State of the Order: Global conflict is continuing to reshape the global order—and so is climate change

In April, stresses on the world order continued apace. Israel and Iran traded direct attacks, which increased risks for a widened regional conflict. In Gaza, Israel continued military operations and a ceasefire remained out of reach, while students on campuses across the United States mounted large-scale anti-war protests. Meanwhile, the United States finally stepped up and delivered the long-awaited foreign aid package, including $61 billion for Ukraine, hopefully enabling Kyiv to hold its lines and build on its strategic attacks against Russian forces.

Read up on the events shaping the democratic world order.

Reshaping the order

This month’s topline events

Iran and Israel trade attacks, potential for regional war increases. The long-term tensions between Israel and Iran ramped up over the course of April. Israel reportedly launched an airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Syria that killed two generals, including a leader in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and other officers of the Iranian military. Iran responded by launching more than three hundred drones and missiles into Israeli territory. The United States, Israel, United Kingdom, France, and Jordan intercepted nearly all of the missiles and drones, which minimized damage. In retaliation, Israel launched a missile and drone counterstrike on Iran that was reportedly more limited than initially planned. But the events do mark an escalation, as the first time that Iran and Israel have directly attacked each other’s territory. As the month closed, it was unclear whether the conflict had been mitigated or would continue to worsen, and experts worry that another confrontation is “just around the corner.”

  • Shaping the order. While Israel and Iran seem to have withdrawn from further escalation and retaliatory attacks in the near term, the precedent has now been set for direct overt military conflict between them, increasing the possibility of a broader regional war.
  • Hitting home. A regional war in the Middle East would have serious implications for the United States, forcing it to devote large amounts of its military assets and munitions stockpiles to protecting its partners in the Middle East and possibly spiking oil prices. With a US defense industrial base that is already not at the level that is needed, this would serve as a major stressor on the resources required to ensure the US military remains ready for contingencies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.
  • What to do. The United States must continue to press Israel and Iran to forego further military attacks, while remaining firm in its support for Jerusalem to protect itself in the face of aggression by Tehran. Jordan’s participation in defending Israel from the Iranian attack is a significant development that the Biden administration can build on as it works with Israel and regional allies to ward off further Iranian aggression.

War in Gaza continues apace with cease-fire elusive. As April concluded, Israel had yet to launch its long-discussed military offensive into the southern city of Rafah; however, Israel and Egyptian officials met, as the month closed, to discuss the potential offensive, underlining regional concerns about the consequences of Israel entering the city. From the end of April and into the first days of May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to continue pushing for a ceasefire that secures the release of hostages and to pressure the Netanyahu government to forego moving into Rafah. The United States, noting the shortage of assistance and worsening famine, started constructing a floating pier on the coast of Gaza, which is set to begin enabling additional aid flows in early or mid-May. Meanwhile, protests against Israel spread across US campuses, with students decrying the war, questioning US support for Israel, and pushing for university administrators to divest from Israel-linked funds or companies.

  • Shaping the order. In Israel’s attempt to defeat Hamas and free the remaining hostages from the October 7 attack, the war has resulted in thousands of civilian casualties, which continues to alienate allies and worsen grievances that helped fuel Hamas. An Israeli military operation in Rafah, in particular one that results in more massive civilian casualties, would worsen these trends.
  • Hitting home. The war in Gaza and associated human suffering has sparked large-scale protests across US universities, most notably at Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles. University administrators and police have clashed with the protests. These protests, which broadly call for universities to divest from Israel-linked funds, and associated criticisms of US security support for Israel might pose challenges for US President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign, as some supporters on the political left threaten to withdraw support for the president.
  • What to do. The United States must continue pressing the Israeli government to limit civilian casualties and pursue a ceasefire that would pause suffering and release all hostages. The Biden administration should continue pressing the Netanyahu government to forego a military operation in Rafah. The United States must continue mobilizing regional allies to devise and fund a postwar vision for Gaza that includes a two-state solution.

The United States finally steps up and passes Ukraine aid. The US Congress, with strong bipartisan majorities, finally approved a long-awaited and delayed foreign aid package. Of the $61 billion allocated for support to Ukraine, $23 billion will replenish US stockpiles of weapons already sent, $14 billion will fund new weapons for Ukraine, and $8 billion will involve transfer of existing weapons. The package and deliveries of long-range ATACMS missiles offer reasonable hope that Ukraine can fend off further Russian advances and deepen its relatively successful strategic strikes deep in Russian-occupied territory, possibly cutting off supplies for Russian forces on the southern front and isolating Crimea. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, noting that Ukraine’s army needs more troops as well as arms to win, signed a law lowering the draft-eligible age of men to twenty-five. As the month ended, the United States—during Blinken’s visit to Beijing—stepped up calls for China to stop aiding Russia’s defense industry.

