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   NIAS Course on Global Politics
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)
Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore
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CWA # 390, 30 December 2020

Workshop Report
The World This Year: What happened, What paused and What failed

  GP Team

On 23 December, an annual workshop ‘The World This Year’ was organised as part of the Global Politics course at NIAS. It looked into major developments in 2020 from around the world and also focused on developments in specific regions - from East Asia to the Americas. The workshop sessions were led by a mix of young scholars and experts from Bengaluru, Goa, Delhi, Pondicherry and Dublin. The inaugural address was given by Prof Shailesh Nayak, Director, NIAS. 

Report compiled by
Akriti Sharma and Lokendra Sharma
PhD Scholars at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS.  

Issues that would change the future
Prof Shailesh Nayak, Director, NIAS
Pandemic has affected lives and the economy. The most important thing about the pandemic is the way scientists and technologists have responded. There has never been a vaccine in such a short period of time after a pandemic outbreak. Just 100 years back, when the Spanish flu broke out, millions died, and there was no remedy or technological solution. Compared to that period, the fatalities are very low; the impact is very low. 

The second crucial thing is the climate change impact. This year had some of the wildest fires in California and Australia. The occurrence of cyclones in India was also unprecedented. The total loss due to natural disasters is to the tune of billions of dollars. Is there a governance system in the world which can address this?  The current response is not sufficient enough to address the issue of climate change.

The third issue is technology. Cyber attacks were numerous this year; India and the US were the worst sufferers. Mostly they originated from Russia or from China. Many countries have said that they would not buy equipment using China's technology. At the same time, other 5G technology providers Ericson or Nokia also source their components from China. Dependence on one country for all your needs is not a wise choice and has to change.

Fourthly, is the world moving towards multipolarity? The China-US rivalry is going on. The US has realized that it alone won't be able to respond to China's aggressive behaviour. Traditionally they used to depend on Europe; now they depend on Quad countries. The shift from unipolar to a multipolar world is better for India and the world.

Lastly, what are the ambitions of China? They have issues with India on the northern border, issues in the South China Sea, they have started actively pursuing the Arctic and the silk route. What is their motive? China depends on the Middle East for energy supplies. The Indian Navy can block China's energy supplies passing through the Indian Ocean in war. China is investing heavily to work around this vulnerability. But what is it that China wants to gain? It is important to pose these questions.

Brexit: The rise and fall of negotiations
Sourina Bej, Project Associate, NIAS        

The UK finally exited the EU on 31st Jan 2020. The polarity between the remainers and the leavers disappeared. Also, trade talks happened in Brussels, the internal market bill was tabled, and the thawing over fishing rights. The trade talks are happening during a pandemic. When a new variant of COVID-19 surfaced recently in the UK, the EU immediately stopped trucks and movements from the former. This points out how a post-Brexit scenario might look like.

There are three background issues. First, the UK taking back control and a win for the conservative party. Second, the relegation of the Labour party as an opposition force. Third, tooth and nail negotiations over trade rights. The sticking points include fishing rights and the level playing field so that neither of the parties can gain a comparative edge. And fourth, the return of the Irish question.

What does this mean? The post-Brexit 2021 would be like this: First, relation with the EU. No deal or clumsy deal, not an option; extension likely. Second, concerning the US Damage control with Biden and Confidence building over Good Friday agreement likely. Third, relations with Asia. A reset with China; trade agreements with Japan and Singapore will materialize.

US-China: Continuing confrontation
Gunjan Singh, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School

China and the US interact at bilateral and international levels. Their interaction affects global affairs. There are several existing flashpoints between both. For instance, the trade war between them started in 2018. The US has accused China of unfair trade practices and stealing technology. A trade deal was signed earlier this year which eases some of the tariffs.

The COVID-19 outbreak, coupled with US elections, also brought about propaganda warfare. Trump also referred to corona as Chinese virus. While the US accused it of originating from a Chinese lab, China accused it of coming from a US military lab.

They also had issues over the WHO, and media organizations in both countries. Foreign missions were affected, and journalists were expelled. The US also sanctioned Chinese officials over Hong Kong. The US closed Chinese consulate in Houston. Taiwan remains another bone of contention. Then there is competition in the technology sector. For instance, what happened with Huawei and Tiktok. The US banned many Chinese apps, limited Chinese telecom and cloud service providers.

These were all bilateral issues. International issues include the Quad, the ASEAN and the South China Sea. The World will deal with a very different kind of China in future.

