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G20 at Hamburg: America Jilted, World Wilted

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The post-US withdrawal of Paris Pact at Hamburg was not adequately appropriative of the world mood. Such congregations and jamborees do create artificial camaraderie sans any tangible results, and the same has been witnessed at the Hamburg-Germany. Trump Presidency would be remembered for its biggest disservice to the cause of maintaining climate ecology on the planet earth.

Trump administration has emasculated the Paris Pact on Climate Change by shamelessly abandoning it. However, trade, security, and economic agenda have also met the predictable permutations. Despite the fact of an optimistic environment, there has been a sense of déjà vu among the members of the grouping at the Hamburg regarding many issues, particularly about climate change. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a statement, “I think it’s very clear that we could not reach consensus, but the differences were not papered over, they were clearly stated” as reported by the BBC News on July 08, 2017. But the consensus is the hallmark of such organizations and that was conspicuous by its absence to the cheers of US capitalist and protectionist classes.

The international community has created and established many regional and international organizations and institutions like ASEAN, ECO, CARICOM, APEC, SAARC, OAS, Arab League, AU, GCC, ECOWAS, SCO, OECD, ACS, CAIS, Mercosur, Council of Europe, EAC, EU, PIF, CSTO, OECS, MSG, UM, ELAC, ACPGS, EFTA, VG, EEC, LAP, IBSA Dialogue Forum, Andean Community, ECCAS, IORA, NATO, RCEP, RECs, PLG, IADB, IGAD, SADC, NAFTA, SAFTA, BIMSTEC, BRICS, ADB, FTAs and TPPs and FAO, ILO, Interpol, IDB, UNDP, UNESCO, UNHCR, WHO outside the UN and  under the UN Charter to address the local and regional aspirations of the people in a manner that is expeditious and pragmatic. However, the establishment of these alliances is a testimony to the fact that various regions and continents of the world have got disenchanted with the functioning of the UNO. In many respects, UN architecture of post-World-War-II does not represent the present realities of the world. Thus, it has necessitated the mushrooming of these regional arrangements to attend those gaps where UN could not succeed.  

But, of late, it is being seen that these groupings have been failing in their mandate. Therefore, such a trend is not good for the world as a whole and raises highly annoying questions like; has G20 lost its relevance? What is the utility of such groupings like G8, G20, G77, or other regional alliances? Are these gatherings merely reduced to talking territories, photo-ops, and political tourism at the expense of ordinary taxpayers? What is the relevance of UNO in the contemporary world? International institutions like G20 must not be made hostage to one or few countries.  In fact, it was an occasion to underline the proactive approach of G20 on its agenda implementation within the stipulated time frame. Moreover, G20 could have put its foot down on all outstanding issues excluding the US. The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has rightly designated the EU is in an “elevated battle mood” to resort to the countermeasures on the US sidling to the policy of protectionism to promote the US steel industry. Further, EU has signed a free trade deal with Japan that might have the capability to defend the multilateral trade system beyond the US orbit and would neutralize the US protectionist measures against steel industries of China and Germany.  

Angela Merkel had articulated apprehensions and asserted that US exit from Paris Climate Change Accord had made the Germany and EU “more determined than ever to lead it to success.” Therefore, Angela Merkel has put the Paris Climate Change Agreement in the G20 Agenda items that created geopolitical embarrassment for Mr. Donald Trump. In this situation, she has emerged as a role model of sorts for center-left politicians across the West and established herself as an alternative leadership that is enthusiastically suave and diplomatically shrewd to the Trump Presidency. Thus, G20-Hamburg would also be remembered by the Media Mughals for their being witnesses to the moments of Historical Hand-Shakers without making any history of substance for the posterity. Putin and Trump were the cynosures of the entire assemblage, but Trump did not go beyond the usual euphemistic and optimistic averments on such occasions based on reciprocity and diplomacy. Therefore, how to decipher and decode the handshake between Vladimir Putin of Russia and Donald Trump of US? Would a domestic Donald Trump compete with a dynamic Emmanuel Macron of France? Would Angela Merkel get any dividends out of this diplomatic ostensibility? However, Justin Trudeau of Canada and Macron has extended an adorable treatment to Angela Merkel as her being their geo-strategically understandable personality of sorts. It is, indeed, a historical moment for the Europe to the lead the world on climate change under the new collective leadership of Merkel and Macron without the US. 

