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Ten Things to Ponder in The Trump-Biden Race and What About Africa?

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One of my primary and secondary school classmates now a facebook friend ,said I was bold to say anything about the  U.S.Presidential race at this time.Afterall in key states it  has  and will take some long    days and   nights since polls closed in America this past Tuesday  before mail and absentee ballots are fully  counted. Every ballot hopefully in this unprecedented American turnout.  I hope mine will be among that critical number in Atlanta, Georgia. For Biden-Harris need I say or add?

What we have been hearing about mostly are the results of walk in poll voters and mail and absentee votes counts in progress. What the issue is happens to be the largeness of the swing states for the most part in the Midwest,and one each in the Northeast and Southeast as routes to Electoral College victory , the magic number 270 votes, which matters in American Presidential elections,  not the popular vote like in so many other democracies. 

Things have been tense to say the least with Trump trying to stop the legitimate vote counting and both Democrats and Republicans especially the later gearing up or actually filing recount law suits and counter suits. This was expected to happen given Trump’s sowing false seeds about election fraud and the Democrat Party’s Biden not making the year 2000 Gore and to a lesser extent, 2016 Clinton premature concession mistakes. More possible delays? Be patient,  who knows in this not as problematic election process as predicted though so replete with election reform needs which more than likely continue well beyond the old age of children just now being born.

Even in the midst of this Presidential election uncertainty there are 10 firm observations we can make at this time; including future implications for the continent of Africa depending who wins the White House.

Joe Biden- Kamala Harris were in mainstream media and pollster terms trending ahead of Trump-Pence for weeks if not months. So, my first solid  observation is the failure of the media and pollsters let alone academic experts in Presidential electoral politics, an  increasinly deepeening problem since the year 2000 election year getting worse by the  Presidential election year.

Both media and polling corporations while claiming impartiality and even scientific basis are increasingly the instruments of partisan big money interests disconnected from ordinary citizens values, attitudes, preferences, and real life conditions. There is this benign ignorance if not more than a bit elitist and ethnocentric presumption  among pollsters like survey methodologists in the  basic social and policy sciences that what people share with you, especially when you are a stranger is the truth.This is a deepening problem when there are cultural differences even in voice accents between interviewers and interviewees over the phone or particularly in  person when interviewer- interviewee voice tone differences are exacerbated with visible skin tone and gender differences. As well, there are always the problem of who consents to be interviewed and who does not and how who says yes may skew population representation. In our overzealousness to make poll results into our secularized sacred texts we forget all of these and other issues which contaminate poll data collection and analysis resulting in, to say the least, inaccurate statistical data presentations and predictions.

Trump actually improved his performance from 2016 in terms of the popular vote and among African American and Latino  especially male voters and white women.He ironically slightly underperformed with White men.He held onto dominating the rural and most of the  southern vote and lost as predicted mostly in the suburbs and big cities.Biden outperformed 2016 Clinton in  white middle and wealthy class suburbs in Wisconsin and Michigan and ate into Trump’s 2016 victories in those places. In both of those Midwestern States and in Pennsylvania and in Georgia, it is Biden team’s turning out big city  African American  voters which would be key to Biden being competive against Trump in those States if not eventually defeating him.Southern rural African American voters is a different story.

The economic and socioemotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic did not  outweigh  the improvement of the economy and stock market performance for middle and wealthy classes and the  White working class in the Midwest. It is beyond amazement that despite being able to make more money during the past four years, the anti-scientific clowning of Trump regarding Corona which infected him and his followers,  tragically killing more than a few or their loved ones did not faze  a significant  number of his true believers enough to turn against him.But that is precisely how cults operate, though still amazing with no amusement to behold.

