1. Challenges to Democracy
In 2024, the future of democracy is on the ballot
2024 will be a record-breaking year for elections, with over two billion voters heading to the polls for more than 70 elections - national, regional, and local- scheduled in over 40 countries. Yet, many of these elections will also be held in states with doubts over the fairness and transparency of the electoral process. For 2024, election-related violence will be a major security concern. In contested and unstable contexts, polarization and militarization are likely to escalate in combination with the elections.
In 2023, there were further challenges to democracy around the world. Many countries hold regular elections, but the respect for the rule of law, free speech, and pluralism suffered a decline in 2023. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), in 2023, 85 out of 173 countries suffered a recession in democratic performance. In Europe, the rise of populist far-right leaders and movements, like Italian President Meloni's attempt to refashion Italian media institutions and the anti-democratic “Reichsbürger'' movement, which rejects the legality of democratic authorities and system in Germany, suggest a widespread decline of tolerance and faith in democratic values. In West Africa, military-led coups ousted democratic leaders in Niger, and Gabon, joining other military governments in Burkina Faso. In Central America, the suspension of the presidential transition in Guatemala and President Bukele seeking a second term in El Salvador's February 2024 elections, despite constitutional prohibition, reflect the broad democratic backsliding in the Latin American region.
2024 will be a crucial year to evaluate the global state of democracy, given that two of the world's largest democracies in the world will head to the ballot box. In the United States, incumbent Joe Biden will likely run against front-runner Donald Trump, who rejects the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential result. Trump’s support among the wider US Republican Party has raised questions about its commitment to the electoral process itself. Halfway across the world, India will hold elections over a four month voting process. Incumbent Prime Minister Modi is running for re-election campaigning for a third term in power. While supporters have lauded his efforts to confront Pakistan and China and achieve high economic growth, his critics accuse him of undermining India’s secular nationhood by limiting Muslim rights, shutting down independent media organizations, and failing to confront rising inequality in the country.
There are also elections in countries with little freedom of speech but with significant geopolitical relevance. In February 2024, Pakistan will likely hold a highly contested general election, and Russian elections will take place in March, likely setting Putin in power again until 2030. During this time, opportunities for reconciliation with the West will be scarce. The high tensions around elections could produce further unrest in these countries and may lead to dramatic policy shifts.
With the amount of important elections happening around the world in 2024, questions will be posed, also, regarding the security, reliability, and integrity of these elections. In 2024, the cybersecurity threats surrounding elections, particularly the U.S. Presidential Election, are expected to intensify. Key concerns include a significant increase in election-related scams and disruptive threats. A notable development will be the extensive use of generative AI and synthetic media by both malicious and non-malicious actors. These technologies are anticipated to be employed to create persuasive and effective content, thereby exacerbating the challenges posed by the spread of misinformation and disinformation. This evolving threat landscape underscores the critical need for enhanced cybersecurity measures and vigilant monitoring to ensure the integrity of electoral processes in 2024.
2. Tensions in Global Governance
World Trade and the Drive towards Economic Security
Governments around the world see interdependence as a vulnerability, with trade and investment perceived as a national security issue. In 2023, the Biden administration doubled down on high-tech trade and investment sanctions intending to prevent China’s military from getting hold of advanced weaponry. The semiconductor supply chains which ran through a China-centered manufacturing are likely to be reshaped in 2024 despite weaknesses in enforcing sanctions. In China, Xi Jinping’s push to securitize all aspects of governance has led to a crackdown on ‘foreign espionage’, with security services investigating companies attempting to talk down the country’s financial system or publishing economic information. Despite ongoing trade flows, governments are intending to reshape globalization for the purposes of national security.
The drive for economic security is likely to accelerate in 2024 with rising tensions between the major blocs of the world economy. With the US political establishment broadly agreeing on seeing China as an existential threat to US hegemony, the 2024 election race could ramp up rhetoric from both Joe Biden and his rival to be ‘tough on China’. China’s president Xi Jinping is likely to remain firm on regime security above all else, and push for self-sufficiency in indigenous technology development. EU-China relations could deteriorate further in 2024 given the widening trade deficit with China, the Communist Party’s clampdown on information, and its continuing tacit economic support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. The geopolitical situation suggests that supply chains will continue to face calls to meet national security priorities in 2024.
