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Rising geopolitical and geo-economic tensions are the most urgent risk in 2019

MD Staff

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The world’s ability to foster collective action in the face of urgent major crises has reached crisis levels, with worsening international relations hindering action across a growing array of serious challenges. Meanwhile, a darkening economic outlook, in part caused by geopolitical tensions, looks set to further reduce the potential for international cooperation in 2019. These are the findings of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019, which is published today.

The Global Risks Report, which incorporates the results of the annual Global Risks Perception Survey of approximately 1,000 experts and decision-makers, points to a deterioration in economic and geopolitical conditions. Trade disputes worsened rapidly in 2018 and the report warns that growth in 2019 will be held back by continuing geo-economic tensions, with 88% of respondents expecting further erosion of multilateral trading rules and agreements.

If economic headwinds pose a threat to international cooperation, efforts will be further disrupted in 2019 by rising geopolitical tensions among major powers, according to the report. Eighty-five percent of respondents to this year’s survey said they expect 2019 to involve increased risks of “political confrontations between major powers”. The report discusses the risks associated with what we describe as a “multiconceptual” world order – one in which geopolitical instabilities reflect not only changing power balances but also the increasing salience of differences on fundamental values.

“With global trade and economic growth at risk in 2019, there is a more urgent need than ever to renew the architecture of international cooperation. We simply do not have the gunpowder to deal with the kind of slowdown that current dynamics might lead us towards. What we need now is coordinated, concerted action to sustain growth and to tackle the grave threats facing our world today,” said Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum.

In the survey’s 10-year outlook, cyber risks sustained the jump in prominence they registered in 2018, but environmental risks continue to dominate respondents’ concerns beyond the short term. All five of the environmental risks the report tracks are again in the high-impact, high-likelihood category: biodiversity loss; extreme weather events; failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation; man-made disasters; and natural disasters.

Alison Martin, Group Chief Risk Officer, Zurich Insurance Group, said: “2018 was sadly a year of historic wildfires, continued heavy flooding and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. It is no surprise that in 2019, environmental risks once again dominate the list of major concerns. So, too, does the growing likelihood of environmental policy failure or a lack of timely policy implementation. To effectively respond to climate change requires a significant increase in infrastructure to adapt to this new environment and transition to a low-carbon economy. By 2040, the investment gap in global infrastructure is forecast to reach $18 trillion against a projected requirement of $97 trillion. Against this backdrop, we strongly recommend that businesses develop a climate resilience adaptation strategy and act on it now.”

Environmental risks also pose problems for urban infrastructure and its development. With sea levels rising, many cities face hugely expensive solutions to problems that range from clean groundwater extraction to superstorm barriers. Shortfalls of investment in critical infrastructure such as transport can lead to system-wide breakdowns as well as exacerbate associated social, environmental and health-related risks.

John Drzik, President of Global Risk and Digital, Marsh, said: “Persistent underfunding of critical infrastructure worldwide is hampering economic progress, leaving businesses and communities more vulnerable both to cyberattacks and natural catastrophes, and failing to make the most of technological innovation. Allocating resources to infrastructure investment, in part through new incentives for public-private partnerships, is vital for building and strengthening the physical foundations and digital networks that will enable societies to grow and thrive.”

At an individual level, declining psychological and emotional well-being is both a cause and consequence within the wider global risks landscape, impacting, for example, social cohesion and political cooperation. The Global Risks Report 2019 focuses explicitly on this human side of global risks, looking in particular at the role played by complex global transformations that are under way: societal, technological and work-related. A common theme is that psychological stress relates to a feeling of lack of control in the face of uncertainty.

This year’s report revives the Future Shocks series, which recognizes that the growing complexity and interconnectedness of global systems can lead to feedback loops, threshold effects and cascading disruptions. These “what if” scenarios are food for thought as world leaders assess potential shocks that might rapidly and radically disrupt the world. This year’s sudden and dramatic breakdowns include vignettes on the use of weather manipulation to stoke geopolitical tensions, quantum and affective computing, and space debris.

The Global Risks Report 2019 has been developed with the invaluable support throughout the past year of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Advisory Board. It also benefits from ongoing collaboration with its Strategic Partners Marsh & McLennan Companies and Zurich Insurance Group, and its academic advisers at the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford), the National University of Singapore and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center (University of Pennsylvania).

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Infectious Diseases and National Security: Who will frame National Health Security Policy of Pakistan?

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Health plays an influential role in fostering economic growth and sustainable development. Because of its indirect impact on human development, better health boosts rates of economic growth and contributes to wealth creation. In the past decades, new healthcare challenges and emerging infectious disease outbreaks have drawn global attention particularly in developing countries like Pakistan. Traditionally, health and security occupied separate domains, but in recent years the imperative fusion between health and national security has been recognized by policymakers, security and defence analysts in both developed and developing countries. The last two or three decades have seen sharp rise in non-traditional threats to national security, such as infectious diseases. There are many lines of attack that infectious diseases can intimidate national security i.e. increased rates of morbidity and mortality, massive damage on public health and health infrastructure, political instability, and economic volatility.

Emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, and their pandemic potential, pose a challenge to national security in the 21st century that cannot be overlooked. Though, the historical threat to national security by epidemic diseases is not new; the threat has increased in recent past and is growing rapidly in Pakistan. Correspondingly, reemergence of mosquito-borne infections such as dengue, chikungunya, zika, and more virulent forms of malaria and new more severe forms of viral respiratory infections have evolved. Pakistan is one of several countries, which together bear 95% of the burden of infectious diseases, and the trend is on the rise. According to statistics, Pakistan had not been able to control the burden of communicable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, hepatitis, cholera and other infectious diseases. Malaria, dengue, polio, and tuberculosis, are among the top killers. Pakistan is ranked fifth on the list of high-burden TB countries, and worst of all; Pakistan is one of the three remaining countries where poliomyelitis, also called polio, is still endemic. An average of about one million lives claimed yearly by malaria (estimated 12% of the rural population is believed to carry malaria parasites in their blood) and anticipated mortality rate of 48 thousand deaths per year as a result of TB cases. Similarly, infectious diseases are the biggest killers of children in Pakistan, causing 60% of all child deaths under 5 years of age.

At present, Pakistan is facing multiple challenges in healthcare, which can be broken down into social issues, technical constraints, lack of trained human resources, infrastructure, effective legislation and policymaking, awareness and negligence. The structure and function of the current healthcare system in Pakistan is far below international standards and ranked at 122 out of 190 countries in terms of healthcare standards. Pakistan does not have an organized healthcare system; even health priorities are not properly defined by present government (except Health-card). There is no evidence of strong political will, and inter-ministerial and inter-departmental conflicts, corruption, awful governance, and lack of correspondence are rampant to cope with national health security issues.

Epidemiologically, the behavior of epidemic is usually compared to previous outbreaks. The reemergence of Dengue virus (year-to-date, thousands of dengue cases are reported and hundreds of deaths in last few months) along with the dispersion of infectious diseases geographically throughout Pakistan demonstrate that Ministry of Health (MoH) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) are not incorporated and interconnected to address the national health security issues. Likewise, research and development (R&D) for new tools and technologies to prevent, detect and respond to emerging disease threats and outbreaks have not been considered by authorities with growing need in the country. As seen with the Dengue and Chikungunya outbreaks, there is a shortage of appropriate diagnostic equipments and vaccines to manage the response and lack of regulatory framework for fast-tracking and surveillance technology, tools and techniques when rapid respond is indispensable.

To cut a long story short, health security has become a national priority in many countries, supported by loyal and devoted leadership. They are approaching health security in a holistic manner, including, social, technical, economic, diplomatic, military and intelligence-related aspects. On the contrary, the link between infectious diseases and national security is relatively a new concept in Pakistan. A new paradigm is needed that links infectious diseases to national security and recognize the broad effects of diseases on society. Response to infectious disease threats should be strategic priority of health and security agencies in Pakistan. Ministry of Defence needs to acknowledge its role in ensuring that the state’s population is fit and healthy since there are no signs that the Ministry of Defence is awakening to this responsibility. At a time when our conception of national security is evolving rapidly, we must look hard at uncertain and non-traditional threats, specifically. Today, Pakistan is facing a wide range of threats to national health security, including disease outbreaks and pandemics. As health threats are evolving, protecting Pakistan from 21st century health security threats need a clear strategic direction and teamwork between Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Health. Of course, with uncertainty and ambiguity, a large amount of work is needed to bring analytical clarity to the national health security paradigm.