The Biden-Harris moderate ticket strategically errored in snubbing the left and youthful Latino leaders, especially Alexandria Ortiz Cortez and not knowing how to  strategically address the concerns of Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd protest in  creating  a coherent public  message about racial and class justice aligned with other quality of life issues in a deeply hurting society such as universal healthcare, guaranteed income, guest worker immigration policies, national moratorium on evictions,and law enforcement reform not only in regards to the police but to rehabilitation of the ex-incarcerated. It was inexcusable in how they allowed  Bernie Sanders and his followers to be demonized by the mainstream media and by  Trump and his Republican cronies and not push back agressively  against  them  in Miami Cuban, Haiti, and Venezuelan immigrant  communities regarding Socialism fears. It is a puzzle as to why the Democratic Party establishment has yet to get it in effectively recruiting and   mobilizing Latino voters in their various local and regional cultural identities and histories given their propensity to vote ,in fact ,moreso than African Americans . And even thinking they really can do without the Latino vote. This also points to the possible marginalization if not exclusion of Kamala Harris,  an African American Californian quite experienced with the powerful statewide Chicano leadership and electorate in the deliberations of  her Party’s and Biden’s strategizing in this case about the vital importance in mobilizing the Latino vote in its national diverse complexities.

While Republicans are into organizing and mobilizing their constituencies  and feeding their constituencies well  once in office as seen in the behavior of Trump and the Republican Senators who won or won again, Democrats are not so good about doing that. President  Obama was in most  respects a sporadic constituencies mobilizer and pleaser  ; nothing like mass rally obsessed Trump.During Obama’s  two terms, he was largely disconnected from two major constituencies which would be repeated by Hilary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020 in being overly paternalistic and presumptive rather than engaging : young people and African Americans especially those in both constituencies who are  rural, poor, and undereducated.Ignoring their Latino constituency in its various ethnic regional dynamics cost Biden more than Clinton in the Midwest as well as in Florida.With this said, Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate indicates how out of touch he  is with his Black constituency base especially where it was most important, in the rural  deep south and poor urban north and west. Harris had little value addedness in rural areas where Democrats need to get with it in all over the country especially the South and Midwest, turned off African American and Latino men and had no common message with the African American poor especially in the deep south and in urban areas. Her California prosecutor background and tendency not to be transparent and even remorseful for her perceived bias against African  American men in criminal justice situations made her less than appealing among Black  men in and out of California.

African American Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama with ten years federal electoral experience would have been a much better choice to pull in the Georgia and Alabama and even Mississippi African American vote not only for Biden but for the Senate races in those States.  The 2020 African American nonvote in the rural deep south and southeast was higher than in 2016 and in the 2008 and 2012 Obama-Biden election years. It is the reason why Biden has  struggled in North Carolina like in other rural African southern areas where Black folks did not go to the polls. In general, it speaks to the bourgeois  African American politician problem which is a Democratic Party taboo topic which Trump did exploit from time to time during the past four year such as  his boasts of doing much more for African Americans  than Barak Obama and criticisms of the impoverished urban constituencies of late Congressmen Elijah Cummings and John Lewis.Trump’s criticism could have been extended to the class difference problems bourgeois African American politicians  running for statewide offices like  twice Senator aspirant Mike Epsy in Mississippi and Governor aspirant Stacy Abrams in Georgia had relating to nonaffluent rural as well as urban potential voters and their communities. 

The United States of America is a conservative to the right of center country which Republicans represent and understand quite well while Democrat leadership may understand but refuses to engage through developing a big tent multiple ideology approach to party composition.  The pro-life, anti-abortion, heterosexual marriage and family, and evangelical religiousity moral views of the Republican Party is broadly appealing to millions of Nonwhite, especially African Americans  and Latino Americans as well as White Americans in ways which the Democratic Party neoliberal leadership refuses to acknowledge let alone respect. This has made it difficult for different thinking more moderate and conservative nonwhites to leave the Democratic party and become independent or vote Republican.Or be nonvoters.

