The World this Week

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The World this Week
US-Iran Tensions in the Middle East, 6G in China, Fires in Australia, and a New Nuclear declaration in North Korea

  GP Team

The World this Week (TWTW), 4 January 2020, Vol.2, No.1

Sukanya Bali, Harini Madhusudan, Rashmi Ramesh, Parikshsith Pradeep and Aparupa Bhattacherjee
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS

US-Iran tensions heats up with the assassination of Qassem Soleimani

What happened?
Four developments took place in Iraq during this week. The latest one was the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of IRGC, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps'). He was killed in a US airstrike near Baghdad International airport. Iran has called this as an "act of terrorism" and vowed to revenge. 

Earlier this week on 29 December, the US military launched air raids against Kata'ib Hezbollah's positions, at five different sites, three in Iraq and two in Syria. These raids killed 25 members and wounded many. For the US Secretary of State, this was "a decisive response". Protesting the above attacks, on 31 December, a large number of Iraqis stormed the US embassy in Baghdad, chanting "Death to America." in the aftermath,  the US has sought to deploy additional 750 troops to Iraq.

What is the background?
The latest series of events began on 27 December. More than 30 rockets were fired at an Iraqi base camp, killing an American Civilian Contractor and wounding four Americans. The US accused Iran backed militia Kata'ib Hezbollah for this attack, and responded with airstrikes on 29 December as mentioned earlier.

Much before the attacks and counter-attacks of the last week, Iraq was witnessing a series of protest by its people since October 2019. These public protests in Iraq, were against the poor governance, failed political system, dysfunctional economy and increasing foreign intervention. Besides the widespread protests for better governance, there was a steady increase in the anti-American sentiments, especially against the presence of US troops in Iraq.

The recent US air raids triggered the  Iraqi protestors to storm the US embassy, Baghdad on Tuesday. While there is an element of Iranian interferences in Iraq, the US blames Teheran for all the protests and attack on its embassy in Iraq.

Teheran has a stake in Iraq. Iran has been expanding its presence by supporting Shia militias in Iraqi territory to fight against the Islamic state. Iran's policy towards Iraq has an active US component as well. 

The US-Iran tension has turned Iraq into a playground.

What does it mean?
The relation between the US, Iran and Iraq looks complicated, where Iran has been successful in finding a space for itself in Iraq. This week's developments will mean the following: First, with the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, Iran is bound to escalate the conflict in the Middle East. Second, as Soleimani was a face for Iran's foreign intervention in Syria and Iraq, his death will impact Iranian regional influence. 

Third, with the increasing number of external actors, Iraq will become the playground and a source of instability in the region. Fourth, the escalating US-Iran tensions could lead to a China-Russia-Iran triangular partnership, as all three have disputes with the US in the region.' 

Fifth, the recent airstrike has increased threats for US assets in the region, deteriorating the US-Iraq relations. Finally, the problem in Iraq may further divide the Congress and White House in the US. 


6G Technology: China is an Early Bird
What happened?
A recent opinion article in the China Daily titled, 'the global race is on for 6G technology research and commercial use' mentions the need for the technology. 

Through a series of interviews with experts of various industries, the author highlights that, despite the initial steps, it has numerous challenges that it could face. There is no universally accepted definition of 6G even. Two significant risks would be: data security and costs. The article also questions how it might affect the existing infrastructure, public health and long-term sustainability. 

What is the background?
In November 2019, China's Ministry of Science and Technology announced that China would enter the 6G race. Where the technology is expected to support one terabyte per second speeds, it said the technology would commercially be launched by 2030. In 2019, there have been media reports indicating that China Telecom, Huawei and China Unicorn and a few telecommunication providers in the US, Russia and Europe have been conducting research related to 6G technology. In a white paper released in November 2019, China announced that it had established two offices - one dedicated for policy-making and the other to work on the technicalities. 

One of the goals of the 6G Internet would be to support 'one-microsecond latency communications.' Its value addition would be to the areas of imaging, presence technology and location awareness. It will also have known impacts on government and industry solutions in critical asset protection and public safety. The benefits include the following: facial recognition, air quality measurements, health monitoring, gas and toxicity testing. 

What does it mean?
Mobile phone technology has become a primary factor of global political competition. Telecommunication technologies, paired with computing infrastructure and big data, play a crucial role in China's scientific projects. 

China's race to 6G technology shows Beijing's vision to the future and 6G necessarily is targeted to fulfil the capacity and latency promise of 5G with the required architectural shifts and AI. 

Artificial Intelligence is at the core of the 6G technology, and with China leading in the R&D of both, it may be the early bird that gets the more significant chunk of the bread despite all contentions. However, to reach 1Tbps in the real world, it would mean that many security threats could happen before it is predicted or could go unchecked. 

The Fires in Australia highlights the perils of ignoring Climate Change 
What happened?
Australian government declared a state of emergency in the south-eastern parts, due to the massive wildfires this week. 

Tasmania, Brisbane, Victoria, and New South Wales (including Sydney), are the worst affected areas of Australia. More than 28 have been killed and has forced a mass evacuation of citizens and tourists in most affected places like Mallacoota, East Gippsland, Nowra and Cobargo. Firefighting operations and rescue operations are being conducted jointly by Australia, Canada, US and New Zealand. 

