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Month: November 2018

The Geopolitics of the Bay of Bengal

The Bay of Bengal is located in the North-East region of the Indian Ocean, and is bounded by Bangladesh to the North, Myanmar and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India to the East, India and Sri Lanka to the West. Some of the major sea ports in the Bay of Bengal include Chennai, Kolkata and Visakhapatnam in India and the port of Chittagong in Bangladesh making the region (of the Bay) a crucial economic hub. With an area of 2,173,000 square kilometres, the Bay of Bengal is the largest Bay in the world which is at the forefront of Asia’s experience of climate change[1]. Over the years the significance Bay of Bengal have been on the rise largely owing to the rapid economic growth of the littoral nations and the major powers involved in the bay.[2]

Brief History

Throughout the medieval, early modern and modern periods of world history from the indigenous city-states as well as empires, later to the British Empire the Bay of Bengal had been a singular civilisation united by a rice culture and common coastline that kept bringing trade and migrants along its shores.[3] Historically the Bay of Bengal has played a significant role of a connector- where trade, commerce and culture were intertwined for centuries. However in the early 20th century the British Empire used the Bay of Bengal for trade and other related activities, causing a significant increase in shipping between British India and British Burma. Yangon (Burmese Capital) was fascinatingly turned into one of the busiest ports in the world for migrant arrivals alongside the likes of New York; with majority of the flow from India towards Burma (now known as Myanmar)[4]. Strong ties between Burma and India developed as a direct consequence of the migration, which followed a downward curve in the years following the partition of India in 1947 and the Burmese independence in 1948 from Japanese occupation since world war II.[5]

Economic and Security issues

Bay of Bengal is rapidly becoming an area of key economic and strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific. A crucial geopolitical development was the creation of a regional body- the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand- which seeks to promote regional cooperation and engagement in the area particularly between the two major geopolitical blocs of the region- the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). However BIMSTEC’s focus is solely economic with their main objective being supporting free trade hence it does little to provide any support in terms of maritime security issues that have particularly grown in recent years with respect to Chinese and Indian interests.[6]

Crucial geopolitical factors concerning the Bay of Bengal

China’s economic and security interests over the past few decades have resulted in greater Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. China has been successful in developing strong economic relations with major Bay of Bengal countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar primarily through infrastructure development projects that include pipelines, roads and railway, port-development and power-plant construction.[7] Key strategists from India expressed concerns over the rising Chinese influence in the outposts of the Indian Ocean which they fear could enable China to turn them into military bases encircling India.[8] Although it is argued that China’s interests are more economic in terms of ease of connecting to the other parts of the world on their West, it has not stopped India from taking precautionary steps by making rapid developments in modernising their naval capabilities as well as developing multilateral and bilateral naval ties with key players of the Bay of Bengal.

China-India relations in the Bay of Bengal

China and India are playing a strategic and economic tug-of-war in Myanmar among other littoral nations along the Bay of Bengal. China has recently assisted in building key ports in Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka and according to recent reports it is funding the development of the Chittagong port of Bangladesh, while having reached an multi-billion dollar agreement to build a major deep sea port in Kyaukpyu, Myanmar on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.[9] China already have a significant presence in Myanmar with the gas pipeline connecting China’s Yunnan Province with Myanmar’s major Rakhine state already in operation and a parallel oil pipeline that is supposed to soon begin operations.[10] Since the launch of India’s Look East Policy in the 1990s it has strengthened its political, economic and strategic ties with South East Asian countries and beyond [11], with more actions being considered in order to have leverage over China. It is safe to say that while India had other priorities such as the inward economic orientation and preoccupation with troubled land borders mainly in the North and the North West, it was the growing influence of China’s maritime influence that prompted India’s strategic interests in the Bay of Bengal through its Look East Policy.[12] India and China are locked into this strategic competition for naval dominance as well as influence in the Indian Ocean’s littoral states and it can be argued that China might just have the edge due to its closer connections to some of the major littorals- i.e. Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The island nation of Sri Lanka also has strong economic ties with both India and China, with a growing regional and security cooperation with the former. However the recent takeover of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port by China has had significant impacts- one of which is lessening the country’s debts to China, who has made a lot of investments in Sri Lanka over the years.[13]

Maritime disputes


Bangladesh, India and Myanmar have had their fair share of disputes regarding maritime territories. One of the most recent disputes was between Bangladesh and Myanmar as tensions were building when South Korea’s Daewoo began natural gas exploration for Myanmar in what Bangladesh claimed was their waters, prompting Bangladesh to submit a continental shelf claim to the United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Largely owing to Myanmar’s conflicting claims, the events led up to the mobilisation of naval forces along the disputed area although eventually a conflict was avoided.[14] The disputes were largely settled by the International Tribunal for the Land of the Seas (ITLOS) in 2012 and 2014 respectively.[15]

Myanmar relations with the littoral nations

Myanmar is regarded as a key player in the strategic equation along the Northern region of the Bay of Bengal that is fiercely contested by China and India. Myanmar have seen growing economic ties with India since the World War II while China have also been developing ties through various means primarily comprising infrastructure support.  Myanmar signed its first bilateral trade deal with India in 1970 and has been gradually increasing in volume since. According to some of the latest figures available, Indian exports to Myanmar totalled US$1.1 billion (1111.19 million) in the FY 2016-17 while imports were worth US$ 1 billion (1067.25 million), making it the fifth largest trade partner with Myanmar, despite trade said to remain below potential.[16] On the other hand Bangladesh and Myanmar established diplomatic ties in 1972 which resulted in progressing bilateral relations in the subsequent years. However in the mid-seventies as President Thein Sein’s government transformed Myanmar’s military government into a quasi-civilian government the bilateral relations never realised their full potential.[17] The end of their military rule in 2011 brought about a new glimmer of hope, however the recent Rohingya crisis has hindered any progress as Bangladesh are hosting a million refugees and have constantly failed in their repatriation due to the Bangladeshi government failing to have reached an agreement with the Myanmar government led by Aung (San) Suu Kyi.

Security/strategic issues

China are the largest trade partners to both Bangladesh and Myanmar and is also the biggest supplier of conventional arms to both the countries. Bangladesh had recently purchased two submarines from China to bolster its naval forces causing tensions in India, with Indian analysts claiming it “greatly enhances the mistrust between Delhi and Dhaka”.[18]

While most of the issues were regarding the littoral nations and China, major actors such as Japan, alongside China have significant interest in the Bay of Bengal, as they access it through the Malacca Strait for the purpose of trade in goods and energy.[19] One of the most significant reasons for China’s growing presence is to find reliable oil supplies and secure unencumbered SLOCs.

India on the other hand had been working towards a “Bay of Bengal community” envisaging greater security cooperation with the littoral nations.[20] It is obvious that other actors play a significant role however the Bay of Bengal does have significance for India’s own best interests as well as data from 2013 reveals that 95 percent of India’s foreign trade by volume and 75 percent by value were conducted by sea.[21] The economic growth also led to India’s expansion of its Navy as it claims is for the safety of the Ocean’s SLOCs regarding it a critical move to support and protect for themselves and for the global community.[22]

Other challenges to stability

There is little doubt about the significance of the Bay of Bengal to the Asia’s rising powers however there are some challenges especially for its low-lying littorals. Currently, the Bay is being reshaped by population growth, climate change, overexploitation of fisheries, degradation of critical habitats, pollution, and deteriorating water quality and it is getting increasingly clear that multilateral cooperation is vital for the littorals, especially important is that they keep aside their political differences to work together while maintaining a healthy competition. Currently there is already an initiative known as the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) Project designed to improve the lives of the coastal populations through improved regional management of the Bay of Bengal environment and its fisheries, and countries that are involved are as follows- Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand.[23]

What’s Next

The geopolitics surrounding the Bay of Bengal is probably one of the most complex issues in the continent if not the world, with the region comprising a diverse range of social, economic and political factors. However there is little doubt that the key actors involved with the Bay of Bengal all have a crucial role to play in the progress of the region and for themselves in relation to prospects of regional strategic security and economic cooperation and transformation of the (developing) nations.

 

[1] http://blogs.bbk.ac.uk/research/2014/01/27/the-bay-of-bengal-in-global-history/

[2] https://hrcak.srce.hr/135023

[3] https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/critical-bay-bengal

[4] King’s College Discussion. “The Bay of Bengal: Rise and Decline of a South Asian Region”. YouTube.

[5] https://www.mea.gov.in/images/pdf/Indian-Migrants-Myanmar.pdf ; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-33973982

[6] https://southasianvoices.org/bay-of-bengal-indias-centerpiece-springboard/

[7] https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/IRP-2012-U-002319-Final.pdf

[8] https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/IRP-2012-U-002319-Final.pdf

[9] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/china-myanmar-ink-deal-for-port-on-bay-of-bengal-third-in-india-s-vicinity/story-Lbm4IwOMuqrNvXGv4ewuYJ.html ; https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/china-to-build-port-in-myanmar-third-in-indias-neighbourhood-1944916

[10]

[11] http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/indien/11043.pdf

[12] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/chinese-takeaway-bengals-bay/

[13] https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/navy-league/2018/04/09/sri-lanka-cedes-major-port-to-china-fueling-tensions/

[14] https://amti.csis.org/the-bangladeshmyanmar-maritime-dispute-lessons-for-peaceful-resolution/

[15] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RskGT2pUiIY

[16] https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/MYANMAR_August_2017_new.pdf

[17] https://www.myanmarisis.org/publication_pdf/final-version-myanmar-bangladesh-relations-mmedits-ah2-1wpFhW.pdf

[18] https://thediplomat.com/2017/01/why-chinas-submarine-deal-with-bangladesh-matters/

[19] https://hrcak.srce.hr/135023

[20] https://www.deccanherald.com/national/india-wants-bay-bengal-be-688774.html

[21] Hughes, L., 2014. Examining the Sino-Indian Maritime Competition: Part 4 – India’s Maritime Strategy. Future Directions International. [online] January 30 2014. Available at: http://www.futuredirections.org. au/publications/indian-ocean/1516-examining-the-sino-indian- maritime-competition-part-4-india-s-maritime-strategy.html

[22] https://hrcak.srce.hr/135023

[23] https://hrcak.srce.hr/135023

The Rise and Fall of Muslims by Ali Mahmood – Episode 1

Based on the book by Ali Mahmood titled “Muslims” – Purchase using this link – https://www.kjvids.co.uk/product/muslims/

When the Prophet Muhammad left Mecca for Medina, he had less than a hundred followers. Within a century after he passed away, the Muslims had conquered all the territory from the Atlantic Ocean to China, and the empire of Islam led the world in science, education, medicine, culture, commerce. This empire dominated the world for a thousand years. The two empires that followed after the seventeenth century were, in comparison, short-lived—the British Empire lasted for two hundred years and its successor, the American Empire is in decline after only sixty years.

