By Emil Bjerg, journalist and editor
With 2023 coming to an end, we review the most impactful events in a year that’ll be remembered particularly for the war between Hamas and Israel and the AI hype.
The year in geopolitics
The war between Hamas and Israel
The 7th of October is a day that has tragically defined 2023 and will continue to define the years to come in international relations. In the early hours of the day, a large number of Hamas fighters attacked civilians in Israelian Kibbutzim and at a festival, killing around 1200 people.
Israel swiftly responded to Hamas’s attack, shelling the Gaza strip. By the time of writing, Israel’s attacks have killed more than 21.000 people, leaving the international community both shocked and divided, with most countries arguing for an immediate ceasefire.
Russia’s war in Ukraine
If 2022 was the year Russia’s invasion shocked the world, 2023 was the year we got used to it. And that has a consequence. In the US, the Republicans recently blocked Biden’s attempt to fund Ukraine while war fatigue could spread to Europe in 2024.
After a summer offensive that reclaimed only relatively small parts of Ukrainian territory, as 2023 comes to an end, Russia momentarily appears to have the upper hand in the war.
As a derived effect of Russia’s war in Ukraine, 2023 saw Finland become the 31st member state of NATO. Along with Sweden, Finland applied in 2022 as a reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Armenia and Azerbaidjan
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict saw a significant development when Azerbaijan seized control of the region, leading to the displacement of a large number of Armenians.
It’s been a rocky year in the relationship between China and the US. Symptomatic of the state of affairs, the beginning of 2023 saw several Chinese balloons flying over the US. While China claimed it was a flyaway weather balloon, the American population and President Biden was certain that they were spy balloons and had them shut down.
Tensions between China and the US over Taiwan continued in 2023 and felt close to escalation as Chinese and American military planes came close to colliding.
Despite the hostilities, trade and diplomatic connection between the two superpowers continued in 2023. While high-level diplomatic meetings fostered hope for improved relations between the United States and China, President Biden’s repeated references to Xi Jinping as a dictator seemed to hinder the diplomatic efforts.
India’s population surpasses the Chinese
This year, India surpassed China as the world’s most populous country in 2023, with an estimated population of 1.43 billion. This demographic shift is expected to significantly affect the balance of power in Asia and global economic dynamics. The shift happened while the Chinese economy is struggling with a diversity of problems – from youth employment to COVID aftermaths and a real estate slowdown.
Tech and finance
Artificial intelligence has been one of the most trending topics in 2023. Collins Dictionary picked AI as their word of the year, while other dictionaries picked AI-related words such as Prompt, Hallucinate, and Chat-GPT. Chat-GPT was publicly released in late 2022 and became a household thing in 2023, as companies and individuals have changed everything from writing emails and summaries to creating weekly food plans with generative AI.
After years of AI research behind the scenes, 2023 will also be remembered as the year where competition in dominating generative AI broke out between actors in Big Tech, primarily between Google, who launched Gemini in 2023, and Microsoft, which invested 10 billion USD in OpenAI at the beginning of the year. With their investment in Anthropic earlier this year, Amazon has also joined the race.
In Silicon Valley, 2023 will be remembered for a Shakespearean drama in OpenAI between innovation-friendly ‘dreamers’ and more AI-cautious ‘doomers,’ which saw Sam Altman temporarily fired from the company he co-founded. Eventually, as both Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella and nearly all of OpenAI’s employees, the board of OpenAI had no choice but to reinstate Altman as CEO.
After a year of AI hype, 2024 is likely to reveal if we’re in the middle of an AI bubble as the novelty effect disappears and the central actors struggle to find ways to monetize their CPU-heavy innovation. The many copyright lawsuits that builders of large language models like OpenAI has amassed in 2023 can also slow down the AI adventure in 2024.
