The World This Week

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The World This Week
Brexit and the EU; BRI and Italy; Muller's Report; Trump, Golan Heights and Israel; and New Zealand's response to Christchurch

  GP Team

Sourina Bej, Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer, Lakshmi V Menon, Abigail Fernandez and Harini Madhusudan

 

Brexit and the EU

What happened? The EU on 23 March handed UK Prime Minister Theresa May two weeks’ extension to devise an alternative Brexit plan in case her deal falls through in the House of Commons voting. Under this agreement between May and the EU, UK will stay as a member state until 12 April if the MPs reject the withdrawal agreement at the third time of asking. The new extension will be a buffer for the UK to avert a political crisis and also to the EU to decide on what it has to do in terms of reforms to deal with a post-Brexit future.

What is the background? On 13 March, Theresa May addressed the leaders described as “90 minutes of nothing”, during which she failed to persuade the MPs that she had a plan to avoid a no-deal Brexit. May had been asking for an extension until 30 June to make time for vital legislation and also gain a majority to pass her deal in the House of Commons. However, her deal was rejected the second time though in a smaller margin than in January. Her appeal had failed to offer any answers as to what she would do if the deal were blocked by MPs again. This second rejection had further confused the EU and looks equally clueless. The new deadline by the  EU has sent a strong message to May that a “no plan” is not an option.

What does it mean? The extension doesn’t alter the fact that Britain remains an EU member until 22 May, in an event where May does win the support of the Commons.  It also means that the UK government will still have a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long extension or revoking article 50. As for the EU, the decision on Brexit is essential for the upcoming European elections due in May. What happens in the UK will determine the composition of the European Parliament and subsequently other European countries’ elections and economic stakes in the bloc.  

 

Italy joins the BRI and welcomes China

What happened? Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived on 22 March 2019 at Rome to a great welcome. The three-day visit to Italy was the first among the European countries and came along with the promise of billions in investment and trade deals in exchange for officially signing on to China’s vast new Silk Road. Luigi Di Maio, deputy Prime Minister of Italy and He Lifeng, Chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission of China have signed a memorandum of understanding to support the investment programme.

What is the background? Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a memorandum of understanding with Xi on 23 March 2019 and joined the $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Italy is the first of the G7 members.  Xi also visited Palermo a Sicilian port city on Saturday, along with Italian finance and foreign ministers and a Chinese delegation. Palermo port is the first project under the BRI investment in Italy. A section within and outside Italy is suspicious, given the recent warning from the United States, that Huawei could use its 5G technology as a "backdoor" for spying. Xi's visit also comes a week after the European Union released a 10-point plan outlining a shift to an assertive relation with Beijing, warning China as a "rival" as well as its biggest trading partner.

What does it mean? Xi's visit has caused concern among the West European countries and also have created a division within the ruling coalition in Italy. However, it also implies a more extensive reach by China.

 

Trump recognizes Israel's hold over Golan Heights

What happened? On March 21, Trump in a tweet recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, stating its strategic importance to ensure Israel’s national security and regional stability. (Later, during Netanyahu’s visit, Trump signed the proclamation making it official). The recognition signifies a reversal of half a century of US policy. Syria criticised this move as a "blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Syria and called the US the main enemy of Arab states, while also pledging to do “whatever it takes” to recapture Golan heights. Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Russia, the Arab League and UN have all condemned the decision, expressing that it would not alter the region’s status. However, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has praised Trump’s move as historical and strategic.

What is the background? The status of the Golan Heights has been a delicate issue for over 52 years. Israel and Syria have fought two wars over the region. In June 1967, Israel captured the area from Syria defeating Egypt and Jordan. Six years later Syria tried to regain control but was repelled. In 1974, Syria and Israel signed an agreement to establish a UN buffer zone, but in 1981 Israel announced the annexation of the region, which was repudiated by the international community. Leaked documents suggest that in secret negotiations Israel offered to withdraw from Golan Heights. The talks came to an end when the Syrian civil war commenced in 2014.

What does it mean? The decree plays very firmly into the hands of Netanyahu ahead of hotly contested Israeli legislative elections to be held on 9 April 2019. The US embassy move, US exit from JCPOA and now the Golan Heights’ decision - all major foreign policy victories for Netanyahu. The change in language from annexation and occupation to recognition does not alter ground reality but is deeply symbolic. Trump is sending a clear message – vote for Netanyahu and Israel will have USA’s unconditional support. For the US, Netanyahu remaining in power will increase the odds that Kushner’s deal, an Israeli-American stratagem, will see success. An overlooked implication is a demographic alteration in Israel, unfavourable to the Zionist sentiment.

Since Trump has abandoned the US policy of “non-recognition”, Palestinians fear it would be the stepping stone to the US recognizing Israeli sovereignty over another territory annexed in the 1967 war – occupied West Bank. The proclamation raises other questions. Should the US recognise Russian sovereignty over Crimea? Will Pakistan occupied Kashmir also see US recognition?

 

US: Mueller's Report on the Russia Interference in Presidential Election

What happened? Attorney General Bill Barr has received the Mueller report on 22 March 2019, marking the end of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. The attorney general will now consult with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to determine what information from the report can be released to the Congress and the public.

What is the background? It has been about two years since the former director of the FBI and war veteran Robert Mueller was appointed as the head of the special investigative counsel to look into in the matter. Over the course of his investigation, Mueller has charged 36 individuals and entities, including 25 Russians and six former Trump aides.

