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Who can guarantee Geopolitical Isostasy: United States or China?

Dr.Faisal Ahmed

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The geopolitical maneuvering emanating from the Coronavirus (Covid19) outbreak has taken its toll on international relations. The world order is witnessing an esoteric transformation with the possible development of a ‘unipolar moment’, but not for the United States this time. The United States did enjoy it in the early 1990s during the post-Cold War era, when countries tried to align their foreign policies with it. Today, it is China – the world’s factory – that has almost overcome the pandemic and is eagerly seeking this title.

Not only is the global order changing, but more so is its characteristics. In times to come, the international community would be looking toward a power that characterises “geopolitical isostasy” – a term though scantily used in geopolitical literature and insufficiently explained too. In fact, in the discipline of geology, isostasy is a technical term used to define gravitational equilibrium between the earth’s crust and mantle. It helps to understand the changing topographical altitudes on the surface of earth, for instance, explaining the reason why the height of a mountain keeps changing. In today’s context, geopolitical isostasy would imply a state of equilibrium managed by a country to exercise its geopolitical gravity. It thus seeks to establish an equilibrium among three instrumental enablers of a country’s global outreach viz. if it can become an indispensable economic partner, if it responds to humanitarian needs with immediacy, and, if can be a pro-active security provider even during random needs.

Today, the arguments of Charles Kindleberger, a proponent of the Hegemonic Stability Theory (HST) might make sense. In his book on the Great Depression of the 1930s, he attributed the world power’s lack of a dominant economy as a cause of the economic instability post the World War I. Though HST – which asserts that the world order is most likely to remain stable if it is dominated by a single power – does not hold good, yet Kindleberger’s reference to economic dominance does make sense.

The World Economic Outlook 2020 published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that China will grow at 9.2 per cent in 2021, which is much higher than the 6.6 per cent growth projection for the group Emerging Markets and Developing Economies. Though such projections imply economic resilience, yet China continues to be an adversary for the United States and a ‘systemic rival’ for the European Union. Yet, China’s global competitiveness, despite the trade war, is the result of hosting a robust and a specialised supply chain across sectors and the ability of the Chinese small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to continuously upgrade themselves in the value chains. Moreover, their SME’s ability to cater to low-income countries on a mass-scale and simultaneously adhere to stringent quality and safety norms to meet American requirements, is exemplary.

A closer look at the impact of trade war and the subsequent lockdowns caused by Covid19 outbreak do not reveal a proportionately harsh condition for China. In fact, despite some firms wanting to shift their manufacturing base or value chain activities from China, challenges like the lacunae of scale of operations or inherent supply-side constraints in other economies of the region, are still safeguarding China’s competitiveness. Even, its flagship infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which had been facing financial and operational difficulties, is set to revive. To enhance its geopolitical isostasy, China is likely to give large stimulus package filled with aid and loan to attract smaller countries that are already facing economic chaos due to the pandemic. The United States on the other hand which is projected to face a negative growth rate i.e. (-)5.9 per cent in 2020 as per the IMF estimates will have to focus on mass production instead. Also, regional and product diversifications coupled with increased capital investment in sectors other than defence production would be imperative for the American economy.

This pandemic has also created avenues for countries to enhance their geo-social reputation by responding to humanitarian needs with utmost immediacy. Whereas, the United States as a global power has failed to reach out to the billions of people globally affected due to the pandemic, China has manifested humanitarian concerns through its Health Silk Route. This route is envisioned as a part of the BRI, and has helped China send medical supplies to Europe. In fact, China has supplied personal protective equipment, masks, infra-red thermometers, medicines and other medical supplies in bulk to several countries across the globe including the United States and those in Europe.

On the strategic and security front, the United States has moved from President Barack Obama’s strategic intent envisaged in the ‘Asia Pivot’ to an evident withdrawal syndrome in the Indo-Pacific region in recent times. The most recent instance has been the abrupt withdrawal of a continuous bombing presence from its Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, a United States territory in the Western Pacific. A couple of US aircraft carriers are already embroiled in controversy over the Covid19 outbreak on them. Nonetheless, the United States continues to look for a role in the Indo-Pacific region through its random strategic interventions as is evident in the South China Sea.It is without doubt that at least in the Indo-Pacific, the United States faces an existential threat from China, whom it lists in its National Security Strategy 2017 as an adversary trying to displace the United States in the region.

The United States declining interest in providing security solutions to its allies is also taking its toll. The Philippine recently sought withdrawal from the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that it has with the United States. The VFA facilitates the presence of American forces in the Philippines. The United States may possibly agree to it thus strengthening China’s position in the South China Sea. In a strategic shift, it seems that the United States now wants its allies to take larger roles in ensuring their own security, instead of relying much on the United States. It should also not be surprising to see reports that President Trump hadat one point of time even expressed his desired to pull out of NATO a security alliance which has made plethora of interventions across the world. So, the power gap is now apparent, and China is all willing to fill it up to become a net security provider. The China-backed Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which also includes Russia, India, Pakistan and other Central Asian countries is taking a lead now as a security provider. Either through SCO or via BRI interventions, China has been positioning its geopolitical gravity as a key security provider – both tradition and non-traditional security – to several developing economies, least developed countries, land-locked countries, small islands across the world. Overall, it seems China will be able to manage the geopolitical isostasy in the near future and leverage strategic gains from it.

Dr. Faisal Ahmed is an Associate Professor of international business at FORE School of Management, New Delhi, India. He works on trade and geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region and is frequently invited by global institutions and media as an expert. He has published scholarly papers as well as articles in leading global newspapers. He can be reached at faisal.geopolitics[at]gmail.com

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Americas

In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Americas

Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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