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Taiwan's Brave Eagle advanced jet trainer, built to boost the island's defense self-sufficiency as China ramps up military activities nearby, takes maiden flight last year. Photo: Hsu Tsun-hsu/AFP via Getty Images

Hot spots have mushroomed across the world in 2021, adding multiple international crises to President Biden's formidable domestic to-do list.

Why it matters: Cracks in the global order, which had been presided over by unrivaled American influence since the end of the Cold War, are growing. The proliferation of great-power flashpoints, and failing or failed states, creates new threats to American leadership — and to the global economy, which has been recovering.

Here's a tour of world instability. Biden has faced new versions of several familiar crises:

  • Russia massed troops on Ukraine's borders this spring, and the skies over Gaza were lit in May with fire from Israel and Hamas. Both crises were paused, rather than ended.
  • Tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir are decades in the making. But there's new cause for concern in the Himalayas after border skirmishes between India and China. All three are nuclear powers.
  • The power struggle in Venezuela continues, Yemen's humanitarian crisis has deepened, and Syria and Libya remain hotbeds of unrest and foreign meddling.

Biden can expect escalation from the newest nuclear power, North Korea, at some point in his tenure. Iran is accelerating its nuclear program.

  • And Taiwan is the flashpoint of all flashpoints. A Chinese invasion of the self-governing island seems increasingly likely, though not imminent, and could lead to a scale of warfare the world hasn’t seen in decades.
  • Even short of that, flare-ups will continue over the South China Sea.

The world has also experienced a wave of protest and political instability, from the coup in Myanmar to the assassination of Haiti's president.

  • Peru's presidential transition has been held hostage by electoral fraud claims, Colombia's security forces have cracked down on mass protests, and Cubans have come out into the streets on an unprecedented scale. Violence and instability in Central America continue to push migrants northward.
  • Lebanon's political deadlock is fueling its economic collapse, with the West unsure whether to aid the country's hapless leaders or sanction them.
  • Ethiopia is in the midst of a civil war. Even in comparatively stable South Africa, destructive riots swept through cities in recent days.

Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most unstable countries, as the American footprint is suddenly withdrawn.

  • A total Taliban takeover is a very real possibility.
  • Biden has a decision to make about the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq, which are now engaged in a proxy war with Iran-backed militias. 

What we're watching: Inflation creates its own political risks around the world.

  • If inflation proves more severe and persistent than forecast, central banks will be forced to raise rates — and risk stalling the current economic recovery and employment gains.

Go deeper

Jul 17, 2021 - World

Nuclear talks must wait for new Iranian president, official says

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's president, holds his first news conference on June 21. Photo: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Iran's deputy foreign minister said Saturday that efforts to finalize an agreement with Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal must wait until hardliner Ebrahim Raisi assumes the presidency.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has said it would like see a deal in place before Raisi's inauguration next month.

Jul 17, 2021 - World

Biden to meet with Iraq's prime minister in late July

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi during a White House visit in August 2020. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the White House on July 26, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

Why it matters: The meeting comes amid increasing concerns over recent rocket and drone attacks conducted by Iran-backed militia groups against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria.

2 hours ago - World

Biden: U.S. combat mission in Iraq will end this year

Biden returning to the White House on July 25. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The United States' combat mission against the Islamic State in Iraq will be completed "by the end of the year," President Biden said Monday prior to a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Why it matters: Biden is close to shifting the U.S. military mission in Iraq to a fully advisory role more than 18 years after combat troops were sent to the country under the former President George W. Bush.