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US diplomacy of re-engagement continues: From ‘intent’ to withdrawal from Paris Agreement to ‘COP23’

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In a major setback decision taken by Trump administration on June 1, 2017, showing his intention to withdraw in future from the Paris accord has diplomatically pushed the world community one step back in climate negotiation regime as almost all major players in climate regime have registered their disappointment with this decision. Joint statement by France, Germany,and Italy says the deal can not be renegotiated, while other countries reaffirm commitment to carbon reduction. China sees the USA withdrawal as an unfortunate development, and implications of it will be global. In the words of UN Secretary-General that “The decision by the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change is a major disappointment for global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote global security.” However, Secretary-General has shown his confidence in the US including cities, states,and businesses within the US that will continue to demonstrate vision and leadership by working for the low-carbon, resilient economic growth that will create quality jobs and markets for21st-century prosperity.The Secretary-General also looks forward to engaging with the American government and all actors in the United States and around the world to build the sustainable future.

The letter sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by the US representative to the UN Nikki Haley reads as:

“The is to inform the Secretary-General, in connection with the Paris Agreement, adopted on December 12, 2015 (“the Agreement”), that the United States intends to exercise its right to withdraw from the Agreement. Unless the US identifies suitable terms for reengagement, the US will submit to the Secretary-General, in accordance with Article 28, paragraph 1 of the Agreement, formal written notification of its withdrawal as soon as it is eligible to do so. Pending the submission of that notification, in the interest of transparency for parties to the Agreement, the United States requests that the Secretary-General inform the parties to the Agreement and the States entitled to become parties to the Agreement of this communication relating to the Agreement.”

Interestingly, it must be noted that Article 28, paragraph 1 of the Paris Agreement does nowhere suggest that a State party to the Agreement can circulate such type of ‘written notification showing its intent to withdraw from the Agreement.’ Article 28, Paragraph 1 reads as “At any time after three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force for a Party, that Party may withdraw from this Agreement by giving written notification to the Depositary.”

It is clear from the language of Article 28, paragraph 1, that under the terms of the accord, no State can withdraw until November 2020 and cannot even formally notify the UN of its intention to leave until 2019. So the communication serves only for Donald Trump to remind the world that he is seeking ‘suitable terms for re-engagement.’The United States accepted the Paris Agreement on 3 September 2016, and the Agreement entered into force for the United States on 4 November 2016. Therefore, according to Article 28, paragraph 1, US will not be eligible to withdraw from the Agreement till November 4, 2019.

The USA’ ‘suitable terms’ for re-engagement

The US in his written submission to the Secretary-General highlighted that,unless it identifies ‘suitable terms for reengagement,’ it will submit to the Secretary-General aformal written notification of its withdrawal as soon as it is eligible to do so. Now, it is far from theclarity that what would be the suitable terms for theUS to make it re-engage again in climate change negotiation regime. Till now, there is no explicit indication, neither from the USA official statement including press release nor its submission to the UN Secretary-General, that on what ‘suitable or most favourable’ terms Trump administration will agree for reengagement that will, perhaps, be more in tune with his popular political slogan ‘make America great again.’However, there might be four possible speculative ways in which theUSA could establish different terms for participation. These may include:

That US could seek to renegotiate few aspects of the Agreement itself. Though several countries have made it clear that the Agreement is ‘irreversible.’ In this background, this option would hardly work for the USA. However, theoffice of UN Secretary-General welcomes any effort to re-engage in the Paris Agreement by the United States.  Secretary-General has also shown his interest in engaging with the American government and all other actors in the US. Meanwhile, Secretary-General of the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) said that the Paris Agreement remains a historic treaty signed by 194 and ratified by 147 countries. Therefore, it can not be renegotiated based on the request of single Party. However, Secretary-General (UNFCC) showed her interest in engaging in dialogue with the United States government regarding the implications of this decision of withdrawal.

That US could also seek to modify its ‘nationally determined contribution,’ i.e., the US emission target. The media-note also appears to be addressing this issue when it refers to the Administration’s support to “climate policy that lowers emissions while promoting economic growth and ensuring energy security.”The US further affirms that it will continue to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through innovation and technology breakthroughs, given the importance of energy and security in many nationally determined contributions.

