State of the Order: Assessing November 2023

The state of the order remained unchanged after November came and went, despite the unfolding of potentially world-shaking events.

That’s because the last month was a bit of a mixed bag for the democratic world order. Easing tensions between the United States and China came as a positive sign. But the Israel-Hamas war has continued to bear terrible human costs, and there is a rising risk that the war spreads regionally—or even draws in the United States, Iran, and other powers. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian land offensive seems to have ended with marginal gains; eyes are on the United States, whose aid to Ukraine is running out—and there is no consensus in the US Congress about continuing assistance.

Get up to speed on the democratic world order below.

Reshaping the order

This month’s topline events

Israel and Hamas’s fragile pause. In November, Israel expanded its ground offensive into Gaza, which has displaced approximately 1.7 million and, as of late November, left more than 14,000 dead. In discussions mediated by Qatar, the Netanyahu government and Hamas agreed to a temporary ceasefire, which started on November 24. As part of the pause, Hamas agreed to release fifty women and children in exchange for Israel releasing 150 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women. That ceasefire, extended by several days, ran out at the end of November. China, positioning itself to shape the conflict’s trajectory, hosted four Arab foreign ministers to discuss options for ending the war.

  • Shaping the order. The conflict has derailed efforts to establish peace between Israel and Arab countries through the Abraham Accords. It has the potential to spread to a wider regional war, which in turn could trigger a global economic shock comprised of skyrocketing food and oil prices—the World Bank warned that oil prices could reach a record $150 a barrel if the war spreads regionally. Arab and predominantly Muslim countries in the region, especially their citizens, are becoming increasingly angry with the United States for its support for Israel’s handling of the conflict. That anger could intensify and spread.
  • Hitting home. Disputes over the war have hit US society hard, with anti-Semitic and Islamophobic acts on the rise. Rising food and fuel prices would strain Americans’ budgets. Thus far, only one of the possible eight or nine American hostages held by Hamas have been released, and at least 350 Americans remain trapped in Gaza.
  • What to do. The Biden administration should intensify its efforts to push the Israelis to act with greater discretion in Gaza, with greater regard for the longer term and humanitarian consequences of their actions. The United States has rightly spoken of a two-state solution as the best way ahead. This will require sustained efforts, including with this Israeli government and, potentially, the next one.

Ukraine’s offensive stalls but Kyiv claims critical foothold. The Ukrainian land offensive seems to have ended with marginal gains, although its deep attacks on Russian targets, like Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, have had greater success. Ukrainian forces have crossed the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast, a potentially significant success, but these forces appear to be small in size. Signs of infighting in Ukraine and political debate in the United States about aid to Ukraine have complicated Ukraine’s prospects and fueled calls for some sort of political settlement, an option that the Kremlin seems to have no interest in as it pursues its objective of victory over Ukraine altogether.

  • Shaping the order. As the war enters its third year, international support could wane in the absence of a significant Ukrainian breakthrough—and Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely counting on that. Russia is also unable to advance on the ground, however, and Putin’s objective of decisively defeating Ukraine seems out of reach as long as Western support holds.
  • Hitting home. The Biden administration has remained firm in its support for Ukraine and its conviction that victory against Russia is necessary to avert the Kremlin attacking a NATO ally, which would trigger direct US military involvement. Congressional support for continued assistance to Ukraine is under some threat, especially from members aligned with former US President Donald Trump.
  • What to do. The United States and its allies must remain steadfast in their support of Ukraine—including by continuing transfers of military assistance—even as the Israel-Hamas war’s trajectory remains unclear. The United States and its allies should tighten sanctions on Russia. A longer war will require more resources; these are available in the form of immobilized Russian sovereign assets, and the United States should lead a Group-of-Seven (G7) effort to use these for Ukraine.

Biden-Xi talks tamp down tensions. On November 15, US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the first meeting between the leaders in over a year. The meeting, considered an opportunity to restart direct engagement and tamp down tensions, resulted in Washington and Beijing reinstating defense policy coordination talks, agreeing to cooperation on countering illicit fentanyl flows, military maritime consultation meetings, and phone conversations between US and Chinese commanders. Biden and Xi also agreed to work toward creating a formal state-to-state discussion on artificial intelligence and its applications.

  • Shaping the order. Renewed dialogue and communication channels between the world’s two preeminent powers is a sound, albeit limited, step and good for the global order. While the meeting’s minor successes are promising, their durability will only become apparent in the weeks and months ahead. The tentative relaxation of tensions took place even as US technological restrictions towards China and other efforts to “de-risk” (and diversify) supply chains continue.
  • Hitting home. Americans benefit from steps Biden and Xi took to re-open communication lines that could help avert direct military conflict or a major economic rupture.
  • What to do. The United States must follow through on meeting agreements, which will help manage tensions, while pressing forward with curbing Chinese advantages—or efforts to gain them—in the military, economic, and technology realms.