For the World Bank and the IMF, the new competition over supply chains will lower efficiency gains and shrink world GDP. Yet, economic security priorities have also pushed geopolitical relevance to countries looking to gain a foothold in high-tech supply chains. Southeast Asia is attracting companies looking to diversify away from China. For example, Vietnam welcomed new trade deals and visits from both US President Biden and President Xi this year alone. The growth of swing states who are looking to maximize advantages of the drive away from China will become more strategically important. Whether those countries can leverage intensifying US-China competition without being forced to choose sides remains a vital question.
Spread Thin, Will The US Withdraw Regional Support?
The trope of the US as “World Police” has come into conversation again with more seriousness, both as a point of criticism and an expectation in the face of numerous global conflicts. Despite accusations of over-extension, and critique from various political factions, the US has found itself entering 2024 supporting conflicts in four theaters, while facing its largest military recruitment shortages since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, and $31 trillion of combined debt being used as a tool in electoral politics during a Presidential election season.
In 2023, US domestic politics continues to place strains on support for US allies. US Republicans blocked Biden's request for another $106 billion in aid to Ukraine and Israel. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the US has been the largest single donor of aid to Ukraine, but some Republicans say the US-Mexico border should be better secured first, with thousands of illegal migrants now crossing the border. Republicans have rejected a $20 billion Democratic aid package with demands for increased funding at the US-Mexico border. Shalanda Young, director of the White House budget office has said that if it is no longer possible for the US to supply Ukraine with aid, it may encourage and allow Russia to further extend the conflict to other US allies in Europe, which Putin denies. In order to continue aid to Ukraine, both the Senate and the House will have to compromise on a spending bill, with Biden indicating that he is "open to compromise."
The delicate interplay between US domestic politics and international commitments presents a formidable challenge in 2024. The impasse over aid to Ukraine and Israel, the potential for intervention between Venezuela and Guyana, the US' efforts to bolster allies in the Asia-Pacific, and heightened US naval activity in the Middle East add further layers of complexity. With the upcoming presidential election in 2024, the strategic challenges facing the US and its allies alike are likely to become more acute.
Challenges and rising tensions in the Arctic
In 2024, the Arctic region is anticipated to experience heightened military activity and geopolitical tensions. Russia’s bolstered military presence, aimed at securing its strategic interests in the Arctic, rich in natural resources and of strategic importance, is expected to persist. This development is largely a response to the activities of other nations, especially the United States, which encompass resource exploration and navigation rights. The US, through its National Strategy for the Arctic Region, emphasizes national security, economic development, infrastructure, and environmental concerns, highlighting the military dominance of Russia and the increasing influence of China in the region. The situation is complicated by Russia's growing cooperation with non-Arctic states, notably China, and the cessation of cooperation with Russia in the Arctic Council, impacting a third of the council's projects and crucial activities like climate change research and emergency response preparations.
In 2024, environmental concerns and economic opportunities will be prominent themes in the Arctic. The reduction in Arctic ice is expected to open new trade routes, such as the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage, enhancing commercial shipping and economic activities. However, these opportunities are coupled with environmental challenges, including the risk of pollution and the complexities of managing oil spills in unique Arctic conditions. Territorial disputes, such as those over the Lomonosov Ridge and the Northwest Passage, will play a significant role in the dynamics of resource extraction and environmental protection in the region. Domestic naval forces of NATO-aligned countries will have a new role in asserting Arctic sovereignty and managing response capabilities will be crucial for navigating these emerging risks and opportunities, balancing the interests of various nations and entities involved in the Arctic's future.
UN Peacekeeping Challenges
UN peacekeeping missions around the world will continue to face pressure in 2024. Two of the largest and longest-running U.N. operations, in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are soon coming to an end. Both operations display long-standing complexities and challenges. Numerous casualties, as well as tense relations with the Malian government after the military coup in 2020, led the government to call for the withdrawal of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in June 2023. Similarly, the Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO, has sparked widespread protests against the ineffectiveness of the mandate and its failure to protect civilians. The ongoing MONUSCO withdrawal is expected to be completed in 2024. At the same time, the East African Community regional force also began its withdrawal from Eastern DRC in December 2023.
