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Welcome to the World of New Age Geopolitics

Mir Sajad

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“But, after all, shadows themselves are born of light. And only he who has experienced dawn and dusk, war and peace, ascent and decline, only he has truly lived.” Stefan Zweig —The World of Yesterday, 1941

2020 is turning out to be one of the most challenging years since the end of the Second World War.A coming disruption for Pankaj Mishra,a ‘portal’ in Arundhati Roy’s radical description, ‘figment of neoliberal capitalism’ for Noam Chomsky in his unique expository stance and ‘Medical Katrina’ for Mike Davis,the coronavirus has evinced the global discussion from the leading public intellectuals to confined individuals as how this overnight nerve-racking catastrophe stalled the world and froze the living spaces to a pause mode. We have seen the problems being magnifying as coronavirus pandemic has, among other things, exposed the vulnerabilities of political structures worldwide. Today, states are battling a threat against an invisible enemy that is rising exponentially and putting most of their citizens at risk.There are geostrategic and geopolitical implications of this spread in the wake of ‘containing’ the impact of this virus thus impregnating a thought of how the nature of global order would be shaping up given the ‘progressive’ trend of this pandemic

Before the pandemic had its mark on the global scene there was a spectre of weakening role of international institutions and the spate of regressing markers of democracy across the regimens of global politics. Europe was struggling with existing crisis, Middle East crisis, new age theatrics of absurd governance from Trump to Bolsanaro and downward spiral of US global leadership. This viral disaster has magnified the impacts of the existing fragilities in the kaleidoscopic geopolitical and geo-economic spheres concurrently

Geopolitical Signatures to Sphere of Influences

Developing countries have been faring worse in this fight with already intrinsic governance issues and relatively frail architecture of public institutions, where people defied the lockdown orders as they live in precarious conditions. African Union report suggests that pandemic puts nearly 10 million jobs on the Continent at risk of ‘destruction’ while as  in Sub-Saharan Arica World Bank report predicts first recession in nearly 25 years. After the cold war we are first time watching the geopolitical lexicon taking a departure from the oft-spoken bi-polar binary with middle powers rising to the spectacle of global politics with entrance of China and other regional powers. As more countries are getting effected we would see transformation of geopolitical order not necessarily the bipolar or 2.5 world order with regional powers binding in  but there would be increasing fragmentation. With  countries vying for having Wallerstein’s “hegemonic cycles” in their side Coronavirus  opens up some new matrices to be paired/multiplied to their “respective power spaces” .We have seen Russian aircrafts aiding Italy in the form of ‘medical relief’ with Russian military planes emblazoned  a message of “From Russia with Love”, Serbian President kissing Chinese flag on account of the aid received from the China .Turkey too joining the bandwagon of showing their presence of  flag sending its support to Balkan, Arab and Asian Countries. These examples of soft power dimension have always been in the dictionary of geopolitics popularized by United States and the irony is that America has been absent in the same geopolitical antics. China and Russia put up a great deal of strategizing endeavours on systematically expanding their geopolitical swath and their ‘sphere of influence’ on governments across the world. Europe is their top priority because it is the industrial and commercial base of Pax Americana. Today, U.S. policymakers should recognize that if the United States does not rise to this occasion , the coronavirus pandemic could mark another “Suez moment”  like the one  in 1956 when United Kingdom  saw its end  in  global supremacy  because of that ‘intervention’ (misadventure)on  Suez canal

Spectre is Haunting Europe

Europe facing a defining moment in history, the perception  that European Union  has always been at the forefront in crisis situations was this time  missing as the same ideals have taken a massive hit with this pandemic upping the ante on the integrationist fabric of European Union .EU split in the latestEurozone meeting was apparent with the north-south fissures (structural imbalances) looming large as  more political power moving to Brussels in fiscal dimensions  as Berlin needs to recognise that a Europe-financed restoration will come through Germany, the only European country with enough capital to marshal such a restructuring design. . The result would be further erosion in the confidence of European Union as the pandemic has raised fears of a new euro crisis and its waning identity got further deep   as the examples of Spain and Italy unfolded the weakening cooperation and support for these countries when right at the outset European borders were shut.

China, USA and the Structure of New Global Hegemony

China has capitalised on the widening America’s fault-lines, while making many of its strengths temporarily irrelevant. The world’s most powerful military machine is not much use against a virus when American economic and political systems are both reeling. But a lack of universal healthcare coverage is suddenly a threat not just to the poor but to the whole of US society. Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate economist and columnist, recently argued that American democracy itself is in peril given state of domestic affairs in the country

China, however, seems resolved on signifying some of the values with which the West has generally been seen: solidarity and cooperation. China’s decision to send medical equipment and staff to Europe to fight the coronavirus was not only an act of esprit de corps, but a geopolitical exercise: the country has been extending a support mechanism to a West that is facing serious problems. This is not mere altruism; it is a rallying for China’s will to play the role of rising hegemon and make the most of on the growing vacuum left by the US. This argument about US decline has in fact, been ringing on for decades.  It could even be the beginning in the end of American primacy with the cries for de-westernisation and de-globalisation getting louder and strong. With the safety and health of their citizens at stake, countries may try to block exports or hold critical supplies, even if doing so hurts their allies and neighbours. Such a retreat from de-territorialisation would make generosity a powerful instrument of influence for states that can afford it. There is an anticipatory risk that is hovering over the US currency losing the world’s confidence but the pattern seems a pointless given the fact hyped alternatives to the dollar still fare worse like the gold, bitcoin having major drawbacks.

Middle East Conflict, Oil Crisis and Viral Suffering

The coronavirus has hit the Middle East and North Africa at a time when the region is already fraught with manifold problems, scarred by a series of prolonged conflicts, sectarian crisis, economic stresses, displacement/suffering and widespread political unrest .There is increasing China-Russia pivot in Eurasia and for that Iran is a conduit for each Eurasian giant’s broader strategic schema in the Middle East. Beijing and Moscow have a unique prospect to reorient both Iran and its regional adversaries towards the China–Russia Eurasian architecture as security architecture of Persian Gulf is now in flux.  With the recent historic OPEC deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia ended the deadlock in price war over fall in petroleum prices and the decrease in demand owing to the lockdown across the world. This event can largely set the stage for new dimensions of events in the Middle East now onwards as we recently saw a symbolic truce gesture by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.   For nations having reliance on oil coupled with the price collapse and the coronavirus pandemic has given rise to the new fears of poverty and geopolitical tensions uncertainty from Iraq to Saudi Arabia.

The  current pandemic can make or break the existing geopolitical and geo-economic order with ‘actors’ vying for the strategic gains over the fleeting state of countries around the world. Whatever power equations would emerge post-coronavirus spectre, one thing is certain world would never be the same.

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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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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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