Quote of the Month

“Around the globe, we are seeing a revival of the forces of autocracy, which are once again demonstrating contempt for the rule of law, democratic freedom, and the truth itself… Together with our partners and allies, the United States will continue to defend the fundamental freedoms and human rights entitled to every person around the world.”
– Biden’s proclamation on World Freedom Day

State of the Order this month: Unchanged

Assessing the five core pillars of the democratic world order    

Democracy ()

  • Nicaragua will officially leave the Organization of American States (OAS) following a two-year process that President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, began in November 2021. The OAS has long been critical of the Ortega administration’s various human rights violations. The United States calls Nicaragua’s OAS exit a “step away from democracy,”
  • Geert Wilders, a far-right populist, is on the path to becoming the Netherlands’s next prime minister following the Party for Freedom’s election win.
  • Following calls, including from US Senator Lindsey Graham, to hold elections in 2024, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has announced that “now is not the time for elections.” This is consistent with Ukraine’s constitution, which prohibits elections under martial law. Zelenskyy has been in power since 2019. Polls also indicate 80 percent of Ukrainians also think elections should be delayed until after the war.
  • On balance, the democracy pillar was unchanged.
  • Security ()

    • The United States and China held a rare discussion on nuclear arms control, the first such nuclear-related talks since the Obama administration.
    • US intelligence uncovered that Russia’s Wagner forces plan to send SA-22 air defense missiles to the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah. Specifically, SA-22s use antiaircraft missiles and air-defense guns to intercept incoming aircraft. his move has the potential to challenge Israel’s ability to conduct interdiction strikes against the transfer of Iranian advanced missiles to Hezbollah.
    • The United States expressed concern that Iran could supply Russia with advanced short-range ballistic missiles to aid in its continued assault on Ukraine. Already, Iran has sent Russia armed drones, aerial bombs, and artillery shells.
    • On balance, the security pillar was unchanged.

    Trade ()

    • China, the world’s top graphite producer and exporter, tightened export controls on the commodity. This move has the potential to hurt global technology and energy enterprises.
    • Morocco, Malaysia, Iraq, Israel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Finland received record-breaking greenfield foreign direct investment (FDI) pledges in the first eight months of 2023 than any year on record. As these pledges are a barometer for the receiving country’s economic health, this could be a sign of the six countries’ increased integration into the global economy, market, and value chain.
    • On balance, the trade pillar was unchanged.

    Commons ()

    • Leaked briefing documents reveal that the United Arab Emirates planned to leverage its position as the host of the upcoming COP28 to make oil and gas deals, undermining the nature of the climate talks. The Emirati COP28 president later denied the report, and a COP28 spokesperson called the documents inaccurate.
    • US climate envoy John Kerry announced that the United States and China reached an understanding and agreement on issues related to the climate crisis in the lead up to COP28.
    • Iceland had been preparing for possible volcanic eruptions following thousands of recorded rumbles and quakes. Nearly 3,400 individuals in the town of Grindavik were evacuated on November 11 after seismologists measured thirty thousand earthquakes over the few weeks prior and detected a nine-mile underground corridor of semi-molten rock moving near the volcano.
    • On balance, the global commons pillar was unchanged.

    Alliances ()

    • The United States and its NATO allies announced that they will withdraw from a 1990 treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, following Russia’s withdrawal from the treaty. While it marks the end of yet another landmark arms control agreement, the withdrawal from the treaty will provide the Alliance more flexibility in its deployment of troops around NATO’s northern and southern flanks.
    • Turkey has informed NATO leaders that Ankara may be ready to admit Sweden into the Alliance by the “end of the year.” NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg announced that the “time has now come” for Sweden to join NATO, and urged Turkey to ratify Sweden’s entry “as soon as possible.”
    • G7 countries, in collaboration with the African Development Bank and African Finance Corporation, are working to develop a $600-billion trans-African railway to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The parties signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a “Lobito Corridor”—which will include telecoms systems and solar farms, among other projects—as well as a Zambia-Lobito railway.
    • On balance, the alliance pillar was unchanged. 

    Strengthened (↑)________Unchanged ()________Weakened ()

    What is the democratic world order? Also known as the liberal order, the rules-based order, or simply the free world, the democratic world order encompasses the rules, norms, alliances, and institutions created and supported by leading democracies over the past seven decades to foster security, democracy, prosperity, and a healthy planet.

    This month’s top reads

    Must-read commentaries on the democratic order     

    • Agathe Demarais, in Foreign Policy, outlines ten unintended consequences of seizing Russian assets for the purposes of Ukraine’s reconstruction.
    • Michael Schuman, in The Atlantic, argues that Xi is exploiting global crises, such as the ones in the Middle East and Ukraine, to undermine the United States and establish Beijing as a global peace broker.

    Action and analysis by the Atlantic Council

    Our experts weigh in on this month’s events

    • Fred Kempe, in Inflection Points, contends that the creation of a NATO-like or EU-like organization in the Middle East could help foster peace.
    • Matthew Kroenig and the Stimson Center’s Emma Ashford, in Foreign Policy, debate whether the United States is leveraging all the tools in its diplomatic arsenal to quell the war between Israel and Hamas.
    • Andrew Michta, in Politico, discusses the United States’ role in European affairs as the EU considers treaty revisions that seek to centralize power.


    The Democratic Order Initiative is an Atlantic Council initiative aimed at reenergizing American global leadership and strengthening cooperation among the world’s democracies in support of a rules-based democratic order. Sign on to the Council’s Declaration of Principles for Freedom, Prosperity, and Peace by clicking here.

    Patrick Quirk – Nonresident Senior Fellow
    Dan Fried – Distinguished Fellow
    Soda Lo – Project Assistant

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Image: A boy looks at an installation which shows the pictures of hostages taken by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas following a deadly infiltration of Israel by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip on October 7, before some of them are due to be released as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas to free hostages held in Gaza in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, in Jerusalem, November 24, 2023 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun