The world has changed. Two years ago, when Russia invaded Ukraine, that change became front-page news. The war on Europe’s Eastern flank is simply one symptom of a larger geopolitical reality. Other symptoms — additional wars and conflicts — have already erupted and will continue to emerge as a result of the changing world order. A look back at the last two years of war in Ukraine serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for business leaders to plan ahead in an increasingly unstable world.
America has grown less interested in using its resources to enforce the world order that it helped establish. For instance, as the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan extended over two decades, many Americans grew fatigued and distanced from the reasons we entered the region. Consequently, support for intervention in this and other overseas conflicts began to wane. America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 clearly sent this message to foreign leaders — and those who would seek to disrupt our world order saw an opportunity surface.
Meanwhile, a pervasive complacency lulled Western business leaders into a false sense of security, and it is here that they remain to this day. Executives ignored escalating rhetoric and warning signs, including major military drills along the border of Ukraine. Rather than recognizing and adjusting to changing geopolitical realities, many took peace for granted as a constant state.
Companies must prepare now for the next major geopolitical crisis. Business leaders have a responsibility to their shareholders to anticipate major disruptions to their business models, supply chains and access to markets.”
This peace was violently disturbed in February 2022, when Russian President Vladimir Putin capitalized on this confluence of geopolitical circumstances and invaded Ukraine. Two years later, he is still staking his victory on Americans’ apathy and aversion to U.S. military involvement abroad.
If America continues in its reluctance to use force to deter future aggression by enemies, businesses shouldn’t be surprised to see more of the same results. Russia is not the only nation to recognize the opportunity presented by America’s fading presence on the world stage. The Oct. 7 massacre in Israel is another symptom of the evolving world order. After decades of unrest and sporadic conflict in the region, our adversaries were not deterred from instigating conflict without facing immediate, severe repercussions from America. Our timidity has created a vacuum for others to test their strength, and businesses are paying the price.
In the face of this shifting global order, corporate leaders must confront their role in safeguarding business operations against geopolitical risks. Specifically, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the clock on Taiwan started to tick. Similar to Ukraine prior to Russia’s invasion, Taiwan has experienced threats from China for generations. In recent years, China’s behavior in the region has grown increasingly aggressive. It has embarked on the fastest military modernization and nuclear buildup in history and conducted military drills to demonstrate its ability to blockade the island. Now, CIA Director Burns has said that Xi Jinping ordered his military to prepare for an invasion of Taiwan by 2027.
If China follows in the footsteps of Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan by seizing on American complacency to invade Taiwan, the global implications will have an outsized impact on American life outside of the foreign policy and geopolitical circles. A sudden decoupling of the two largest economies in the world could throw global markets into a depression. Additionally, the geographical nature of Taiwan would make emergency evacuations all but impossible. If the invasion of Ukraine was disruptive to American businesses, the invasion of Taiwan would be catastrophic.
Companies must prepare now for the next major geopolitical crisis. Business leaders have a responsibility to their shareholders to anticipate major disruptions to their business models, supply chains and access to markets. Even more fundamentally, they have a duty of care obligation to protect their employees from international instability and the fallout that may result. Hiring firms to scenario plan and monitor the signs of an impending conflict can save countless lives and assets — as can building decision trees and response infrastructure and being prepared to bring in outside help to manage the extraction of personnel from conflict regions if necessary.
In many ways, Ukraine was only a warning shot, an early symptom of deeper changes. American businesses were surprised by Russia two years ago, but the risks to people’s lives and our economy are too high for corporate America to be caught unprepared again. Planning isn’t about going the extra mile — it’s about protecting the lives and livelihoods of countless individuals. Any company left reacting to a crisis is already behind.