The CIA, FBI, and National Security Agency jointly stated with “high confidence” that the Russian government collided/ influence the 2016 elections.  It is alleged that the Russians government hackers worked with the aim of damaging Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign and disrupting the US democratic process to boost the Trump campaign. Homeland Security officials have said that individuals linked to the Kremlin attempted to penetrate election-related computer systems in more than twenty states.  Russia, however, has denied these allegations.

Many people have been accused in this case. Ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was said to have lied to the FBI about his meeting with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office. Donald Jr. was accused of meeting with Russian lawyer who said had information about Hillary Clinton. Ex-Adviser Roger Stone has been charged for lying to the Congress about his contacts with the Russians and Wikileaks. Mr Cohen admitted lying to Congress, campaign finance violations and tax evasion and received a 36-month prison sentence. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to the FBI about his work in Ukraine, according to special counsel Robert Mueller, with whom he had been co-operating. Manafort has been jailed for bank fraud.

President Donald Trump has been accused of his involvement with the Russians since he took office, Mueller has been investigating whether Trump obstructed justice with his firing of FBI director James Comey or where he was trying to mislead or end the inquiry. The president refused to sit for an interview with Mueller's team in the investigation, but his lawyers went on to submit written answers to questions after months of negotiations. However, Trump has repeatedly said there was no collusion with Russia and no obstruction. He has gone on to call the investigation a ‘Witch Hunt’ many times. The sheer volume of allegations filed against Trump and his acquaintances bring out an uncanny repeat of history or maybe even worse if they are proven to be true.

What does it mean? The Attorney General is under no obligation to release the report publicly, it is possible that his copy to the Congress may be an edited version, but during his hearings before the Senators, he vowed to release as much as he could. If he does provide Congress with the full details, members could leak the report to the public. The Congress will nevertheless be briefed about the report. The implication of this report is numerous. The Special Counsel's investigation has always said to focus on questions of integrity of democracy itself and how the American people have a right to know the truth. It is uncertain how comprehensive the report that Attorney General Barr sends to Congress will be, and there is no official deadline for the Department of Justice to deliver its summary to lawmakers.

 

New Zealand's inspiring response to Christchurch
What happened?
  The New Zealand Prime Minister conveyed a strong point while she said “They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not,” in her speech soon after the attack. She also went on to deem any attempts to view the live-streamed attack as a crime punishable under the laws of the land.
Later, on 25 March, the Jacinda government pledged to hold a top-level independent inquiry under the Royal Commission which is seemingly the highest form of investigation in the country. The modus operandi of which will be revealed in a few weeks’ time. The inquiry will take all aspects including the roles of semi-automatic guns, social media and intelligence agencies to ways and means to curb and prevent such attacks. In addition, after a week of mourning and popular public support for the minority Muslims there alongside revised gun laws, the State has also been swift in demanding global action against white supremacism while taking efforts to set the standard in battling the rising trend of Islamophobia against minority population. 

What is the background? On 15 March, a self-proclaimed white supremacist from Australia attacked two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch massacring 50 Muslims and live-streamed the attack on Facebook. The attack has once again prompted questions over increasing right wing radicalism, espionage and most importantly tackling Islamophobia in New Zealand and elsewhere. 

What does it mean? The majorly non-Muslim New Zealand’s reaction to the attack has been quite inspiring because given that most of the victims were recent entrants into the country, the rest of the majority didn’t choose to ignore the loss but show support at a time when clash over identities is taking the fore. With adept responses, seems like New Zealand will begin the battle against Islamophobia in that part of the world where white supremacism has come to exist. 

 

The Week at a Glance

Gilets Jaunes demonstrations enter 19th week, clash with local police

The ongoing public ‘yellow vests’ protests began in November after the rise in fuel taxes. Despite scrapping of fuel taxes, the violent clashes and looting of shops continue, now a part of a broader backlash against Macaron’s government. On 23 March 2019, what was a peaceful protest in Paris and other cities in France, turned violent  when police fired tear gas on protesters near Boulevard de Strasbourg, close to the capital’s Gare du Nord and Gare de L’Est railway stations.

 

Elections in Thailand 

A first since the military took power in a coup in 2014, Thailand elections in 2019 is widely considered to be a contest between the pro-military bloc that wants junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain in power and pro-democracy forces fighting to restore democracy to the country. Thai Election Commission put the turnout rate at about 66% of the nearly 52 million voters. With 95% of the votes counted by 25 March 2019, Pheu Thai won 137 out of 350 seats and the pro-military party Palang Pracharat took 97 seats. However, suspicions and criticisms have come about after the results are not formally announced by the EC on the day it was meant to.

 

Venezuela: Guaido vs Maduro or US vs Russia?

In the background of Maduro threatening arrests lashing out at the ‘“diabolical pro-imperialist puppets,” two Russian Military Planes carrying about 100 troops and 35 tonnes of equipment offloaded the Antonov-124 Cargo plane and a smaller jet  These planes were sent on 23 March 2019, ‘to fulfil military contracts.’ according to Russia Times.

 

Finland, the happiest country for the second time in a row,

The annual report by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network ranks 156 countries on criteria including GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption. Receiving a score of 7.769, Finland was named the happiest country. Their secret? The Finnish characteristic of "sisu" is one of persistence and determination this coupled with particular strength on the ‘generosity’ scale. The nation has extremely high levels of charitable giving and volunteering.

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