Through our night to morning in Mauritius 9 to 12 hours ahead of the United States, there are changes as  mailed and absentee ballots are counted mostly leaning towards Biden in swing states such as Nevada  and Georgia which if won would give him the  6 electoral votes to win. If Biden does win, he will be faced with a Republican dominated Senate which means having to do much through Executive Orders and through his Cabinet Ministries .He will though  be able to use his powers to appoint more progressive federal judges and restore more positive international affairs like rejoining the Paris Climate Control Agreement and  sending out more collaborative Ambassadors and hopefully rebuilding the State Department. But House of Representatives vote results tell us that Biden will face an even more left of center House ,which will also be more challenging to the House aging moderate establishment ,  which he will be unable to snub.If Biden and Harris don’t find ways to share power with the left wing of the House and Democratic Party and if the Republican Party remains under the thumb of Trump white nationalism in defeat, we will probably see in 2024 third party emerge stemming from disgruntled persons from both dominant parties and independents feeding off the incredible unprecedented 2020  electoral energy with 102 million early voters. Remember Congresswoman Alexandria Ortiz Cortez turns 35 before election day in 2024, the minimal age to run for President in the United States. Just saying.

The bewildering question on the minds of many in the United States and around the world is how could this Presidential race be so close in the first place?There was no blue wave landslide morally repudiating four years of a Presidential administration renowned for its lying, fanning  racist divisiveness,  promotion of violence, and federal law bending and breaking let alone being just concerned about the wealthy and indifferent if not hostile to science in the midst of a virus which has infected  millions of us and killed tens of thousands of us while they have been more concerned with the politics of remaining in office.   Just being mean, nasty, and hateful as a crystallizing diffusive norm if not value being  transmitted by an amoral narcisstic indeed sadistic sick White House and being picked up and internalized by  our children and adults of all ancestries  and walks of life and those in the world who gulp down anything American. Though the guy is close to winning again, now remotely  but still possible.Why?

New York Times  columnist Thomas Freidman reminds us in his sobering essay on no matter who wins America loses about something mainstream elite media and public intellectuals let alone public policy makers have pointed out with too much reluctance but needs more transparency and effective problem solving.That is, the 2016 election of Donald Trump, his White nationalist base, and how close this election is with mostly  Whites supporting him regardless of their political ideologies and economic standing speaks of the massive White fear of the changing demographics of power and privilege from White to Nonwhite domestically and globally. The predictions of America becoming majority Nonwhite by 2060 is already here  already in so many significant ways and places as seen in the demographics of many major cities in America and in major higher education sectors such as elite private and public universities and community colleges and in public health and legal sectors as well as in consumer retail and other service areas. In the area of racial prejudice studies, the closeness of this Presidential race tells us volumes about the deep multigenerational roots in the character of how most of we Americans tend to be sociaized which will take much more than protest movements to eradicate authentically.It will be interesting to see what whoever wins does about systemic restorative justice transformation–Biden-Harris breaking out of the useless  patronizing neoliberal moderate approach to needed authentic restorative justice intercultural inclusive power sharing or Trump-Pence, lame ducks no longer needing White nationalists who swing more to the left as populists of expanding economic advantages to the White and Nonwhite poor as Trump has promised to do if re-elected. Otherwise we will continue to decline as a nation with paradoxical false smiles with prejudiced attitudes and covert prejudicial practices so well documented in notions such as the Brady affect and in this case being being politically correct liberals of all ancestries  and hues as well as White nationalists  spooked   with deep fears of  Racial Others  over running the country. 

About Africa, at first glance,  it makes little difference who wins, be it Trump-Pence or Biden-Harris, the continent will on one hand continue to be ignored and on the other hand approached in  obsolete patronizing Cold War ways. Biden’s neoliberal moderate campaign foreign policy statements read like Trump’s Making America Great Again but as a Cold War global interventionist wishing to reassert impositional American super power and should add White Supremacy hegemony rather than White Supremacy isolationism. Biden’s well meaning plans to reconvene such neoliberal colonialism will be met with a realignment of the world order now tilting East with China and India in the middle with emerging new global savvy African generational elites. Not the same world Obama and he did little to engage empathetically and negotiate in their emerging terms. While the Trump administration will do its level best to continue to ignore Africans, fight the Chinese like John Wayne would, and embrace  Prime Minister Modi of India and other nationalist leaders in the world, Biden will at least be willing to listen and learn. 

Our saving grace in all this is that as was shown though ignored in the Obama-Biden first term, the positive White elite response to the racial injustice messaging of the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd protests is that there are powerful priviledged Whites ready and willing to join Nonwhite citizens in transforming America into an authentic rather than neoliberal cosmetic interculturally opening demorcracy. This is seen in the millions if not billions such inclusive justice White and NonWhite philanthropists are donating to racial justice causes though with needed guidance in how to construct national master  restorative justice dialogues and problem solving American government and civil society institutions of all levels must learn how to effectively design, implement, and monitor/ evaluate in ways never done before.

Either way no matter who becomes President, there is an opportunity for Mauritiusians and other Africans to strategically advocate their interests in American foreign policy circles. This will take more sophisticated understanding of how America works and does not work in public and private sectors in all levels of government and civil society; something which by the way the Chinese as a superpower is very poor at doing.This requires building in Mauritius and in other  African countries,  more savvy partnerships with American public and private institutions and movements which can help them better negotiate their interests be it education, climate control, health, etc. Rather than sitting back and waiting for Americans and other westerners to toss them any bones from the master’s table they want, Africans must boldly rise,  and write and deliver to the  helms of western powers like the next USA President what they want to do to promote their own interests as  vocal front seat drivers rather as  silent backseat passengers.In doing so, Africans in this day and age of the 21st Century in which Africans and Asians are globally centerfold, the response to our own empowering vision of ourselves as essiential sitters at global tables of power just may be the liberation we deserve to have to embrace to  liberate ourselves..finally.

Director Institute for Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas ( ASARPI) SSR Chair of African Studies University of Mauritius

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Trump Lost, Biden Won. Is Joe Biden’s presidency a signal towards Obama’s America?

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image source: obamalibrary.gov

Greek statesmen, Pericles once said, “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean the politics won’t take interest in you”. The same is the case of United States politics which knowingly or unknowingly has an impact on world politics. That is why the result of the US elections are of great interest to states across the world. Although, for the United States, the goal is to maintain American primacy, to see a world in which the United States can use its predominant power to get its way, regardless of what others want. However, it is a fact that the political landscape of the United States has mostly been dominated by two parties, Republicans and Democrats, who not only differ in their ideas, policies, priorities but also in their approaches towards addressing the key issues facing the country. 

Comparing the two, we see the Republicans are more conservative in their approach as compared to the liberal Democrats. Therefore, the recent election in the US (2020), with Biden (Democrat) won and trump (Republican) lost is also a signal towards a changed approach in many issue areas The focus is to see, whether the new President, Joe Biden who remained the 47th vice president during Obama’s administration for eight long years is going to follow the same lines as Barack Obama and whether he going to reverse the policies of Donald Trump?

Looking at first the climate change issues, President Joe Biden’s plans to tackle  it seems more ambitious than any of the US presidential candidates so far. Biden during his presidential campaign proposed $2trillion over four years to significantly escalate the use of clean energy in transportation, electricity and building sectors. His public health and environment platform planned the establishment of a climate and environmental justice division. He further intends to make the US electricity production carbon-free by 2035 with achieving net-zero emissions by middle of the century. Apart from all these, the most noticeable is President Joe Biden’s promise to reverse Trump’s plan to exit from the Paris climate agreement that was signed back in 2016 under Obama’s administration. 

As Joe Biden in response to the former President, Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement on 4th-Nov 2020, tweeted “Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.” He further stated“Reversing the decision would be one of my first acts as president”. This is exactly what happened as Joe Biden’s first act in the Oval Office was his signing an executive order to have the United States rejoin the Paris climate agreement.  Thus, while Trump has taken a strident anti-climate approach, President Joe Biden decision shows his intentions to bring back the policies of Obama towards climate change. 

Considering the health sector, we again find difference in approaches of Joe Biden and Donald Trump, yet similarity between Biden and Obama. As, President Joe Biden in his presidential campaign speech in Lancaster on June 25, 2020 defended the first American healthcare law also known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare that was initiated by Obama’s administration. He stated, “I’m proud of the Affordable Care Act. In addition to helping people with pre-existing conditions, it delivered vital coverage for 20 million Americans who did not have health insurance”. This depicts President Joe Biden’s plans to restore Obama’s health care policies. 