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India Amidst the Follies of a Winnable Nuclear War

M Waqas Jan

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As tensions between India and Pakistan simmer over the deteriorating situation in Kashmir, the ever-present specter of nuclear war continues to dominate present discourse. This has been apparent in the way both India and Pakistan have continued to leverage the threat of using nuclear weapons at each other, keeping well in mind the effects of these threats on both domestic and international audiences. Last month’s statement by India’s Defense Minister, on the reexamination of India’s No First Use (NFU) policy presents a worrying case in point. Taken in the context of the last 4-5 years however, this statement represents a growing trend in which India’s foremost leaders have come to institutionalize a policy of nuclear brinkmanship against Pakistan through increasingly bellicose rhetoric. Not to mention one of the world’s most sustained and costly military modernization programs that has been publicized as greatly expanding India’s power projection capabilities. Capabilities which in turn not only extend to India’s Western Borders but to the entire South Asian and Indian Ocean regions.

Together, both the rhetoric as well as the unprecedented defense spending are arguably aimed at projecting a more assertive and militarily capable India. An India that is fed up from playing second fiddle to a rising China, and from being limited from its true potential by a recalcitrant Pakistan. As such, this current manifestation of India is almost a farcy from what several analysts had described five years back. This was when the likes of Happymon Jacob had termed India as a ‘reluctant power’ facing a rising superpower i.e. China and a ‘revisionist power’ in Pakistan. Instead, as evident in the BJP’s nuclear brinkmanship, it is India now that is revising the status-quo in an entirely reckless and single-minded fashion. Especially during a time when both Pakistan and China have openly declared their focus to be on shared economic development at a wider regional level, what India’s incessant saber-rattling has done is essentially estrange itself further from two strategically and potentially crucial neighbors.

While a large segment of the Indian population may celebrate this new-found panache and daring which the BJP government is projecting as part of its nationalist ethos, this approach has in fact led to an unprecedented level of destabilization throughout the region. One wonders whether this ‘devil may care’ approach of the current Indian government is the kind of assertiveness and regional leadership that even moderate analysts such as the above-mentioned Mr. Jacob had argued for five years back. After all, even with respect to countering Pakistan, many in India have long called for developing closer ties with China particularly keeping in view a long-term strategic perspective. A view that is built more on regional stability and cooperation as opposed to pandering to a faux sense of supremacy.

Yet, instead of such elusive stability, what this Indian state has done is willfully stoke fears of war. All despite the fact that it is still not able to dominate Pakistan within the conventional and sub-conventional realms. At least not on the global stage where the will to project military force is equally matched by the ability to do so. This for instance was more than evident in February’s aerial engagement between the two countries following which India was left considerably bruised and shaken.

While many in Pakistan have taken this to be the successful manifestation of a viable conventional deterrent capability, it has simultaneously increased the risks of India resorting to a pre-emptive or escalatory nuclear strike as the preferred means of assuring military victory. What’s more, if Pakistani strategists are to go by the current rhetoric and signaling coming out of India, the risks of such a strike seem to stem more from a vain an entitled sense of supremacy, rather than any real measured, or calculated approach to nuclear deterrence and/or strategy. Such ensuing ambiguity and uncertainty add immensely to the already heightened risks of an accidental or even miscalculated step towards the nuclear tipping point. 

Ironically, the only option Pakistan has been left with is to signal its own intent and commitment to the counter value targeting of Indian cities. This has been emphasized in all of Pakistan’s most recent ballistic missile tests, which instead of showcasing a newly acquired capability have been carried out as training launches of what already comprise its nuclear arsenal. This includes last week’s training launch of the Ghaznavi Missile System, which stands as one of the first SRBMs inducted into service by the Pakistan military. Designed as a Scud type ballistic missile that is accurate, road mobile and capable of hypersonic speeds, this most recent test is aimed at showcasing its potency as a second-strike platform, capable of challenging even some of the most sophisticated Ballistic Missile Defense Systems currently deployed by India. In effect, a stark reminder that all Pakistan needs to do is to get a few of these off the ground to negate any advantage that a counter-force or pre-emptive strike may seem to serve India.

Hence, while the threat of Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint remains as ominous as ever for the most densely populated region in the world, it is extremely worrying to think that either Pakistani or Indian policymakers would consider nuclear war-fighting as a viable means to victory. Whereas Pakistan’s stance on the use of nuclear weapons has been clearly stated as a means of deterring a large-scale conventional assault for the sake of regional stability, the repeated allusions to a first or pre-emptive strike by Indian policy-makers seem to be geared more at spreading fear, shock and awe amidst the general population. Of all the fears the world once had over a North Korean, Iraqi or even Irani fanatic gaining hold of an atomic weapon, it is a wonder how Indian policymakers are unabashedly getting away with playing the part of the unstable and unpredictable nuclear armed zealots of the world.

