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How 2022 Made History

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In 2022, social, economic, and political conflicts came to a head, challenging democratic systems and principles around the world. In our annual look back, SIS faculty present a list, in no particular order, of things that made history in 2022. While there were countless things to discuss this year, Russia’s invasion and subsequent war in Ukraine were top-of-mind for many of our faculty members, and they identified varied ways in which this conflict made history. Other history-making events touched on reproductive rights, political violence, and the displacement of millions of people worldwide. And read to the end for something that should’ve made history but, in the opinion of one scholar, did not.

Russia’s brutal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, will long be remembered. Russian troops have committed war crimes against Ukrainian citizens, engaging in looting, torture, rape, and mass murder in towns they have occupied. With Western support, brave Ukrainians have fought back successfully against the Russian military in ways many did not foresee when the invasion was launched. If the results of this war are a weakened Russia, a stronger Ukraine, a larger NATO, a new leader in the Kremlin, and greater European energy independence from Russia, then the history books will indeed spend significant time discussing this war.

Submitted by James Goldgeier

2022 made history because of the historic, unified response among key nations to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s invasion not only signaled a direct assault on the international order in Europe and against many values cherished among democracies, but it also set off additional disruptions in global supply chains, still reeling from pandemic effects, and affecting food, fertilizer, and energy supplies, as well as fueling global inflation. Russia’s brutal assault incentivized North American, European, and Asian partners to coordinate policies and actions more closely via NATO, the G7, and US-EU collaboration. The conflict fed doubts about China’s international role after it decided to align more closely with Russia—a trend reinforced by China’s renewed threats toward Taiwan. The US and many other countries were already struggling to respond to the transformations underway in the version of globalization that had interlinked economies from north and south, east and west, for the past two decades, in rising geostrategic rivalries, and democratic backsliding at home and abroad. Russia’s invasion helped to put those challenges into a starker reality and spur cooperation. Those banding together to oppose Russia’s aggression continue to face serious challenges, as they work to fashion and sustain effective cooperation in circumstances that are severely testing domestic policy-making institutions, as well as international agreements, organizations, and problem-solving mechanisms. Thus far, however, the concerted multi-nation response to Russia’s invasion has made 2022 a historic year with the potential to be truly pivotal.

Submitted by Earl Anthony Wayne

The Ukrainian ability to resist a full-scale Russian invasion made history this year. In a matter of months, Ukraine went from a country famous for its corruption, corrosive elite in-fighting, and divisive regional politics to a relatively unified, effective, and cohesive state organization able to effectively defend its territory against the powerful Russian military. The informal networks of Ukrainian politics that were responsible so many problems for Ukraine's peacetime governance ultimately came together in common purpose to generate state and societal resilience in the face of an existential threat. 

Submitted by Keith Darden

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has obvious geopolitical and tragic humanitarian implications. Perhaps less apparent, though, are its consequences for energy and the environment. Russia has used the disruption of energy supplies in Ukraine as a military strategy and curtailment of oil and gas shipments to Europe as a political threat. The West has seen the danger of relying on an autocrat to supply its energy needs. We now face a momentous choice. Will we replace Russian fossil fuels by developing and distributing more of our own—and further committing ourselves to a rising trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions—or will we take this opportunity to commit to a renewable lean energy future that means bearing more short-term pain but reducing long-term risks?

Submitted by David Simpson

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the first time since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that one country has credibly threatened to conquer and annex the entire territory of another sovereign country. The world has seen many wars since, but not wars aimed at territorial conquest on such a scale. Russia’s status as a major nuclear power with a veto in the United Nations Security Council has complicated the world’s response. Many countries mobilized to send economic and military help to Ukraine, but many others remain on the sidelines, reflecting partially the success of Russia’s (false) narrative that it only breaches a Western norm. The territorial integrity norm has been for more than half a century a strong international norm with predominantly non-Western roots.

Submitted by Boaz Atzili

What grabbed me most in 2022 was not the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war itself, but how quickly and arrogantly policy elites in the US and European NATO members sanitized the danger of NATO expansion and constructed a “West is back” narrative. Yet, as I wrote in Responsible Statecraft, this narrative got pushback from the Global South and stoked their suspicion of the West’s double standards and even racism as they remembered the US invasion of Iraq and the West’s lack of similar empathy for refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It also confirmed that most of the rest of the world does not want to take sides in the US-Russia or US-China competition, and the revival of the US-led world order because of the Russia-Ukraine war is not going to happen.