America is known as the land for all, a land of cultural diversity, but we have seen with Donald Trump coming to power, the immigration rules became very strict as he imposed restrictions on foreigner’s visits to the US. An example of this is Trump’s first Muslim travel ban announced on January 27, 2017, whereby five Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, were banned from traveling to the United States. Trump stated, the act is needed for national security and to save the country from terrorism. However, this discriminatory act was opposed by ex-President Obama, who in 2016, stated: “America was a country founded on religious freedom. We don’t have religious tests here”. 

This is what President Joe Biden also believes in, as he called Trump’s actions on immigration a pitiless assault on American values. On November 8, 2020 during the presidential campaign, he said,“My administration will look like America with Muslim Americans serving at every level,” and “on my first day in office I’ll end Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban.”So, President Joe Biden did what he said, as on his first day in office he signed 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations, including orders to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and end the Muslim ban

Then racism that increased in the US under former President Donald Trump is now challenged by President Joe Biden as he came up with a very different idea just like Barack Obama’s notion of “A more perfect Union”. Example of which is Kamala Harris, who became the first black Asian America woman vice-president in American history. More can be seen by Joe Biden giving credit to African Americans for helping him win the election. So, his presidency is seen as a sign of hope to end racism in the country. 

Moving further, we know globalization has cut the long-distance short, it has made countries more interconnected in all aspects, especially economic. To name a champion of globalization, obviously no other than the USA comes into the mind of every single person. Under the administration of Obama, we have seen the US convening the G-20 summit, introduced macro-economic policies, signed Trans pacific partnership, and much more. However, the question is, whether the US is going to retain this all under Joe Biden’s presidency? What would be his approach towards the ongoing US-China trade war? 

President Joe Biden from the very start has focused on rebuilding the domestic economy, as the slogan ‘Build Back Better’. Therefore, he clearly stated that the US will not enter any international trade deals unless the domestic concerns of labor and the environment are fully addressed. Moreover, looking at the US-China trade war, which started back in 2018 when the Trump administration imposed tariffs on Chinese goods worth more than $360bn, we don’t find much difference except the tactics. As Joe Biden too in his presidential campaign accused China of violating international trade rules, subsidizing its companies, and stealing U.S. intellectual property. He promised to continue with Trump’s heavy tariffs on Chinese imports, but while Trump did this all unilaterally, Biden would continue it together with the allies.

On issues related to national security, we again find President Joe Biden’s approach a bit different from that of Donald Trump. Considering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or p5+1 deal that was signed between Islamic Republic of Iran and 5 permanent members of UNSC along with Germany. It imposed several restrictions on Iran in exchange for sanction reliefs and was achieved by Obama’s administration under his “constructive engagement policy“in 2015 But Trump smashed it by calling it a historical blunder and in 2018 under his “Maximum pressure policy” pulled the USA out of the deal and reinstated sanctions. Iran too after the withdrawal of US from JCPOA and upon Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) commander Qasim Sulemani killing by the US airstrike announced that it no longer adheres to the 2015 Nuclear Deal. 

Now, the hope is President Joe Biden, as he stated in his presidential campaign that the “maximum pressure” policy has failed, emphasizing that it led to a significant escalation in tensions, and that Iran is now closer to a nuclear weapon than it was when Trump came to office. Therefore, he pledged to rejoin the nuclear accord if Iran returns to strict compliance. Here again it shows President Joe Biden’s intention to follow Obama’s approach of constructive engagement towards Iran. 

When it comes to Afghanistan, Trump decided to end the endless war in Afghanistan by having a peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban, according to which the US will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan. However, Joe Biden has not taken any clear decision on it yet. But he is under pressure as the Taliban wants the new president to follow the same peace accord achieved by the Trump administration. Yet, the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani has requested President Joe Biden to rethink the Afghan peace deal. Therefore, it is too early to say what Biden would do. 