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China Aims for Impactful Offshore Defense in the ‘New Era’

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As the rule of thumb goes, it is best to read between the lines and understand the tone of words because there are always two sides to every story. This general approach spawned a perception that the words that are on a piece of official paper not only contain government’s stances but also include strategies to solve a problem, or make a decision. Similarly, China, with a series of White Papers on national defence and international security, engaged in a dialogue and concisely presented its viewpoints on contemporary developments.

The gap between the United States (US) and China is gradually becoming thinner for global economic and regional power shift; the 2019 defence white paper on China’s National Defense in the New Era(10th of this kind) underlined the importance of the careful balance of perceptions, and manage China’s relations to the changes in security order.

China’s response to any change in the security order is traditionally characterised as unique. In the West, China is often seen as responsible for change in the status quo. It is more than about its exceptional stands and the position it holds in the international system, e.g.reform and reshape global governance.

Interestingly, the focus is centred to where China stands in shaping normative security order: align with traditional Chinese cultural values or adopt models and principles of western theories of International Relations. In this respect, the Chinese discourse has been confident about experimenting traditional Chinese models, though the international response has mostly been unsupportive. Moreover, it appears that the outside world is not too much focused on China’s normative influence, but more importantly, interested about what implies minor distinctions in China’s position, posture and policy and why there is a shift.

Through the 2019defence White Paper, China had stressed on the need for balancing the trend of the current international security situation. It also set out core directions and objectives of China’s military diplomacy and strategy by articulating the far-reaching goal of nurturing a new form of defence relations for deterrence, reassurance, and secure overseas interests, which is a breakthrough in some respects against Xi Jinping’s vision for great power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. Although China affirms its fundamental principles have not mainly changed but in the security realm,its current posture is inclined to more practical commitments rather ideological.

As signs of the mounting pressure of partnership-based alliance is becoming apparent, China’s narrative is gradually tuning to the fundamental change in the US policy and literature. Indeed, China may have realised now there is a reason to be sceptical of the optimistic forecasts of regional security order as improving. A premise that is largely influenced by China’s resilience and preparedness for offshore defence is its naval and maritime defence to keep regional and global threats at bay.

Indeed, this comes from the understanding that as China is moving closer to the centre of the world stage, the international community expects China to embrace the shift conflict-free. So far, China’s engagement with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) haspartially favoured to check security challenges and likely military alliances.

As Beijing is taking the initiative to repair its relations with neighbours and show gestures that it is willing to cooperate, on the other side, Washington and its allies have resumed campaigns, stating that BRI is to exert China’s influence on weaker nations. Each side has their reasons, but the situation seems partly a result of the current sluggish world order suffering from security dilemma, competition and misgivings about each other.

What is new in Beijing’s Active defence?

The most salient feature in China’s new approach is shying away from military options to mitigate security risks regarding overseas interests. Zhou Bo (Director of the Center for Security Cooperation in the Chinese Ministry of National Defense’s Office for International Military Cooperation)explained the change as natural and argued: “wherever possible, the PLA has been trying to blend China’s national interests with its international responsibilities.” Second, interestingly for the first time through the2019 White Paper, China has conveyed a strong message that the People’s Liberation Army would seek a stronger role to protect ‘China’s Overseas Interests’ that includes Chinese people, organisations and institutions. This way, it has quietly but confidentially made China’s overseas interests fall in the scope of its core national interest.

Traditionally, Beijing has stressed on its offshore facilities such as offshore fish farms, wind farms, drilling rigs, floating rocket launchers in and around its exclusive economic zone and ‘historical claims’ were under its defence umbrella. However, with the change in policy, now China reserves an equal amount of focus on jointly operated commercial ports, maritime assets and Sea lines of communication (SLOC)that are away from its shore.

For those who wonder how China protects its overseas interest, the answer is, it seems China does not to follow the US’s traditional offshore balance model of acquiring too many expensive and permanent military bases and making military alliances, but rather, focus on soft or semi-hard balance by attaining naval/military rights to operate in the host countries’ military facilities. Such a posture not just defends its cause but also justifies defensive use of force when its interests are challenged. In this regard, the PLA Djibouti Support Base, military rights in the pacific islands and military facilities in the South China Sea (SCS) islands and reefs help to escort China’s task groups and could be seen as key features of China’s offshore defence.

The second important feature of China’s offshore facilities explains the economic rationale and commercial potential. If we were to compare overseas military bases and how much China spends, it comes nowhere near to the United States. However, whatever overseas military facilities that China has, they have certain unique features: primarily they serve Chinese business interests, but the US facilities were to assist Overseas Contingency Operations (generally known as funding the wars). Second, they are comparatively inexpensive and cost-effective, whereas the US maintains around 883 expensive overseas military bases and spends about $139.4 billion annually. Nevertheless, China has a lesser overseas combat experience.