That, thirdly, US could seek ‘more favourable’ terms within the Paris-related guidelines that are still being negotiated for reporting and review. Such guidelines are due to be completed in 2018. It is perhaps this reason that the media note states that the US will continue to participate in the Paris-related negotiations, to protect US interests and ensure all future policy options remain open to the administration.” And possibly,for this reason, US has shown his intention to walk out only from the Paris accord, not also from the UNFCC convention.

That US might also seek improved terms of negotiation outside the framework of the agreement, such as bilateral or multilateral energy-related cooperation. As it is perhaps precisely indicated from the media-note that the US will “work with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently, and deploy renewable and other clean energy sources.

Continuation of policy of re-engagement in COP23

COP23/CMP13 was decided to be hosted in Germany and presided over by Fiji from November 6 to November 17, 2017. In its opening joint plenary meeting held on November 6, US retreated its earlier position regarding withdrawal from the Paris accord unless it finds suitable terms for renegotiation. US said that “the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement unless he can identify terms for reengagement that are more favourable to the American people.” “The Administration’s position remains unchanged.” Again, in the closing joint plenary session held on the last day of the conference,i.e., November 17, 2017, US said that U.S. participation in COP-23, including negotiations at this session relating to the Paris Agreement, does not indicate a change in the U.S. position.

One more political-cum-legal aspect to note here in COP23 that theUS has very smartly carried on its monetary diplomacy for future climate negotiation. The US has made it clear in very explicit terms that the financial pledges made under by the last administration are not legally binding. Moreover, with regard toeconomic matters, and in particular the $100 billion collective finance goal, the US has already taken a position that the finance goal is aspirational in nature, is not legally binding, and does not create rights or obligations.And it remains a domestic decision of the US or any other country for that matter.

As Trump administration said in media note that it will continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through innovation and technology, and enhance resilience activities where mutually beneficial to its broader foreign policy, economic development, and national security objectives, it reaffirms its endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access to clean and efficient renewable energy sources. Here, US seems to be more in futuristic diplomatic engagement on climate issues, to bargain either bilaterally or multilaterally, perhaps outside of the UN Climate negotiation regime. From here, it would be not easy to assess which way US position will be tumbled precisely.

However, keeping in mind the dangerous multi-dimensional ramifications and impacts of climate change on the existence of human being and their future survival, it becomes imperative for the world community including USA to come together and address the multi-faceted issues of climate change taking place around the world. The USA must take the lead in tackling climate issue since it also emits world most substantial greenhouse gases. In addition to that, US also possesses themore financial capability, technological access, and infrastructure facilities along with thecapacity to mitigate greenhouse gases.

Abhishek Trivedi is pursuing his LL.M. degree in International Law from Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University-an International University established by SAARC Nations, New Delhi. His fields of interest and research in academics are Public international law, Law of International Organization, Human Rights law, Conflict of laws, commercial arbitration and International Environmental Law

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The hegemony of knowledge and the new world order: U.S. and the rest of the world

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In today’s world, knowledge and technological advantages determine – to a large extent – differences in the management of international policy. The increase in a country’s intellectual power directly defines an increase in its economic power, thus changing its position in the international competition for dominance.

The power policy, first in the agricultural age and later in the industrial age, was characterised by military and then economic hegemony, while the power policy in the information age gradually reveals the characteristics of knowledge hegemony at both the scientific and intelligence levels.

The hegemony of knowledge in contemporary international relations manifests itself specifically as unequal exchange in international trade, exploitation of high-value information and various conditions related to technological production. Hence, we see the transfer of polluting industries from privileged to poor countries: energy-consuming and high-intensity activities.

Western culture and values are disseminated vigorously, through the so-called soft power in information and mass media, and take on obsessive and oppressively hypnopedic forms.

Developed countries have patents in the use of outer space, as well as in the development of deep sea resources and in the production of environmental resources that pollute, while developing countries can only sigh as they look at other’s oceans and satellites, which fly around, do reconnaissance activities and monitor them.

The resources of the great and deep seas – which should be shared by mankind as they belong to everybody like the air, the moon and the sun – are instead exploited by the developed countries. On the contrary, they freely and ‘democratically’ share with the wretched ones only the evil consequences of environmental pollution.