To sum up, the 78 years old Joe Biden who has smashed the election records by securing more votes than any presidential candidate in the history of United States elections, he has not only raised high expectations, but there are numerous challenges on his way as well. This is because his policies would now be a center of focus for many. In most of the issue areas, we see President Joe Biden reversing the policies of Donald Trump and following the path of Obama’s Administration. Something which he promised during his presidential campaign as he said to take the country on a very different path from what it has been in the past four years under former President Donald Trump’s administration. However, it’s just the start of a new journey for America and the future decisions by President Joe Biden will uncover a lot more

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How Uncle Sam views the world by 2040

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How the US is seeing the future world is revealed in a recent report, Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World, published by the National Intelligence Council of the US. This report of political, social and economic estimates is prepared through an integrated process for every incoming President of the USA. For Biden, the report was published in March this year. The world, its politics, economics and societies, is going to change under the forces stemmed in changes in demographic modalities, environmental fluctuations, economic preferences and technological transformations. These together are going to impact on societies, states and international systems which would end in sketching five different futures of the world. Uncle Sam seems to be shaking the world, and this time even more intensely.

Starting off how the forces will interact and intersect, it all begins with the changes in demographics. The developed economies are aging bringing a global slow economic growth whereas the contracting working age will weigh on the economies of these developed countries as Japan and South Korea will reach the median age of 53 and Europe the median age of 47 by 2040. On the other side, in developing countries the converse will be happening as Sub Saharan Africa will reach median age of less than 15 years whereas Pakistan, Egypt and Afghanistan will reach the median age of 30 years. This seems opportunity but these economies will be challenged to meet the demands of the growing working age populace in their economies with the slow global economic growth remaining constant dragging the societies into  social volatilities while testing the performances of states too.

The forces of environment will leave no country unaffected especially the developing countries that lack in adaptations skills and technologies. The occurrence of heat waves, melting of Arctic, land degradation, water misuses, food insecurity, loss of biodiversity, rising sea levels and pollution will erode the ‘human security’ while affecting states and societies, politics and economics coequally. For curtailing environmental threats, countries may apply geoengineering by interacting with the natural system of earth to counteract threats of climate change like releasing the sun’s energy back into space through Solar Radiations Management or Stratospheric Aerosol Injection spraying to cause global dimming. The developed countries especially US and China will see suspicions on sincerely working on environmental threats as this would require economic sacrifices.

In the sphere of Economics, the national debt management will push countries to avoid funding on the issues of environment as they will already be pressed hard for matching the needs of the growing demands of their elderly and younger populations alike. Covid 19 has already left indelible imprints on the economies of the world especially the developing countries two fifths of which, according to 2019 IMF assessment, were at debt distress. Automation and rapidly growing AI will reduce 9 percent global jobs and transform one third by 2040 while at the same time creating massive new technology and automation stemmed jobs which will test the states adaptability to manoeuvring technology. This will have disproportionate effect across the countries and regions. The element of Superstar firms, the new multinationals, will critically affect world economies and make definitive inroads in the affairs of politics.

The technological forces will surpass all other forces in intensity especially with the significant rise of AI and Biotechnology. The US-China rivalry in this sphere will be rampant. AI will disrupt global current workforce while also creating new dimensions of labor compelling the countries to remodel their working force structures. The application of AI in warfare will be on the rise and will be adding a new element to the geopolitical dynamics. AI is well positioned to fly and reach space which will turn the space diplomacy in new form and bring the two global rivals face to face. AI will siphon out the human element of emotions in making decisions having social effects.

As these forces interact, world will see five possible scenarios in which the first three are the prominent.

In the first scenario, it will the US and allies led democracy which will manipulate the world. Being democratic, there will be more space for innovation and the rise of technology with robust public private partnerships will prosperously affect economic growth of the countries. This will enable the states to be responsive to their people’s needs while the same time making adaptations unlike in the repressive regimes of Russian and China whose policies will let them on steady decline.