Submitted by Amitav Acharya

On June 18, 2022, the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, ratified The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence—otherwise known as the Istanbul Convention. The Convention has been praised by feminists and policymakers worldwide for including a broad definition of gender-based violence, from physical and sexual violence to stalking, harassment, psychological violence, and reproductive violence. Many may see the ratification of an international convention to protect women and girls from violence as the opposite of controversial, especially at a time when invading Russian forces are committing mass gender-based atrocities and war crimes against Ukrainians. However, first opened for signature in 2011, the Ukrainian government decided to ratify this international treaty at a time when ratification has stalled in many European countries in the face of conservative backlash, and some former ratifying countries are revoking their ratifications. The Convention entered into force in Ukraine on November 1, 2022.

Submitted by Alexandria Wilson-McDonald

This year, the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, giving states control over the legal status of abortion within their borders. As a result, abortion is now entirely illegal in 12 states and highly restricted in an additional 14. These legal changes have acutely impacted the mortality, health, and financial well-being of pregnant people and their children living in the US. But the effects will almost certainly spill over our international borders, as domestic abortion politics strongly determine the amount of foreign aid provided for contraception and reproductive health abroad and the restrictions placed on its use. As the US is the largest donor to family planning and reproductive health globally, legal changes in the US threaten the health and well-being of millions of people worldwide.

Submitted by Rachel Robinson

In the aftermath of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the support of women’s right to choose in elections in states ranging from blue/progressive, such as Maryland, and red/conservative, such as Kansas, to me is a clear sign of the erosion of patriarchy.

Submitted by Louis Goodman

Without a doubt, one of the most significant events of 2022 was the eruption of widespread protests in Iran. The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for a minor violation of the mandatory hijab laws by Iran’s morality police, sparked protests, often led by women and youth defiantly setting ablaze hijabs; tearing down pictures of the founder of the 1979 Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini; and declaring that they “do not want an Islamic Republic." The protests pose the most serious threat the 43-year-old regime has faced during its tenure, due to their widespread and enduring nature; the unmistakable rejection of the regime, its key symbols, and its Islamist ideology encompassed; the unprecedented successes of diaspora activists lobbying UN bodies and with foreign governments; and the outpouring of international solidarity. The protests are also notable for the fact that women are not just participating in, but often leading, the protests, and for their feminist tenor best encapsulated by the leading slogan “Women, Life, Liberty."

Submitted by Shadi Mokhtari

The year 2022 will be remembered by the protests in Iran that were led by brave young women putting their lives on the line to demand freedom. This movement was not only to protest the abuses of the so-called morality police but also to bring about political freedom for all citizens. That hundreds of young women and men have been killed and thousands have been incarcerated is testimony to the human spirit of sacrifice and resistance against repression.

Submitted by Gregory Aftandilian

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has proven yet again that he is a political magician. Despite significant political and legal setbacks—his corruption trial is well under way – he has made another stunning comeback. Netanyahu is a political animal, a Machiavellian politician with a no-holds-barred approach to politics who will do anything and everything to gain and maintain power. This time, however, the circumstances are different. Netanyahu is on the verge of forming the most right-wing, religious government in Israel’s history. His far-right coalition partners have made no secret of their intentions to weaken the courts; roll back advances made in LGBTQ rights; expel “disloyal” Arab Israelis; alter the status quo on the Temple Mount by enabling religious Jews to pray there, a provocation to Muslims that can spark violence; and annex the West Bank, which would effectively turn Israel into an apartheid regime. While some of these plans will never see the light of day due to pressure from the international community, there is no question that Israel’s democracy is under attack while tensions in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian territories are at dangerously high levels as Netanyahu is set to begin his sixth term in office.

Submitted by Guy Ziv

Two famines in the Horn of Africa should be in the history books. The first famine, in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, is the consequence of a military siege by the Ethiopian government and its allies. Since the war there began in November 2020, people in northern Ethiopia have been deprived of almost all food imports; electricity; internet, telephone, and cellular phone service; medical supplies; and humanitarian aid. Between 350,000 and 600,000 mostly-ethnic Tigrayan people have died, and millions more have been attacked, imprisoned, and displaced. Hopefully, the peace agreement signed in November 2022 will not just end hostilities, but also end the strategic starvation of civilians.

The second famine is unfolding in parts of Somalia due to climate change-related drought, political instability, and rising global food prices. In the future, I think we’ll look back at 2022 as a year when conflict and climate change killed or displaced millions in the Horn of Africa without nearly enough media attention or public outcry.

