RECENT BIG POWER PLAY

By: Napoleon Ato Kittoe/www.africanakua.com, Ghana

[Edited and Published by RICHARD FIEBOR]

2018 tough rhetoric by Washington directed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) was no accident. Not when world’s second largest economy, China is still projecting to climb to the summit in the very foreseeable future. If the Chinese mantra becomes a reality, the seemingly irrepressible/unassailable height attained by America would have been torpedoed. A national pride would have been punctured. It is admirable how America would do anything to safeguard national interests, irrespective of who occupies the White House. Any lessons for other nations, some of which cede everything, regardless. When the United States, turns the other way, there stands Russia too. The once hibernating force is suddenly in verve sending signals she is back. Russia’s recent flex in world politics has shaken the foundations of geopolitics.

(HIGH STAKES)                    

United States is sandwiched between the two. They both stand on one side as allies, at least as exemplified in voting patterns in the UN Security Council. The war in Syria had been pivotal to these powers. It appeared as though the last post of the Arab Spring of 2011 would snowball to a freeze in Damascus until Venezuela surfaced in 2019. The Syrian war theatre had exposed the proxies of the uprisings that engulfed Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain where proteges of some of the big powers ran riot. As a result, the big armies of the world threw caution to the wind and wagged their tails in Syria to balance their acts.

(SYRIA WAR THEATRE)

Following Russia’s decision to enter Syria, the US withdrew her troops at some point. Syria looked like a carbon copy of the Balkan (Yugoslav) war of mid-nineties in which the two super powers lined behind opposite sides and nearly came within the physical reach of each other on same turf. Both situations were potential powder kegs of conflagration. The powers involved in the conflicts were checks on the other and helped in saving lives, particularly in Syria. Their respect for each other having kept at bay, any possibility of third world war. But for Russia appearing from nowhere and holding the lever on the other side, the Assad regime would have fallen.

It initially came under the full weight of United States and her allies France and Britain which led or aided the rebel march on Assad. Despite Chinese and Russian vetoes in the UN Security Council, the United States weighed into Syria militarily, ostensibly to cure Syria of the humanitarian crisis and eventually the forces behind the human tragedy. What remains to be fully established are the hanging questions about the gas attacks. Syria appear to be the showcase or the microcosm of the new world order in terms of ideological alignments, not substantially different from the cold war era. Turkey and Iran back Russia while Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the side of the western coalition forces, being the retinue of the United States. Game on.

 (UNDER PRESSURE)

Turkey in particular had drawn swords against Russia initially, warning the latter against a violation of her airspace. Diplomatic tensions ensued when a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey. Russia retaliated using the economic card. It urged countrymen and women to avoid Turkey hitting badly the tourism industry visitations while Turkish exports were impeded by high tariffs. When Turkish immigrants faced expulsions from Europe’s biggest economy Germany, Turkey which is member of the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), was forced to smoke peace pipe with Russia, via  high political contacts.

(TRADE WAR)

NATO is a military pact binding the US and her allies. Turkey, in the top ten bracket of countries with world’s largest armies, remains in NATO  but is treading a tortuous path to full EU membership hoping to be one of the newest members after the EU opened up to new signings outside of the traditionally western coalition. It followed the fall of the iron curtain in 1991/92 and the cold war that literally partitioned the world in two blocs behind communist Russia and Capitalist America. At the time, smaller countries wanting to stay neutral and leverage their interests, formed the Non-Aligned Movement. Turkey joined NATO in 1951 but a diplomatic spat with the United States in 2017 that came to a head in the following year, saw the US tighten trade tariffs on Turkey. It dealt a collateral damage to the Lira, the Turkish currency, prompting stern remarks by Ankara.

The trade war is the offshoot of a given mistrust between the US and Turkey following the latter’s biff that the US deployed a veiled spy in aid of the 2017 military putsch that nearly toppled the regime in Turkey. Enemies yesterday, friends today. This is the story about Russia and Turkey, the opposite being the case with US if you use Turkey as the constant in the different scenarios.

(IRAN IN TROUBLE)

Iran is the other country opposed by the US. The US was the military benefactor of Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war but turned the heat on Iraq following escalation in international terrorism. Iraq had been christened to be part of what the US called an “axis of evil” in the wake of an audacious bombing of New York’s World Trade Centre in 2001. Others tagged with malevolence include Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Sudan.