In the second scenario, it will be China which will be mastering the world arena but not exactly acting like leading it due to its inherent repressive dynamics. This will happen on account of failure of international organizations with least interest paid to them by the major powers. The factors of high national debt, the costs of caring for aging populations, and hazardous environmental occurrences will havoc states’ budgets and keep them away from spending on education, infrastructure, and scientific research. In these circumstances due to the integrally centralist and controlled Chinese centralism will help China gain global attention through its global infrastructure packages and other initiatives. Many countries will thus tilt to the Chinese sidelines.

In the third effectual scenario, it will be a contested coexistence of US and China which will emerge. This will be based on shared economic and growth preferences and agreements.

Much of what is stated in the report must be happening in the world ahead but much of what is left unstated is more critical. Summed up, there will be more instability, pandemics, economic recessions, state conflicts and disorders in the five different worlds that lay ahead.

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Understanding Ronald Regan’s approach to the Cold War

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President and Mrs. Reagan at the 1981 inauguration parade. Image source: Wikipedia

President Ronald Reagan’s ascendency in the political hierarchy of the United States, ending in him becoming the President is often regarded as a triumphant victory by American conservatives. His conception of the world order, domestic and international relations show a reflection of a conservative understanding of issues. His legacy as president remains as having effectively brought down the Soviet Union and the threat of Communism. His policies towards the Soviet Union have a transformative nature, as his understanding and approach to US-Soviet relations changed radically after his first term. Though being a staunch Anti-communist and regarding the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”, he sought to ensure that America and its idea of a “Free World” prevailed and later on, that the two most significant military powers would reach common ground in order to make peace more sustainable.

In studying his approach to tackling the Soviet threat, it’s important to first understand the correlation between the policies adopted by previous administrations and Reagan’s own pursuit of defeating the Communist threat which at the height of the Cold War, threatened to spill into a full-scale conflict between the two regional hegemons. Previous administrations had traditionally approached the threat posed by the Soviet Union with a policy of preventing the collapse of European allies at the hands of the Soviet Union. This included stymieing the spread of Communism across the world and the consistent development of Ballistic missiles in order to deter a Soviet military advance into Europe by providing a “nuclear umbrella” to European Allies.  Before the Reagan administration this policy was in large part accepted as the means through which the Soviet threat could be effectively challenged. President Reagan followed a similar policy by pursuing aggressive military buildup and focusing on development of a vast range of ballistic missile platforms which would act as a comprehensive deterrent in preventing the Soviet decision-making elite to pursue a path unacceptable to US strategists (ARBATOV 2019). Being disillusioned with the far left, his opinions and campaign slogans had strong ideological underpinnings which would later on influence his dealings with the Soviet Union.

 The changes in Reagan’s policy weren’t without the influence of another very important personality, Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviet leader’s role in Reagan’s change in policy from antagonism to rapprochement is widely claimed by academic scholars as a major contributing factor for the rethink in Reagans approach to Communist Soviet Union. Gorbachev’s revolutionary approach to International Relations was followed by America’s “reactionary response” in the shape of pursuance of arms control and softening of political rhetoric (Fischer 1997). Ronald Reagan second term in office was marked by a change in his policy of pursuing aggressive development of arms and making space-based missile defense systems having the capability of destroying incoming Soviet missiles. The Strategic Defense Initiative was seen by many in the Soviet ranks as a dangerous escalation of arms race which had the potential of transforming into military conflict. (Britannica, T.Editors of Encyclopaedia 2021). Seeing and acknowledging Gorbachev’s new approach as “revolutionary” President Reagan sought to rely on an intense sustained engagement with the Soviet leader in order to achieve what his previous approach had failed to do (Talbott 2004).

