The US election and prospects for peace in key global conflict zones

June 27, 2024
Concept illustration of the complexities of U.S. foreign policy. Image credit: Nicole Smith, made with Midjourney


The 2024 U.S. election is not just high-stakes domestically but could have major implications for armed conflicts around the world.

In 2024, conflict and political violence have been on the rise: According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, nearly 1 in 6 people have been exposed to armed conflict in 2024.

In some of these conflicts—especially in Ukraine, Gaza and Sudan—U.S. foreign policy plays an outsized role in how these wars unfold. With the presidency at stake, a second Biden or Trump administration may respond differently to all three conflicts in ways that could significantly shift their trajectories.

Megan A. Stewart
Megan A. Stewart

As President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump prepare for their scheduled debate tonight, Megan A. Stewart, associate professor at U-M’s Ford School of Public Policy and director of the International Policy Center, discusses the potential implications of the election on prospects for peace in those key conflict zones.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine

In February 2022, Russian forces invaded Ukraine to resurrect a broader imperialist project. Since then, the United States and European allies have equipped Ukraine with weapons to claw back territory from the Russian armed forces.

After several successes, the Ukrainian offensive stalled as Russian forces created a heavily mined and weaponized frontline. With winter’s end, the Russian troops have begun an offensive in Kharkiv.

The prospects for an end to war in the short term are not promising, with Russian Armed Forces continuing their aggression and Ukrainian forces continuing efforts to recapture their land. The conquest of Ukraine is part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s imperialist dream, and he still retains control of the government. A popular revolution in Russia is unlikely, and a possible Putin successor may similarly support the war.

For Ukrainians, the Armed Forces can continue to be effective in at least repelling Russian aggression with continued military aid, especially from the U.S. and Europe. Though the Biden administration will likely continue to try to find ways to support Ukraine, a Trump administration might change course. Trump has repeatedly expressed his praise for Putin. A returned Trump administration might reduce or end military support to Ukraine, if not call for an immediate end to the war.

While an immediate end to the war may seem like a positive outcome on the pathway to peace, it could have several downsides. Russia still retains control of much Ukrainian territory, and in the territories it occupies, Russia has faced accusations of genocide, war crimes and sexual violence. An end of war would not be the end of violence against the Ukrainian people.

Even if the fighting stopped, the end of hostilities could be temporary: Russia could renege on the peace agreement and reinvade Ukraine. Russia could also use the break in fighting to retool, rest and rearm itself—becoming an even more formidable foe.

Israel and Hamas

The prospect of peace in Gaza is similarly slim. In retaliation for the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, a group that murdered over 1,100 Israeli civilians and kidnapped possibly 252 more, Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu set the destruction of Hamas as the goal of the invasion. Since the Israeli invasion, the United Nations estimates that 36,000 Palestinians and 1,500 Israelis have been killed.

The goal of the destruction of Hamas, however, will be extremely challenging. Hamas is not only a military organization that kills Israeli civilians and battles with the Israeli military, but it is also a political organization that governs Gaza, providing many services there. Of course, not all Palestinians support Hamas, but alternative governance options in Gaza do not exist.

Given Hamas’ embeddedness in Gaza, military victory will be extremely difficult and deadly to secure. It is also possible that the conflict could spread across the region as skirmishes between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel are similarly intensifying.

At the same time, Netanyahu may continue the war to delay criminal trials in Israel—as his defense has said. The International Criminal Court also requested a warrant for his arrest, alongside Hamas leaders, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Given its longstanding ties with Israel, the U.S. could play a critical role in ending the violence if it halted military support to Israel and if the Biden administration called for a ceasefire.

By contrast, Trump and Netanyahu were previously supportive of each other, so it is difficult to see a Trump administration prioritizing a ceasefire. However, in April, he criticized Netanyahu’s preparedness for Oct. 7.


In April 2023, amid a transition to a civilian government after three decades of Omar al-Bashir’s rule, fighting erupted in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group. The crux of this war is who will retain power in the post-Bashir government.

Despite efforts from the international community for negotiations for peace, at least 16 ceasefires have failed. An estimated 15,000 people have been killed in just one year, and many thousands more have been victimized, including allegations of sexual violence.

Sudan was also facing a humanitarian crisis before the fighting exploded, and war has only worsened the conflict. A reported 6.6 million people are internally displaced, and almost 2 million people have fled to other countries. Most of these refugees have fled to Chad or South Sudan, who are similarly facing precarious humanitarian and political positions.

The lack of attention and continued pressure to end the war is not helping draw the conflict to a close. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Foreign Relations Committee chairman, urged the Biden administration to pressure armed combatants to come to a negotiated settlement and provide sufficient humanitarian aid to address the consequences of the conflict.

It is unclear whether the Trump administration would provide humanitarian relief to Sudan.