While some UN peacekeeping missions have been extended in September 2023, they still face multiple challenges. The tensions in the UN Security Council prevent further funding from being allocated to carry out the missions more effectively. Deployment of more peacekeeping missions also slowed, which is problematic for rapidly changing conflict dynamics. They also face issues from local legitimacy; some UN peacekeeping missions face accusations of failing to provide protection to civilians and bias with foreign forces. This resulted in popular protests and anti-UN positions by some local governments, which often decided to turn to other security partners such as private military contractors .
At this time, the future of peacekeeping missions remains uncertain. Currently, there are 12 ongoing peacekeeping operations with approximately 75,000 security personnel. While some will continue, the missions in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and South Sudan (UNMISS) could terminate soon. While peacekeeping operations will not disappear completely, they may reduce in favor of alternative forms of intervention. For example, the non-UN multinational force in support of Haiti, whose deployment is currently under negotiation, or regional forces coalitions may play a greater role in 2024.
Climate change and food security
Irregular rainfall and extreme weather conditions can fuel competition for food between people. The effects of climate change, such as floods, droughts, and irregular weather patterns, mean that farmers can no longer rely on weather forecasts or a stable water supply. Crops can therefore be damaged or even destroyed, leaving populations with little or no food. In Africa, for example, 80% of food production depends on smallholder farmers. If it becomes impossible for these small farmers to predict weather conditions, their crops become vulnerable. This can lead to competition for food and water, loss of income for these farmers, and more people being forced to leave their homes due to droughts, floods, storms, and rising sea levels. Every year, about 20 million people have to move because of this.
Food insecurity amplifies already existing fragile security situations. For example, the Sahel is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change. People are fleeing to other parts of the region due to unrest and conflict, which means that farmers are also leaving their land. Climate change is also playing a big part in this, as variable and extreme weather conditions make it harder to grow crops in the Sahel and feed the growing population in the region.
The conflict between Ukraine and Russia, major exporters of staple foods, intersects with climate change, severely impacting global food security. Climate-related issues like droughts and temperature fluctuations have drastically reduced essential food crop yields in these regions. This decline contributes to rising food prices and increased vulnerability to shortages. Additionally, the conflict disrupts key Black Sea trade routes, vital for grain and oilseed trade, exacerbating the global food security threat. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warns of rising food prices due to these factors, emphasizing the significant impact on the world's strained food systems.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is similarly exacerbated by climate change, with water scarcity and public health issues becoming more prominent. Predictions of rising temperatures and decreased precipitation threaten to worsen the water crisis, deepening community divides. Israeli control over most fresh water sources and consumption disparities between Israeli and Palestinian households intensifies this imbalance, with Gaza facing severe public health challenges. Efforts to adapt and mitigate climate change impacts are hindered by complex politics. Israel has begun a national adaptation plan, but the Palestinian Authority struggles with its limited resources.
Worsening climate conditions in 2024 could signify more unrest and perhaps even conflict due to, among other things, food insecurity. While climate change is unlikely to lead directly to conflict, it can increase the risk of conflict by exacerbating existing social, economic and environmental factors.
3. Cyber Threats and Trends in 2024
The use of ransomware is expected to increase, with malware being coded in more uncommon languages such as Rust and Golang. These languages can make malware more difficult to detect and offer unique advantages for attackers, such as control over intellectual property and minimization of reuse by other actors. There's also an expectation of more targeted ransomware attacks against sectors like schools, hospitals, and critical infrastructure, which have more to lose by not resolving the issue quickly. Another attack vector that will likely be exploited more in 2024 are locations that are essential to global supply chains and logistical hubs, as they have proven to be weak points for disruption to organizations around the world.