Mikhail Gorbachev’s approach to the subject of foreign policy was based on establishing relations with the west and a recalibration of ties with the United States. At the time of the Cold War a large part of the effort by the two nations was to prevent the other state from gaining a definitive edge in the area of technology, military and nuclear weapons. Apart from the ideological conflict the Cold War witnessed many states in the world becoming the conflict grounds in which the US and USSR sought to establish their control and influence. Mikhail Gorbachev’s arrival into the political spectrum and pursuing a policy of peace and prevention of creation of arms was in large part influenced by the domestic environment of his country. The Soviet Union after Brezhnev had a weakened economy due to extensive spending building and maintaining large military industries and sophisticated missile delivery and defense systems. The Russian political elite largely dominated by Russians. Gorbachev’s “restructuring” in order to improve the economic conditions of the state was also followed by a rethink at the foreign policy front. In his famous interview at Harvard University he described how the conditions of repression, arrests and suppression of critical voices against the state were silenced. This led to perestroika which gained support from the Russian masses. (The Harvard Gazette 2004).

The question as to the extent to which the effect of President Reagan and Gorbachev’s relationship caused “reversal” of US foreign policy with regards to the Soviet Union should be considered through different metrics. Firstly it’s important to study how the “Reagan doctrine” which formulated the plan of tackling soviet expansionism into countries across the globe evolved during the time of Reagan’s Presidential terms. Ronald Reagan’s doctrine was a shift from previous administrations approach to the Soviet threat. In what was previously termed as “containment” of Soviet expansionism, Reagan’s approach constituted of a “roll back” of Soviet expansionist forces across the world. From “Afghanistan to Nicaragua” Reagan’s approach was an active effort to subdue Soviet expansionist forces seeking to gain a foothold in important areas such as South Asia and Central Americas. (US Department of State archive 2001). While toning down the harsh rhetoric and signing important arms control treaties, US efforts to prevent Soviet expansionism continued despite a thaw in relations and a warm cordial relationship between the two world leaders. 

Reagan’s original agenda of an aggressive military buildup and development of ballistic missiles saw a reversal during his second term. Both leaders sought to control the arms race and roll back on the creation of such weapons. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT-1) and other similar treaties was a ‘break away’ from Reagan’s original doctrinal approach. Gorbachev’s willingness to engage in talks was what initiated this change. What is also interesting to note is that despite belonging to radically different ideologies, both leaders shared a similar view on important matters. This is significant as both leaders expressed the desire to regulate arms control and to promote peace.

Another important element is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which saw an all-out Soviet effort to establish control over the region and reach the warm waters of the Arabian sea. The United States, eying an opportunity and realizing the threat of a possible soviet hold of South Asia, actively supported the Afghan Mujahedeen. Through Pakistan, the US pivotal role resulted in the Soviet forces failing to defeat the guerrilla forces despite huge numbers of troops and highly sophisticated weapon systems. This costly conflict was to prove detrimental to Soviet morale and the economy. After having effectively taken over, Gorbachev became heavily involved in restoring the economy and control over the production of arms between the United States and the Soviet Union. Gorbachev sought to move away from previous Soviet leaders doctrines and open diplomatic channels which would result in the final culmination of the Cold War.

President Ronald Reagan’s presidency was marked with a significant contrast in approaches to the Soviet threat. Having become president, his strong ideological standpoints were the driving forces behind his policies. With the Soviet Union, Reagan’s original approach was that of confronting, condemning and a protectionist mindset. Being a vocal proponent of American values of free speech, liberty and democracy his political campaigns to his televised addresses portrayed the Soviet Union as the principals threat to the very principals that America stood for. Like previous administrations, combating soviet expansionism and attaining global hegemony were prized objectives which defined much of US policies during the first term of President Reagan. His second term however saw a ‘shift’ in part of Reagan’s understanding of greater and more pressing issues at hand which demanded attention. Having originally promoted military spending and development of sophisticated missile weapon systems, Reagan’s view changed by the coming of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Both leaders, seeking initially to control production of arms, sought other means to create an environment more conducive for peace. While motivations differed, there was consensus between the two leaders on important matters which made diplomatic summits productive and resulted in many arms treaties. Both leaders established a relationship of trust and warmth which had largely been unseen since the start of the Cold War. These meetings were then followed by confidence building measures and trips to respective capitals which allowed a further thaw in the relations. Despite continued conflict in other states, both leaders relationship saw a significant reversal in the policies of US under the Reagan administration.

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