Submitted by Lauren Carruth

On January 6, 2021, an attempted insurrection almost toppled 243 years of American democracy. The insurrection failed, but its titular head, Donald Trump, remained in power until the inauguration two weeks later and continued to call the validity of the election into question thereafter. In the absence of accountability for Trump, many Americans rightly worried that democracy remained under threat. In 2022, Congress took its first steps to hold Donald Trump to account for his role in the insurrection by creating the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. The committee has held nine hearings and is working on its final report.

Three findings stood out to me: Trump did not try to stop the attack as it was happening. On the day of the attack, Vice President Pence refused to leave the Capitol because he did not think his Secret Service detail would bring him back to certify the election. And Trump knew his claims of election fraud were lies because his aides told him so. Our democracy may still be at risk, but there is now an official record of what happened that day and Trump’s role in it. 

Submitted by Carolyn Gallaher

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2021, 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations, an eight percent increase since 2020 and more than double that of a decade ago. In other words, one in every 78 persons on this planet is displaced.

The number—89.3 million—worrying though it may be, does not tell the whole story. A closer look offers a different appreciation of what it means. For instance, of the 89.3 million, 27.1 million are recognized as refugees as defined (narrowly) by the 1951 Refugee Convention. A far greater number, 53.2 million, are internally displaced. Many of these are internally displaced as a result of having to flee persecution, which may well trigger recognition by the Refugee Convention, but given they have not crossed an international border, they cannot seek international protection. A significant number, 4.6 million, are asylum-seekers. The ongoing developments in Venezuela, producing the largest displacement crisis in the Americas today, have already resulted in 4.4 million of its citizens seeking sanctuary abroad.

Displacement as a result of persecution based on race, religion, ethnicity, membership in a social group, or having a political opinion—the 1951 Refugee Convention’s definition of who is a refugee—is certainly a significant cause for the large numbers of people who are fleeing today. But globally, there remain far fewer protections and recognition for those who flee domestic and/or gender-based violence; non-state criminal gangs and armed groups; and those displaced as a result of a complex confluence of endemic corruption, generalized violence, development-based displacement, and drone warfare and military occupations. The vast majority of these people are and will remain, internally displaced. Despite the current frenzy around “climate migrants,” which focuses on them as an international issue of management and security concerns, the vast majority of those displaced by the climate crisis in conjunction with other interwoven political and economic crises will also remain within the borders of their own countries, continuing to necessitate innovative thinking around urban infrastructure and complex issues of social and economic cohesion.

By May 2022, there were 100 million forcibly displaced people in the world. While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has contributed to this increase, the intense focus on this crisis, especially in the West, has paid little attention to some of the most severe displacement crises unfolding currently—in Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, and among the Rohingya.

Paying attention to the numbers ultimately offers at best an overview of the scale of displacement without delving deeper into the complex reasons why people are forced to flee and where they can and cannot find safety. It does not draw adequate attention to arguably an even bigger crisis, generated by the intensification of border militarization in response to the successful conflation of displaced peoples with criminality and terrorism and the lucrative security business that accompanies it, and that of the politics of reception, which remains highly selective in its offer of sanctuary for those who can manage, despite the efforts at deterrence in many instances, to cross an international border.

Submitted by Tazreena Sajjad

Lula’s election for the third time, at age 77, put to rest many of the worst fears about the resilience of democracy in the world’s fourth most populous democratic nation. His triumphant return to the world stage at last week’s COP27 also suggested Brazil would once again play a constructive role in global environmental negotiations after four years of accelerating deforestation and global disengagement under President Jair Bolsonaro. But Lula faces many challenges, including high expectations, personal health challenges, a diverse governing coalition, and the need to undertake desperately needed reforms to spark growth after a decade of economic malaise and political upheaval. 

Submitted by Matt Taylor

I was interested in the parallel voting in Brazil’s 2022 presidential election and the 2020 US presidential election, with females and people of color voting for the more progressive candidates, Lula and Biden, and white males disproportionately voting for the more conservative candidates, Bolsonaro and Trump.