5G, TikTok and Huawei: Four trends in 2020
Sukanya Bali, Research Associate, NIAS

First, the major issues of 2020. They included the ban on Tiktok placed by the US, the blocking of Chinese telecom player Huawei in the US and the developments relating to 5G.
Second, the trends in 2020. In the 'Politics' trend, key issues are a national security threat, techno nationalism, and allies' pressure. In the 'Technology' trend, key issues are dependency and techno rivalry. In the 'Security' trend, the key issues are transparency, reliability and spying. In the 'Social' trend, the key issues are climate concerns, business, and privacy breach.

Third, the forecasts for 2021. First, vaccine cooperation may ease geopolitical tensions. Second, security concerns to stay; but, Biden's responses would be different from Trump's impromptu responses. Third, China's chipmakers will become more independent of the US; China will use BRI to promote its technology sector.

Abraham Accords: Rethinking Diplomacy, Restructuring Priorities
Rashmi Ramesh, PhD Scholar, NIAS

On 15 September, four men created history in Washington DC. The presentation had the following hypothesis: 'Abraham Accords is a historic diplomatic move to integrate Israel in its neighbourhood and a step towards achieving Arab consensus against Iran. There are four background issues: First, the US interests in the region. Second, this is not the central issue that directs the geopolitics of the region. Third, the deal officializes the unofficial. It is an open secret that there were clandestine relations between Arab countries and Israel much before the deal. Fourth, the role of media and religious leaders; they did a public relations exercise to reduce the negative public sentiment.

There are four issues in perspective. First, all countries involved have something to gain from the deal. Second, this is leading to a consolidation against Iran. Third, calling it a peace deal will be premature at this stage. Fourth is the intra-Arab issue, the GCC crisis and its impact on the normalization process.

Outer space: Missions, Policies, Debates on treaties
Harini Madhusudan, PhD Scholar, NIAS

The year 2020 saw 111 orbital launches, of which 101 were catalogued launches and ten failures. In October 2020, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States signed the Artemis Accords to maintain peace in outer space and govern the behaviour of the moon. Disarmament of outer space has also been in focus.

The space sector trends include the launching of small satellites and their miniaturization, increase in private launches and commercialization, deep space missions, the focus on Lunar missions, the Mars missions, and development of reusable technology. The year's expectations include China and Russia cooperation, the manned mission by India and China to space, suborbital tourism, strengthening of a private partnership, and missions aiming at the economic and security aspect.

The US elections
Lakshmi Karlekar, Postgraduate Scholar, Christ Deemed to be University

In the US, there was a whopping majority for the blue (Democrats) at the Eastern and the Western front. Red (Republicans) failed to concede to the results. Elections witnessed the highest voter turnout since 1900 and were the most expensive elections in US history. There was also a Republican-Democrat issue overpower transition. American women in all their diversity are heading towards a fair share of executive office 100 years after they won the right to vote. Women empowerment is the trend. Kamala Harris's election to become Vice-President reflects this. Why are these elections significant? Because of factors like: geopolitical, security, environment and healthcare. What are the regional implications for India? Will Biden be a better ally for India? Biden's approach is expected to be more multilateral towards China.

COVID-19: How the world fought
Sumedha Chatterjee, MPhil Scholar, Trinity College, University of Dublin

In late December, the city of Wuhan witnessed a rise in cases of Pneumonia. It was later identified as a disease caused by a novel coronavirus. On the 5th of January, the WHO published the first risk assessment on coronavirus. As of now, no part of the world has been spared by the virus's wrath. As of today, 21 million people remain infected. On 21 September, the unfortunate milestone of 1 million deaths was crossed. Given the origin of the virus, it led to the rise of Sino-phobia.

Different countries like Russia, China and Europe are developing their own vaccines. There are difficulties in the logistics due to temperature differences, the requirement of facilities. Overcoming vaccine nationalism is important.  Pandemic is not an episodic problem but represents a general structural problem of capitalism.

East Asia in 2020
Dr Sandip Mishra, Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, SIS, JNU

Five major developments in 2020 include the following. First, the pandemic remains the most important issue in East Asia. COVID-19 originated from China and spread to Japan, South Korea. However, East Asia has also been able to manage pandemic better. When it comes to economic repercussions, it is one of the few regions, which is having GDP growth. Second, the widened distance between the US and its two allies in the region, Japan and South Korea. South Korea has been hesitant to endorse the Indo-Pacific strategy. Concerning North Korea, the US and South Korea have diverged. The stalemate between the US and North Korea continues.

Third, China's relationship with Japan and South Korea has been relatively better. Anti-China sentiments because of the origin of the pandemic did not occur in Japan and South Korea. Fourth, relations between South Korea and Japan have been strained due to many reasons, including wartime labour. Fifth, North Korea's COVID-19 cases have not been reported and rumours around the disappearance of leader Kim Jong-un made headlines.