Consequently, this diplomatic bonhomie paved the way for Russia to refute the allegation of its involvement in hacking the US Presidential elections in 2016 and also brokered a ceasefire deal impacting the South-Western Syria. However, the leaders have been privy to the games of the doppelganger and phantom diplomacy with Trump admiring Putin moderated by the stipulations of colonial disapprobation from the coterie of cronies. Trump asserted that Russia was involved in the destabilization drive and fishing in the troubled waters in Iran, Ukraine, and Syria and testing the patience of the West. Trump further exhorted the Russia to be a part of “community of responsible nations in our fight against the common enemies and in defense of civilization itself” by adopting a policy of unilateral internationalism correctness deviant to the idea of global constitutionalism, the rule of law, diversity, and multiculturalism. However, G20 Declaration has positively claimed to create an “interconnected world” order that alluded to a trajectory of disconnects of deep roots navigating on the old miasma. Therefore, present G20 leadership could have learned from the 2016 G20 Summit in Hangzhou-China at which a trinity of targets called building resilience, improving sustainability, and assuming responsibility were unanimously agreed upon to advance the G20 Agenda by taking pragmatic actions.

But, unfortunately, the entire gamut of parleys at Hamburg got nosedived in nostrums advocating that the benefits of globalization had to be reaped collectively, markets had to be opened further (but what about the Western protectionism) while ignoring the fact that “the benefits of international trade have not been shared widely enough.”  Nevertheless, just to accentuate how the agenda has been nudged with the obsession of free markets, the diplomatic communiqué incorporated that the states had a right to protect their markets. Now, here is a problematic question as to how this objective is achieved within the theology of free trade in the present world. Moreover, the same arguments were advanced to reiterate the sovereign rights of states on the question of controlling, managing, or limiting the refugee exoduses and migrant influxes. Because refugees and migrants have created a situation that modestly pulls off the regular parochial order based on “national interests and national security” narrative in which the idea of responsibility to protect is absent.

The global financial situation and its system had to be made buoyant and robust to the hilt through the reforms by ensuring bigger financial transparency, fostering international tax cooperation, and dismantling heavens of money stashing stations reported in the Panama Papers. On the issue of climate change, G20-1 members endured their pledge of “collectively committed to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions” using a range of technologies, clean and efficient energy options. Moreover, members minus US did take note of US recantation from the Paris Climate Change Pact and maintained the irreversibility of the impugned agreement that resulted as a sharp jolt to the US and eroded its international stature. Even NGOs and unorganized protesters outside the venue of the G20 Summit have also mounted considerable pressure on the G20 leadership on a range of issues relating to climate change migration and the wealth disparities. Further, the Climate Change and Energy Action Strategy for Development released at the end of the meeting did not provide any future vision to collaborate on the most controversial parts of the climate negotiations including climate finance. The US departure from the Paris Pact has created an additional liability of $3 billion on the rest of the 19 members of the G20 that was initially promised by the US and it had paid $1 billion before reneging the same later. Therefore, there is a shortfall of $2 billion that require other countries to raise their climate change mitigation ambitions in addition to their existing shares. But, unfortunately, Hamburg exercise was subjected to intangible determination and inconsequential resolution that has vindicated a more fractured international community with less dissonance ahead. 

Ph. D., LL.M, Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University (SAARC)-New Delhi, Nafees Ahmad is an Indian national who holds a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in International Refugee Law and Human Rights. Author teaches and writes on International Forced Migrations, Climate Change Refugees & Human Displacement Refugee, Policy, Asylum, Durable Solutions and Extradition Issus. He conducted research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Jammu & Kashmir and North-East Region in India and has worked with several research scholars from US, UK and India and consulted with several research institutions and NGO’s in the area of human displacement and forced migration. He has introduced a new Program called Comparative Constitutional Law of SAARC Nations for LLM along with International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law & Forced Migration Studies. He has been serving since 2010 as Senior Visiting Faculty to World Learning (WL)-India under the India-Health and Human Rights Program organized by the World Learning, 1 Kipling Road, Brattleboro VT-05302, USA for Fall & Spring Semesters Batches of US Students by its School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in New Delhi-INDIA nafeestarana[at]gmail.com,drnafeesahmad[at]sau.ac.in