Therefore, it is no surprise that China has been keen about reforming and modernising the PLA to build a fortified national defence and a strong military, which required overseas combat expertise.

China’s offshore defence with limited offshore capabilities calls for focus to key geopolitical regions of the world such as East Asia, West Pacific, and the Persian Gulf. As China further intends to extend the training of PLA branches and deploy the aircraft carrier task group for far sea combat exercise, the reforms in China’s military such as suspending commercial responsibilities, informatisation, modernisation of military theory, and organisational structure come in handy. As a result, the role of PLA branches has increased significantly in diversified military tasks such as “monitor China’s territorial air and peripheral air space, carry out alert patrols and combat takeoff”, and to build and develop far seas forces and overseas logistical facilities.

Besides, one could trace about three core approaches that China prefers to follow in safeguarding its sovereignty, security and development interests are self-help, partnership, and military protest.

China’s self-help approach focuses on major security fields such as nuclear, missile defence, outer space, electromagnetic space, and cyberspace for nuclear and conventional deterrence, protect cyber sovereignty and information security. In fact, this approach was pretty much the same throughout. However, now that the scenario has changed with the global military competition in the areas of technological, intelligence developments towards informationized warfare, and intelligent warfare, China gives serious attention to tactical and strategic deployment of such facilities.

Second, the partnership approach emphasises on active development of China’s military relations and partnerships with Central Asia, Russia and European countries in critical areas of non-traditional security threats such as terrorism and extremism, piracy, cybersecurity and bio-security. Besides, in the hotspots and international passages, China seeks to play a constructive role – meditation for the political settlement, and jointly maintain the security respectively.

Third, the element of military protest are set to follow in concerning areas of information and cultural warfare, Taiwan gaining of foreign influence, ‘Tibet independence’, the creation of ‘East Turkistan’, and in the South China Sea disputes.

For instance, sovereignty, maritime demarcation, and freedom of navigation and overflight over islands and reefs in the South China Sea were concerned the White Paper emphasised about creating favourable conditions by building “infrastructure and deploy necessary defensive capabilities … [and] conduct patrols”, at the same time in commercial affairs China stated that it is committed about upholding freedom of navigation and overflight by all countries in accordance with international law and safeguard the security of SLOCs.

To make sure that this offshore adventure remains risk-free and reliable the White Paper set military strategic guideline for PLA to work within “the principles of defence, self-defence and post-strike response, and adopts active defense”, and stressed the strategic defence and offence at operational and tactical levels to contain and win wars.

What worries China?

The White Paper makes some observation that also appeared to be China’s security concerns. China views the situation in Asia-Pacific (and the South China Sea) as “generally stable and improving”; contrary, it views the situation in Europe and the Persian Gulf as disturbing. Besides, at this juncture,China also asserts that despite its attempts to stimulate confidence the military alliances, deployment and intervention were adding complexity to regional security.

If that is the case, in China’s opinion, who is undermining regional security? The White Paper roughly mentions the United States, Republic of Korea, Japan and Australia’s activities resonate as a challenge to regional security. Other areas of China’s concerns also include the UK, France, Germany, Japan and India’s rebalance and optimisation of their military structure. Perhaps a better question might be: is China’s opinion influenced by the Indo-Pacific debate?

Interestingly, by stating that the security situation in Asia-Pacific remains generally stable, the White Paper tried to avoid overlaps with American strategic interests. On the other hand, it referred to the US military and diplomatic efforts as the primary source of intensifying strategic competition, hence causing China to focus on offshore defence.

Meanwhile, either in the offshore balance or defence, the alliances play an essential role. Though China’s seeks military partnership based on non-alliance and non-confrontation, the US policies however, is driving China closer to Russia and SCO members. Further, Beijing also attempted to clarify its principle position as ‘Defensive National Defense Policy’ and never seek hegemony, expansion or spheres of influence. At this stage, to avoid misgivings about its principles and actions, effective communication and cooperation are best for China.

In terms of balancing threat perceptions about China’s rise, the White Paper recognizes the need for Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) and treaties of good-neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation with the neighbours.

For the moment, the new posture to protect China’s overseas interests translates that the country is gradually heading towards impactful offshore defence. Nevertheless, in the long run, despite the US and other players counteracts, PLA’s international profile would increase significantly regarding China’s offshore facilities and international military cooperation.

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