Southeast Asia in 2020
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray, Director, Mantraya, Goa

Five major developments in Southeast Asia include the following. First, two major parliamentary elections took place in Southeast Asia this year in Singapore and Myanmar. In Singapore, PAP came back to power, which was not a matter of speculation. For the first time, an opposition leader has been recognized from the Workers' Party. In Myanmar, the National League for Democracy came back to power with a landslide victory. The NLD is in effect the opposition party. The military-backed party USDP which lost would remain a key decision-maker in Myanmar. Suu Kyi's attempts to bring constitutional reforms to address the ethnic issues will remain unresolved. Second, Thailand protests. Pro-democracy protests raised three key demands: the resignation of the PM, reforming the monarchy, and a new constitution. Little will change, and the State remains in control. However, the scope of protests has broadened; abuse of the king brought international attention. One can always be pessimistic, but another takeaway was how protests could be organized against an authoritarian government.

Third, increase of extremist violence in Southeast Asia. There have been attacks in Indonesia and the Philippine. Terrorist recruitments have increased. Recently, a Kenyan was arrested in the Philippines for planning to carry out a 9/11 style attack. Pandemic has truncated the ability to generate funds by extremist organizations. Fourth, the contestation between China and the US in Southeast Asia. Several Southeast Asia nations favour China over the US. They are sceptical of the US' commitments but at the same time careful about Beijing's reaction. Fifth, Southeast Asia and the pandemic. It has exposed the capabilities of states that market themselves as super-efficient like Singapore. The success stories include Vietnam and Cambodia. The failures include the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Countries have used the pandemic to stifle opposition.

South Asia in 2020
Dr Mollica Dastidar, Associate Professor, Centre for Comparative Politics and Politics Theory, SIS, JNU

The geophysical realities of South Asia would be undermining the geopolitics. Five major issues could be identified in South Asia. First, the most important development has been the pandemic. Global warming-related viruses are here to stay. Second, neighbourhood first will be out of compulsion and not out of choice in the post-COVID scenario. Local economies can be relied upon when the FDI and international supply chains come to a halt. Third, India's cosying up with America militarily. In a reaction to it, Galwan Valley was China's way of showing up India of its military might.

Fourth, Kashmir. Both Pakistan and India have been using this region for their electoral benefits. Fifth, the contiguous physical geography of South Asia implies that the political boundaries are a gift of the colonizers. When natural crises - virus, river, glaciers - happen, man-made borders become irrelevant.

Africa in 2020
Apoorva Sudhakar, Research Associate, Conflict Resolution and Peace Research Programme, NIAS.

Five major developments took place in Africa in 2020. First, conflict quagmire. This includes the Ethiopian conflict with the Tigray region and the associated refugee and humanitarian crisis. The second major conflict in the continent is the Libyan conflict between the UN-recognised Government of National Accord and the parallel authority led by General Haftar - the Libyan National Army. In 2020,  Libya saw a major breakthrough after the two sides signed a permanent ceasefire in October.  Currently, the UN-brokered talks are on cards. Second, the battle for ballots. More than a dozen African countries held their elections this year. However, most of them were characterised by a degree of electoral violence. It includes instances of structural electoral violence (constitutional amendments to favour the incumbents, laws passed to curb media freedom, silencing opposition and the like) and direct physical electoral violence. A significant death toll was recorded from different countries.

Third, the rise of anti-government voices. Anti-government protests broke out in Mali and Nigeria. In Mali, the trigger was economic deterioration, worsening security conditions and the government's handling of the pandemic. On the other hand, Nigerians protested against police brutality under the Special Anti Robbery Squads. Across the protests, the common demands were greater accountability from the government. Fourth, no end to extremism. Islamist violence, the rivalry between different terrorist organisations and ethnic rivalry remain critical issues in Africa. While terrorism has been rooted out of the Middle East to an extent, it has shifted base to Africa. Fifth, climate change and the human-wildlife conflict. This year has been marked by droughts, locusts, and the Nile dam stalemate, and increased poaching amid the lockdowns.

