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CWA # 195, 31 December 2019

The World This Year
The US in 2019: Trump rollsout a template for a global American retreat

  Parikshith Pradeep

What happened?
 

UNESCO, US-China Trade War, Trump-Kim-Moon’s DMZ
Geopolitics of the US has been eventful both surprisingly and otherwise, despite Trump’s boom and troughs. The US’s withdrawal from UNESCO head started its 2019 refuge. However, the refuge has not been a one-sided affair, rather furthered domestic policies on the other. The US, a founding member and one of UNESCO’s important funding partners officially quit from the multilateral peacebuilding institution early this year. On the trade sector, the roughed-up US-China trade war has toned down after Trump’s December announcement of easing tensions with China whilst paving way for newer equations in global economic structures. His tweets hovered some hope to international dependents.

Navigating eastwards, the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) summit witnessed Trump’s debut inside North Korea. A rarity in which, the US President met with his Korean counterparts. However, the exchange of Chairman Kim’s and Trump’s verbal exchanges have been consistent with exception to the mid-year summit. 

INF Treaty, Syrian Pull out, Iran Deal
The Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty’s demise came after the US’s withdrawal citing non-compliance by the Russians. It ended the Cold war arms agreement which terminated land-based missiles, nuclear and conventional missiles, and launchers with a range of 500 km to 5000 km. This was also followed a ballistic missile launch by the US recently. In the Middle East, Trump’s Syrian pull-out caused unusual stability in Northern Syria leaving the Kurds at tenterhooks, affecting Syrian Democratic Forces and the wrath of an empowered Turkey. 

Uninterruptedly, Trump’s passive attention to the severed Iran deal has caused deep fissures between the US and European powers. The non-American alliance favoring Iran has opened gates for divergence between the US and Europe.

Afghanistan Peace Talks, NATO at 70 and Trump’s Impeachment.
The Afghan Peace talks are in limbo after Trump cancelled a potential deal in the third quarter followed by some progress in the Quadrilateral Contact Group meeting. On the military side, NATO at 70 which intended to rejig the strategic and military grouping rather produced divided outcomes with the US retaining its usual NATO conduct under Trump. The meeting witnessed some frictions between Trump and Europe’s promotional messiah, Macron.

In matters concerning American politics, the president’s impeachment in the House of Representatives was successful with a 230-197 vote. The democrats impeached Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

What is the background?
UNESCO, US-China Trade War, Trump-Kim-Moon’s DMZ
The US alongside Israel formally exited the UNESCO when the international institution designated sites in favor of Palestine. The US accused the peacebuilding institution to have an ‘anti-Israel bias’. Their decision to quit in 2017 materialized early this year. The American exit is not new, for Reagan pulled out in 1984 which was later reversed by the Bush administration in 2003. The 2018 tariff war between global giants has culminated in a trade war affecting international trade and economies on a larger scale. Trump and Xi have been regular at countering each other's rhetoric on trade. What started with solar panels has traversed through daily consumables, the G7 summit, Huawei to agricultural products. Tariff revisions have been warlike affecting the movement of cash across economies.

On the Korean Peninsula, Trump, Kim and Moon Jae made their debut meeting in the Demilitarized Zone. The US president’s idea of peacebuilding between the two has not yielded the desired results. Trump’s maximum pressure strategy with North Korea began in 2018 leading to a series of military, economic and strategic friction between the two. Kim Jong Un’s ‘Christmas gift’ to the US is making rounds with Trump’s assiduous reactions. 

INF Treaty, Syrian Pull out, Iran Deal
The INF treaty was sealed off post-Russia's noncompliance to the military pact. Despite the US’s repeated allegations of Moscow’s warheads in its 2014 Compliance report, Russia has not been fair in following terms of the treaty. The US has been fast enough to call off the treaty and experiment its ground-based missile already. On the conflict side, Trump’s pullout from Northern Syria sync’s with his Troop withdrawal policy, leaving aloof their former allies, the Syrian Democratic Front. The Kurdish fighters have been effective in controlling the ISIS syndrome, efforts which could drip down in vain.

Further east, the fall of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action uplifts structural turbulence between the US and Iran. The Obama era deal has been called off by the Trump administration citing irregularities by Tehran in honoring the agreement. It comes despite the International Atomic Energy Agency's affirmation of Tehran's compliance. 