Between the seventh and the seventeenth centuries, Muslim power shifted from the Arabs to the Persians, the Turks and the Moguls. The capital of the Islamic empire moved from the sands of Mecca and Medina to Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Cordoba and Istanbul, as new dynasties replaced the old—the Umayyad, the Abbasid, the Fatimid—followed by Tamerlane, the world conqueror, and the three gunpowder empires—the Ottoman, the Safavid and the Mogul.

The golden centuries of the world of Islam flourished while the Dark Ages of Europe kept life, brutish and short. The great libraries of the caliphs in Cordoba and Baghdad ran to half a million books while the great European collections did not even reach a thousand volumes. The Canons of Avicenna (Ibn Sina) dominated medicine in Europe for five hundred years and Ibn Firnas demonstrated flight at the age of 76, a hundred years before Da Vinci drew his sketches, but never risked an actual attempt to fly. The thousand years of the Islamic Empire were a time of great achievement, great institutions, great cities and most of all great men.

When Saladin conquered Jerusalem and Balian, the Christian general reminded him of the cruelty and barbarism of the earlier Christian conquest. Saladin gently but firmly replied, ‘I am not of those men. I am Saladin’. He gave away all that came to him as ruler and died penniless without even the money for a decent burial. Suleiman the Magnificent before whom the world trembled, was the pre-eminent sovereign in both Asia and Europe.

This remarkable era is the legacy of The Prophet, and of those he inspired to pursue education, justice and merit. It was these values and attitudes that took the Muslims up; and it was the loss of these values and attitudes that, in the seventeenth century, brought the Muslims crashing down.

After one thousand years at the top, the Muslims spent two hundred years at the bottom; the former masters of the universe were deprived and humiliated by their new lords from the West. They became a people without hope.

Iran’s Toughest Sanctions

Why is the United States imposing the “toughest sanctions in history” on Iran?

In 2018 November the United States re-imposed full sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran following Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord back in May. The US has vowed to impose and maintain the “toughest sanctions in history” on Iran.

For its part, the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has struck a defiant tone vowing to “break” the sanctions. But the reality is Iran is facing an economic siege which threatens to create instability with potentially far-reaching social and political consequences.

Realistically, there are three potential scenarios at this stage. First is that Iran hunkers down to manage the embargo by using innovative ways to evade some of the sanctions. The Iranians will be hoping to out-last Trump, whose first term expires in January 2021. However, this strategy falls apart if (as it looks increasingly likely) Trumps secures a second term in office.

The second scenario is that Iran caves in and agrees to negotiate a new deal on Trump’s terms. As Trump has repeatedly made clear the US is seeking a new deal which not only radically renegotiates the terms and conditions of the existing deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – but expands it to include restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and changes to its regional policy.

The third (and worst) scenario is that tensions do not remain at the sanctions or economic level, but that they escalate, leading to indirect and possibly even direct clashes between Iranian and American forces in the Middle East. In this scenario the provocative actions of Washington’s key allies, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, is crucial. Iran may strike these countries directly if it perceives an intolerable provocation or it comes to believe it can force an American retreat by striking at its allies.

But how did we get to this place in the first place?

History of Iran-US relations

Prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution, the United States and Iran were allies and Washington looked to Iran to maintain peace and stability in the Persian Gulf arena. But following the revolution the new revolutionary regime in Tehran found itself at odds with the US and relations rapidly deteriorated.

The climax came with the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran by revolutionary students in November 1979 under the pretext that the embassy was a “den of espionage” and to that end it was actively working against the Iranian revolution.

The real reason relates to the US decision to grant entry to the former Shah of Iran whom the revolutionaries wanted extradited to stand trial in Tehran. There was a real fear back then that the US would attempt to reinstall its former ally by overthrowing the Iranian revolution.

This fear brought back memories of the August 1953 coup (orchestrated by the CIA and Britain’s MI6) which overthrew Iran’s first democratically elected government – led by the nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaadegh – and reinstalled the Shah who had fled to Rome (Italy).

The August 1953 coup which overthrew Mossadegh was a pivotal moment in Iran’s modern history. Mossadegh was not only democratically elected but more importantly he was an icon of Iranian nationalism and was admired by nationalists across the region and beyond. It was Mossadegh’s decision to nationalise Iran’s oil industry – which had hitherto been in the clutches of the British “Anglo-Iranian Oil Company” (later renamed British Petroleum) – which had set him on a collision course with the Western powers led by Britain.

Mossadegh’s overthrow, followed by the instalment of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah, set the stage for the Iranian revolution 25 years later. It was based on this history – i.e. the US role in reinstalling the Shah and helping him to consolidate his rule for the next quarter of a century – that the Iranian revolutionaries staked out an oppositional stance vis-à-vis the United States.

Following the seizure of the US embassy in November 1979 bilateral relations were severed and the US began the long process of sanctioning virtually every aspect of the Iranian economy. The first sanctions targeted Iranian imports into the US. In addition, the US government froze $12 billion in Iranian assets. Hitherto these funds remain frozen and Iran not only seeks their return but also wants 40 years of interests to be taken into account as well.       

The next round of big sanctions came into effect 15 years later during the presidency of Bill Clinton. The latter sanctioned Iran’s oil industry by preventing US companies from investing in the Iranian oil and gas sector. A year later in 1996 the US congress went further by passing a law targeting foreign firms which invested more than $20 million a year in the Iranian energy sector.

This was the first time the US was using its clout to target non-US entities who did business with Iran. As such it was a significant escalation in America’s economic war against Iran and in hindsight it prepared the groundwork for today’s far-reaching sanctions regime.

The next round of sanctions was multilateral in nature in so far as they were prompted by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions targeting specific features of Iran’s nuclear programme, notably uranium enrichment. The UNSC imposed its first round of sanctions – mostly targeting the nuclear sector – in December 2006.

But the US imposed additional sanctions on top and used the opportunity created by international concerns over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme to widen and deepen its own sanctions regime against the Islamic Republic.

Indeed, in October 2007, the US directly sanctioned Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) by designating its expeditionary wing, known as the Qods (Jerusalem) force as a terrorist organisation.

Moreover, in June 2010, the US exploited the international climate following the UNSC’s imposition of the fourth round of sanctions on Iran, to further target Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Then in January 2012 Washington went a step further by sanctioning Iran’s central bank.

Following the signing of the landmark nuclear deal in July 2015, much of the complex web of unilateral and multilateral sanctions that had been imposed on Iran since December 2006 were gradually eased but never fully lifted. However, the US kept in place its non-nuclear related unilateral sanctions, including wide-ranging sanctions against the IRGC on account of its alleged support for “terrorism”.

By withdrawing from the nuclear deal, the US is not only seeking to reimpose full sanctions, but is in fact going a step further by pledging to reduce Iranian oil exports to “zero”. This is a massive provocation and if the US comes anywhere near to achieving its goal then a confrontation with Iran is guaranteed.

Do Iran and America talk directly?   

In view of this bitter 40-year history, viewers would be excused in thinking that Iran and the United States rarely (if ever) talk directly. Whilst it is true that the two powers broke off diplomatic relations in late 1979 and have had no direct diplomatic representation on each other’s soils, nevertheless direct talks and even deals have materialised intermittently.

The best early example was the “Iran Gate” scandal of 1986 when the US government illicitly sold arms to Iran (in violation of its own arms embargo on the Islamic Republic) so as to secure the release of US hostages in Lebanon. The scandal had an additional illicit layer as the funds from the deal were transferred to the “Contras” rebels in Nicaragua who were fighting the leftist Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega.

More recently Iran and the US engaged in secret talks in Muscat (Oman) in 2013 on finding a way out of the impasse presented by Iran’s nuclear programme. These secret meetings soon gave way to direct bilateral meetings between Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his former US counterpart John Kerry.

It is also worth noting that Iranian and US envoys met directly in Baghdad in July 2007 to agree to a de-escalation in the Iraqi arena. At the time Iran was accused by the US of arming anti-American militants who were resisting the US-led occupation. Although this meeting didn’t produce a breakthrough, nevertheless it showed that even under the most adverse circumstances – when Iran and the US are fighting each other indirectly via proxies – they can still meet with a view to de-escalation.

Why talks are unlikely now

Donald Trump has called for direct talks with Iranian leaders, notably President Hassan Rouhani, on several occasions. On each occasion the Iranians have publicly rebuffed his outreach on the grounds that it is spurious and insincere.

Iran’s position is clear: namely that the current nuclear deal (JCPOA) is fit for purpose and consequently Iran will not be forced to renegotiate its terms and conditions. Moreover, the 12 list of demands issued by the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo back in May are effectively a call for surrender as compliance would mean Iran effectively giving up its independent foreign policy.

Amongst other demands, Pompeo wants Iran to fully withdraw from Syria, stop supporting Hezbollah and cease playing a role in the Yemen conflict. Clearly the Iranians will never agree to these terms and to that end Pompeo’s list of demands was an incitement to confrontation as opposed to a credible negotiating position.

Will Iran and the US go to war?

To many observers it is surprising that given the depth of hostility between Iran and the US, as reflected by the events of the past four decades, the two sides have not gone to war yet. It is worth noting that the two sides have clashed militarily but stopped short of declaring war.

The most intense clash occurred in April 1988 when in the course of one day – during Operation Praying Mantis – the US destroyed a quarter of the Iranian navy. This operation was part of a broader US effort to pressure Iran into accepting a ceasefire with Iraq in the long-running Iran-Iraq War.

The power differential between the US and Iranian militaries is one of the factors that military analysts cite to explain Iran’s reluctance to engage the US militarily. But Iran has come a long way since the late 1980s and the Iranian armed forces – in particular the IRGC – have developed a wide range of asymmetric capabilities and tactics which could be used to great effect against superior military powers.

Iran’s asymmetric capabilities – in addition to the Islamic Republic’s extensive reach and influence across the Middle East – makes the US reluctant to engage Iran militarily for fear of unintended consequences.

Nevertheless, despite both sides’ reluctance to go to war, a conflict could still break out either as a result of the cumulative effect of tensions or a mistake or misunderstanding which escalates suddenly and without warning.

The next two years are the most crucial yet in the 40-year standoff between Iran and America.               

 

Will there be a EUROPEAN ARMY? – KJ Vids

In an era of mounting rivalry between great powers, and with the Trump administration raising doubts over the America’s commitment to protect Europe, the recent declarations by French President Emmanuel Macron over the need of a “European Army” to protect the continent against Russia, China and even the United States have caused much political debate. But will there ever be a European Union Army?