The Middle East in 2020
Dr Stanly Johny, International Affairs Editor, The Hindu

Five major issues from the Middle East in 2020 include the following. First, the assassination of Soleimani, the chief of Iran's Quds force. Iran suffers from a conventional military deficit. To overcome it, Iran has cultivated ties with Shia militias for decades. Iran retaliated to the assassination by launching missile attacks on the US bases in Iraq. Second, Israel had its third election in a year. Previous two elections failed to form a stable government. Even the third government is dissolving, and Israel is heading towards the fourth election in two years. While Israel's foreign policy is consolidating, internally it remains fractured. Third, the crisis in Libya. There are two governments and two parliaments in Libya supported by different powers. After months of military campaign, General Khalifa Haftar finally agreed to cease hostilities. A fragile ceasefire is taking shape in Libya.
Fourth, the normalization agreement of Israel with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Each country has got something from the US for this. Fifth, the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist Fakhrizadeh. Israel has neither claimed nor denied the killing. Without Fakhrizadeh, it will be difficult for Iran to develop its nuclear programme.

Europe in 2020
Dr Teiborlang T. Kharsyntiew, Assistant Professor, Centre for European Studies, SIS, JNU

There were five major developments in Europe in 2020. First, the Brexit issue. It will define the relationship Britain and the EU will have. There has also been a rise of Euroscepticism in Europe. Second, the migrant issue also remains unresolved in Europe. There is a new proposal that any member state that is willing to host migrants would be given financial assistance. This has a spillover in the neighbourhood. The 2016 deal between Turkey and the Europe Union on migrants holds but the relationship remains uneasy.
Third, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. The EU could not do much. Also, it was indecisive over Belarus because of Cyprus's veto. The EU's capacity for conflict resolution and its foreign policy is being tested. Fourth, the impact of COVID-19 on the European economy. Fifth, the EU's relationship with the US and other countries. Lack of supply chains from China has affected the business in Europe, and this has resulted in shifting focus to other countries like India.

The Americas in 2020
Dr Aparaajita Pandey, Assistant Professor, Amity Institute of Public Policy, New Delhi

First, the US elections and Biden's victory. Foreign policy changes are expected with the incoming Biden administration. Biden has had a long political career, and the advantage of this longevity is that he has tracked the region for long: he has plans for the cohesiveness of the Americas. An integrated plan to tackle problems is going to be more effective. Second, the rise and fall of opposition leader Guaido in Venezuela. The people of Venezuela have rejected him; they don't support an outsider in turn supported by other outsiders. Guaido's capitalist agenda was also rejected. People believe in the concept of socialism.

Third, elections in Bolivia. Voters choose Luis Arce as president. Close to Evo Morales, he is from Morales' party and also an indigenous person. An equal society and enfranchisement are important for Bolivian people. This sort of political consciousness lacks in other places. Fourth, the referendum in Chile. For decades people of Chile have asked for a change of constitution. This year's violent protests have ended up in a referendum. Now they are going forward with a new constitution. It is going to be more inclusive, giving more recognition to the disenfranchised and the women. Fifth, the repeal of abortion laws in Argentina. Women have demanded it for decades. In the first week of December, it was repealed. It indicates the kind of progress Latin American societies wish to make.

The Maritime in 2020
Prof A Subramanyam Raju, Centre for Maritime Studies, Pondicherry University

Five developments were significant in 2020. First, geopolitical dynamics of Indo-Pacific. Major powers, like the US, Japan, Australia and India, have realized the importance of oceans. They see Indo-Pacific as a counter to China's aggression. It has to be seen whether Indo-Pacific is going to be a zone of peace or a zone of conflict. Second, the blue economy is seen as important because of the depletion of land. With technology, investment, and blue clusters, the blue economy will be developed further. Third, climate change is threatening the Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar's small island states due to rising sea levels. Coastal cities in South Asia are also vulnerable.

Fourth, the issue of fishing and fisherman. The dispute with Sri Lanka over the demarcation of boundaries also needs to be taken into account. Fifth, the governance of the oceans is important. Environmental issues make it even more important. There is a strong linkage between ocean health and ocean wealth.

The Space in 2020
Prof Rajaram Nagappa, Visiting Professor, ISSSP, NIAS

Five major developments in 2020 from the space sector include the following. First, the Mars missions. July and August this year provided a launch window opportunity for Mars missions. The US, China and UAE launched missions for Mars. The emergence of UAE, the first among the Arab nations to launch a mars mission, is a significant development. Second, the lunar missions. China's Change 5 mission successfully returned to earth with rock samples from the Moon. It was a complex but neatly planned mission. China has set its preparation for its space station.

Third, asteroid missions. NASA and Japan's missions to Asteroids. Latter's samples have arrived. Former's samples are yet to arrive. Fourth, space tourism has also taken positive development. However, the cost of access to space has to be brought down. Fifth, the privatization of space has started. Private sector participation in domestic and international space programmes has also been enhanced.

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