With specific reference to sanctions and armed interference in international relations, the technique of violent and conscious bullying is adopted: whoever is militarily stronger imposes the validity of their interests, also at legal level.

The root cause for generating knowledge hegemony lies in the polarisation of the intellectual status of the nation-State. Western developed countries have already crossed the threshold of an information society, while developing countries are still struggling to climb towards industrial civilisation from the most primitive and closed state of existence. Although developing countries hold most of the world’s natural and human resources (just think of Africa), they are far behind in science and technology. Just look at the continental histogram of the 207 Nobel Prizes in Physics from 1901 to 2017 (winners are counted by country of birth except for the Algerian Nobel Prize winner Claude Cohen-Tannoudji [1997], who was born when Algeria was a French territory):

Source: Nadua Antonelli <<Africana>> XXIII (2017) page 12

If they have no means to study, even the greatest and most brilliant brains cannot make discoveries or file patents, looking only at the sky and the earth.

About 80 per cent of science and technology staff and their achievements are concentrated in developed countries. The knowledge advantage gives developed countries the right to set the rules of the game and of communication for all global knowledge production and dissemination. In particular, the developed countries’ knowledge advantages in the military and high-tech media enable them to expand their influence on the civil and military fronts and achieve their strategic objectives.

Developing countries wander between traditional society, modern industrial civilisation and post-industrial civilisation, and are often challenged and oppressed by the third party’s hegemony of knowledge.

The new economy created by the information revolution is still a ‘rich-country phenomenon’, the core of what is called ‘advantage creation’, under the cover of ‘competitive advantage’, or rather: competitive towards those who cannot compete.

The country leading the information revolution is the United States, which is the biggest beneficiary of these achievements. The digital divide highlights the status of the US information superpower. In the global information sector, in 2000 the central processing unit production in the United States accounted for 92%, and software production for 86%.

IT (Information & Technology) investment in the United States was 41.5% of global investment, Microsoft’s Windows system accounted for 95% of global platform applications, while the US Internet users accounted for more than half of global Internet users, and 58% of all e-mail goes through US servers.

E-commerce is worth 75% of the global total and US commercial websites account for 90% of the planet.

Currently, there are almost three thousand large-scale databases in the world, 70% of which are in the United States. There are 13 top-level domain name servers in the world and 10 of them are located in the United States.

The above figures far exceed the share of US GDP, which is 28% of the world total. The United States is far ahead of all countries in the world, including the other developed countries. The leading position in information technology allows the United States to control the basics in the field of information with its strong economic and talent advantages, as well as to master the actual rights, and to set standards and formulate rules and regulations.

The status as cradle of the information revolution has brought enormous wealth and development benefits to the United States. Since the 1990s, the development of information technology and the rise of the related industry have become an accelerator of further economic advancement in the United States.

In the growth of US GDP – from 1994 (the beginning of the Internet) to 2000 – the share of the information industry in the value of the country’s total output has caused the economy to rise from 6.3% to 8.3%, and the contribution provided by the information industry development to the actual US economic growth is estimated at 30%.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States – with its strong national-global power and the relative hegemony of knowledge/information – was already ready to build a new world order.

Knowledge is also the soul of military hegemony. Since the 1990s the United States (after the USSR’s demise) has taken advantage of its absolute leadership in information technology to vigorously promote a new military revolution and equip its armed forces with a large number of modern sophisticated weapons, especially cyber weapons: an overwhelming advantage in the conventional field, clearly overtaking the Third World, as well as its Western allies.

The US superiority in equipment ranges from one to two generations (i.e. from 15 to 30 years) over developing countries and from 0.5 to one generation over allies. All this has established the hegemonic status of the United States as the world’s number one military power.

Gulf Wars II (1991) and III (2003) (the first was the Iran-Iraq War in 1980-88), the Kosovo War (1999), the Afghanistan War (2001- still ongoing), and the Iraq War (2003-2011) were four localised wars that the United States fought to establish a new world order after the Cold War. During those events, the US hegemony was strengthened on an unprecedented scale and its attempt to establish a new order made substantial progress.

Moreover, backed by strong military advantages (scattering the planet with its own bases and outposts), as well as economic and technological advantages, those events ensured that the United States had and still has a leading position in the world, thus making the White House a planner and defender of the new world order. (1. continued)

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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