The evolution of the EU policy on defence

The debate over the establishment of a European common policy on defence and therefore over the creation of a unified armed force is as old as the European integration process itself. The first step in this sense was came with the Brussels Treaty of 1948 which established the Western Union, an alliance that included the United Kingdom, France and the three Benelux countries. Knowing that their military forces would be insufficient to defend the continent from a Soviet invasion, one year later these and other countries (including the United States) formed NATO, which soon became the main collective defence pact in Europe. Still, the European countries wanted to increase their cooperation in defence in order not to be completely reliant on America. In 1952, France, Italy, West Germany and the three Benelux states signed a treaty to form the European Defence Community. This was an ambitious project that was supposed to create a unified European Army. However, it ended in a failure: the French Parliament did not ratify the Treaty and consequently it never entered into force; which is quite notable considering that today France’s Macron is calling for a common military structure. At that point, the European countries opted for a revision of the Western Union. In 1954 its founding Treaty was modified, transforming the organization into the Western European Union, which included the original members plus Italy and West Germany. This was essentially a political-military mutual defence pact, and did not include any plans for a common armed force. The WEU continued existing as a separate organization until 2011, when it was finally dismantled.

All these initiatives ran in parallel to the European integration process that would later create the EU, which back then was simply the European Coal and Steel Community and therefore had a primarily economic connotation. In 1957, its scope was enlarged and it became the European Economic Community (EEC), whose aim remained essentially that of creating a common market as a premise to greater political cooperation, but which had practically no military ambitions. But various international crises raised the need to at least coordinate the foreign policy actions of its member states. Because of this, the European Political Cooperation was launched in 1970. Yet, it was merely a mechanism to attempt coordinating the positions of members states on foreign policy issues. It did not devolve specific competences to communitarian institutions, did not oblige member states to comply with the decisions that were taken (provided a common agreement was reached) and had essentially no military content. After a series of other international crises in the late 70s and early 80s, the EPC was gradually improved and was finally renamed as Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that transformed the EEC into the European Union. The CFSP was one of the three pillars of the Treaty, something that signalled the willingness to do more on foreign affairs but also, and quite notably, on defence issues. As a matter of fact, the CFSP included the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), that was conceived as the crisis management component of the CFSP. Later, the ESDP was transformed into the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in 2009.

However, the name “Common Foreign and Security Policy” is highly misleading, as seems to imply that such issues are treated via the communitarian procedures and therefore that member states devolved at least part of these core sovereign competences to the EU institutions; as it is the case with trade or agricultural policies. In reality, it is exactly the opposite: the CFSP remains under the intergovernmental procedure, so security and defence are still competences of single member states. As the EPC before it, the CFSP is essentially a mechanism to coordinate the action of EU members in security and defence issues.

The military means of the EU

Even though defence remain a competence of member states, and in spite of the fact that the EU is and wants to appear essentially a civil power, this does not mean that it has not its own military means. In particular, in the framework of the CSDP, the Union can deploy troops under its mandate for accomplishing the so-called “Petersberg Tasks”, established by the now-extinct Western European Union in 1992 and integrated in the EU’s juridical body since the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty. These missions are essentially humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and crisis management, which includes peace enforcement. The decision-making procedure is based upon four bodies. The first is the European Union Military Staff (EUMS), whose task is to monitor international crises, evaluate the situation, raise the alert, plan operations according to the Petersberg Tasks, and in general to provide military expertise. On the basis of its assessments, a second organ (the European Union Military Committee, EUMC) advises the Political and Security Committee (PSC); which in turn advances its proposals for EU military actions that are ultimately approved by the member states via the Foreign Affairs Council, a particular formation of the EU Council. As of today, the EU has launched a series of missions abroad; notably in Africa, the Balkans, Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these had a military nature and were meant to provide either peacekeeping or training; whereas the others were civilian operations.

The broader strategic vision upon which the whole of the CFSP is based (therefore including military operations in the CSDP framework) is defined by the European Security Strategy, whose first version was released in 2003 and that has been updated and enlarged twice in 2008 and finally in 2016. As a matter of fact, it is possible to note an evolution in scope through time. The 2003 paper was rather vague and simply presented the EU’s view on the world and its main threats (notably terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction). The 2008 version was essentially an update of the previous: it included more issues, notably energy security, but remains a declaration of objectives rather than a proper strategy. The latest document is the most complete one. It describes the challenges that the EU is facing in various domains and regions, notably in the Middle East and Africa but also in trans-Atlantic relations, in Asia and in regards to Russia. It also declares the EU’s objectives: to promote security, stability, prosperity, state resilience and the rule of law. A notable point to note is that it states that Europeans should take the responsibility to defend themselves and that they should be ready to deter external threats; adding that in NATO’s framework they must become more capable of participating to collective self-defence but also – and this is the most interesting part – to act autonomously if necessary.

This raises the issue of the coordination between the EU and NATO on security. By now, the matter is regulated by the so-called “Berlin Plus Agreement”, which can be summed up by the “Three Ds”: no discrimination, no decoupling and no duplication. In practice, they mean that both the EU and NATO can perform peacekeeping and crisis management operations, that non-EU states can participate to missions managed by the Union, and that if one of the two organizations intervenes the other will restrain from doing so. The EUMC ensures the military coordination between NATO and the EU. However, the Berlin Plus arrangements only regulate the interventions that fall in the scope of the Petersberg Tasks, as in spite of the declaration that Europeans must be able to act on their own that appeared in the 2016 EU Strategy, by now collective self-defence remains a prerogative of NATO, and the EU has neither the juridical powers nor the practical means for this.

Yet, the EU has its own military units: the EU Battlegroups. Established in 2005, the first of them became operational two years later, but have still not seen any actual action. The Battlegroups are multinational battalion-size units established at the EU level; in contrast to multinational forces created by member states outside of the EU framework but that can still be deployed for EU missions as well as for those of other organizations. The Battlegroups’ composition varies, but normally they consist of around 1,500 infantrymen plus support personnel. They are under the political control of the Council, while operational command goes to the “leading country” that gives the main contribution to the Battlegroup in terms of personnel and equipment. Non-EU countries can also participate. Today, a total of 18 Battlegroups exists, and they rotate on a six-months period so that there are always two of them ready for deployment. As of today, the Battlegroups are what gets closer to a EU Army, but they are essentially rapid intervention forces meant for crisis management operations and they are clearly not sufficient for protecting Europe from an external invasion in the optic of collective self-defence; a task that by now only be carried out by NATO.

Will there be a EU Army?

Over the decades, the EU has slowly increased the capabilities and the scope of its military means, but its foreign policy tools remain largely civilian and it is still very far away from having its own armed forces. As a matter of fact, there are various challenges along this path.

The first are political and juridical: according to the norms introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty, giving the EU collective defence competences requires a decision of the European Council, which is an institution that acts by unanimity; notably for what concerns the CFSP and consequently the CSDP. Also, creating a EU Army would require a higher level of political integration and a common defence budget, which may exist in parallel with national ones or substitute them. This demands in turn to establish the rules related to drafting and approving the budget, to weapons procurement, to strategic planning and command, and others. Considering the political divergences and the different strategic needs of member states, reaching a common position on such matters is very difficult. For instance, other member states may likely oppose or at least refuse to support Macron’s EU Army project by interpreting it as a French-centric initiative aimed at expanding France’s influence and at pursuing its national interests in the EU and abroad.

Second, there are the actual military aspects. Having a single EU Army would require the coherent standardization of equipment, doctrines, practices, trainings, uniforms, denominations, and more. Again, given the different national priorities of member states, this is complicated to achieve.

Finally, there is the linguistic dimension: the number of idioms used in the EU makes creating a unified Army more complicated. This could be solved with relative ease by adopting a single “official” language for the military, but there would still be disagreements over which one to choose.

As such, it is extremely unlikely and probably impossible that a EU Army will be created anytime soon, if ever. At best, some progress may be made over expanding the number, size, capabilities and roles of the Battlegroups; which after all would already be a quite considerable achievement considering all the obstacles towards some form of collective defence. As the international context becomes more challenging, the EU member states may find the political willingness to deepen their defence cooperation, but this will surely be a long and complicated process.

Why is Israel cultivating ties with Oman?

In late October the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman, the sleepy Sultanate on the south-eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. Whilst the visit is consistent with Israel’s thawing relationship with a number of Arab countries, including Egypt and the Gulf states, nevertheless the visit to Muscat took observes by surprise.

That is mainly because Oman has been traditionally close to Iran, a deep-rooted relationship which tends to get stronger when Iran comes under severe pressure, as it is now with the re-imposition of tough and far-reaching US sanctions.

Therefore, by embracing Israel, Oman is risking its strong and fruitful ties to Iran, a political and strategic risk which Oman can ill afford in the long term.

The Geopolitics of Oman

Unlike some of her Gulf neighbours Oman has a long and proud history. Back in the 18th century the Sultanate of Oman successfully competed with Britain, Portugal and Iran for influence in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. The country has been more or less independent since the middle of the 16th century.

From a political point of view, the country is distinctive by the fact that it was ruled for a long time by an Imamate system based on the al-Ibadiyyah school of Islam. A derivative of the original Khawarij tendency, the al-Ibadiyyah survives only in Oman and small pockets in North Africa, notably Algeria.

Oman’s Ibadi identity is central to the country’s geopolitical profile. It sets Oman firmly apart from her Gulf neighbours which to varying degrees, and at an official level, follow a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. It also sets it apart from Yemen and the Iranian Shia giant across the Gulf.

The Ibadi faith has also had a profound impact on Oman’s domestic politics and associated socio-economic and cultural institutions. In the popular imagination Oman is often characterised as a sleepy, benign and insular society. Regular travellers to Oman would likely attest to this description of the Sultanate.

Oman’s Foreign Policy

The guiding principles of Oman’s foreign policy was set down firmly in the 1970s. Up to that point and for much of the 20th century Oman was too consumed by internal division and strife to formulate and implement an effective foreign policy. This was a far cry from Oman’s role in previous centuries as a small empire on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula.

The turning point in the late 20th century came in the form of the so-called Dhofar rebellion (referencing the Omani province by that name) spearheaded by Marxist-Leninist rebels. The embattled Omani state finally managed to defeat this determined rebellion primarily with the help of British and more importantly Iranian military support (more on this later).

The most important point about the Dhofar conflict and its aftermath is that it forced the Omani ruling system to undertake deep and far-reaching structural and institutional reforms to elevate it to a level consistent with 20th century standards. For the first six decades of the 20th century Oman was essentially stuck in the past and barely functioning under the burden of obsolete institutions and associated policies.

The defeat of the rebellion in 1976 heralded the emergence of a unified and coherent Omani state which had both the confidence and the means to play an important role in its immediate external environment.

At that point Oman’s ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said chose to adopt a balancing and mediatory role in regional and foreign policy. By all credible accounts, Sultan Qaboos is a wise and far-sighted leader who has expertly mobilised the resources of his small country to exert maximum influence in the regional environment, notably in relation to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the wider Gulf region and Iran.