The 2002 invasion of Iraq by the US was not the first in a series of clampdowns on the country. Iraq’s own invasion and subsequent occupation of Kuwait in 1990 were stamped out by the Americans. The stand alone Iran in the eight year war with Iraq, which was met with heavy sanctions, plunged into science for a shore up. A move described by the US as nuclear program to pad Iran’s defenses. Either way, Iran cannot be taken lightly as her path on science and technology appears to be strong.  Under international law, any member of the UN Security Council can raise attention to any threat to peace or need to nib them in the bud, but the law stops short of backing unilateral actions except a unanimous action by the council. France and Britain are the others wielding veto, with votes patterned after the US since formation of the UN in 1945. Thus, the US is right when she raises an alarm but wades into controversy should it act on its own accord to fight a war. Exactly the reason the UN exists in defense of justice and to moderate the waters for world peace.

(EU NOT IN SYNC WITH US STANCE ON IRAN)

New sanctions heaped on Iran by Washington in defiance of an internationally-sanctioned nuke deal signed in Geneva, Switzerland in 2016, highlights entrenched positions only stirred up by the Trump administration. It pits the US and Iran in the ring of pugilists.

Late September 2018, the EU gave the US, a shock of her life when it announced steps toward creation of a legal entity consistent with European laws. The move was cleverly pinpointed at Iran in a manner that allows European companies to do business with Iran. A flagrant posture of European defiance at the United States, much the same way the two represent the discordance on climate change. The US pulled out of a deal which many European States clamoured for.

(CHINA DEFY BAN)

China, which thrives on economic production and trade defied the US ban on Iran, and had earlier waved the green flag at Iranian oil exports. A relief for Iran but also the reason US will fume at China, drawing the heavyweights to a trade face-off. There have been measures and counter- measures regarding trade tariffs between the two. It runs into hundreds of billions of dollars. However, Iran only opened old wounds as China had been the focus of the US, since she unveiled her economic miracle over the last three decades.

It was bred by a tightly controlled political system, a regime of cultural discipline and a freer business environment. The China question is a major US foreign policy issue and has been tossed in US Presidential debates. Chinese signage is global. She benefits from remittances by her citizens abroad and profit repatriation from business interests. She has carved an alternative to the Breton Woods and traditional sources of global financing. Running a buoyant economy, the Chinese are running to Africa, a continent of vastly untapped resources and in need of cash injection, with relatively flexible offers. Critics of the US have said, the US had used forcible means such as wars to get at resources from other nations.

The Chinese are on a different tangent as they aim at filling the void in infrastructure and other needs, at costs cheaper to recipients in exchange for natural resources. Chinese mandarin is now taught worldwide in academic institutions while around the clock exchange programmes have promoted a broad appeal for the linguistics. The component of foreign students studying in China is growing exponentially, again as an alternative to education brewed in Western Europe and the United States. The Chinese outreach programme, not called expansionism, has been successful but scary to the competition.

(CHINA CAUSES A STIR)

It was not by sheer coincidence when the timing of the 2018 visits by the German Chancellor and the British Prime Minister to Africa came between 48 and 72 hours before the Sino-Africa summit in Beijing. In 2017, Russia’s President also paid a rare visit to Africa on investment drive. Russia was kicked out of the Group of Eight most industrialized countries in 2015 by other world powers, which held Moscow directly responsible for the war in neighboring Ukraine. EU/US sanctions devalued the Russian roble.  A Malaysian airliner downed in Ukraine at the height of that war was also blamed on Russia. Just then Russia too became the victim of the ignominy. Noteworthy is the air crash in Egypt’s Sinai region with three-quarters of passengers Russian holidaymakers. Sabotage was suspected in the incident which came on the heels of the incident in Ukraine.

Terrorists had began to pick Russia as one of their targets for joining the aerial onslaught in Syria. US, France, Britain and other Western nations had come under some of the dastardly acts of terrorists who execute push backs, more in clandestine sense than conventional warfare.

(RUSSIA UNDER MICROSCOPE)

Before the Ukrainian Orange revolution a decade ago and a popular wave that changed the political chemistry of Ukraine, the country had a President believed to be Russia’s close ally. Viktor Yanukovych escaped to Russia in that confusion. Ukraine and Russia were both former provinces of the disintegrated Soviet Union replaced by  Russia, in international engagement.  Ukraine is now a member of NATO and the west plans stationing a warhead there. A discomfort to next door Russia. Russia came under rival siege in the wake of alleged nerve agent attack on her own renegades in the British city of Salisbury. Though Russia denies the allegations, the push back has been severe, and calculated to isolate Russia.

