The independent resource on global security

1. Introduction: International stability and human security in 2022


Introduction, Dan Smith

I. Food and geopolitics

II. Great power relations

III. Arms control and nuclear non-proliferation

IV. Climate change and environmental diplomacy 

V. The course of the war in Ukraine 

VI. Unanswered questions 

Global security in 2022 showed a marked deterioration compared with a decade ago. Worldwide, there was more war, higher military spending and increased acute food insecurity. As a result of climate change, heatwaves, drought and flooding affected millions of people, with major human and economic costs. International stability was under pressure from the war in Ukraine and from intensifying confrontation between the great powers, which weakened arms control and made diplomacy less effective.


Food insecurity and geopolitical tensions

The war in Ukraine exacerbated the problem of world hunger. Russia and Ukraine are major producers and exporters of staple foods; output and trade were both reduced by the war and sanctions against Russia. This came on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, which generated a major spike in global food prices, and a pre-existing trend of steadily increasing world hunger since 2017.


Although the war in Ukraine stands out, Ukraine was only 1 of 56 countries that experienced armed conflict in 2022. The war has, however, played a significant role in corroding relations between the great powers, feeding the growing discordance in global politics that diminishes the capacity for managing and helping to resolve local and regional conflicts and disputes. North-east Asia is the frontline in an increasingly tense and risk-heavy relationship between China and the United States and its allies. The region is further troubled by tensions stemming from the continuing missile development programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which conducted over 90 missile tests during the year.


The war in Ukraine

Russia invaded Ukraine for a second time in February 2022 and full-scale war ensued. Russian forces have systematically attacked civilian targets, causing large-scale urban destruction and, if evidence collected by the United Nations is borne out, have committed abundant war crimes. By the end of 2022 neither side had a clear path towards victory, nor was there a clear path towards a negotiated peace, with the positions of Russia and Ukraine remaining far apart. Data on the scale of human suffering from the war is patchy and unreliable.


Unanswered questions

As the international system reels under the impact of the war in Ukraine, is there space on the international agenda for action to address even the most shared of problems such as the unfolding environmental crisis? Can energy and a sense of direction in the UN compensate for the lack of global leadership from the great powers? At the end of 2022 these questions had no answer, but it is worth noting that many important international institutions were still functioning effectively for the common good. The new agreement to set up a ‘loss and damage’ fund for countries most vulnerable to the impact of climate change and the adoption of a new framework for action to halt biodiversity loss were promising outcomes in 2022. But generating the energy and collective action to implement these and other international commitments is particularly difficult in the current international setting.

Dan Smith