Review the events that have unfolded over the last year and the evolving threats and challenges that demand the focus of corporate security teams around the world in 2024.
January 3, 2024
INSIDE THIS ARTICLE, YOU'LL FIND:
As we enter a new year, the global community is confronted with a myriad of challenges and uncertainties. The year 2023 was been marked by geopolitical tensions, economic fluctuations, natural disasters, and the persistent shadow of ongoing health crises. It therefore becomes increasingly imperative for business leaders to understand and plan for the intricate web of global risks that may define the course of the coming months — and have significant impacts on a business’ reputation and bottom line.
In the face of these multifaceted challenges, the importance of planning for the unexpected is paramount. The devastating wildfires in Maui, flash flooding during the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, and earthquakes in Morocco and Turkey that left thousands dead caught everyone by surprise.
“How can you plan effectively for these types of events when they are relatively low probability?” asked Mike Ballard, director of intelligence at Global Guardian on a December 13 webinar hosted by Global Guardian. He explained that it is important to have a backup plan: Do you have someone you can call when you are in trouble, when 911 is overwhelmed, power lines are down, and there is flooding? “The lesson is: anywhere, anytime, anyplace bad things can happen, and having a plan is important,” Ballard said.
In 2023, “there was still the same significant expectation from the business that we keep our finger on the pulse and that we can take care of our people,” said Tony Strickland, head of enterprise security (CSO) and WREF at CSL Limited, emphasizing the importance of duty of care.
Anticipated Global Risks in 2024
In the short term, there are several ongoing conflicts—and potential conflicts—business leaders should be watching closely. These include:
The Israel-Hamas war: The war has led to regional disruption and concerns about escalation. While noting that U.S. assets in the region have been targeted by Iran-backed groups, Ballard said the risk of a wider conflict is now less likely, but still a “significant concern.”
Seth Krummrich, vice president, client risk management, at Global Guardian, said the war has raised threat levels across the region. Besides the targeting of U.S. and Israeli assets in the region, there is growing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, he said.
Krummrich predicted a continuation of a decades-long cycle of violence between Israel and Iran-backed proxies as Iran tries to scuttle an Israeli-Saudi normalization agreement that would threaten the survival of its regime. “This poses a threat to your employees, your travelers, and your logistics in the region,” said Krummrich. Further conflict could have economic impacts, including rising energy prices, inflation, and less economic growth, he said.
Russia-Ukraine war: The war in Ukraine grinds on, now on the cusp of entering its third year. Meanwhile, U.S. military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine has been thrown into question. The ripple effects of the war are being felt as far away as Africa and the Middle East.
Fighting in Sudan: In Sudan, war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has pushed the country to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. The paramilitary RSF has made significant gains during the past few weeks. Both sides have been accused of committing atrocities. “We will probably continue to see second- and third-order effects in the entire region” as a result of this conflict, said Ballard.
Myanmar: Myanmar’s military is rapidly losing control of key parts of the country, particularly along the border with China, as insurgent groups join forces and coordinate their attacks. “We continue to have concerns that this [conflict] could expand,” said Ballard.
Taiwan-China: If it were to occur, a conflict between China and Taiwan is most likely between 2024 and 2028. During this period, there is a 60 percent chance of China restoring to blockades and cyberattacks against Taiwan, a 35 percent chance of a hot war, and a 5 percent chance that diplomacy will prevail, said Krummrich. “The military option is not China’s first choice and, frankly, they are not ready today to execute this operation,” he added.
Global Guardian President and CEO Dale Buckner said, ultimately, “no one really know what happens next with China and Taiwan.”
Krummrich is concerned about the possibility of a U.S.-Chinese naval accident that could lead to a hot war, and debt collapse. “When you look at the massive amount of debt that China has to wrestle with… and you see their economic decline coming after 25 years of straight growth, you see something that could dwarf the 2008 housing crisis in the United States and have global impacts,” he said.
Global Guardian’s 2024 Taiwan Shock Index predicts the global impact of a China-Taiwan conflict globally.
Economic Outlook for 2024
Economic uncertainties, exacerbated by the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, pose challenges to markets and industries worldwide. Inflation, supply chain disruptions, and shifting economic policies contribute to an atmosphere of unpredictability. Staying informed about economic indicators, policy decisions, and market trends is crucial for individuals and businesses navigating these uncertain waters.
While inflation has come down significantly, Ballard said, there continues to be a lot of fear about recession. This concern is partly fueled by the large number of layoffs in the tech sector, he explained.
Political Outlook for 2024
A number of countries are holding elections in 2024, the outcome of which could have significant global repercussions.
For example, the United States will hold presidential elections in November. “How the rest of the world interprets that election is going to have significant impacts,” said Krummrich. He advised U.S. employers to use the time between now and November to review and tabletop their corporate policy on workplace etiquette, acceptable behavior, and violence mitigation. “Now is a good time to lean in,” he said.
Presidential elections in Taiwan in January will be a “thermostat” for relations between China and Taiwan, said Krummrich. A victory for the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would heat up relations with China, while a victory for the Kuomintang Party (KMT) would cool tensions. The DPP is currently expected to win the vote.
In Argentina, the election of President Javier Milei in November marked an unusual right turn in a continent replete with left-leaning governments. Milei’s drastic economic plans—he has promised “shock therapy” by devaluing the peso—have already led to a rise in social unrest. “If you have business interests [in Argentina] you are going to see a rise in crime and rise in protests, and that can be a direct threat to your travelers and your business continuity in the region,” said Krummrich. June elections in Mexico—the United States’ second-biggest trading partner—could also have some impact on business continuity, he added.
Technology Trends and Associated Risks in 2024
AI and ChatGPT were the big buzzwords of 2023, said Ballard. Strickland described AI as “a force multiplier.” But the interplay between innovation and risk has become increasingly complex. The risks include deepfakes, virtual kidnappings, disinformation, and misinformation, Ballard said.
But while AI has been “all the rage,” said Krummrich, “we haven’t quite seen the economic benefits,” and the future of AI policy and U.S. regulation is also an unknown.
The increasing reliance on AI raises ethical concerns, including biases in algorithms, job displacement, and potential misuse. Ensuring responsible AI development and deployment is crucial to mitigate these risks.
Key Takeaways and Recommendations When Planning for the Future
In order to address the security risks and challenges ahead, Strickland recommended security practitioners “figure out how to connect and anticipate business needs.”
“If you can get your staff ready for the next set of skills that they are going to need, that is going to be huge,” he said, “and that is all going to tie back to the security risk assessment that all of us need to do.” He also emphasized the need to strengthen existing capabilities, what he described as “maturity modelling.”
Buckner said: “There will be with 100 percent certainty more natural disasters that are completely unpredictable; there will be political and economic events that no one is predicting right now and no one can see coming… there is guaranteed to be conflict.” He added: “With 100 percent certainty 2024 will be just as bad as 2023 in different contexts and different locations.”
Krummrich, meanwhile, was “cautiously pessimistic” about 2024. He suggested: “It is critical that all employees have a duty of care provider that can track them, provide emergency response capability in the region to include conflict zones and war zones which are shifting and moving.”
In the end, however, Buckner said execution of contingency plans in real time is the only thing that will matter.
STANDING BY TO SUPPORT
The Global Guardian team is standing by to support your security requirements. To learn more about our Duty of Care membership and emergency response capabilities, complete the form below or call us at + 1 (703) 566-9463.