Broadly speaking, there are three important strands to Oman’s foreign policy, namely its membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), relationship with Iran and enduring ties to the United Kingdom. To understand Muscat’s place in the world it is vital that we undertake an in-depth examination of these three important dimensions of Omani foreign policy.

Oman and GCC: a reluctant member?

Oman joined the GCC at its inception in 1981 and has been an active member of its various branches and committees since. But this active participation does not necessarily mean full acquiescence to the general thrust of GCC policies. As it is now widely known the GCC has been reduced to essentially a vehicle for the promotion of Saudi Arabia’s, and to a lesser extent, the United Arab Emirates’, positions and interests in the Persian Gulf region.

But Oman dissents from this Saudi-UAE driven agenda in three important respects. Foremost, Oman is opposed to Saudi’s hostile policy on Iran and does not want the GCC to be used as a forum to push this agenda.

Second, Oman is officially neutral in the spat between the GCC (plus Egypt) and Qatar. But privately Oman harbours sympathy for Doha’s position and supports its balancing role vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia. Just like Qatar, Oman has much to lose if Saudi Arabia achieves its goal of establishing primacy in the Gulf region.

Third, Oman is opposed to the Saudi-UAE led war on Yemen both on humanitarian and geopolitical grounds. Oman shares a border with Yemen and stands to be deeply affected if Yemen disintegrates altogether. In order to blunt the effectiveness of the Saudi-Yemeni led war, Oman has reportedly gone to the extent of facilitating arms transfers to the Ansarullah movement, also known as the Houthis.

Oman and Iran: A Special Relationship

As stated earlier, Iran intervened militarily in the early and mid-1970s to help Oman defeat the Marxist-Leninist rebellion in Dhofar. This intervention was made by the former Shah of Iran whose goal was to act as the policeman of the Persian Gulf at the behest of America.

The Shah was overthrown in the 1979 Iranian revolution but the Omani ruler, Sultan Qaboos, never forgot Iran’s decisive military intervention in the Dhofar conflict. The Sultan knew very well that absent that intervention Oman would have likely disintegrated as a cohesive state and he would have lost his crown.

For this reason, Oman continued to maintain warm ties with revolutionary Iran thus qualifying as the only regional state whose relations with Iran were not upset or altered as a result of the Iranian revolution.

Oman’s simultaneously good ties with Iran and the West has enabled it to play a mediating role, particularly between Iran and the United States. For instance, Oman hosted secret talks between Iran and the US in 2013 on Iran’s nuclear programme. These talks sowed the seeds which eventually bloomed into the landmark nuclear accord of 2015.

Oman’s deep links with Britain  

In the modern period British influence in Oman was consolidated by the Treaty of Seeb (1920) which formalised Oman’s partition into two distinct regions, a coastal state and an autonomous interior.

The British continued to maintain influence in the latter part of the 20th century as demonstrated by the UK military intervention in the Dhofar conflict. At that point the British army struck up an enduring partnership with its Omani counterpart. This is foremost embodied by the “Swift Sword” series of manoeuvres, with the latest held in October 2018.

The British influence over Oman’s armed forces is the clearest indicator that ultimately Oman looks to the West for safety, security and survival.

Oman’s ties with Israel

Whilst Netanyahu’s visit to Muscat caught observers by surprise, it is important to note that Oman has had important contacts with Israel for more than two decades. The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Oman in late 1994, setting off a diplomatic engagement which produced an “agreement” just over a year later.

Moreover, Netanyahu’s visit was preceded by Israeli officials’ visit to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, leading the BBC to celebrate the “warming up” of Israeli-Arab ties after a “long deep freeze”.

Whilst the symbolism of Netanyahu’s visit to Muscat is important – in so far as it further erodes the taboo surrounding Israel in the Muslim world – in practical terms the Israeli Prime Minister was pursuing a narrow agenda during his eight-hour stop in the Omani capital. Most likely much of the content of his meeting with Sultan Qaboos revolved around Israel’s arch-foe Iran.

Israel is agitating for a full-frontal diplomatic, political, economic and potentially military assault on Iran. Israeli pressure played a decisive role in the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the landmark nuclear accord and by extension to re-impose harsh sanctions on Iran.

Beyond the US-led sanctions regime, Israel is trying to align more and more with Saudi Arabia with a view to creating a regional block against Iran. Oman stands in the way of that potential coalition.

Whilst Netanyahu cannot hope to turn Oman against Iran, but at minimum he aspires to enlist Oman’s help in thwarting Iran’s sanctions busting activities. As sanctions begin to bite Iran traditionally turns to friendly countries to help it evade certain sanctions or act as intermediaries with countries and entities who cannot afford to be seen to be doing direct business with the Islamic Republic.

Oman’s geographic position at the mouth of the Arabian Peninsula and the gateway to the Persian Gulf makes it critical to Iranian sanctions-busting activities, particularly in relation to the sale of oil and other petroleum products.

Conclusion: will Oman cave into Israeli pressure?

The Omani ruler and his inner circle probably view their outreach to Israel as part of their balancing and mediation role in the region. These are the guiding principles of Oman’s foreign policy. Based on these principles, Oman strives to be on good terms with all regional powers.

But the Omani leadership also places a premium on loyalty and longevity. Oman’s special relationship with Iran is nearly fifty years old and as stated earlier the Omani ruler continues to feel deeply indebted to Iran for that country’s decisive role in safeguarding Oman’s territorial integrity and sovereignty back in the 1970s.

Furthermore, the Omani ruler is known to take the long view, a feature cemented by his nearly 50-year rule. It is plausible that he thinks that eventually Iran and the United States are going to strike a “grand bargain” to begin the process of normalisation. In view of its established role as a mediator Oman hopes to play a big role in that reconciliation process.

In the final analysis, leaving Iran aside, there is no getting away from the symbolic importance of Netanyahu’s visit. The symbolism assumes even greater significance when set against the backdrop of Rabin’s visit to Muscat twenty-four years ago. On current trajectory Oman is on course to develop full-fledged ties with the Jewish state.  

Will North and South Korea Ever Reunite?

Since the end of the War in 1953, the Korean peninsula is divided by a frozen conflict that still awaits a definitive settlement. The recent developments as the signs of detente between North and South Korea or the meeting between the former’s leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump leave some hope of a peaceful resolution of the Korean issue. But will it actually be the case?

The historical background

After having been under Japanese domination for nearly four decades, in 1945 Korea was divided in two occupation zones separated by the 38th parallel: the Soviet one to the north, and the US-led Allied one in the south. While the original plan was to ultimately restore an independent and unified Korean state, in practice things unfolded differently. As the Cold War emerged, the disagreements between Moscow and Washington led to the establishment of two different states: a pro-communist one ruled by Kim Il-sung in the north, with Pyongyang as capital, and an authoritarian but pro-American one in the south, whose government was based in Seoul. The former took the name of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, while the latter became known as the Republic of Korea, shortened in RoK. The efforts to reach a common agreement over the reunification of the Peninsula were all unproductive, and the situation stalled until 1950 when North Korea invaded the South.

Exploiting the surprise effect, its troops captured Seoul and almost managed to occupy the whole Peninsula. The international coalition created to defend the South, patronised by the United Nations and headed by the US, struggled to stop the advancing enemy. But then, the US organized a counter offensive. With a bold amphibious landing at Inchon, they cut the supply lines of the North’s armies and pushed them back to the initial positions. Acting beyond the UN directive, the allied forces proceeded further north, taking Pyongyang and almost reaching the Yalu river, Korea’s border with China. Feeling threatened, the PRC intervened in support of its North Korean ally in December 1950. The coalition was expelled from the North’s territory, and the communist troops conquered Seoul a second time. But once again, the US and its allies counterattacked and retook the city in March 1951. the situation stabilized along the 38th parallel, and no notable changes occurred until the signature of an armistice in 1953. While this practically put an end to the conflict, a true peace treaty was never signed, and as such the Korean War is officially still unresolved.

Since then, the situation has stalled. The South maintained an authoritarian regime for several decades, before becoming a democracy in 1987 and beginning a period of rapid economic growth that turned it in one of the world’s most dynamic economies. The North, under the leadership of the Kim family, has remained a ruthless, isolationist, heavily-militarized and economically fragile dictatorship centred upon the Juche ideology; a peculiar combination of communism, nationalism, Korean tradition and cult for the ruler.

The geopolitical situation in Korea

As of today, the Korean peninsula remains divided, and this deeply influences the foreign policy of the two Korean states and of the other powers implied in the area.

First, since Korea is relatively small, both states are exposed to a potential attack coming from the other and/or its allies; notably as both capitals, and especially Seoul, are close to the border. This “proximity curse” is a central factor in the security dilemma that they face and that will be examined later. Second, there are the political factors. South Korea is allied with the US, which maintains bases and troops on its territory and that has even the power to take command of the South Korean military in case of war. The two countries regularly hold joint manoeuvres that anger the DPRK; who, on its part, is allied with China. The two states are tied by a 1961 treaty that establishes that the PRC is the security guarantor of the North. Its commitment is not total, however, as it would intervene only if the DPRK were attacked, and not if it would launch an offensive. In this regard, it is notable that amid the tensions between Washington and Pyongyang in 2017, the Chinese communicated that they would defend North Korea if the US attacked it.

As a matter of fact, the Korean Peninsula holds a particular geostrategic significance for both China and America, especially now that they are engaged in a broader competition in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. For the PRC, North Korea is a buffer zone separating its territory from the US-allied South, and therefore do not want the Pyongyang regime to collapse. This is why it keeps the 1961 treaty alive and continues supplying the DPRK with essential goods without which its economy would collapse. But at the same time, the division of Korea is also a problem, the risk remains that a war involving the US may break out in China’s backyard; in which case it would have to choose between seeing the American forces reaching the Yalu and creating a unified Korea under Washington’s influence or intervening and battle the US military to prevent this outcome. On it part, America is also facing a dilemma in Korea: remaining committed to protecting the South is important to preserve the credibility of its security engagements and to maintain a useful military presence in the area; but at the same time it also faces the risk of being involved in a conflict that may escalate to include China.

Finally, there are two other powers that have some interests at stake in the Peninsula. The first is Japan, who is equally concerned over the possibility of being directly or indirectly involved in a war and who sees North Korea’s missiles and nuclear program as a threat to its security. The second is Russia, who would not see favourably a further extension of America’s influence in the region.

In short, all the powers involved in the issue do not want a conflict. Yet, the risk of war remains real; because the two Korean states and their allies are trapped into a complicated security dilemma.