What is the background?
Australian fires have occurred in the wake of similar incidents in Brazil and Indonesia in 2019. 

Australia is witnessing one of the deadliest wildfires since mid-2019, and it has been ascending since the beginning of summer. As the summer set in, the temperature soared to shatter records, thus leading to intense fires. The fire has burnt approximately 14.5 million acres. Scientists estimate the death of 500 million native animals and loss of large forest areas. They have also noted that some species of flora and fauna have been completely wiped out off the Australian map.

Fires are not uncommon in Australia. Black Thursday (1851), Red Tuesday (1898), Black Friday (1938), 1974-75 NT bushfires, 2002 NT bushfires, Eastern Victorian Alpine bushfires (2003), Central Coast bushfires (2006), The Great Divides bushfires (2006), Carnarvorn bushfire (2011) are amongst the most intense occurrences. 
Recent bushfires also can be linked with climate change. It has dictated that the fires rise the intensity ladder and this is seen in 2019-2020 incidents. 

What does it mean?
First, Australia is in the midst of a climate crisis – the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, record-breaking summer temperatures, raging fires and unpardoning droughts that have affected the farmers severely. 

Second, the state is in a denial mode. Australians voted the Conservatives to power, the coalition which has long rejected coal reduction and climate-friendly policies. With this, Australia is set to face more issues on the environmental front, in the coming days. The rise of Conservatives is a concern in other parts of the world as well. Brazilian President toes the same line and rejects the existence of climate change. Certainly, climate-denial leaders/states pose a threat. 

Third, the fires in Australia have affected neighbouring New Zealand, where the smoke and dust has engulfed mostly the western parts. The glaciers in New Zealand have also been adversely affected due to the smoke and other contaminants. On a similar fashion, the Indonesian fires had affected its neighbours Malaysia and Singapore, leading to a diplomatic row. 

Fourth, 2019 witnessed raging flames that devastated the Brazilian Amazon, the sub-Arctic forests, the Indonesian Borneo and southeast coast of Australia. In the absence of any fruitful action on climate change, such occurrences are set to become more frequent and severe. 

In North Korea, Kim Jong-un calls off the 'self-declared moratorium'
What happened?
On 1 January, the North Korean leader called off the 'self-declared moratorium', desisting their attempts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula. Surprisingly, Kim Jong Un skipped his annual speech, a tradition since 2013, announcing a new strategy to resume missile tests and counter the American economic sanctions at the four-day party meeting. He also warned to demonstrate a 'new strategic weapon'.

What is the background?
Kim's statement comes after a series of negotiations including North Korea's announcement of 'Christmas Gift' last December.

Trump's 'maximum pressure' policy since 2017 has been central to the escalating tensions in the Korean peninsula. Heightened missile tests during 2017-18 pushed the American administration to pursue hawkish policies against North Korea, including economic sanctions. 

During 2018-19, there were a series of diplomatic negotiations between North Korea and the US through two Trump-Kim summits in Singapore and later in Hanoi. The progress from the Singapore Summit, that facilitated the Trump-Kim debut meeting was absent in the 2019 Hanoi summit. The DMZ meet that included their South Korean counterpart helped ease trilateral tensions but did little to advance negotiations on issues encompassing nuclear development. 

China's intent to distance the US from East Asian waters may have some bearing on Kim's revitalized geopolitics.

What does it mean?
First, Trump's approach has not been effective in establishing rational precedents. His personal investment in easing tensions around the Korean peninsula may have cost the facade of the American foreign policy. It further paves the way for examining the Republican-Democrat quest in achieving the objective of peace across this region.

Second, Kim indirectly highlights the US's policy efficacy against accepting any change from North Korea. But, his diplomatic experiments have been beneficial in predicting the US's discourse, essentially allowing the isolated kingdom to chart tailored possibilities. Bold statements and strong rhetoric by the North Korean leader is a testimony in this regard including repeated missile tests and military dry runs. Seemingly, North Korea has been tactical in testing waters and pushing its diplomatic reach by the day.

Third, it leads one to question the US's 'maximum pressure policy' on both Iran and North Korea. There has been a drastic shift from the US's 2019 approach to Iran and North Korea considering the present state of affairs. The culture of sanctions in the wake of alternative economic structures and new global capital strings may lead to a change in the international opinion on the US amongst its allies.

Finally, while the US holds pride in retaining regional aspirations, it must be wary of unprecedented challenges. Kim's admission of unsuccessful diplomatic compromises could help him gain sympathizers, but North Korean adventurism and its methods must not go unchecked.


Also, during this week...

Mass arrests in Hong Kong
This week, on New Year's evening, a mass protest took place in Hong Kong. This march comprising of people of different age groups began as a carnival celebration with protesters in different costumes but soon turned violent. The clashes led to mass arrest; approximately 400 protestors were detained on charges including illegal assembly and possession of offensive weapons.

The outbreak of viral Pneumonia in Wuhan
The Chinese authorities have started an investigation on the mysterious viral pneumonia which has infected dozens in the Chinese city, Wuhan, this week. As of today, a total of 44 cases have been confirmed. Both Singapore and Hong Kong have installed screening processes for travellers from Wuhan. Nevertheless, one traveller in Singapore and some in Hong Kong is suspected to be infected and are hospitalized. There is also a rising fear that this might be related to the SARS virus.

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