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CWA # 115, 26 May 2019

The World this Week
American Troops to Middle East, Resignation of Theresa May, Climate Change Protests, Threats to Peace in Columbia and Post Elections Violence in Indonesia

  GP Team

This edition of “The World This Week” discusses 5 issues:  Donald Trump’s announcement that the Pentagon would send around 1,500 troops to the Middle East in the coming weeks; the resignation of Theresa May amidst uncertain Brexit; protests and violence following the elections in Indonesia; the appointment of an independent commission to examine the army’s commands and orders, in Columbia; and the student protest for ‘urgent action on Climate Change’ and the need to focus on more responsible actions by governments and businesses.

Seetha Lakshmi DInesh Iyer, Sourina Bej, Harini Madhusudhan, Lakshmi V Menon & Aparupa Bhattacherjee

 

1500 American troops to the Middle East

What happened?

As tensions continue to rise, President Donald Trump has announced that the Pentagon would send around 1,500 troops to the Middle East in the coming weeks. The deployments would include a squadron of 12 fighter jets, manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, and several military engineers. According to statements, these troops would reportedly have a primarily protective role as a part of the build-up to counter what the US calls is an “escalating campaign by Iran to plan attacks against the US and its interests in the region.” Besides, the Pentagon had also taken the opportunity to blame Iran and its strategy of using proxies for attacks over oil vessels near UAE.

What is the background?

Tensions between Iran and the US has reached a high ever since the Trump administration abruptly deployed US bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf earlier this month over threats that have not been specified. Strife between the two increased a year ago following Washington’s decision to pull out of the internationally-accepted Iran nuclear deal. Subsequently, the withdrawal had further led to the re-imposition of sanctions over oil trade and more.

What does it mean?

While alternating between diplomatic talks and sending a strong message has led to uncertainty, the move has further put the Congress in deep concern over the possibility of the US moving towards open conflict. Though Trump has been popular for his ambiguous decision making, the present scenario has come to stand as a polar opposite to USA’s focus on de-escalation and diplomacy first as a broad strategy for the region. Adding more personnel and systems seems unwise without a well- set out strategy and would only further escalate tensions with Iran.

 

Brexit: Theresa May resigns fracturing UK politics further

What happened?

After a long controversy over the Brexit, the British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced her resignation as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party in a tearful statement after failing to gather the required majority to deliver her Brexit plan.  She will officially stand down as the party leader on 7 June. This has kick-started a contest for the filling the PM’s seat among the Tories and bifurcated the Conservatives further. 

What is the background?

Brexit has splintered both the Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party into warring factions since the referendum that narrowly approved the departure from EU on 23 June 2016. After the referendum, for three years May has put her Brexit deal to the House of Commons but was defeated three times, by the most significant majority against a government in history, as Eurosceptics, Remainers and Labour united against her plan. As a result, Britain’s departure from the EU has been delayed twice since the initially scheduled date of 29 March.

On 12 April, the European Union (EU) has agreed to give the UK until 31 October to ratify the withdrawal deal. The MPs have then rejected three times in a row the withdrawal agreement that Theresa May reached with other European leaders last year, and they have voted against leaving the EU without a deal. Post the fourth rejection, May had met with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to negotiate the terms of the agreement for three days in a row in an attempt to break the current Brexit deadlock. This talk with Corbyn was particularly crucial for May to get her deal passed, mainly when her party members were divided into the methods of ‘Brexiting.’ It is essential to understand that to get the agreement passed, May needs a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons.

Among the leaders worried about May’s resignation is Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar who has warned that the election of a new prime minister in Britain may lead to a new phase in Brexit negotiations that could be ‘very dangerous’ for Ireland.

What does it mean?

What happens to the British politics and in notably the Brexit plan after May’s resignation? Firstly, within hours of May announcing her exit from the PM’s post, Boris Johnson and other Tory leadership were seen jostling to succeed to the vacant position that needs to be duly filled by the end of July. The job of the new Prime Minister will be to get the UK departed adequately from the EU. Most of the Conservatives feel that Boris Johnson would make the right candidate with the hope that he could indeed win the support of the Eurosceptic base and also unite the party by winning back the moderate Conservatives who have defected owing to the hard Brexit plan. However, the final choice of the new Tory leader will be made by about 100,000 Conservative Party members, most of whom are strongly Eurosceptic. Some 75 per cent of members supports a no-deal Brexit.

Secondly, the future of the ‘Brexiting’ looks at a hard Brexit. If this happens and the UK fails to renegotiate a Brexit deal with Brussels then that could lead to many trade deals, citizen’s rights and the question of the Northern Ireland border left unresolved. In the shorter term, the UK could still be heading for one more extension to the formal Article 50 exit procedure, which would delay Brexit beyond the currently scheduled date of October 31.

Theresa May tried to follow the route of renegotiating the political declaration, but only belatedly. A new leader with a fresh mandate might stand a better chance of selling such a strategy to MPs.

Lastly, the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has spoken of EU losing its patience with the UK waiting for the next extension after extension. The Brexit has taken much time of the EU and has kept the bloc muddled with internal crisis instead of looking collectively at external security problems. This had frustrated a lot of European countries French President Emmanuel Macron rejected any extension into 2020, saying Brexit cast an unacceptable shadow over the entire European project, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the UK should be given every chance not to crash out without an agreement.

 

Colombia: PM appoints an Independent Commission, as the Peace falters

What happened?

Over concerns of the army’s human rights abuses in pursuit of armed groups, Columbian President Iván Duque on May 24 announced the appointment of an independent commission to examine the army’s commands and orders.

What is the background?

Despite the 2016 peace deal, at least 3000 rebels have rearmed as numerous promises were forgotten. Development of rural sectors has been undermined and ignored by the government. The primary selling point – the guarantee of safety and stability has crumbled. Since October 2016, over 500 activists have lost their lives, and over 210,000 have been displaced. The new PM, Ivan Duque’s desire to revise the accords and his government’s pursuit of the rebels had further fueled rebel sentiments. Under him, army revised orders aimed at doubling results against paramilitary, guerrilla and criminal organizations, thus escalating civilian casualties. Colombia’s military is notoriously famous for “false-positive killings” which increases combat body counts, thus ensuring a rise in ranks.

What does it mean?

The current human rights concerns become a pressing issue in the Colombian peace affair as it catalyzes the rearming by militants. Duque government’s promotion of unrepentant commanders and coming down heavily on the rebels through orders supposedly “misinterpreted by officers” and permitting actions despite doubts regarding targets’ criminality shakes the foundation of the hard-won peace. “60-70 per cent (exactitude)” is not enough when it’s a question of lives.

The continuing rural deprivation is also working against peace. Essential services and amenities remain dreams in countrysides where much of the war was fought. Consequently, new armed groups are filling FARC’s void. Before 2017, the majority of FARC’s funding had come from the drug trade. For the poor, coca remains the most favoured as the crop-substitution program hasn’t materialized. Today, the government’s core issue is money. During the peace deal, $45 billion was estimated to fulfil assurances over a period of 15 years. Then, however, the treasury enjoyed $100 per barrel of oil, today the values are a third lower.

As these economic, political and structural problems unfold, the complex Colombian peace achieved after five decades of conflict may deteriorate or stand the test of time.

 

#YouthStrike4Climate: making history on Fridays

What happened?

On 24 May 2019, students from over 1600 cities walked out of school to protest Climate Change and demonstrate the need for urgent action.  What started in Europe in February, has evolved into a massive student movement, these students, many of them who were too young to vote, took to the streets this week across the European Union to demand more stringent action against global warming as the 28-nation bloc elects a new parliament.

Aside from Europe, students from various parts of the world, from over 110 countries, starting from Australia, New Zealand, with Asian nations, Afghanistan, Thailand, Japan and India, joined the action calling on politicians and businesses to take urgent action to slow global warming. The protesting students have vowed to continue boycotting classes on Fridays until their country adheres to the Paris Climate Agreement. The movement has gained traction and has become a massive social media phenomenon.

What is the background?

It started with Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who protested in front of the Swedish parliament in 2018 and refused to get back to classes till the politicians took action.  With a sign 'school strikes' against climate change, she was 15 years old then. In February 2019, taking from her solo protests, various movements across Europe, the US and Australia were observed, known as Fridays for Future or School Strike for Climate. The last coordinated international protest took place on 15 March, with an estimated 1.6 million students from 125 countries walking out of school.

In 2018, global carbon emissions hit a record high, and a UN-backed panel on climate change warned that to stabilise the climate, emissions will have to be slashed over the next 12 years, in October. Earlier this May, a UN report warned that one million animal and plant species were now threatened with extinction. Hence, these protestors intend to encourage governments to take more responsible actions; for example, students blocked the central bank in Norway telling them to stop investing in companies that burn coal. They also demand that the government reform the national curriculum to include more material on climate change and climate awareness.

What does it mean?

This massive movement shows the possibilities of successful coordination. Australia has already begun debating the need for coal companies in their economy. Few countries in Europe have declared “National Climate Emergency.” These indicate that the student protests are being taken very seriously.

An open letter was published in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung on the eve of Friday's strike, Ms Thunberg and prominent German climate activist Luisa Neubauer, 22, called on older generations to join the action in September. 

"This is a task for all humanity. We young people can contribute to a bigger fight, and that can make a big difference. However, that only works if our action is understood as a call," they wrote. "This is our invitation. On Friday, 20 September, we will start an action week for the climate with a worldwide strike. We ask you to join us... Join in the day with your neighbours, colleagues, friends and families to hear our voices and make this a turning point in history” it says. It would be interesting to observe the enthusiasm and the seriousness of the youngsters in taking the future on a path that they want.

 

Indonesia: Post-election violence

What happened?

On 21 May, civil unrest started in different parts of Jakarta; this has led to several injured and casualty of six people. The unrest was a fallout of a peaceful protest which was an outcome of the election commission confirmed that President Joko Widodo won last month's election, defeating his opponent General Prabowo Subianto.

The peaceful protestors raised their voice for General Prabowo, who disagreed with the election results and claimed discrepancy. However, the protest soon turned violent, as the police in riot gear fired tear gas to disperse the crowd near the election supervisory agency, the protestors retaliated by hurling fireworks and rocks at police during a stand-off. Similar clashes also started in the other part of the city. According to the news agencies, a small number of them had even attempted to storm a nearby police station.

Surprisingly, although the chief of national police has denied the use of live ammunition the primary investigation has indicated six people who died have gunshot wounds and others "blunt force wounds" as reported by the hospitals. The unrest restarted again on 22 May in several parts of Jakarta. Around 30,000 troops have been deployed, and social media has been restricted.

What is the background?

The General Election Commission (KPU) on 21 May declared the results for the Indonesian elections 2019, confirming unofficial counts by private pollsters in the April 17 election, which gave President Joko Widodo a 55.5% share of votes against 44.5% for former General Prabowo Subianto.

Prabowo Subianto had claimed his win while complaining of "widespread cheating" even after the preliminary result was declared on 17 April 2019. Also, immediately after the April declaration, the hardline Alumni 212 movement, who are supporters of Subianto, had threatened unrest. Hence, although, a small protest was anticipated as it was clear that General Subianto will not peacefully accept his failure, nevertheless, the sheer level of the violence was unanticipated.

The history seems to repeat itself in Indonesia, as 2014 General Election appears to be replicated in 2019 with the same opponents and same election result. However, this post-election violence is new and could be the outcome of General Subianto’s desperation to come to power and his failure for the second term.

What does it mean?

Although violent, it is expected that the unrest will be fizzled out soon. However, this seems to be the priority of the newly appointed president, Widodo. It could also be termed as a bad start for him. However, with him as re-elected President, there is expected to have a good start for the Indonesian economy and infrastructure development as his previous term has witnessed economic and infrastructural development. No wonder his 2019 campaign focused on his progress in poverty reduction and improving Indonesia’s inadequate infrastructure. The work in these sectors is expected boom, under his new tenure. His term will also ensure the strengthening of the countries equation with China, especially its role in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is essential for Indonesian infrastructural development.  However, addressing the rise in abuses of human and minority rights, as well as rising extremism and prevention of alienating hardliners should also be his focus for this term as these issues were his major criticism from his last name.

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