State of the Order: Continuing challenges to the world order raise the urgency for Gaza ceasefire and Ukraine aid

In March, stresses on the world order escalated. The war between Israel and Hamas continued with the humanitarian situation in Gaza getting close to famine levels. Efforts to reach a ceasefire remained unfulfilled, though negotiations continue amid increased international calls for a ceasefire—but against a backdrop in which Hamas has indicated no willingness to alter its current demands. A minority in the US Congress continued to hold up additional military aid to Ukraine, while European governments continued providing military support. Senegal, in a welcome development for democracy in West Africa, held a free and fair election despite concerns following former President Macky Sall’s attempt to delay the elections and protests that unfolded in response.

Read up on the events shaping the democratic world order below.

Reshaping the order

This month’s topline events

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatens to set a date to invade Rafah amid mounting US and international pressure to limit civilian harm. The Israeli government continued attacks across Gaza before, in early April, withdrawing all but one of its battalions and reportedly setting a date for a military operation in the city of Rafah. However, significant skepticism abounds as to whether the date is real or simply a tactic to try to pressure Hamas. The United States sought to help shape Israel’s Rafah plan given concerns for civilian casualties, but did not reach an agreement on how Israel might proceed with such an operation. The United States continued high-level pressure on the Netanyahu government to limit civilian casualties and agree on a temporary ceasefire. Vice President Kamala Harris called for an immediate temporary ceasefire and US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Netanyahu, going so far as to call for fresh elections in Israel. Netanyahu canceled  a meeting between senior Israeli officials and US counterparts to discuss Rafah after the United States abstained from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution pressing for an immediate temporary ceasefire in Gaza, which allowed the measure to pass, before allowing a virtual meeting to take place. Meanwhile, negotiations between Israel and Hamas in Qatar stalled after Israel claimed Hamas was “not interested” in talks; however, as April began the talks were expected to restart in Cairo. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsened, despite ongoing aid deliveries by air and sea. Conditions close to famine levels are now present, according to the International Court of Justice at the Hague, which also ruled unanimously that Israel must let food aid enter Gaza.

  • Shaping the order. The Israel-Hamas war retains a high risk for spreading into a broader regional, state-on-state conflict. This risk heightened at the start of April as Israel reportedly killed two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) generals and five military advisors in an airstrike on the Iranian consulate building in Damascus, Syria, which Israel claims is being used as a cover by the IRGC to conduct regional malign activities. Meanwhile, the manner in which the Netanyahu government has prosecuted the war has prompted significant debate between those viewing the tens of thousands of casualties as having driven support to Hamas and those who argue that Israel’s urban warfare conduct has actually set a new “gold standard.”  What does seem clear is that Hamas is turning battlefield losses into strategic advantage, as the United States warned Israel was the likely outcome if it went into Gaza in a way that causes mass civilian casualties and hunger.
  • Hitting home. The war and humanitarian crisis being felt every day by Gazans is helping to shift US public opinion on Israel. Gallup’s March survey found that 55 percent of Americans now disagree with how Israel is conducting its war against Hamas, up from 50 percent in November. A group of eight Democrat senators pushed US President Joe Biden to end the US provision of military weapons to Jerusalem.
  • What to do. In the immediate term, the United States must continue to press (and put pressure on) the Israeli government to limit civilian casualties and pursue a temporary ceasefire that would enable mass humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza and release all hostages. The Biden administration, even as it urges Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties, must mobilize key Middle Eastern partners, namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, to devise and resource a viable plan for post-war Gaza, a core pillar of which should be a two-state solution.

Ukraine fights on with European support while US support remains stuck in Congress. Ukraine’s strikes deep into Russian territory continued, with significant impact, including the destruction of one-third of Russian naval vessels and the brief closure of (and possible damage to) the Kerch Bridge in Crimea. Despite this progress, Ukraine faced munitions and personnel shortages that could imperil its hold on the front lines. The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, debated lowering the draft age from twenty-seven to twenty-five to deal with manpower shortages, but without ammunition and with US support in doubt, morale is sagging.

The United States continued sending mixed messages on its support for Ukraine. A minority in the US Congress again held up passage of a large-scale military aid package for Kyiv, though as April started, there were signs a vote could be called soon. The Biden administration reportedly urged Kyiv not to attack Russian oil refineries, a message that generated frustration in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Europe held firm in its support for Kyiv. French President Emmanuel Macron told European allies and partners, “Today, to have peace in Ukraine, we must not be weak,” and refused to rule out Western troop deployments to Ukraine. A Czech-led ammunition initiative to supply Kyiv with artillery shells by June received additional support. Sweden announced it will help bankroll the effort with thirty million euros and Germany announced it would pay for 180,000 rounds.

  • Shaping the order. US military support, in the form of weapons and munitions, along with the same from European allies, will largely determine whether Kyiv succeeds or fails on the battlefield. The minority in the US Congress preventing the military aid bill from passing is sending a message to Russia (and China) that US resolve might not hold. Absent continued US and European military support, Ukraine could lose the war. This would likely embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin to attack NATO countries and in so doing draw the United States directly into a land war in Europe to defend a NATO ally.
  • Hitting home. Ukraine defeating Russia is a plausible outcome and would advance US national interests by weakening a US adversary without costing US soldiers. Despite these realities, a minority in Congress continued holding up further military support to Ukraine. Many Europeans are alarmed by rising isolationism in the United States, particularly following Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s claims that former US President Donald Trump had told him he would end military aid to Ukraine should he be elected.
  • What to do. The Biden administration must continue to push Congress to pass military aid for Ukraine and work with its allies in Europe to continue their support for Kyiv.