The security dilemma in Korea

Both the RoK and the DPRK continue to live as if the war could restart at any time. The two states maintain considerable military forces along the border, ready to respond in case of attack; even though no party wants to launch an offensive. But the looming threat of an escalation, most likely during a crisis, remains sufficient to keep both in alert. As a matter of fact, the security dilemma is very strong here; also because of the aforementioned “proximity curse”, Most of the DPRK’s forces are concentrated along the frontier. In particular, it has massed hundreds of artillery pieces ready to unleash a rain of fire on the highly-populated Seoul area; which would cause uncountable victims and terrible material damage, with huge repercussions on the financial-economic plan as well. This is already a very powerful deterrent against any attack on the North by the South or its main ally, the US; but at the same time it is the reason why the RoK wants to be ready for war and maintains its close alliance with the Americans: it considers this as the only way to dissuade the North from attempting to reunify the Peninsula by force. But this and the US presence in South Korea, in turn, is what motivates Pyongyang to keep its armed forces ready for attack: the massive damage it could inflict on the South is an extremely effective mean of dissuasion; probably equal and even superior to its nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s nuclear programme

This security dilemma is the main driver at the base of North Korea’s quest for nuclear weapons, as from its perspective it is the only way it can ensure its security in a challenging geopolitical environment.

During the Cold War, the South was still poor and militarily weak, and the DPRK could benefit from the support of two powerful allies, namely China and the USSR. Considering also that it already had formidable conventional retaliation means, it felt safe enough not to need nuclear weapons to guarantee its safety. But the balance of power in the Peninsula gradually changed with time as the RoK developed its economy and filled the military gap with its northern neighbour. In this context, in the late 80s the DPRK was first suspected of having a military nuclear programme. Things turned more complicated for the North in 1991: the Soviet Union fell; and China, whose relations with the US had much improved, was just beginning its economic boom. So, the DPRK was left virtually alone to face the possibility of a conflict, and this reinforced its determination to obtain nuclear weapons. In practice, this choice just worsened the security dilemma, but in the optic of Pyongyang’s regime it was the only guarantee that no one would try to attack the country and topple its government. Moreover, it also gave the DPRK a powerful tool to attract the world’s attention and obtain much-needed economic aid from the international community. As a matter of fact, an agreement with the US was initially reached in 1994, according to which Pyongyang pledged to stop its nuclear programme in exchange of diplomatic recognition and economic assistance.

At first, the deal worked, but things changed once again in the early 2000s. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, US President G.W. Bush pledged to counter WMD proliferation with all means and started implementing a preventive war doctrine to eliminate the “Axis of Evil” that threatened America. The DPRK, who was explicitly included in the list and who was already suspected of running a clandestine nuclear programme in spite of the pacts, felt menaced and decided to leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and openly admit its quest for nuclear weapons. Being already engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington opted for diplomacy in the context of the Six-Party Talks (or SPT), that included the two Korean States plus the US, China, Japan and Russia. In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, which showed that it had achieved its goal and therefore reinforced its position both strategically and diplomatically; as now the point was to disarm it rather than preventing proliferation. After long negotiations, the DPRK accepted once again to end its nuclear programme if it received economic aid. But no actual progress was made afterwards, and the DPRK ultimately abandoned the SPT in 2009. In the meanwhile, it continued making progress and testing nuclear warheads as well as ballistic missiles. When President Trump entered in office in 2017, he decided to apply a “maximum pressure” policy to push North Korea to dismantle its small but dangerous arsenal. After a crisis marked by verbal attacks and military shows of force, Trump and Kim Jong-un decided to talk directly. After meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim went to Singapore in June 2018 to personally discuss with Trump; and negotiations have been under way since then.

What now?

While the recent meetings were certainly historic events, the road ahead still appears to be long. The North has shown some goodwill, but the fundamental issues are still unresolved and most importantly the underlying geopolitical situation has not changed. Korea remains divided, the North’s regime is still in power and wants to remain there, and there is no agreement over the future asset of the Peninsula.

Moreover, the current status quo is somehow convenient for all, as any alteration may result in less convenient outcomes and even in an all-out war. Also, if the US used its military force to attack a foreign country and enforce regime change, the DPRK would once again feel threatened and would probably decide to resume its nuclear programme. Finally, apart from geopolitics, the reunification of Korea would also imply very high cost to develop the former North, and no one really wants to sustain these expenses.

Yet, it cannot be excluded that progress will be made, that the nuclear issue will be solved and that Korea will eventually reunite. But in the short term, no breakthrough is to be expected in the Peninsula.

The Weaponisation of Space

Space: The final frontier, where no war has been fought before. In the past few years, both states and firms have shown a renewed interest for space exploration. New ambitious missions were launched for scientific and commercial purposes, with some aiming even at landing a manned mission on Mars. But will space also become the final frontier of warfare?

Space: Militarization & Weaponization

When examining the use of space for war-related activities, an important distinction must be made between the militarization and the weaponization of space.

The term “militarization” refers to the use of space for military purposes; be it reconnaissance, targeting, communication, direct attack or anything else. In this sense, space was militarized decades ago. The armed forces of advanced countries, as the United States and its competitors like Russia and China, have deployed satellites in orbit to perform such tasks and support their combat operations on Earth.

On its part, the term “weaponization” has a more specific meaning: it indicates the deployment of weapons in space, and sometimes also that of weapons capable of striking space-based assets. Space could soon be weaponized, and in some sense it already is. But to understand the scope of this trend, it is first necessary to consider the legal framework of space use.

The legal framework

Due to its nature, space is part of the global commons. It is therefore a domain that anyone can freely access and exploit for various activities. This conception underlies the legal framework on the use of space, and this is why there have been efforts to prevent its militarization and most of all its weaponization. However, important juridical vacuums persist, and they leave room for exploiting space for military purposes.

The most important treaty in this sense is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which a total of 107 countries have adhered; including the US, Russia and China. Its aim is to regulate activity in space and in particular to avoid an arms race. It states that “The exploration and use of outer space […] shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries”, that space “shall be free for exploration and use by all States”, and establishes that it “is not subject to national appropriation”. But its most important provision appears in Article IV, which reads: “States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner”. It also establishes the peaceful use of the Moon and other celestial bodies.

The treaty therefore explicitly forbids the deployment of weapons of mass destruction (or WMDs) in space. But in spite of the will to promote the peaceful use of this domain, there is no clear prohibition on the placement of non-WMD weapons in space. In this sense, an important provision concerning Anti-Ballistic Missiles system (or ABMs) existed in the 1972 ABM Treaty between the US and the USSR (later Russia). The treaty banned the deployment of similar systems in space, but when Washington abandoned the Treaty in 2002 the prohibition became practically void.

Another important concept is the one of non-interference, which is included in several treaties and prevents states from conducting actions that may hinder the verification of compliance with the norms on the use of outer space.

Then, there are a number of Resolutions of the UN General Assembly that call for avoiding the military use of space and for ensuring that only peaceful activities take place there; but for their very nature they are not binding. Still, it may be argued that the existing juridical body and the expressed desires of states to grant that space remains a domain to be used only for peaceful purposes are already sufficient to create a consuetudinary and possibly binding norm against the weaponization of space; but this remains subject to interpretation and, most importantly, the behaviour of states in recent years is going in the opposite direction, thus weakening the solidity and even the existence of this norm.

Types of space weapons

The exact definition of “space weapon” is not clear-cut and it can include a wide array of systems, most of whom remain theoretical or experimental concepts. In general, they can be divided into two broad categories: space-based and Earth-based assets.

Regarding the first, these are all kind of weapons deployed in orbit or on a celestial body, but the latter are more complicated to operate and would be a clear contravention to the Outer Space Treaty. So, satellites would be the most likely option. They could use jamming equipment to interfere with other satellites or use destructive weaponry, which can be either direct-energy weapons like lasers or kinetic-energy systems. It may even be possible to use “suicide satellites” designed to crash themselves against other satellites. Of all these, the most probable are satellites equipped with jammers, as other solutions would be technically more challenging to build and operate. Still, such satellites could affect the nuclear equilibrium: if the satellites used to detect the launch of ballistic missiles could effectively be jammed, then the immediate retaliation capabilities upon which nuclear deterrence is based could be undermined. So, similar jamming satellites would be a contravention to the non-interference norms meant to ensure the verifiability in nuclear matters.

But in theory satellites could also be used to strike targets on Earth. This can be done with lasers, or via kinetic bombardment. The latter refers to the use of satellites to launch projectiles on the planet’s surface: even without any kind of warhead, the sheer speed at which they would hit the target would be sufficient to cause damages comparable to those of a tactical nuclear bomb. As such, they could be considered a form of WMD and be therefore illegal.

Lasers could also be used to destroy targets in in the atmosphere, notably ballistic missiles. Since the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Russia has firmly opposed America’s ABM initiatives also out of concern that space-based systems could be deployed.

Then, there are Earth-based systems. The most important ones are anti-satellite systems, or ASAT. Various solutions are possible. A first and most common kind are missiles, fired either from the ground or from airplanes. The former type could also include ABM systems, since they could also be used for targeting satellites, and this has caused concern. Then there can be ASAT lasers, that have been tested by both the US and Russia. In addition, Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs) could be considered as space-related weapons as well. These are essentially ballistic missiles capable of travelling at speed of five times that of sound or more, and for their characteristics they blur the distinction between the air and space domains.

The actual deployment of most of these systems remain to be seen, as they imply considerable technical difficulties and high costs. But there is one exception: ASAT missiles. These are already a reality, as various powers have successfully tested them; and this is why space can be considered already weaponized to some extent.

Security dynamics in space

In spite of calls for the peaceful use of outer space, in practice this domain is already militarized and is central for the national security of many countries, first of all the US; which has deployed numerous satellites in space that are employed for intelligence gathering, targeting and navigation (via the GPS) and communications. Space is therefore vital for the ability of the US armed forces to operate effectively, and the Pentagon is fully aware of that; but so are America’s competitors.

In spite of their military power, Russia and China still cannot compete with the US on an equal basis in military terms. Therefore, they are adopting an indirect approach which aims at America’s weak spot: the satellites, which are essential for US military operations. This is why they, but the US as well, are so engaged in developing ASAT weapons. The first successful test of a Chinese ASAT missile dates back to 2007. This test has been largely considered as signal to the US, who in turn experimented a similar weapon shortly after. On its part, Russia tested its Nudol system several times, and there have been speculations that a missile spotted on a MiG-31 fighter in September this year could be an ASAT weapon.

Another driver in Russia’s and China’s quest for ASAT weapons is America’s Conventional Prompt Global Strike initiative, or CPGS. The aim of this program, that was revived since 2008 to counter the Anti-Access / Area Denial strategies of Moscow and Beijing, is to enable the US military to strike a target located anywhere in the world with conventional weapons in no more than one hour. Various systems have been proposed to satisfy the CPGS’ requirements, including some that are linked with space: among them, the most important are hypersonic missiles, as they require satellites for targeting and guidance. Russia and China started developing ASAT weapons also to counter this threat. But satellites could also be used as early-warning systems to detect incoming hypersonic missiles: considering that all three powers are testing such vectors, it is clear why they all invest so much in deploying satellites and in being able to take down those of their adversaries.

This also explain the calls from Moscow and Beijing for a treaty to ban space weapons, known as PAROS; an acronym for Prevention on an Arms Race in Outer Space. By now, Washington has constantly declined to adhere to this project; but the actual goodwill of Russia and China is debated, with some suggesting that their offers are not driven by the actual desire to avoid a space arms race, but by the willingness to conduct it on their own terms. Here, the distinction between “weaponizing” space and “deploying weapons in space” is important: Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov talked about forbidding the latter, which would make space-based systems illegal but would allow ASAT weapons like those that Russia and China are developing.

Beside ASAT systems, there are also other activities that the three powers are conducting in space which may have a military connotation. In cooperation with SpaceX, the US Air Force has already performed several missions using the X-37B space plane, which was used to carry classified payloads in orbit. This raised rumours that a new weapon could be involved, but it is uncertain and some analysts reject this hypothesis. Again, earlier this year, the strange behaviour of a Russian satellite created concerns among some US officials that it could be a space weapon, possibly an ASAT system. Similar worries exist over Chinese activities in space. All this may indicate that space weaponization is moving to its definitive form, namely that of having proper weapons into space.

Finally, while the US, Russia and China are surely the main actors in the weaponization of space, they are not the only ones. Beside them, Japan, India and Israel are testing ASAT or ABM systems as well. Along with Germany, Italy and France, they also have their own reconnaissance satellites. In addition, North Korea has recently launched a satellite, and Iran is working on ASAT systems.

The final frontier of warfare?

As seen, space is already militarized, and new systems developed by major powers are leading to its weaponization. It is to be expected that this trend will continue, and it is practically certain that in case of conflict space will turn into a battleground, with space assets being targeted and possibly becoming attack vectors themselves. Space is the final frontier, also for warfare.

Will the EU Collapse and lead to a Civil War?

The last decade has been a difficult one for the European Union. In the wake of the 2009 debt crisis, much debate has arisen around its nature, its powers, its governance and its policies.

The situation got only worse when the migrant inflow boomed in 2015, triggering a EU-level crisis.

In this strained socio-economic context, diverging views on the EU as a polity have emerged at the political level both inside the single member states and inside the organization’s institutions.

Recently, two events have revived once more the debate. The first is the re-election of Viktor Orbán, a prominent conservative and Eurosceptic politician, as Prime Minister of Hungary.

The second is the statement by France’s President Emmanuel Macron that the EU is facing a “civil war” on its fundamental values resulting from different opinions between its Western and Central-Eastern members.

This affirmation seems exaggerated, at least at a first glance. But in such a turbulent political context, it raises a legitimate question: is the EU on the edge of a civil war?

The Conditions of a Civil War

To answer this question, the first thing to do is determining in which conditions a civil war does start. Essentially, this happens when two or more socio-political groups belonging to the same political entity disagree on the existing and/or future institutional order; and, being unable or unwilling to peacefully find a compromise through the existing institutional mechanisms, opt for armed conflict to impose their view and determine who will (re)shape the existing order by the use of coercion. Usually, a civil war opposes one group fighting to preserve the standing institutional framework (along with the prerogatives it enjoys thanks to it) and another group who wants to dismantle it (and set up a new order more favourable to its interests).

That said, history is full of examples of civil wars; from those which paved the way to the end of the Roman Republic centuries ago to the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen. But one is particularly significant due to its similarities with the situation the EU is facing today: the American Civil War.

The American Civil War

The US Civil War, also known as War of Secession, was an armed conflict that split the United States between 1861 and 1865.

The contenders where two: one was the Union (the North), formed by states that remained loyal to the government of the United States;

and the other was the Confederacy (the South), made up of states which seceded from the US and form a separate political entity known as the Confederate States of America (CSA).

Usually, this war is portrayed as a fight over the issue of slavery, with the Union supporting its abolishment and the Confederacy favourable to its preservation.

But even though slavery was indeed a central issue in sparking the conflict, the situation was far more complex than a clear-cut black-vs-white clash between conservative and progressist ideals. As a matter of fact, there were also major political, juridical-institutional and economic factors linked to the debate over slavery and human rights.

To understand this, it is necessary to perform a rapid historical overview on the prelude to the conflict. After being recognized as a sovereign polity by the Paris Treaty that officially ended the War of Independence in 1783, the United States began developing and expanding to the West. Rapidly, new states were founded and admitted to the Union.

But the economic outlook of the member states started diverging: those located in the North embraced industrialization, whereas the states in the South remained essentially agricultural.

There, rich landlords owned vast plantations, and exploited a large workforce of black slaves to work them. With time, this North-South gap became more and more marked, and it ultimately assumed a political dimension as well.

As a matter of fact, the Northern states needed cheap manpower to sustain their rapid industrialization. The mass of black slaves living in the South was the ideal solution, but it was impossible to hire them since they were a private property of the Southern landowners.

Consequently, the North states started calling for slavery to be abolished, provoking the firm opposition of the Southerners who needed slaves to cultivate the plantations that were the base of their local economy.

Besides, the two sides also diverged over trade policies: the North wanted protectionist measures to shelter its developing industry, while the South supported free trade as a mean to continue exporting its agricultural products abroad.

This led to an intense constitutional debate over slavery, and ultimately over the power of the federal government to introduce and enforce legislation on the matter all over the US territory.

Again, the opinion diverged between the North and the South: essentially, the former claimed the central government had this authority, whereas the latter considered this as a violation of the constitutional limitations on the powers of the federal institutions.

So, the debate took a dimension that went beyond the issue of slavery and focused on the nature of the US as a polity. The Union favored a strong central government having large powers,while the Confederates defended the rights and prerogatives of the single member states. The combination of all these factors finally led them to secede from the US in 1861 and form an alternative polity, the Confederate States of America (CSA).

The name itself is significant, as it reveals the different way these states interpreted the Constitution and conceived America as a political entity: they wanted a Confederation, so a polity granting more powers to the member states; in contrast to a Federation where the central authorities have larger constitutional competences.

Striking Similarities

Now, there are striking similarities between the situation of the US before the Civil War and that of the EU today.

The latter has also expanded during the previous decades by admitting new member states, with the most important “enlargement wave” taking place in 2004 with Central and Eastern European countries; and the most recent new member being Croatia, which joined the organization in 2013.

Again, similarly to America at the eve of the Civil War, the EU is also facing an intense debate over human rights that has greater economic, political and “constitutional” implications (there is not a proper EU Constitution, but the general sense of the term is still applicable to the Treaties at the base of the EU). In this context, two camps are identifiable, the complexity of reality notwithstanding.

Differences

As I argued in another article, one is formed by the original (or at least more ancient) members of the EU, concentrated in Western Europe; while the other includes the more recent ones, located in the Central-Eastern part of the continent and whose core is made of the four countries forming the Visegrád Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia; known also as V4).

The starting point to understand the divergence between these two “factions” is the migration crisis. As a matter of fact, the former group is demanding the Central-Eastern partners to accept a larger share of migrants. But the Visegrád states oppose these requests. As in the 1850s America, the issue is not merely humanitarian, since there are economic and political reasons behind the respective positions.

Countries like Italy, Greece and others (including France and Germany to some degree) worry that the migrant flow will put their socio-economic order under stress and that it may hamper the sluggish recovery from the recent debt crisis.

In contrast, the V4 and other states oppose such policies of migrant redistribution because they may slow down their ongoing economic development. But the divergence is also a matter of past experiences. Western countries have a long tradition of immigration from abroad (often as a consequences of their colonial past) and their societies are more used to the presence of foreigners; thus explaining their softer stance on immigration. This is not the case of Central-Eastern European states, that therefore prefer stricter measures in regard to immigration.

Finally, similarly to America before the civil war, the current debate in the EU also has a prominent institutional dimension. This can be explained from a historical perspective. Countries from the Western part of the continent took their current form as a result of a centralization process, which makes them more willing to accept devolving parts of their sovereignty to a supranational entity like the EU. That is why (in spite of mounting Eurosceptic forces) they remain favorable to further European integration; especially in the case of France, that appears willing to become the driver of deeper integration through devolving more powers to supranational institutions and by crating a true fiscal union (even though this met resistance from Germany).

On the contrary, the Visegrád states and those aligned with them oppose strengthening the powers of the EU institutions and want to preserve their fundamental sovereign rights. The reason lies in their past: these countries arose after the collapse of larger multinational polities affected by severe institutional deficiencies, and also had a long history of foreign domination and meddling which ended only in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. As a result, they see the EU as another cumbersome supranational entity that will put them in a subordinate position and are therefore unwilling to devolve more powers to it.

Can they Compromise?

This underlying contrast over the powers of European institutions is the most important aspect in the current debate, because it will have direct repercussion over the future of the EU. Now, the problem is that, while opinions are discordant among the member states; the complex institutional mechanisms of the EU do not facilitate the search for a compromise

Introducing deep changes (both in the sense of increased integration and of more protection of the states’ sovereignty) requires a revision of the Treaties that form the bloc’s “constitution”; but this demands in turn a long and multi-stage procedure where reaching a consensus is hard and where a single “wrong” step can block the entire process (think of the French and Dutch referenda that sunk the proposed Constitutional Treaty in 2005).

Considering that the divergences are growing, finding a common agreement over the EU, its powers and its values may be impossible; and this could lead to an institutional stalemate.

Is a Civil War Inevitable?

And what then? Will the EU plunge into civil war as the US did in the past? Not necessarily. Modern-day European states and their societies are strongly averse to war, which is already a huge safeguard against extreme solutions.

And if it is true that European powers have been fighting themselves for centuries, it is also true that the EU was established after the trauma of WWII also as a mean to put a definitive end to that continuous bloodshed.

Moreover, in spite of its slowness and difficulties, the EU proved capable to adapt and preserve itself during the past. In more cynic terms, since the EU is not a state, even if one or more of its members decided to unilaterally “secede”, it would not have its own military means to enforce its rule and re-bring them in as the Union eventually did with the Confederates in 1865. Finally, this scenario is unlikely for the simple fact that the Treaty on the European Union (Art. 50) contains provisions allowing a member state to withdraw; as the United Kingdom decided to do after the 2016 vote on Brexit

But it is exactly a mass Brexit-like scenario what can raise concerns over the long-term tenure of the EU.

A full-scale civil war seems unlikely (unless the international situation becomes so severely deteriorated in economic and political terms to bring states to the point of using war to secure their interests); but if the existing divergences continue to mount and no solution is reached, then it is still possible that some member states (most likely the V4 ones) will decide to leave the EU.

The consequences are difficult to predict, ranging from an easier path to greater integration between the remaining like-minded members to a dissolution of the organization. In any case, the EU would be weakened at the international level, possibly leaving room for alternative blocs. All this would bring uncertainty in political and economic terms, and (especially if the EU were dismantled), it would certainly be a turning point in European History, as the Civil War was in America’s.

Bangladesh-India relations: towards a stronger alliance?

Bangladesh and India have been allied more or less since their inception despite having minor disputes on certain issues. The current Bangladeshi ruling party have taken Indo-Bangladeshi relations to the next level since they came to power in 2009 (who are now serving their second term with elections in a couple of months), reaching major milestones in security cooperation as well a massive upsurge in bilateral trade.

History

Bangladesh is surrounded by India from the North, West and much of the East with the Bay of Bengal in the South and Myanmar in the South-East. The border between Bangladesh and India covers a staggering 4,095 kilometres with West Bengal having the largest share of 2217 kilometres[1].

Both countries have close cultural ties, most significant of which perhaps would be language- i.e. Bengali. The main official language of India’s West Bengal is Bengali, spoken by over a 100 million people, which also happens to be the only official language of Bangladesh. On the other hand, Hindi and Bengali have same roots in the Sanskrit language which causes them to have many similarities and enables ease of learning.

Bangladesh had been part of British India until 1947, after which it was annexed as part of Pakistan (Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan, the West Pakistan was the Pakistan of today). However, after a 9-month long war of liberation Bangladesh gained independence in 1971 and subsequently joined the Commonwealth of nations in 1972[2], and the United Nations in 1974.[3] India had been an independent state since the end of the British Empire, with a history of complex and largely hostile relations with Pakistan due to a number of historical and political events.

Bangladesh have had friendly relations with India throughout much of their history. India has provided significant assistance to Bangladesh in their War of Liberation against Pakistan in 1971 in terms of military support and firepower. However, it must be noted that ever since the British left in 1947, India have always had a volatile relationship with Pakistan and they acted in their own best interests as they felt threatened with the geographical presence of Pakistan from the East and the West. Consequently, India was the first country to recognise Bangladesh as an independent state immediately afterwards.

Bangladesh has a moderate foreign policy that places multilateral diplomacy as one of its core initiatives. Ambassador of Bangladesh to the U.S., Mohammad Ziauddin stated in 2009 that Bangladesh’s foreign policy is based on the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s dictum, “Friendship with all and malice towards none”, with the ruling party leader Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister of Bangladesh being the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.[4]

Trade

The first trade agreement between the two countries was signed in 1972 and trade volume is staggering as of today. According to the some of the most recent available figures, Indian exports to Bangladesh totalled $4.5 billion between July 2016-March 2017 while Bangladesh exports to India was worth $672.40 million during the Fiscal Year 2016-17. India have also extended three Lines of Credits (LOCs) between 2010-2017 worth up to US$ 8 billion, making Bangladesh the largest recipient of Indian LOC’s.[5]

Today, Bangladesh is home to the fastest growing megacity in the world- Dhaka; while the country also boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a GDP growth rate averaging over six percent annually over the past ten years or so.[6] On the other hand, India is the most populous democracy boasting the sixth largest economy in the world by nominal GDP.[7]

Major Disputes in Bangladesh-India Relations

Despite good relations there have been disputes over borders throughout history, and it was not until June 2015 that many of the long-lasting disputes were largely settled.[8] Other significant disputes include maritime claims over seawater at the Bay of Bengal.

Border Dispute: One of the most discussed topics in their recent bilateral relations had been the border killings of Bangladeshi citizens along the Indo-Bangladesh border by India’s Border Security Forces (BSF) with their apparent “shoot-to-kill” policy in which the Human Rights Watch claimed had killed nearly 1,000 people (Bangladeshi citizens) between 2001-2011.[9] Indian officials have argued that the reason for the attacks were largely due to increasing illegal migration of Bangladeshis into India as well as persistent misuse of borders by illicit traders.[10]

River Dispute: Another major dispute concerns the sharing of the River Teesta. Teesta is one of the 54 rivers shared by Bangladesh and India[11]. This river originates in Sikkim and flows through the North of West Bengal and meets Brahmaputra river in Bangladesh[12]. The countries reached agreement on sharing the river for the first time in 1983 according to which the share of water was (as follows): India- 39%, Bangladesh- 36%, Unallocated -25%. However in recent years Bangladeshi has been asking for an equitable share. Water disputes between the two countries have existed for quite a long time throughout history. Notably it took 20 years to end the Ganges river dispute in 1996. In 2011 an interim deal that was supposed to last the 15 following years increased the share of India to 42.5 per cent and that of Bangladesh to 37.5 per cent. But to the disappointment of Bangladesh as well as India, it never materialised, largely due to the government of West Bengal refusing to sign due to concerns of the northern region drying out[13]. Despite planning failure being regarded as one of the main reasons for not having reached an agreement as of yet, there are other underlying reasons why things haven’t materialised. There is no denying that Bangladesh do need their share of water, with the Asian Foundation reporting in 2013 that Teesta’s flood plain covers 14 per cent of the total cropped area of Bangladesh provides direct livelihood opportunities to approximately 73% of its population[14]. On the other hand, the River Teesta plays a major role in the Northern Bengal while nearly half a dozen districts in the entire West Bengal state are dependent on it.[15]

Government stance:

The previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government did not have strong alliance with India and thus were not quite receptive to India’s concerns. They had also garnered opposition from India due to providing refuge to  leaders and members of some of the North Eastern nonstate actors/militias. However due to their close relations, the current ruling party have largely followed India-friendly policies while taking India’s side on their fight against North Eastern separatists.[16] In spite of all these, Delhi closely anticipates an agreement for the sharing of River Teesta which they believe would give them political leverage over the apparent rising influence of China in the Bay of Bengal.[17]

Awami League/Ruling party relations with India

The current ruling party led by Sheikh Hasina has had a strong alliance with India ever since they came to power in 2009, with major acts of cooperation taking place in the subsequent years. Bilateral relations of the two countries had never been better as it has been over the past decade or so. Prior to 2017, there were no formal mechanisms in place for any significant security cooperation, but that changed in 2017. As Sheikh Hasina made a special visit to India in 2018 which resulted in the signing of a MoU on the framework for defence cooperation. That paved way for improved cooperation between the armed forces of both the countries, with MoU’s signed for cooperation ranging from joint military exercises, sharing of strategical operations studies for the Defence Services Command and Staff colleges, coast-guard cooperation between the two countries to an extension of line of credit worth US$500 million for the purchase of defence equipment from India.[18]

One of the major deals was the Rampal Power Plant which is a proposed 1320 Megawatt coal-fired power station in Khulna region, Bangladesh which is a joint-venture between the Bangladesh Power Development Board and India’s National Thermal Power Corporation.[19] However the signing of the deal was subject to much controversy due to the proposed site being only 14 kilometres North of the worlds largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans which happens to be a UNESCO world heritage site.[20] It received attention in the local as well as the international arena because the project violates the environmental impact assessment guidelines for coal-based thermal power plants.[21] Environmental experts have expressed major concerns due to the close its proximity to the Sundarbans, while there have been campaigns by The National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, and Power-Port, and environmentalists against the proposed project. Despite all the protests, the Bangladeshi government have consistently denied all claims and allegations about the negative environmental impacts of the Rampal project. The project has been under way for a while now however little progress have been made.[22]

Conclusion

In September 2018 Bangladesh signed a MoU with India which would let the latter use two of Bangladesh’s major ports– Chittagong and Mongla[23]. Bangladesh and India are two of the major economies of South Asia and their relationship will have a lasting impact on the region’s development. While India has the potential to emerge as a major world power competing with the likes of China and the U.S, Bangladesh may also have a role to play in their development. With the Bangladeshi general elections coming up, the Awami League are favourites to get re-elected, while it is the same for BJP, with PM Narendra Modi expected to remain PM should they win again, the relations between India and Bangladesh are likely to get better and better, with the only worry for India being China’s increasing cooperation with Bangladesh.

References

[1] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/5-things-to-know-about-india-bangladesh-ties-from-trade-to-security/story-qgVND0mAQ4S1DpmYpzd5lJ.html

[2] “Bangladesh Joins Commonwealth”. Edmonton Journal. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 19 April 1972 – via Google News.

[3] “United Nations: Palestinian Position Becomes Critical Issue”. The Citizen. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. 18 September 1974 – via Google News.

[4] https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/south-asia-week-bangladeshs-policy-priorities-and-its-relationship-united-states-and

[5] https://www.mea.gov.in/Portal/ForeignRelation/Bangladesh_September_2017_en.pdf

[6] Trading Economics, 2018, Bangladesh GDP Growth Rate. <https://tradingeconomics.com/bangladesh/gdp-growth>

[7] “India becomes world’s sixth largest economy, muscles past France”. Archived from the original on 9 August 2018

[8] Serajul Quadir (6 June 2015). “India, Bangladesh sign historic land boundary agreement”. Reuters India.

[9] “India/Bangladesh: Indiscriminate Killings, Abuse by Border Officers”. Human Rights Watch. December 9, 2010; “India’s shoot-to-kill policy on the Bangladesh border”. The Guardian. 23 January 2011; “Khaleda Zia assures counter-terror co-operation to India”. Yahoo News. Indo Asian News Service. 2012-10-29

[10] “Khaleda Zia assures counter-terror co-operation to India”. Yahoo News. Indo Asian News Service. 2012-10-29

[11] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/5-things-to-know-about-india-bangladesh-ties-from-trade-to-security/story-qgVND0mAQ4S1DpmYpzd5lJ.html

[12] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/the-teesta-river-dispute-explained-in-10-points/articleshow/58091320.cms

[13] https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/teesta-has-one-sixteenth-of-water-needed-for-agriculture-117041500257_1.html

[14] https://www.clearias.com/teesta-river-dispute/

[15] https://www.clearias.com/teesta-river-dispute/

[16] https://www.clearias.com/teesta-river-dispute/

[17] https://www.clearias.com/one-belt-one-road-obor/

[18] https://www.orfonline.org/research/india-bangladesh-defence-cooperation-coming-of-age-at-last/#_edn2

[19] “Indo-Bangla joint company for power import”. The Independent. Dhaka. 8 March 2011.

[20] Rahman, Khalilur (24 February 2013). “Demand for Rampal power plant relocation”. Financial Express. Dhaka.

[21] Kumar, Chaitanya (24 September 2013). “Bangladesh Power Plant Struggle Calls for International Solidarity”. The Huffington Post.