Weeks of banking chaos
The SVB crash in 2023 sent shockwaves through the financial industry. A mix of lack of diversification, hiking interest rates and a panicky bank run craushed Silicon Valley’s favorite bank in just 48 hours. Signature Bank crashed two days after SVB, while the panic spread to Europe as Credit Suisse shares fell by 30 percent in a single day.
The year in cryptocurrency
After several tumultuous years, perhaps peaking with the crash of FTX in late 2022, both Bitcoin and Ethereum exit 2023 considerably stronger than the digital coins entered it.
But it’s likely the scandals that’ll be remembered. In November, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, once hailed as a genius in cryptocurrency, was found guilty of seven criminal charges, such as wire fraud, securities fraud, and money laundering. He faces a maximum sentence of 110 years in prison.
Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, received a historic fine of a whopping $4.3. This record fine was imposed after the platform knowingly facilitated the transfer of funds between U.S. users and entities in sanctioned countries like Iran and North Korea as well as to terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and Hamas. The crypto giant was until recently led by Changpeng Zhao, who precipitated the downfall of FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried in 2022, but met his own nemesis in 2023.
2023 in politics and elections
Several high-impact elections have been held in 2023.
The election in Poland was arguably the most critical in Europe this year. After eight years with the Law and Justice party in power, notable for their anti-abortion policies and EU skepticism, the EU veteran Donald Tusk will bring the populous country closer to a European consensus.
In Argentina, the tides have turned towards populism with the election of free-market radical Javier Milei, a Mick Jagger impersonator who famously brought a chainsaw to the campaign trail. Shortly after taking office, Milei devalued the Argentinian Pesos, making gasoline prices rise by 60 percent, and food prices hike even more.
In the 2023 Turkish presidential election, long-reigning President Erdogan was re-elected for yet another term. Erdogan looked more challenged than ever with Turkey facing soaring inflation as well as the aftermath of devastating earthquakes, but came out of the elections with a slight victory.
2023 Sets Stage for Fierce 2024 U.S. Presidential Race
In the US, 2023 has set the stage for an intense and decisive presidential election in 2024. In April, President Biden announced that he’ll run for a second term. In the Republican party, the contest to become the nominee is Trump’s to lose. By mid-December, Trump was the first choice for around 52 percent of Republicans, while Ron de Santis had the support of 14 percent and Nikki Hayley 11 percent.
By the time of the next presidential inauguration January 20th 2025, Trump will be 78 years old, Biden 82. The aging Presidential candidates, along with Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, zoning out during live interviews, had Americans Google ‘gerontocracy’ in 2023.
Elections in 2024
2024 will be a decisive year in global politics as approximately four billion people – half the world’s population – are set to cast their votes. That includes elections in some of the world’s largest countries, including the United States, Pakistan, India, and Mexico, among others.
The 15th BRICS summit
With a sharper division drawn between Western countries and upcoming economies in the so-called global south, this year’s BRICS summit was met with more anticipation than usual. Leading up to the summit, rumors had intentionally been circulated that a new currency to challenge the global dollar hegemony. While we’re still waiting to see the introduction of a new currency, the summit will be remembered for inviting in six new members – Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
2023 was a year of shattering climate records. It went down as the warmest year ever recorded, with the World Meteorological Organization reporting that the year was about 1.40 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial baseline.
The negotiating parties at this years COP28 therefore had a sizeable challenge.
After the summit moved into overtime, most of the world countries, including some OPEC countries, agreed to ‘transition’ away from fossil fuels. A softer phrase than the ‘phaseout’, that was initially proposed, but, on the other hand, it’s the first time in 28 years of climate negotiations that mentioned reducing fossil fuels. Add to that the operationalization of a loss and damage fund, a long-debated topic in climate negotiations, the COP28 summit is poised to be remembered as a particularly productive one.
2023 will likely be remembered for devastating wars, geopolitical unrest, and global fragility. But breakthroughs in technological innovation and climate negotiations can offer some relief in a distressed time.