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Predictions 2024: Taking On 5 International Trends Testing Japan in the New Year

As the shrinkage of American power and other trends of 2024 shake the international order, Japan will find itself reassessing the defense of its sovereignty.



Happy New Year to JAPAN Forward readers. We are pleased to bring you "Predictions 2024," a special New Year's series sharing the foresight and expectations of selected contributors for the coming year in their fields of specialty. We begin with the challenges presented by international affairs by veteran Japanese journalist Yoshihisa Komori.

First in a Series

What will the New Year 2024 bring? And what international issues will Japan face?

Of course, global conditions are not synchronized to divisions of the calendar. Nevertheless, the people who shape world affairs no doubt share some recognition of the calendar break no matter what country they live in. Most people view the start of a new year as a watershed moment in their personal calendar. They stop to consider what the future holds for them. 

It is with such a frame of mind that I will attempt to prognosticate about what the New Year has in store for our world. 

Watching from Washington and Tokyo 

Until now, my main reporting base has been Washington DC, the capital of the United States. But I've also spent quite a bit of time in Tokyo. I think that this split in the way I've spent my days allows me to consider domestic and global developments from the bifurcated perspectives of the US and Japan.

If I were to summarize my major predictions for 2024 right here at the start, they would be the following. The shrinkage of American power will shake the international order. As for Japan, there will be near-crisis-level changes regarding defense and sovereignty. These are areas which we as a nation have studiously ignored up till now.


For one thing, 2024 will be an election year in several nations that are important players in international affairs. To start with, there is the November presidential election in the "superpower" United States. Before that, there will also be a presidential election in Taiwan right at the start of the year in January. There will also be a presidential election in Russia in March. 

The choice of the next president by the American people could have global-scale repercussions. In Russia, Vladimir Putin is certain to be reelected as president. Nevertheless, the election itself could prove a harbinger of change. And the outcome of the election of Taiwan will surely influence the future behavior of China under Xi Jinping

Even amidst these new developments, several trends carrying over from 2023 will also likely be conspicuous. Such trends will become indicative of the international situation in the New Year. Here I would like to consider five such trends in some specific ways. 

1. Retreat of US Deterrence

The first is a decline in the power of America's deterrence.

In October 2023, the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas staged a large-scale surprise attack on Israel. At the time, some strategic experts, such as Walter Russell Mead in the United States, concluded it was the result of a weakening of US deterrent strength based on military power. 

Hamas likely determined to accept the risk that if it attacked Israel, which has enjoyed the full support of successive US administrations, it would force Israel to launch a fierce counterattack, even if the US itself would not deploy its own troops. Yet it went ahead with the attack. That strongly suggests that Hamas judged that the coming attack by the Israeli side would not be all that thorough. In other words, it recognized that US deterrent strength is on the wane. Israel, in the end, is supported by the strength of US deterrence. 

As well, Russia was set on its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, despite the risk of US military deterrence. Indeed, President Joe Biden made it clear from the start that the US would not use its military to respond to the aggressive behavior of Russia. Instead, he announced that the US response would take the form of economic sanctions. It is fair to say his decision reflected the Biden Administration's tendency to avoid the use of military deterrence. The Biden Administration has clearly curbed increases in the defense budget as compared to the previous Trump Administration.

Viewing Beijing's Stance

Looking at China's military behavior in 2023, it is clear that Beijing too is not afraid of US deterrence. Intrusions of fighter jets and bombers into Taiwan's air defense identification zone have occurred with a frequency not seen during the Trump Administration. During 2023, anti-American countries such as Iran and North Korea also showed a pronounced belligerent attitude in defiance of the intentions of the United States. Such autocratic countries are not afraid of American deterrence. In 2024, such defiant behavior seems likely to continue. However, the story could be different if the November presidential election in the US returns Trump to the White House.

Chinese warship Luyang III sails near and crosses in front of the US destroyer USS Chung-Hoon. This image is taken from the deck of US destroyer in the Taiwan Strait on June 3, 2023. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Andre T. Richard/Handout via REUTERS)

2. The Expanding Role of Military Power

The second trend of 2024 will be the expanding role of military power 

This point is the flip side of the first point, namely the decline of US military deterrence. Countries around the world will tend to place more emphasis than ever before on military elements for safeguarding both national security and the international order. 

Even on a global scale, military factors will become more important in territorial and economic conflicts. The outcomes of military conflicts change the relationship between the countries involved, and can even change the international order. This has been demonstrated by the Ukraine war and the latest Middle East conflict. 

China has declared that military means may be indispensable to achieve unification with Taiwan. The Xi Jinping regime has also sought to advance China's interests in the South China Sea and East China Sea. In both, China has used the threat of, or actual, military power to intimidate its targets.

North Korea and Iran are also militaristic countries that rely on military power to assert their own claims. It seems certain that this trend will become more pronounced for both countries in 2024. 

This militarization of international relations is due to conflicting claims among various countries. Normally, such differences would be addressed through diplomatic negotiations or compromises on the economic front. Now, we are about to see greater dependence on military force. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un views a Hwasong-18 ICBM missile launch during what North Korea says is a drill on December 18, 2023. (©KCNA via Reuters)

3. The Retreat of Globalization 

With globalization, people, goods, and money move more freely across borders between countries. In 2024, both the reality and the concept are destined to decline further. 