The influence of AI on cybersecurity, broadly, has been profound, with both defenders and attackers leveraging this technology. Given the intense technological competition over developing the technology, AI will likely become more widespread in 2024. AI tools have been used by cybercriminals for malicious activities. AI-enabled chatbots can be used to improve the writing and language of phishing emails, making them more persuasive. It also helps would-be hackers improve their programming, though safeguards for many of the prevailing models are getting better at preventing this.
There's some reason to be skeptical, however. The complexity of AI that is attainable for everyday users is overblown in most fields. The same goes for how it’s ended up in the cybersecurity realm. As it stands, language learning models are the primary type of AI that is being developed for the public. A number of the “malicious” AI chatbots have turned out to be inferior to existing models, even for nefarious purposes. Both Google’s Gemini and X’s Grok, upon their release, offer nothing new to the field. As it stands, AI seems more a device for augmenting current capabilities and risks, rather than creating something entirely novel, though this could, and likely will, change in 2024.
State Affiliations with Cybercrime
In 2024, nation-state actors are expected to intensify their relationships to cybercrime activities. They will likely use blended ransomware attacks and wiper tools, not just for financial gain such as we’ve seen with North Korea’s Lazarus Group, but also as a means of destruction and obfuscation. There's a predicted shift towards activities fronting as 'hacktivism', where cyberattacks serve dual purposes of political messaging and revenue generation. Ransomware is anticipated to become more sophisticated, shifting focus from consumers to businesses, with state actors increasingly adopting cybercriminal tactics and code for sale to conceal their involvement, thereby making these attacks more complex and multifaceted.
About the authors:
Jacob studied Global Political Economy at Leiden University. He is passionate about international development and is looking to expand his expertise in geopolitics and crisis management. Curious about other cultures, he has traveled in Europe and Asia for both academic study and professional purposes. His expertise includes the geopolitics of oil and industrial upgrading in the electronics global value chain. He is particularly interested in the evolving political and economic relationships between China and ASEAN, and the consequences for regional development and security.
Roos works as a junior intelligence/research analyst. She is also currently doing the Bachelor of Security Studies at Leiden University. She has always loved the security field and she immediately got the right feeling when meeting Dyami's team for the first time. With the wide range of knowledge she accumulated thanks to her bachelor’s program, she brings new aspects to the intelligence department and helps us write insightful products.
Sara joined Dyami as a Junior Intelligence/Research Analyst post-graduate intern to deepen her passionate interest in conflict analysis and security. Sara recently completed her MA in Conflict Studies and Human Rights at Utrecht University and holds an MA degree in International Sciences and Peace Studies. During her academic career, she conducted research in South America, primarily Colombia, on the dynamics of collaboration and resistance between civilians and non-state armed groups in violent settings. In her previous internship at the investigative think-tank InSight Crime, Sara developed some expertise on transnational organized crime and political-criminal alliances.
Mark is a non-commissioned officer transitioning out of the United States military, where he served as a Combat Medic and a Public Affairs Representative. He is currently a Master’s Student of Cybersecurity and Information Assurance at Western Governors University, and holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Aspiring to a career in Conflict Journalism, his areas of security interest are in military medicine, information security, and weapons technology.
Alessia is a skilled Lead Analyst at Dyami, where she excels in researching and analyzing security threats at both operational and geopolitical levels. She has experience in managing investigations, identifying security-related issues in volatile environments, and analyzing recent (international) security trends. She has field experience in South America, where she has conducted research on security shifts. Alessia also holds a MA degree in Conflict Studies from Utrecht University.
Adriaan is currently enrolled in the master Global Studies program at Göteborg University in Sweden. At Dyami, Adriaan is undertaking his internship and thesis in which he will be researching the Dutch, Danish and Swedish government enterprise agencies approaches on how to deal with doing business in non-western states. Previously, Adriaan completed a bachelor in Safety & Security Management at Avans University of Applied Sciences.
Diana is a passionate irregular warfare researcher, focusing on military strategy and civil-military cooperation. Currently, she is undertaking a Master’s degree at Leiden University and the University of St Andrews in International Relations and Military Strategic Studies. As an intern at Dyami, Diana is responsible for contributing and editing publications, using her academic research background and experience as a writer to assist in the provision of security services.