cook, columnist at Foreign Policy and Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow in Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations

I cannot tell you how glad I was when Foreign Policy asked me to write up what I will be watching in 2022 as opposed to my predictions for 2022. Most predictions are wrong, which is why no one ever goes back in December to see what they predicted the previous December.

Anyway, here are three issues I’ll be watching in 2022.

First, how far will the ongoing rehabilitation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad go? Assad, who folks predicted in March 2011 would go the way of Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, is still around. He has serious financial problems, but with diplomatic outreach from Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, it seems Assad is being brought in from the cold. It is important to note that the Biden administration did not object too strenuously to the king’s phone call or the foreign minister’s visit with the Syrian president.

Second, I am watching whether Turkey will have elections in 2022 instead of 2023. Why President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is relatively weak, would want Turks to go to the polls early does not make sense to me, but a bevy of Turkish journalists, opposition figures, and analysts seem convinced this is the case. Perhaps it is wishful thinking on their part, but I am the first to admit that I might be missing something. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Finally, I am interested in how Islamist parties in the region respond to a change in their fortunes in 2021. The Moroccan Party of Justice and Development was almost wiped out in elections last September; Tunisia’s Ennahdha suffered a major setback with President Kais Saied’s suspension of parliament in July; Turkey’s Justice and Development Party has been unable to arrest a significant slide in its popularity (though it still commands the support of a third of Turks); and as the Turkish government seeks to break out of its regional isolation, it has been confronted with Egypt’s demand that it give up Muslim Brotherhood members in exchange for better bilateral relations. Islamists are known for always playing the long game, so how they adjust and regroup after a year of reversals will be among the more interesting Middle East stories in the coming year.


4. Voter Skepticism of Euroskeptics

by Caroline de Gruyter, columnist at Foreign Policy and Europe correspondent for NRC Handelsblad

In 2022, I will be looking out for European politicians who win elections without bashing the European Union. One of the main problems of the EU is that national politicians constantly use it as a scapegoat to win elections at home. Europe would be in much better shape if Europeans started to be honest about the EU and their own large role in decision-making in Brussels.

No one knows where the idea that voters prefer Euroskeptic politicians comes from. There is plenty of evidence that they actually prefer politicians who are honest and realistic about Europe, not hypocrites pretending to be Europhobes.

In 2016, for example, an advisor told Austrian economy professor Alexander Van der Bellen, then a presidential candidate, to be more critical of the EU, as that would make him more popular. Van der Bellen, a calm, grandfatherly former member of Austria’s Greens, refused. That would not be credible, he said: People had known him all his life defending European integration. So, even during a neck-and-neck race with a far-right, pistol-carrying Euroskeptic, Van der Bellen continued talking about Europe the way he always had. He won.

A few months later, many predicted Marine Le Pen would become president of France. But Emmanuel Macron proved them wrong. He won by a landslide, energizing the nation with one of the most sweepingly ambitious European agendas ever formulated by a presidential candidate.

2022 hadn’t even begun, and the first hypocrite already bit the dust: Former European Commissioner Michel Barnier, in trying to become the conservatives’ candidate in the upcoming French presidential election, suddenly began attacking the European Court of Justice and calling for the renationalization of some European powers. Until then, Barnier had been the favorite contender. But Les Républicains voters punished him, choosing Valérie Pécresse instead. Now Pécresse, a convinced European, has emerged as Macron’s main contender, leaving two far-right Euroskeptics behind her.

Let’s hope the rest of Europe takes note.


5. Latin America’s Electoral Volatility

by Christopher Sabatini, senior research fellow at Chatham House

COVID-19’s disproportionately harsh economic and social impact on Latin America is playing out in a wave of 2021 and 2022 elections. Key presidential elections in Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, and Peru and midterm legislative elections in Argentina, Mexico, and El Salvador displayed a distinct anti-incumbent or even anti-system flavor. (Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 elections don’t count—even as elections, really—with seven of the leading opposition leaders in jail or under house arrest, more than 40 civic and opposition leaders in prison, and tight restrictions on independent media and campaigning.)

Those trends will continue in the 2022 presidential elections in Brazil and Colombia as voters are showing high rejection rates of sitting presidents—though it remains a touchy matter whether Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will accept electoral defeat or instead take a page from his mentor, former U.S. President Donald Trump

The churn in administrations and domestic political polarization are bringing stark shifts in foreign policies, trade relations, regional cohesion, and capacity to address broader security and geopolitical challenges. This policy volatility has opened up more opportunities for China to assert greater diplomatic and economic influence, at a time when the United States appears increasingly set on reasserting its influence and prestige—both globally and within its own hemisphere—against China.

While governments in Chile, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador are (for now) trying to balance Western ties with the economic benefits of closer trade and investment relations with Beijing, others, such as Venezuela, Bolivia, El Salvador, and quite possibly Honduras in 2022, are going all-in on relations with China—but often without the diplomatic, economic, or political capacity to do so on their own terms.

The Biden administration’s trend of dividing the world into democracies and non-democracies and the corrupt vs. the honest and applying sanctions liberally against apostates without any broader clear policy definition will exaggerate those divisions and weaken U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere.

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