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Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his political goals and, at the same time, reducing political and economic costs. The coordination of restrictive measures with allies is also seen as an important task. Biden is cautiously but consistently abandoning the sanctions paradigm that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The US sanctions policy under Trump was characterised by several elements. First, Washington applied them quite harshly. In all key areas (China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, etc.), the United States used economic and financial restrictions without hesitation, and sometimes in unprecedented volumes. Of course, the Trump administration acted rationally and rigidity was not an end in itself. In a number of episodes, the American authorities acted prudently (for example, regarding sanctions on Russian sovereign debt in 2019). The Trump-led executives stifled excess Congressional enthusiasm for “draconian sanctions” against Russia and even some initiatives against China. However, the harshness of other measures sometimes shocked allies and opponents alike. These include the 6 April 2014 sanctions against a group of Russian businessmen and their assets, or bans on some Chinese telecommunications services in the United States, or sanctions blocking the International Criminal Court.

Second, Trump clearly ignored the views of US allies. The unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 forced European businesses to leave Iran, resulting in losses. Even some of the nation’s closest allies were annoyed. Another irritant was the tenacity with which Trump (with Congressional backing) threw a wrench in the wheels of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Despite the complicated relations between Moscow and the European Union, the latter defended the right to independently determine what was in its interests and what was not.

Third, concerns about sanctions have emerged among American business as well. Fears have grown in financial circles that the excessive use of sanctions will provoke the unnecessary politicisation of the global financial system. In the short term, a radical decline in the global role of the dollar is hardly possible. But political risks are forcing many governments to seriously consider it. Both rivals (Moscow and Beijing) and allies (Brussels) have begun to implement corresponding plans. Trade sanctions against China have affected a number of US companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Finally, on some issues, the Trump administration has been inconsistent or simply made mistakes. For example, Trump enthusiastically criticised China for human rights violations, supporting relevant legislative initiatives. But at the same time, it almost closed its eyes to the events in Belarus in 2020. Congress was also extremely unhappy with the delay in the reaction on the “Navalny case” in Russia. As for mistakes, the past administration missed the moment for humanitarian exemptions for sanctions regimes in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even cosmetic indulgences could have won points for US “soft power”. Instead, the US Treasury has published a list of pre-existing exceptions.

The preconditions for a revision of the sanctions policy arose even before Joe Biden came to power. First of all, a lot of analytical work was done by American think tanks—nongovernmental research centers. They provided a completely sober and unbiased analysis of bothха! achievements and mistakes. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office has done serious work; in 2019 it prepared two reports for Congress on the institutions of the American sanctions policy. However, Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election significantly accelerated the revision of the sanctions instruments. Both the ideological preferences of the Democrats (for example, the emphasis on human rights) and the political experience of Biden himself played a role.

The new guidelines for the US sanctions policy can be summarised as follows. First, the development of targeted sanctions and a more serious analysis of their economic costs for American business, as well as business from allied and partner countries. Second, closer coordination with allies. Here, Biden has already sent a number of encouraging signals by introducing temporary sanctions exemptions on Nord Stream 2. Although a number of Russian organisations and ships were included in the US sanctions lists, Nord Stream 2 itself and its leadership were not affected. Third, we are talking about closer attention to the subject of human rights. Biden has already reacted with sanctions both to the “Navalny case” and to the situation in Belarus. Human rights will be an irritant in relations with China. Fourth, the administration is working towards overturning Trump’s most controversial decisions. The 2020 decrees on Chinese telecoms were cancelled, the decree on sanctions against the International Criminal Court was cancelled, the decree on Chinese military-industrial companies was modified; negotiations are also underway with Iran.

The US Treasury, one of the key US sanctions agencies, will also undergo personnel updates. Elisabeth Rosenberg, a prominent sanctions expert who previously worked at the Center for a New American Security, may take the post of Assistant Treasury Secretary. She will oversee the subject of sanctions. Thus, the principle of “revolving doors”, which is familiar to Americans, is being implemented, when the civil service is replenished with personnel from the expert community and business, and then “returns” them back.

At the same time, the revision of the sanctions policy by the new administration cannot be called a revolution. The institutional arrangement will remain unchanged. It is a combination of the functions of various departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade, the Department of Justice, the State Department, etc. The experience of their interagency coordination has accumulated over the years. The system worked flawlessly both under Trump and under his predecessors. Rather, it will be about changing the political directives.

For Russia, the revision is unlikely to bring radical changes. A withdrawal from the carpet bombing of Russian business, such as the incident on 6 April 2018 hint that good news can be considered a possibility. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions against Russia will continue to operate. The emphasis on human rights will lead to an increase in sanctions against government structures. Against this background, regular political crises are possible in relations between the two countries.

From our partner RIAC

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Sea Breeze 2021: U.S. is worryingly heading closer to conflict with Russia in the Black Sea

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On July 10th, the 2021 iteration of the joint military exercise, Sea Breeze, concluded in the Black Sea. This exercise, which began on June 28th was co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy and the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet. According to the U.S. Navy, the annual Exercise Sea Breeze consists of joint naval, land, and air trainings and operations centered around building increased shared capabilities in the Black Sea.

This year’s Sea Breeze included participation from 32 countries, including NATO members and other countries that border the Black Sea, making it the largest Sea Breeze exercise since its inception in 1997. All other countries bordering the Black Sea were included in participating in the joint drills, except Russia.

Russia’s exclusion from these exercises is not unsurprising, due to its current tensions with Ukraine and its historical relationship with NATO. However, it signals to Moscow and the rest of the world that the NATO views Russia as an opponent in a future conflict. At the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2021 in Odessa, it was made clear that the intention of the exercise was to prepare for future conflict in the region when the Defense Minister of Ukraine, reported that the drills “contain a powerful message – support of stability and peace in our region.”

These exercises and provocations do anything but bring peace and stability to the region. In fact, they draw the United States and NATO dangerously close to the brink of conflict with Russia.

Even though Sea Breeze 2021 has only recently concluded, it has already had a marked impact on tensions between NATO countries and Moscow. U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Marzluff recently explained that the Sea Breeze drills in the Black Sea are essential deterrents to Russian assertions in region. However, these drills have consisted of increasingly provocative maneuvers that ultimately provoke conflict in the region.

These drills have done anything but act as a deterrent for conflict in the Black Sea. In response to the Sea Breeze drills, Russia conducted its own drills in the Black Sea, including the simulation of firing advanced missile systems against enemy aircraft. As the Black Sea is of utmost importance to Russia’s trade and military stature, it follows that Russia would signal its displacement if it perceives its claims are being threatened.   

Sea Breeze followed another rise in tensions in the Black Sea, when just a week prior to the beginning of the exercise, a clash occurred between Russia and Britain. In response to the British destroyer ship, the HMS Defender, patrolling inside Crimean territorial waters, Russia claimed it fired warning shots and ordered two bombers to drop bombs in the path of the ship. When asked about the HMS Defender, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the ship’s actions as a “provocation” that was a “blatant violation” of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Putin also went on to claim that Moscow believes U.S. reconnaissance aircraft were a part of the operation as well. Despite this, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded with a denial of any wrongdoing.

Russia’s actions to provocations by the United States-led Sea Breeze and interaction with the HMS Defender in the Black Sea signal its resolve to retaliate if it feels as its sovereignty and its territorial claim on Crimea is being impeded on. Despite Russia signaling its commitment to defending its territorial claims in the Black Sea, the United States still willingly took actions during Sea Breeze that would bring the United States closer to a clash with Russia.  

Provoking conflict in the Black Sea does not align with the national security interests of the United States. In fact, it only puts the United States in the position to be involved in a costly clash that only would harm its diplomatic relationships.  

As Russia has signaled its commitment to its resolve and scope of its military response in a possible conflict, any potential conflict in the Black Sea would be costly for the United States. Over the past few years, Russia has increased the size and capabilities of its fleet in the Black Sea. Two of these improvements would especially pose a challenging threat to the U.S. and NATO – Russia’s drastically improved anti-access/area-denial capabilities and its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. This would mean any conflict in the Black Sea would not be a quick and decisive victory for U.S. and NATO forces, and would instead likely become costly and extensive.  

A conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only be costly for the U.S. and its allies in the region, but could irreparably damage its fragile, but strategically valuable relationship with Russia. If the United States continues to escalate tensions in the Black Sea, it risks closing the limited window for bilateral cooperation with Russia that was opened through increased willingness to collaborate on areas of common interests, as evidenced by the recent summit that took place in Geneva. After a period of the highest levels of tension between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War, this progress made towards improving bilateral relations must not be taken for granted. Even if the U.S. and NATO’s maneuvers in the Black Sea do not ultimately materialize into a full-scale conflict with Russia, they will most likely damage not just recent diplomatic momentum, but future opportunities for a relationship between the two powers.

In such a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Russia, it is counterproductive for the United States to take actions that it can predict will drive Russia even further away. Entering into a conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only engage the U.S. in a costly conflict but would damage its security and diplomatic interests.  

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Maximizing Biden’s Plan to Combat Corruption and Promote Good Governance in Central America

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Authors: Lauren Mooney and Eguiar Lizundia*

To tackle enduring political, economic and security challenges in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the Biden administration is attempting to revitalize its commitment to the region, including through a four-year, $4 billion plan submitted in a bill to Congress.

In its plan, the White House has rightly identified the root causes of migration, including limited economic opportunity, climate change, inequality, and violence. Systemic corruption resulting from the weak rule of law connects and entrenches the root causes of migration, while the increased devastation brought about by climate change exacerbates economic hardship and citizen insecurity. 

The renewed investment holds promise: previous foreign assistance in the Northern Triangle has shown results, including by contributing to a reduction in the expected level of violence. As the Biden Administration finalizes and begins implementing its Central America strategy, it should include three pillars—rooted in lessons learned from within and outside the region—to maximize the probability that the proposed spending in U.S. taxpayer funds has its intended impact. 

First, the Biden administration should deliver on its promise to make the fight against corruption its number one priority in Central America by supporting local anti-graft actors. The sanctions against officials which the United States is considering  are a step in the right direction, but lasting reform is best accomplished through a partnership involving regional or multilateral organizations. Guatemala’s international commission against impunity (CICIG) model was relatively successful until internal pushback and dwindling U.S. advocacy resulted in its dismantlement in 2019. Though Honduras’ equivalent was largely ineffective, and El Salvador’s recently launched version is marred by President Bukele’s campaign against judicial independence, there is room for learning from past mistakes and propose a more robust and mutually beneficial arrangement. The experience of Ukraine shows that while external engagement is no silver bullet in eliminating corruption, the role of foreign actors can lead to tangible improvements in the anti-corruption ecosystem, including more transparent public procurement and increased accountability for corrupt politicians.

In tandem with direct diplomatic pressure and helping stand up CICIG-like structures, the U.S. can harness lessons from prior anticorruption efforts to fund programs that address other aspects of graft in each country. This should involve empowering civil society in each country to monitor government compliance with anti-corruption laws and putting pressure on elected officials to uphold their commitments. While reducing impunity and improving transparency might not automatically persuade Central Americans to stay, better democratic governance will allow the three Northern Triangle nations to pursue policies that will end up expanding economic opportunities for residents. As Vice President Harris recently noted, any progress on addressing violence or food insecurity would be undermined if the environment for enabling corruption remains unchanged.

Second, the United States should support local initiatives to help reverse the deterioration of the social fabric in the region by expanding access to community decision-making. Given the high levels of mistrust of government institutions, any efforts to support reform-minded actors and stamp out corruption at the national level must be paired with efforts to promote social cohesion and revitalize confidence in subnational leaders and opportunities. In the Northern Triangle countries, violence and economic deprivation erode social cohesion and undermine trust in democratic institutions. The U.S. government and practitioners should support civic efforts to build trust among community members and open opportunities for collective action, particularly in marginalized areas. A key component of this is expanding sociopolitical reintegration opportunities for returning migrants. In so doing, it is possible to help improve perceptions of quality of life, sense of belonging, and vision for the future. While evidence should underpin all elements of a U.S. Strategy for Central America, it is particularly important to ensure social cohesion initiatives are locally-owned, respond to the most salient issues, and are systematically evaluated in order to understand their effects on migration.

Lastly, the U.S. should take a human-rights based approach to managing migration and learn from the pitfalls associated with hardline approaches to stem migration. Policies rooted in a securitized vision have a demonstrable bad record. For example, since 2015, the European Union undertook significant measures to prevent irregular migration from Niger, including by criminalizing many previously legitimate businesses associated with migration and enforced the imposition of legal restrictions to dissuade open and legal migration. Not only did this violate freedom of movement and create adverse economic consequences, but it also pushed migration underground, with individuals still making the journey and encountering significant threats to their lives, security and human rights.

A welcome realignment

Acknowledging the role of push factors is key to responding to migration effectively. Most importantly, putting political inclusion and responsive governance at the center is critical for ensuring vulnerable populations feel rooted in their community. A more secure, prosperous, and democratic Central America will pay dividends to the United States not only in terms of border security, but also in the form of improved cooperation to tackle global challenges, from climate change to the rise of China. 

*Eguiar Lizundia is the Deputy Director for Technical Advancement and Governance Advisor at IRI

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