Just as Russia was about to host the soccer world cup in 2018 and destined to be in the limelight for reasons other than military, the British struck. London and her allies either recalled senior diplomats or downgraded diplomatic missions in Russia over the nerve agent row, a move Russia retaliated. The Salisbury incident bore semblance of attacks on another Russian dissident domiciled in Britain. A Vladimir Putin arch political rival was also assassinated in Moscow, with the Kremlin distancing itself from the incident.

(RUSSIA’S ALTERNATIVE)

In Donald Trump’s US, Russia is a dominant part of the discussion accused of covert meddling in the 2016 American election, allegedly hacking the electoral system. The anti Russian hysteria in the west appeared to have reached epic proportions by August 2018, with the EU hitting low belt and cautioning the Austrian foreign minister to watch her steps in the direction of Russia. It was apparent reference to gleeful dance steps between the Austrian and the visiting Russian President Putin at a wedding in Vienna.

However, Russia is not a loner in current international politics. Evicted from G8 but she is a key member of a new bloc of emerging economies, the BRICS. It is made of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Together, the BRICS control about half of global population and if their intentions of establishing a bank finds expression, traditional financiers as International Monetary Fund and World Bank could be obviated by most of its applicants and clientele. Arrests were made but who actually is behind the nerve agent attack on a half brother of South Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Malaysia? An attempt to scuttle the dynastic hegemony in North Korea? China remains the bulwark of the North Koreans, under intense pressure by US to dismantle her nuclear programme. The nuclear nations remain as US, Britain, France, Russia, China, India and Pakistan. The countries suggested possibly for permanent status in the UN Security Council include Japan, India, Brazil, South Africa, Germany, Italy and Nigeria.

(ALL GUNS BLAZING)

The race to lead the world has not been keener and fiercer than now. Japan, the world’s third largest economy, second largest contributor to the UN in funds and a close US ally was not spared the rod. The US made it clear at the 2018 UN General Assembly meeting that it was raising trade tariffs on Japanese goods by 25 per cent to be compensated by creation of a free trade area for allies in Far East Asia. At that  point, tenets of globalisation made way for protectionism. One important undergird of America’s unilateralism is her currency, the dollar. It is main medium of foreign exchange.

A failure by the Hague-based International Criminal Court, ICC, to hand a ruling on an immigration case which the US was an interested party, arguably revealed US supremacy. The Americans had barred their teeth and threatened embargo on the ICC judges. This partly broaches African leaders long held view that the ICC might have been established to penalise African leaders over alleged human rights abuses whereas big powers which lead countries to war without collective international backing are left off the hook.

(SOME TEETHING QUESTIONS)

Is Africa really being colonized by China whose overwhelming presence on the continent has come under scrutiny and for questioning? Are the foreign powers really perpetuating colonialism under the guise of neo-colonialist approach? The true test of Africa’s pulse came in 2011 when the continent’s leaders failed to show solidarity with one of their own. Africa did not provide the breakwater in the external aggression against Libya, Egypt and Tunisia in the Arab spring, leading to death of Col. Muammar Al- Qathafi and untold political harassments in other jurisdictions. In the fall outs of those incidents, candidates of incumbent parties in the US, France, Britain and Italy lost elections. The power of civil society and by extension, popular sovereignty which resides in the masses. Former French President Nikolas Sakorzy was censured by the French public. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s botched attempt at the Presidency could not be divorced from questions related to the Libyan war, especially death of the US Ambassador in Benghazi. Italian and British Prime Ministers Silvio Berlusconi and David Cameron, also respectively lost their offices. A war Russia cited as reason for her frontal intervention in Syria. The United States says, it has obligation to smoke out terrorists wherever they may be and bring them to justice.

(A TOTTERING AFRICA)

Africa’s import driven economies and failure to industrialize, would mean she remains on the back burner, not to talk of her inability to come up with the African High Command, an idea espoused by Ghana’s Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Clearly underpinning the global power play are science and technical know-how. If these are weak at your jurisdiction, you are down indeed.

(IDEOLOGICAL CLASH)

Scientific brain power is main source of strength but the driving force of the interplay among powerful countries and institutions are the divergent approaches to governance and business. Ideological clash. Some want to plunge their incisors in pastures not their own, in the hot chase for resources to create or deny others opportunities and wealth. However, critics say the noble objectives are veils on ulterior motives. Communism and socialism place government in supreme control of resources on behalf of the people. This resists any intrusion. Capitalism allows market forces to determine a given direction, thus it provides a decent measure of entry to economies by all. We need a barometer to determine which of the two systems is corrupt and which siphons resource wealth to the detriment of a people or the actual owners of nature’s gift.

END

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