[22] https://thewire.in/south-asia/rampal-power-project-sundarbans-india-bangladesh; https://www.dhakatribune.com/business/2018/01/21/little-progress-large-coal-fired-power-plant-projects

[23] “Transporting Goods to 7 Sisters: Dhaka to let Delhi use Ctg, Mongla ports”. The Daily Star. Dhaka, Bangladesh. 18 September 2018. < https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/news/carrying-goods-7-sisters-dhaka-let-delhi-use-ctg-mongla-ports-1635397>

The Geopolitics of Climate Change

Climate change is set to profoundly alter the world in the decades to come. Its will deeply affect the entire planet’s ecosystem, as well as the global economy and the lives of hundreds of millions of people. But it will also have, and in practice already has, a notable geopolitical impact; with the potential of radically modifying the existing international order.

Climate change and the Anthropocene

“Climate change” is a broad term encompassing various phenomena, but the most important of them is surely global warming, largely imputed to the boom in CO2 emissions caused by the massive consumption of fossil fuels, animal breeding and deforestation. The rise of the world’s average temperatures, even of a few degrees, can have tremendous consequences on the planet and on mankind. It will alter the existing climatological dynamics, resulting in more frequent and intense cases of extreme weather like droughts, violent storms, floods and blizzards. Desertification will extend to large swathes of territory. These factors will cause a dramatic drop in agricultural output, also due to the spread of pests, therefore threatening food security across the globe. Warmer temperatures will also favour the diffusion of disease, and will increase energy consumption and therefore create competition over energy sources. Whole ecosystems will be seriously harmed both on land and at sea, causing severe losses in terms of biodiversity. This will in turn result into subsequent chain damages for agriculture and fishing, that already suffer from overexploitation. The ocean level will rise, putting at risk the living conditions of millions of people who reside along the coasts. All this bears huge economic and social costs, both in the form of losses and of expenditures to repair or prevent its effects; and is to be considered along with other phenomena caused by human activity, notably pollution and overexploitation of water and soil.

The combination of these factors has led some experts to label our current geological epoch as “Anthropocene”: a period marked by the humans’ capacity to affect the environment to the point of derailing its dynamics out of the natural order. While the term remains debated among scientists, what is certain is that climate change has taken a considerable political relevance in the past few decades with the appearance of ecologist movements and parties all over the world. This is also true at the international level, with states making efforts to tackle its effects, as in the case of the 2015 COP21 agreement and other eco-friendly initiatives. But climate change will also alter the global geopolitical and geoeconomic environment, with tremendous consequences for power distribution and for international security.

The global effects of climate change

In general terms, the whole of mankind is set to be harmed by climate change. Apart from the direct economic loss in the form of reduced agricultural output, poorer fishing zones and damages to costal areas caused by rising sea levels; it will also have huge social and human costs due to environmental degradation, sanitary problems and migratory flows, which in turn will bring other expenses to repair and prevent its harmful effects.

Yet, there are areas where its impact will be more marked than in others, namely Equatorial Africa and South Asia. Both are extremely vulnerable due to their geographic position, and moreover are highly-populated zones whose economy is still underdeveloped. As a result, they will have to bear all of its negative consequences: GDP loss, food insecurity, water scarcity, violent weather, epidemics and so on; and the consequences will be felt outside these regions.

In South Asia, the costs of global warming may slow down and even stop India’s rise. Population displacements may result in a humanitarian crisis and social tensions. This is notably the case of Bangladesh, a very poor and densely-populated country extremely exposed to the negative effects of climate change. Existing divergences over the control and the use of water basins may get more serious; for example between India, Pakistan and China over Kashmir (the cornerstone of the Indus river basin) or between India, China and Bangladesh over the Ganges and Brahmaputra.

The situation is dramatically similar in Equatorial Africa. The deleterious consequences of climate change may compromise any hope of economic development, condemning the continent to poverty and perpetual conflict. As a matter of fact, fighting will result from increasing resource scarcity; notably of food and water; thus making the situation along the “Conflict Belt” that crosses it from Somalia to Nigeria even more troublesome. This is what could soon happen in Ethiopia, where the effects of climate change exacerbate economic and ethnic divides. War could also take a state-to-state dimension, as it may break out over the control of rivers like the Niger, the Congo or the Nile. In regard to the latter, some tension already exists between Egypt and Ethiopia over its use; and a future “water war” is a real possibility. Finally, this catastrophic situation will push more and more people to displace, thus amplifying an already serious humanitarian crisis. Many will try to reach Europe; perpetrating and worsening the migratory crisis that the continent is facing, with all the social and political consequences this will have on the European Union and its member states.

Still, there are also some parts of the world that are set to benefit from higher global temperatures; like those state whose development was historically hampered by a rigid climate. A first example is that of Canada or Scandinavian countries, whose agricultural output could be boosted. Russia is a similar case. Already a major wheat producer, thanks to a warmer climate it could increase its export share, even though this is debated; and it is also true that it may face migratory pressures from other countries suffering from declining production. Moreover, access to the rich resources of Siberia would become easier. Lastly, it is poised to earn from another geopolitical consequence of climate change: the melting of the Arctic ice cap.

Climate change and Arctic geopolitics

Of all the regions of the world, the Arctic appears the one where the geopolitical impact of global warming will be more marked. The reason is twofold. First, as the Arctic ice melts, accessing its considerable energy resources will become easier, and this is already attracting the attention of various countries and firms. Second, the gradual disappearance of the ice cap is opening the Northern Sea Route, or NSR; a maritime course linking Asia and Europe via the Arctic. Shipping via the NSR is already a reality, but by now the trade volume is only a tiny fraction of the one along the traditional sea lines of communication (SLOC) crossing the Pacific and Indian Ocean via Malacca, Bab-el-Mandeb and Suez. But as the ice melts and the necessary infrastructures are built, more and more ships will use the NSR due to the advantages it presents: it is way shorter than the ordinary maritime routes and is not exposed to piracy.

Due to its geopolitical prominence in the Arctic, Russia is the best-placed state to benefit from the exploitation of hydrocarbon from the region and from developing the NSR. But apart from it, the other power that is showing a great interest in the region is China. In principle, the Arctic’s energy resources and the NSR could solve its strategic problems of being almost completely reliant on the traditional SLOC for its trade with Europe and for oil imports from the Middle East, which is also a politically unstable area. This is why the Chinese are so keen on developing the region in cooperation with Russia. But for the same reasons, other states like Japan and South Korea have also showed their interest in the Arctic.

As a result of all this, competition may arise in the region, and its gateway (the Bering Strait) will gain greater geostrategic importance; potentially becoming a hotspot for international conflict, notably between Russia and the United States.

China and climate change

As an emerging great power with global-scale ambitions, China is also attentive to the effects of climate change; which offers a unique combination of opportunities and challenges for it.

Apart from the prospects of accessing the Arctic’s resources and of trading via the NSR, China could benefit in other ways of the effects of a warming planet. The combined effects of higher temperatures, economic development and population growth across the world will result into a boom in energy demand. Renewable sources of energy will be particularly regarded; as a way to reduce pollution, decrease the dependency on imported fossil fuels and minimize climate change and its detrimental consequences. But generating clean energy require technologies that use rare earths, a group of minerals whose particular characteristic are particularly valuable for industrial manufacturing. Today, China holds a virtual monopoly over their production; and even though new suppliers will enter in the market, the PRC will remain a major producer. As a consequence, its rare earths exports will be favoured by climate change.

Yet China is mostly poised to suffer from it. One reason is that its vast population is concentrated along the coasts and is vulnerable to extreme weather, rising sea level and damages to agriculture and the like. This could hamper its economic growth and consequently its social stability. For this reason, the PRC is investing enormously in developing renewable energy sources. Moreover, it could easily find itself involved in disputes with other states over water: some of the most important rivers flowing through South Asia, most notably the Brahmaputra, originate in Chinese-controlled Tibet. Similarly, Indochina’s most important rivers (namely the Mekong, the Red River and the Irrawaddy) all have their source in China.

Similar conflicts over water, agricultural lands and fishing areas may arise all over the world, taking the shape of both inter-state war or that of insurgencies and piracy. Several practical cases can be examined to understand the interplay between climate change and emerging security threats.

Climate change and security

The first one example is the surge in piracy around the Horn of Africa a few years ago. It can be imputed to a combination of the effects of domestic conflict in Somalia, fishing overexploitation and collapsing agricultural output due to drought; which left no choice to many Somalis but to attack tankers sailing close to their shores. Other countries may follow a similar path in the coming years, like Vietnam. Being an agricultural country located in an area already subject to violent tropical storms and whose population is concentrated on its very long coasts, Vietnam is considered one of the states most exposed to climate change. It is possible that the effects of higher temperatures like extreme weather and rising sea levels combined with overfishing and pollution will stop its economic growth, spark a migratory crisis and push many Vietnamese to become pirates; thus worsening the already complex scenario in the contested waters of the South China Sea. As seen before, the Bering Strait may also become an area of tension with Russia; and other conflicts may emerge in the Middle East, Africa and Asia as a consequence of rising temperatures combined with other factors; notably over the control of river basins or cultivable land.

Global warming can therefore be a powerful driver in the emergence of new security threats across the globe. And while this is often neglected, for this reason it poses a considerable challenge to the world’s leading superpower: the United States.

The US and climate change

As the core of the international system with interests at stake in any area of the globe, and as a major polluter itself, the US must be attentive to the geopolitical and security consequences of global warming. Diplomatically, the US has usually sustained the thesis of other developed countries that the cost of curbing CO2 emissions should fall on emerging economies like China, that today are the main polluters. Under the Trump administration, the US has now openly adopted a climatosceptic policy: he favours traditional fossil fuels over renewable energy sources and has left the COP21 Paris agreement.

Yet, the US is also threatened by climate change. As temperatures rise, drought and extreme weather like hurricane and snowstorms are becoming more common; causing considerable damage to agriculture, infrastructures and ultimately to the foundations of America’s strength. But as a superpower with interests in practically any region, the US will also need to face the security threats that will emerge as a consequence of climate change. Because of this, there is an institution that is particularly active in studying the effects of global warming and that calls for efforts to prevent its effects. Surprisingly, it is not some ecologist lobby, but the military.

As a 2015 report demonstrates, the Department of Defense openly expressed its concerns about the consequences of climate change over the ability of the US armed forces to operate overseas and over the multiplication of security threats that may require armed interventions. The US military is therefore adopting a preventive logic: tackling climate change today to avoid complicated campaigns in the future. Now that Trump is in power, it seems that the Pentagon is de-emphasizing the risks linked with global warming, but there have been calls from lawmakers to continue taking them into account.

Coping with climate change

As seen, global warming is having global-scale consequences that will affect virtually any domain of human life. But in general, it can be said that it puts our security at risk – be it economic, alimentary, sanitary, physical or of another type. Scientists have repeatedly raised the alarm over its deleterious effects, but up to now the actual efforts to counter it are insufficient. Since it appears that avoiding its impact is impossible and that we can at best limit its consequences, the best thing we can do is to foresee and understand them and prepare ourselves for the world that will inevitably emerge from climate change.

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