  • Shaping the order. The aid package sends a strong signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and apprehensive US allies that neoisolationist opposition to supporting Ukraine within Congress can be overcome. However, the delay in assistance resulted in Ukraine losing territory and people; further delay would have risked catastrophe on the battlefield, Ukraine’s defeat, and emboldening Putin to continue his aggression—toward countries such as Moldova and even potentially against NATO countries.
  • Hitting home. Russian victory in the war would result in cascading security problems in Europe that would draw on even more US resources. With the new assistance, however, Ukraine has a credible chance of stopping the Russian advance and such an outcome would advance US national interests by weakening an adversary without risk to US soldiers.
  • What to do. With the war at a critical phase, the Biden administration must step up the flow of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine as soon as feasible and encourage European and other allies to undertake a similar surge of support. The US should intensify economic pressure on Russia—especially by pressing China to curtail its support for Russia’s war effort—and work with the Group of Seven on ways to use Russian frozen assets to support Ukraine.

Quote of the Month

“We don’t walk away from our allies; we stand with them. We don’t let tyrants win; we oppose them. We don’t merely watch global events unfold; we shape them.”
– US President Joe Biden on the passage of the aid package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and other allies and partners.

State of the Order this month: Weakened

Assessing the five core pillars of the democratic world order 

Democracy ()

  • In this monumental year of elections worldwide, where nearly half of the world’s population might cast ballots, India (the world’s most populous country) started its seven-phase election that will conclude June 1. The elections, in which 969 million registered voters will elect representatives to fill 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, mainly pit Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party against the Indian National Congress. Campaign rhetoric has become more hostile. Meanwhile, temperatures have been hotter and voter turnout has been lower than expected.
  • Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, formally resigned his post and was succeeded by former Finance and Economy Minister Michel Patrick Boisvert. Days later, the transitional council quickly replaced Boisvert with former Sports Minister Fritz Bélizaire.
  • On balance, the democracy pillar was unchanged.

Security (↓)

  • China and the United States, during meetings between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Blinken, agreed to hold a formal dialogue to exchange views on the future implications of artificial intelligence.
  • The United States agreed to the government of Niger’s request to withdraw roughly 1,100 US troops from the West African country, with uncertain implications for US counterterrorism operations in the region as well as the future of a six-year-old US military base in Niger. The request comes following a military coup last year. As May began, US officials reported that members of the Russian military have been placed at the base.
  • On balance, the security pillar was weakened.

Trade (

  • Facing drops in sales and increased competition in the electric vehicle market, Tesla laid off 10 percent of its staff across the globe.
  • The United States reinstated sanctions on Venezuela after the Nicolás Maduro’s regime failed to make promised progress toward holding free and fair elections and instead barred the leading opposition candidate from running.
  • On balance, the trade pillar was unchanged.

Commons ()

  • Countries in the Middle East saw massive rainstorms and flooding in April, with the United Arab Emirates experiencing its heaviest rainfall ever recorded. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, heavy rains and flooding killed least one hundred people.
  • The average temperature of most of the global sea surface surpassed the previous record every day for the last year, while Antarctic ice has continued to melt at a rapid rate. In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, the amount of coral bleaching documented from February 2023 to April this year amounts to a global coral bleaching event, the fourth such event since the 1980s.
  • On balance, the commons pillar was weakened.

Alliances (↑)

  • NATO countries seemed poised to send additional air defense systems, including Patriot missiles, to Ukraine, in response to Kyiv’s call for additional such equipment. The United States announced its package of Patriot missiles at the end of the month.
  • The successful passage of US assistance for Ukraine eased concerns among European and Indo-Pacific allies that the United States was becoming an unreliable partner under the influence of neoisolationist political forces.
  • 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

  • Elizabeth Economy, in Foreign Affairs, lays out China’s alternative to the democratic world order.
  • Ravi Agrawal, in Foreign Policy, analyzes how Modi is shaping the country.
  • Eliot A. Cohen, in the Atlantic, argues Ukraine is at an inflection point in its war against Russia and explains that if Kyiv loses, it’ll mean a darker world.

Action and analysis by the Atlantic Council

Our experts weight in on this month’s events

  • Frederick Kempe, in Inflection Points Today, celebrates the US House of Representatives’ passage of the foreign aid package.
  • General Wesley K. Clark, in a Memo to the President, assesses that the United States must identify a better strategic approach for a new geopolitical era.
  • Matthew Kroenig and Dan Negrea, in Foreign Policy, assert that the Republican Party is more united on foreign policy issues than it appears on the surface.
  • Andrew Michta, in the New Atlanticist, contends that US policymakers must prepare to make a call on Ukraine policy by the NATO Summit.
  • Daniel Fried, in the New Atlanticist, argues that Washington and its European allies must “lean forward on” assistance for Ukraine after the war aid package passed.
  • US Permanent Representative to NATO Julianne Smith, at an Atlantic Council event, maps out three things to expect from the upcoming NATO Summit.
  • Kathryn Levantovscaia, in the New Atlanticist, explains why assisting Ukraine is an investment in US economic and national security.


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: An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel April 14, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen