America’s presidential election year of 2024 is also a pivotal year for American foreign policy. Simultaneous and converging crises in several regions will test Western unity and US diplomatic and military capabilities. And the challenges come at a time when America faces a potential rerun of the Biden-Trump election contest that will exacerbate domestic polarization and radicalization.

In the closing weeks of 2023, Republicans in Congress openly challenged Biden’s foreign policy by obstructing the passage of a $106 billion budget in supplemental funding to bolster the military capabilities of Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. They were evidently willing to undermine the defense of US allies and partners in order to pass more stringent border enforcement measures as an unprecedented number of immigrants sought to cross into the US from Mexico. Further delays in providing vital funds will weaken America’s global role and embolden its adversaries.

The biggest test of 2024 will be how effectively the US and its allies can arm Ukraine and enable Kyiv to reclaim all of its territories from Russian occupation. Providing Ukraine with only enough weapons to hold its current positions will lengthen the war and convince Russia that Kyiv will have to surrender conquered lands. Bolstering the defense of Ukraine has been a rare bipartisan initiative in the US Congress. The fate of $61 billion in funding will be decided early in the New Year in negotiations over US border security. Nonetheless, there are senior Republicans in the US Senate who understand the urgency of properly arming Ukraine and defeating Russia. They point out that half of the Russian army has already been destroyed without the American military and by spending only 5% of the annual US defense budget. This is a historical bargain that needs to be completed by a full-scale Russian defeat in 2024.

The Middle East presents a more complex challenge on several fronts. In the Israel-Palestine war, Washington must balance the elimination of the Hamas terrorist network that controls Gaza while minimizing civilian casualties caught up in the offensive by Israeli forces. This is a difficult proposition, as Hamas hides behind the civilian population while staging terrorist attacks in order to claim war crimes when Israel retaliates. The bigger challenge for the US is to push through the two state solution and create a Palestinian state without enabling the new government to prepare a military staging ground for renewed attacks on Israel.

And behind the Gaza conflict lurks Iran, the main regional power that seeks the destruction of Israel. The potential for all-out war between the US and Iran will accelerate in 2024, especially if Tehran encourages Hezbollah to open a second front against Israel from Lebanon and continues to arm the Houthi militia in Yemen to attack commercial ships and engage US, French, and British warships. Houthi missile strikes have a negative impact on world trade, as insurance rates increase and shipping companies divert traffic around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.

Conditions will further deteriorate if Iran starts to target ships in the Strait of Hormuz, a critical chokepoint for the majority of oil tankers from the Arabian peninsula. This would spiral world energy prices. An even more dangerous scenario is for Tehran to enrich enough uranium to build nuclear weapons, a realistic prospect that would convince both the US and Israel to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities to preclude nuclear blackmail by the theocratic state.

The Western Balkans can again become a US priority if violence erupts in any of the countries targeted by the Vučić regime. Several scenarios of ignition have been outlined by analysts, but an additional danger could materialize inside Serbia itself. A violent government crackdown against anti-government protestors can be accompanied by a search for alleged foreign agents and by provocations in neighboring states to justify Serbia’s military intervention to distract attention from domestic upheaval.

Throughout these simmering and explosive conflicts, China will continue to hover menacingly in the background, probing for regional inroads and calculating US diplomatic and military capabilities. Beijing is committed to swallowing Taiwan but the timetable for military action will depend on how other conflicts evolve, as well as the degree of Western unity and potential global overstretch by Washington.

US foreign policy and domestic politics will also be overshadowed by the presidential and congressional elections in November. The elections themselves will be largely determined by the result of numerous Trump trials in several federal and state courts and whether the former president will be legally permitted to be a candidate for office. Trump’s potential disqualification will further radicalize his support base and could lead to violence against election officials and state institutions.

If Trump is not in prison for numerous financial crimes or for planning an insurrection or coup in January 2021 then his re-election cannot be discounted. Joe Biden has steadily lost public support and even many Democrats believe he is too old to remain President. A low voter turnout in November would favor Trump whose support base is reminiscent of a cult focused on a supreme leader who can do no wrong.

Another Trump presidency would likely overturn US foreign policy and security posture and push America toward isolationism. He will no longer be restricted by the Republican establishment and will appoint his own radical loyalists. Trump’s foreign policy threats have included leaving NATO, withdrawing US troops from Europe, allowing Russia to keep captured territories in Ukraine, and curtailing support for Israel and Taiwan. This will also encourage Belgrade to pursue regional hegemony in the Western Balkans. All these moves would dramatically weaken America’s global role, unravel its international alliances, and encourage other dictatorships to pursue their ambitions. 2024 would then herald an era of global conflict or even a multi-regional World War Three.

 Janusz Bugajski is a Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington DC. His recent book is Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture. His forthcoming book is titled Pivotal Poland: Europe’s Rising Strategic Player.