Afghanistan Peace Talks, NATO at 70 and Trump’s Impeachment.
On the Central Asian region, Afghanistan has been at the receiving end of the US’s whims and fancies, considering Trump’s cancellation of the secret Peace talks this August. This comes in the aftermath of the Kabul attack that killed an American soldier along 11 others. He alleged the inability of the negotiators to broker a peaceful agreement. This was followed by the Quadrilateral Contact group consultations between the US, China, Russia, and Pakistan intended to improve the Aghan peace process. Pakistan’s inclusion as the newest participant in this grouping could not have come as a surprise. Multilaterally, NATO's 70th celebration saw mixed responses from member states, essentially questioning its relevance amidst newly emerged power equations. The summit was accompanied by Trump’s spat with Macron, Turkey’s diversion, Germany’s fragility and the cluttered US in Buckingham Palace.  

The Trump-Ukraine scandal broke the ice for a formal impeachment inquiry announced by the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The US House Committee of the Judiciary voted 23-17 propelling for a full vote in the House of Representatives leading to Trump’s impeachment. Additionally, a Senate impeachment is required to legally unseat the president.

What does it mean?
UNESCO, US-China Trade War, Trump-Kim-Moon’s DMZ
American withdrawal from UNESCO could lead to budget constraints and funding prospects. The US’s behaviour in handling international institutions may not bode well in setting rational precedents. Alternatively, the instrumentalizing of global institutions for parochial reasons have become an ongoing affair. A testimonial trend in this regard is the US’s exit of the UN Human Rights Commission and China’s denial of international courts. Institutions may have started to become geopolitical pawns for development and destruction.

The US-China Trade war has diversified patterns of global distribution opening gates towards an Asian boom in trade and commerce. The migration of corporations and businesses has been a recent phenomenon benefitting emerging economies. On the other hand, the trade dispute has shattered global economic structures causing central banks and governments to undertake cyclical reforms in the midst of a worldly recession. Situation in the Korean Peninsula has been resourceful for chairman Kim in understanding Trump’s Korean conduct. Thereby helping the North Korean counterpart refashion his responses to Washington.

INF Treaty, Syrian Pull out, Iran Deal
INF treaty’s end may have pushed the US to expand its conventional land and air-based and medium and short-range missiles to South Asia, Central Asia, and the war-ridden middle east. When viewed differently, this could also become the US’s plan to counter China’s missile diffusion. Imperative is the US’s need to realize its non-ally preferences and tactics in the wake of altered power equations. The US’s Syrian doing has made space for the Sochi meeting which furthered Russian interference. It could be in line with Trump’s military plans that seek to bring back soldiers and fulfilling domestic and election mandates. On the negative side, uncertainty looms over discerning the fate of ISIS and destructive forces in this region. 

International ramifications of the US’s non-JCPOA campaign has led to the rise of dissent from France and Germany. It comes in the aftermath of their hampered business interests in Iran, making the US’s purpose seem more than what met the eye. On the other hand, Trump’s sanctions and ‘maximum pressure’ policy has swayed Iran’s economic condition and its protests

Afghanistan Peace Talks, NATO at 70 and Trump’s Impeachment.
The QCG meet in October could be a cue to the US passing its Central Asian baton to its non-ally contenders aiding Trump’s plan for pulling out troops. Debates on NATO’s demise and otherwise has been at an all-time high. A decade ago, Obama’s NATO seemed different from that of Trump’s is a testimony to this discourse. The rise of new powers and new markets have necessitated a fresh approach to tackling problems of the future. NATO’s challenges are hardly binary as contrary during the Soviet and Cold War era, but rather intermingled between complex relations between nations. The changing stance of member states and the dissolution of institutional loyalty has been a driving cause for its decline. It could be apt to question Russia’s relevance as the favor and only enemy. However, the member states have pushed to reaffirm their faith in rebuilding and adapting to present circumstances. 

Lastly, Pelosi’s attempts to postpone Senate inquiry has drawn flak from Republicans. It signals the democrat's dire need to change the American leadership. 
The US requires correctives, but a global leadership vacuum should not prove the potential for geopolitical exploitation. On a holistic note, while the American global conduct requires remodeling, it is important emerging global powers and intermediaries lean effectively in creating sustainable futures. 

Parikshith Pradeep is a Research Associate with ISSSP, NIAS. He can be contacted at parikshith.blr@gmail.com 

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