Submitted by Louis Goodman

For nearly a decade, Burkina Faso’s government has struggled to contain rising Islamic insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. However, two recent successful military coups in the country in less than a year suggest that overthrowing the government was easier than fighting insurgents. On January 24, 2022, Paul-Henri Damiba led a military coup that ousted a democratically elected president, Roch Marc Kabore. The fourth military coup in Africa followed three successful military coups in Guinea, Mali, and Sudan in 2021. Damiba’s government was short-lived as his military colleague, Ibrahim Traore, ousted him on September 30, 2022, just eight months after he took over the seat of power. A critical issue is that while Burkina Faso’s military was unsuccessful in fighting insurgents, they executed two successful military coups without a significant emergency in less than a year. The conflict in Burkina Faso has led to the death of thousands of civilians and over a million displaced. The ease in taking down government needs to be extended to the war on insurgents.

Submitted by Ernest Ogbozor

On July 28, 2022, the UN General Assembly recognized "a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment" as a universal human right. Although this is a symbolic declaration without legally binding power, it marks a significant gain in the long struggle to strengthen rights-based approaches to environmental protection. As we’ve seen on issues ranging from climate change to biodiversity to clean water, arguments about health gains, economic benefits, or even national security have not been enough to spur governments to action. The UN declaration creates new opportunities to press for stronger protections, name and shame violators, and inscribe environmental rights into national laws and constitutions.

Submitted by Ken Conca

Thirty years ago, Queen Elizabeth II had referred to 1992 as an “annus horribilis,” and now 2022 will also be added to the list of years best forgotten for politics in the United Kingdom. Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, following a succession of scandals and revelations that he had repeatedly breached COVID restriction laws, eventually resigned in early July. His successor, Liz Truss, shockingly only lasted forty-five days in office. Her bold economic plan, promising tax cuts for the wealthy at a time when the country was grappling with major inflation and spiraling energy costs, fizzled very quickly and lost the confidence of her party. And the death of Queen Elizabeth II, after a reign of more than seventy years, only added to the national sense of gloom and mourning. The new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the first person of color to hold the office, will have quite a challenge in the coming year to restore stability and economic credibility for the UK.

Submitted by Garret Martin

As a life-long sailor, I’m still awed—staggered, really—at both the story of Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition (the tenacity, the incredible navigational talent, the science that got them all home eventually) as well as the incredible scientific research effort, equally as difficult and complex in different ways, to locate Endurance.

Submitted by Aaron Boesenecker

2022 was the year when rival streaming services went all-in on creating their own shared universe shows. Disney+ rolled out Star Wars and Marvel content; Amazon launched the most expensive television series in history with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, set in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth; HBO expanded the Game of Thrones franchise with House of the Dragon, and Paramount+ now boasts eleven Star Trek series. The result is a fractured public storytelling sphere, with each service offering immense depth to a narrower band of paying subscribers than was the case in the past when popular entertainment was less segmented. Just as the fragmentation of TV news into rival partisan services produces different accountings of the facts, the fragmentation of entertainment media into rival paid subscription services further threatens our collective capacity to generate comprehensive and compelling public narratives about who we are and what we ought to do.

Submitted by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson

After the failed insurrection on January 6, 2021, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) began an investigation of individuals and groups who stormed the Capitol. The FBI believes as many as 2,000 individuals participated in some form or fashion in the attack, and over 900 people have been arrested so far. The charges fall into three broad categories: breaching the Capitol, attacking police or using deadly weapons, and conspiring to attack the Capitol or otherwise stop the certification of the 2020 election. The most notable case to date involves members of the Oathkeepers, a self-styled militia group founded by Stewart Rhodes. Many of the Oathkeepers entered the Capitol in a military ‘stack’ formation, and charging documents indicate they also had a quick reaction force stationed in Virginia ready to provide backup if necessary. The DOJ made the risky decision to charge the Oathkeepers with seditious conspiracy, i.e., attempting to overthrow the government of the United States. The final verdict was mixed. The jury found only two of the five members guilty of sedition, although all were found guilty of other felonies. Most people view the prosecution as successful, however, because the jury found the group’s leader, Rhodes, and his top lieutenant guilty of the charge, and all the defendants will serve significant time in prison. 

Submitted by Carolyn Gallaher

Nancy Pelosi made history this year by becoming the first US Speaker of the House to visit Taiwan in 25 years. At a time of increasingly belligerent Chinese behavior toward Taiwan, the visit was a striking signal of US support for the island. The trip also built on decades of efforts by Pelosi to take a strong stand against Chinese acts of repression, dating back to the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. China predictably responded to Pelosi’s visit by escalating its military threats targeting Taiwan. As the risk of a Chinese attack on Taiwan continues to grow, many eyes will be on American leaders as the United States wrestles with the question of how it would respond.

Submitted by Jordan Tama

The largest emigration of Cubans in a single year occurred in 2022. More than 220,000 émigrés sought to enter the United States as a result of deteriorating economic conditions on the island. Cuba suffered from a loss of tourism because of the coronavirus pandemic; US sanctions that limited remittances and travel; and Hurricane Ian, which devastated crops, destroyed 63,000 homes, and knocked out the country’s electrical system. Despite the humanitarian disaster, the United States did not relax its tough sanctions on Cuba and offered only a paltry $2 million in assistance. President Joe Biden had promised on the campaign trail to reverse the Trump administration’s unjustified draconian measures and return to the policy of engagement that President Barack Obama had started. But his hope to win votes in Florida for Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections stifled any change.

Submitted by Philip Brenner

Haiti's ongoing political and economic turmoil has been a real newsmaker. Gang blockade of fuel depots threw the country to a standstill and restarted conversations about foreign intervention which were largely critiqued. Though the blockade was eliminated, gang impunity and links between politicians and criminal gangs remain strong. Fuel and food prices are extremely high, and widespread hunger is a very real concern. 

Submitted by Scott Freeman

One extremely important development in 2022 just occurred last week, but it was actually years in the making: a new United Nations resolution passed on November 23, 2022, that finally gives the UN the mandate that it has long sought to begin intergovernmental talks to address the deepening crisis of tax avoidance (legal) and tax evasion (illegal) by multinational companies (MNCs) and wealthy individuals around the world. The talks are intended to lead to reforms to existing tax policies, a new UN Convention on Taxation, and the establishment of a new global UN body on tax issues. Unlike the failed effort by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in recent years, this initiative will give developing countries—the main victims of tax revenue losses—a much greater say in drafting the new global tax rules.

Over the decades, MNCs have continued to use the problematic “arms’ length principle” or “profit shifting” accounting tricks when calculating the annual income taxes owed to developing countries. Companies, wealthy individuals, and criminals have increasingly resorted to establishing anonymous shell companies and trusts in the world’s network of offshore centers and tax havens around the world in order to engage in money laundering and tax evasion. This crisis today is reaching ridiculous proportions, as 2019 saw nearly $1 trillion in profits shifted into tax havens by MNCs. Developing countries and international expert commissions such as ICRICT and the FACTI Panel have long called for the establishment of a global UN tax body to meaningfully address the problem. The November 23 UN resolution could mark a historic turning point when the international community finally began to take concrete steps toward addressing this crisis.

Submitted by Rick Rowden

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of the outdoor wear company Patagonia, announced he will transfer Patagonia’s ownership to a trust and a new nonprofit focused on fighting climate change and protecting open land throughout the world. Patagonia, one of the first B Corporations, is a world leader in sustainable supply chains and brand activism. Even if few entrepreneurs follow Chouinard’s lead, he’s moved the marker of what’s possible at a time when many global corporations are paying increasing attention to social and environmental concerns. He’s also created a new prototype for a mission-driven alternative to traditional capitalism, one that’s focused on long-haul success over short-term gain and public well-being over private wealth accumulation.

Submitted by Robert Tomasko

The US Women’s players league and the US Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) have long been arguing for a collective bargaining agreement. Any bit of a notion of equality and representation grounds should have been sufficient, one would think. But look at the record: US Women’s Soccer and the USWNT have long had a better record—indeed, a stellar record—at the league level and World Cup wins and Olympic wins, compared to the US Men’s National Team (USMNT). The USMNT didn’t even qualify for the World Cup in the last cycle. In the spring, I was down at Audi Field, and the crowds there to support one of the first times that the Washington Spirit were playing there far outweighed the reliably boisterous D.C. United fans! Overall, I think the effort that the US Women spearheaded goes a long way towards rectifying some long-standing inequalities in US soccer, and, more importantly, adds greater visibility and greater substance to similar efforts inside and beyond sports.

Submitted by Aaron Boesenecker

The November 27, 2022, Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP27, should have made history but was, unfortunately, lacking in significant progress toward averting catastrophic changes to the livability of the planet. Although officials were eager to point to a last-minute consensus to create a fund to pay "damage and loss" for the suffering of the most vulnerable—after the US withdrew opposition to the idea—details were in short supply. A more encouraging development on the climate front occurred at the mid-November G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, when Chinese president Xi Jinping and US president Joe Biden agreed to reset the overly hostile temperature of the bilateral relationship and restart conversations on carbon reduction between the world's two biggest emitters.

Submitted by Judy Shapiro