Senegal’s democracy shows resilience. On March 24, Senegalese citizens elected Bassirou Diomaye Faye as president, just ten days after his release from prison. The election was initially scheduled for February 25, until Sall, in office for twelve years, announced a delay and pushed for legislation that rescheduled the contest for December 2024. The opposition and some analysts feared that Sall wanted to delay the election to extend his time in power; although in February, Sall promised to end his term in April. However, the Constitutional Court rejected the plan to postpone the elections and ordered the government to set the date for elections, which it set as March 24. Many had feared that the postponement of the election would result in violence, after security forces violently responded to protests against the election delay. 

  • Shaping the order. Democracy in West Africa has been on the backfoot following a string of coups across the Sahel. Senegal, which looked at risk of backsliding after the unfolding of these events, showed the importance of strong and independent institutions in restoring democracy.
  • Hitting home. A democratic and stable Senegal benefits the United States. More broadly, the United States benefits when there are more democracies in the world. Democracies are more reliable trading partners, are less likely to go to war with one another, and are less likely to incubate and export transnational crime and terrorism.
  • What to do. The United States should continue pursuing partnerships with the new government on a range of economic, cultural, and security matters.

Quote of the Month

“My purpose tonight is to both wake up this Congress and alert the American people that this is no ordinary moment either . . . What makes our moment rare is that freedom and democracy are under attack, both at home and overseas, at the very same time.”
– Biden in his State of the Union address before the US Congress.

State of the Order this month: Weakened

Assessing the five core pillars of the democratic world order

Democracy ()

  • In the first Iranian election since protests erupted in 2022 following the death of Mahsa Amini, many Iranians boycotted parliamentary elections, seemingly expressing, by refusing to cast a ballot, their opposition to the government’s oppressive rules and handling of the economy.
  • Venezuela’s regime officially blocked the leading opposition candidate, Corina Yoris, from running in July’s presidential elections, a major blow to opposition hopes to unseat Nicolas Maduro. The regime’s decision is also a setback for the Biden administration, which lifted sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry in an effort to encourage Maduro to hold free and fair elections.
  • Article 23, Hong Kong’s new security law, came into effect, enabling officials to conduct closed-door trials and allowing the police to hold individuals for up to sixteen days without bringing charges for violating state secrets, fomenting sedition, and engaging in treason, all of which have broad definitions under the law. Radio Free Asia shut down its office in Hong Kong due to fears that its staff could endangered.
  • India put in place a new citizenship law that excludes Muslim migrants and establishes a religious test for migrants of prominent faiths in South Asia other than Islam. Experts say that under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, Muslims have faced increased discrimination.
  • On balance, the democracy pillar was weakened.

Security (↓)

  • Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigned from office, following a meeting in Jamaica of the United States, Caribbean partners, Canada, and France. An alliance of gangs, which has sowed instability across the country, including by releasing thousands of prisoners from government facilities and controlling most of the capital, had threatened civil war if Henry did not resign.
  • Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham–Khorasan (ISIS-K), launched an attack on a concert hall in Moscow that left at least 144 dead. The group claimed responsibility but Putin has continued to link the attack to Ukraine.
  • The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that the number of individuals experiencing female genitalia mutilation increased by 15 percent in the last eight years, with UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell stating that these unnecessary procedures are happening at younger and younger ages, sometimes even before children reach the age of five.
  • On balance, the security pillar was weakened.

Trade ()

  • Chinese Premier Li Qiang announced that China’s economic growth goal is 5 percent; however, he offered few details on how China would increase growth, even as its real estate crisis continued and public confidence in China’s economy declined.
  • The Bank of Japan, after eight years of negative interest rates, increased short-term interest rates to 0-0.1 percent, demonstrating the central bank’s confidence in the country’s economic recovery and sustainable inflation.
  • On balance, the trade pillar was unchanged.

Commons ()

  • The oil and gas company Shell initiated court proceedings to formally repeal the 2021 ruling wherein a district court in The Hague ordered Shell to cut its carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 compared to 2019 levels.
  • On balance, the commons pillar was unchanged.

Alliances (↑)

  • Sweden formally joined NATO, strengthening the Alliance and positioning it to better defend its northern flank.
  • On balance, the alliances pillar was strengthened.

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

Three must-read commentaries on the democratic order

  • Liselotte Odgaard, in Foreign Policyargues that NATO is not ready to deter Russia in the Arctic.
  • Hal Brands, in Foreign Affairscontends that new autocratic alliances are a genuine threat.
  • Sahar Halaimazi, Metra Mehran, and Marika Theros, as part of a project examining Afghanistan’s gender apartheid, map the timeline of the Taliban’s decrees restricting women.

Action and analysis by the Atlantic Council

Our experts weigh in on this month’s events

  • Frederick Kempe, in Inflection Points Todayassesses that the United States needs to make the case for winning the “strategic battle for the global future,” including by banning TikTok and passing aid to Ukraine.
  • Jenna Ben-Yehuda and Matthew Kroenig, in the New Atlanticistrespond to Biden’s State of the Union address.
  • Andrew Michta and Jeffrey Cimmino, as part of the Scowcroft Center’s project on twenty-first-century diplomacy, analyze the risks and benefits of generative artificial intelligence for diplomacy.
  • Jerzy Koźmiński and Daniel Fried, in the New Atlanticistdiscuss NATO enlargement on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joining the Alliance.
  • Patrick Quirk, in the Hillargues that technology companies and Russian democracy activists must work together to combat Putin’s online authoritarianism.
  • Samantha Vinograd, on Face the Nationanalyzed the ISIS-K terror attack in Moscow.
  • Jeffrey Cimmino, in the New Atlanticistlays out how the United States can play a bigger role in protecting religious freedom across the globe.


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
Sydney Sherry – Program Assistant

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Image: A Palestinian man stands in a house damaged following an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 27, 2024. REUTERS/Bassam Masoud