Over the past few years, we have first seen globalism greatly constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic. That affected every country. Governments deemed it necessary to limit the influx of people who might be carrying the coronavirus. The first to be limited were travelers from China and then from all countries. 

Even without COVID, globalization was being put on "hold." For one thing, the danger of terrorists entering from abroad was growing in Western countries. The kind of chaos that a large influx of immigrants, refugees, and even more so illegal immigrants can cause domestically has been painfully clear in the United States over the past three years. Even the Biden Administration has come around to the idea of resuming construction of a "wall with Mexico." This was proposed by the preceding Trump Administration. 

The Trump Administration was, in fact, openly critical of globalization. It intended to put US interests first. That same type of inward thinking was reflected in the Brexit movement which took the United Kingdom out of the EU in 2020. This international trend is set to continue into 2024. 

A firefighter works at a site which was hit during Russia's drone attacks in Odesa region, Ukraine September 3, 2023. (©Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Odesa region/Handout via REUTERS)

4. Greater Stress on the Sovereignty of Independent States

If the retreat of globalization leads to less cooperation among states, each nation will be forced to make more independent decisions. Also, each country will be expected to demonstrate its own uniqueness. That is, through a clear and more forceful exercise of its sovereignty.

The Biden Administration has stressed the importance of international cooperation. That was a clear reaction to the "America First" philosophy espoused by the Trump Administration. However, we have had a great deal more turmoil and upheaval around the world since Biden assumed office. As a result, both the Biden administration and those countries that have joined the US-led international order are increasingly prioritizing their own interests. Real cooperation with other countries has become more selective. This trend should become more pronounced in 2024 as well.

In the US, the reason former President Trump currently enjoys such a high approval rating is probably because there is strong support for the policies he has advocated. "America First'' is in essence a positive assertion of the exercise of sovereignty based on the self-evident principle that the interests of the American people should have priority.

In December, Argentina elected Javier Milei as its new president. He has promised a foreign policy centered on that country's own interests. Dubbed the "Argentine Trump," Milei is proposing policies that give more weight to Argentine sovereignty than to international cooperation. 

In the Netherlands' November general election, the anti-EU, anti-immigrant Freedom Party (PVV) led by Geert Wilders was the big winner.  Wilders now has a chance of becoming prime minister. 

A year earlier, following the general election in October 2022, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was also labeled as "extreme right-wing." She, too, advocated giving priority to her country's sovereignty and national interests. 

5. Collapse of the 'Supremacy of Economics'

The "supremacy of economics" refers to the belief that in international relations if a country's economic relations with other countries are good, then other issues will also go well. That theory includes an expectation for positive outcomes in politics, diplomacy, and security. A prosperous economy and stronger economic ties with other countries would smooth the way for non-economic issues.  

However, in recent years, this vaunted "supremacy" has been proven to be an empty illusion. Increasing recognition of this reality will likely become an international trend in 2024.

The Ukraine war has brought home to us the reality that political factors beyond economics drive international relations. Russia had economic ties with Ukraine. And trade between the two nations was brisk. Furthermore, Russia had developed close economic interdependence with the United States and Western European countries. That was centered on energy supply and demand. But that economic commonality instantly went up in smoke when Russia's military invasion commenced. 


Indications that economic ties will restrain China's attempts at military coercion of Taiwan or its grab of territory from Southeast Asian countries are all but non-existent. Rather, China uses economic relations with other countries as a weapon to resolve non-economic issues as it likes. 

Economics should not be considered the be-all and end-all but rather as a means. Essentially, the belief that solely pursuing economic interests and behaving rationally would lead to a better world has been abandoned.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida inspects the troops after an aerial review ceremony also at Air Self-Defense Force Iruma Base in Saitama Prefecture. November 11, 2023. (©Sankei by Kanata Iwasaki)

Japan's Challenges

I would not be amiss in predicting that these five global trends will likely confront Japan with serious negative consequences. These variable factors threaten to shake, challenge and even negate the very nature of Japan's postwar state. Why should that be?

First, so far it is the military deterrence provided by the US that Japan has completely relied on for its security. Second, the expanding role of international military power also had a serious impact on Japan. The country has tended to deny the very concept of military-related matters. 

Third, Japan has been pursuing globalization at full tilt for many years. It can even be said that this was a national goal we aimed for. So any setback for or diminution of that goal can be considered a serious negative change.

Fourth, the growing emphasis on national sovereignty will also present a new test for postwar Japan. Since its defeat, it has seen the concept of what is a "nation" diluted. 

Fifth, the collapse of the "supremacy of economics" will represent a shocking change for a Japan that has considered this kind of thinking as its "Bible." 

These then are the international trends likely to cause serious problems for Japan. All five have the potential to generate national crises and are worthy of caution.


Read other predictions from our series, Predictions 2024


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Yoshihisa Komori 

Yoshihisa Komori is an award-winning journalist and author, The Sankei Shimbun Associate Correspondent in Washington DC, and a special advisor to JAPAN Forward

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