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Year Ender: The state of humanity in 2023

A reality check on a year marred by military conflicts and environmental crises, yet brightened by India, which remains a bright spot in the world economy

Year Ender: The state of humanity in 2023
[Source photo: shutterstock]

Between Christmas, when political leaders proclaim peace and goodwill with differing degrees of sincerity, and New Year’s Eve, when some of us resolve to make the new year better than the previous one, it makes sense to do a holistic audit of the state of humanity.

The year 2023 can be termed annus horribilis (horrible year). We claim to be homo sapiens sapiens. Alas, our actions do not reflect much wisdom. 

Let us look at what we human beings are doing to ourselves and the rest of the chain of being.


The UNESCO Constitution, adopted in 1945 following the staggering loss of 70-to-85 million lives during World War II, aptly states that “since wars begin in the minds of men, and it is there that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” 

It is evident that wars not only originate but persist “in the minds of men.”

Wars can be divided into two typesnecessary ones and unnecessary ones. The 1971 war in the Indian subcontinent that brought Bangladesh into being is one of the rarest examples of the first type.

History provides, unfortunately, too many examples of the second type. We shall deal only with two: the war between Russia and Ukraine, and the genocidal war by Israel against Palestinians.

The war in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine remains a distressing chapter in recent history. Three presidentsVladimir Putin of Russia, Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, and Joe Biden of the United Statesbear responsibility, in varying degrees, for the horrendous war in Europe, a region that, until recently, enjoyed relative peace.

They could have worked together to prevent this war. Instead, their actions, albeit unwittingly, fueled and prolonged this conflict. Even today, they hold the power to end the war, if they choose to do so. Alas, they have other ends in view, and they seem to be convinced that adding to the grim toll is in their interest.

Putin started the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, an act devoid of moral or legal justification, though it can be argued that he was provoked into it by the other two.

Zelenskyy pursued Ukraine’s NATO membership even when he knew, or should have known, that there was no earthly chance of its acceptance into the grouping.

Biden violated a cardinal principle of democracy when he refused to engage in negotiations with Russia, despite their plea for ‘security guarantees’ in mid-December 2021. Biden urged Zelenskyy privately and publicly to take a tough line with Russia. He even pledged his support for Zelenskyy’s rather utopian  goal of reclaiming Crimea, annexed by Putin in 2014. 

Revisiting history could have provided Biden with a perspective. In 1783, the United States of America entered the comity of free nations by signing the Peace of Paris, ending the War of Independence that started in 1776. The same year, Russia, which was then ruled by Catherine the Great, reached Crimea in search of a warm water port. 

In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine as he and others in the USSR politburo were convinced that the Soviet Union was sempiternal and, therefore, the transfer did not matter.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990-91, some leaders in Ukraine started making it difficult for the Russian Navy to access Crimea. The same leaders made intermittent attempts to take Ukraine into NATO and the European Union. Instead, Ukraine should have remained as a bridge between Russia and the West, as propounded by the late Henry Kissinger and Professor John Mearsheimer of Chicago University.

When Putin started the war in February 2022, Biden was seemingly pleased at the opportunity to weaken and even destabilize Russia, economically and politically, with Putin’s eventual political demise.

However, Biden’s plans have gone awry. Economic sanctions are a two-way street. The economies of Germany and the United Kingdom have been faltering. While Russia’s economy has been badly afflicted, it has been able to avert recession as its economy is forecast to grow by 1.1% in 2024, as per the IMF.

The total military and economic aid from the West to Ukraine is around €230 billion, half of which is aimed at sustaining Ukraine’s economy. The military aid was meant to support Ukraine’s war to recapture territory from Russia, a goal that remains unmet as Russia continues to occupy 11% of Ukraine’s territory, excluding Crimea. The economy of Ukraine remains in need of continuous support.

Presently, fatigue towards aiding Ukraine appears to be growing in the US and Europe. And there is no reason to believe that Ukraine will be able to recapture any more territory. 

Israel’s ‘genocidal’ war on Gaza

On 7 October, armed men belonging to Hamas and other militant groups crossed over to Israel from Gaza without encountering any resistance from Israel’s security forces, which till then enjoyed an enviable reputation for invincibility.

Israel responded with a massive offensive in the Gaza strip. The adjective ‘genocidal’ used with Israel’s ongoing onslaught on the Gaza strip is correct if read with Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

Some Israelis believe that the ultimate responsibility for the huge security failure falls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He had moved troops from the border with Gaza to East Jerusalem, where his extremist supporters were causing law and order problems. 

Some believe that Netanyahu wanted a war to shield him from the legal process relating to corruption charges against him. Evidence has come out showing that intelligence officers who tried to draw attention to the plans of Hamas were overruled.

Netanyahu would seek to prolong the war as much as possible, and even to enlarge it, as he fears that a ceasefire might be the beginning of the end of his political career.

Biden’s role

Biden continues to extend total support to Israel even when it is brazenly violating International Humanitarian Law by killing thousands of innocent civilians21,000 at last countwith over 54,000 injured. 

It is rather strange that Israel, the largest recipient of American aid–military and diplomatic–should be able to practically dictate to the US what its policy towards the region should be. The rest of the West followed Biden.

However, some Western leaders have had second thoughts recently, and they have come out in public with calls for a ceasefire. Spain, Ireland, Belgium, and Malta have publicly urged the European Union to call for a ceasefire.

The United Nations Security Council, charged with the responsibility to maintain international peace and security, has been a study in failure. The latest development is Resolution 2720, passed after Secretary General Antonio Guterres called upon the council to act by invoking a rarely invoked article 99 of the UN Charter.

The Resolution was adopted on 22 December, with the US and Russia abstaining. Washington abstained after it compelled the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to water down the language, reducing the resolution to a charade. Russia abstained because it opposed the watered-down Resolution. Since then, Israel has expanded its operations in Gaza, killing more and more civilians by bombing, and by denying food, medicine, and fuel.

Netanyahu threatens to continue for months till Hamas is eliminated and all the Israeli hostages are freed. One doubts whether these two goals form a coherent whole. Only Biden can stop Netanyahu from continuing the war.

Man’s war on nature

The homo sapiens sapiens has caused huge damage to nature that begat him. The global temperature has been rising since the industrial age. In 2015, the international community agreed to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Alas, the goal has not been pursued with any vigor as the rich North, which caused most of the warming over the past centuries, refuses to compensate the South. The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the PartiesCOP28in Dubai saw some limited progress after the host UAE tried to rewrite the language on reducing the use of fossil fuel.

India emerges as the fifth largest economy

This was the most positive development for India, which continues to be a ‘bright spot’ in the world economy. However, India continues to account for the largest number of human beings living under the poverty line.

What to expect in 2024

General elections are due in the US, the UK, Israel, India, Russia, and Bangladesh. In the case of the last three, the incumbents are likely to succeed. There might be changes both in Washington and London. If Donald Trump returns to power, Putin will be pleased, and Ukraine might have to accept defeat. However, a Trump presidency is unlikely to improve relations with China, and there might be serious damage to ties between the US and Europe. 

The UK might be better off with a Labor government. The same can be said of Israel if Netanyahu is replaced.


KP Fabian is a diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune. More

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