Sri Lanka continues to be hit by adverse weather and the existential truth of the 21st century would be the expansive reach of extreme weather events. Climate change and weather anomalies have become political battles in domestic and global governance. What is unfortunate is that the global environmental policies and action plans were some of the most positive outcomes of the liberal global order and yet they seem to be undermined by the very champions.
Rise of the Trump campaign and consequentially the Trump presidency with the America first battle cry had many wide ranging global repercussions, it is systematically undoing most of what was achieved by the global governance framework and agenda driven by the liberal world. This column would focus on environmental governance challenges and sustainability development challenges in a
The focus of this week’s analysis rests on a serious fallout from another Trump twitter-storm that has generated seismic shocks in the geo political landscape. Geostorm as a movie was a complete flop at box-office this year, yet it is a fitting metaphor to observe the damage that can be done to a geo political alliance that had kept the Western powers together and spearheaded common strategic interests and mobilization of the geo political West for more than half a century by a series of tweets.
"From a British perspective what was crucial in this relationship was not merely the interplay between the two nations, but how through this relationship Britain managed to maintain its global standing"
President Trump, last Wednesday retweeted videos that depicted an anti-Muslim campaign led by an ultra-nationalist fringe party that is seen as a metastasis of the vibrant and diverse British Society. Britain first is a party that has no real political legacy or history, six years into its inception the only notable achievement accredited to the party is that one of its followers assassinated Labour party MP Jo Cox during the Brexit campaign. Jo Cox’s murder sent shock waves in the British body politic as such events are a rarity in the democratic traditions of modern British Politics.
The tweet generated a wave of condemnations of Donald Trump from British politicians demonstrating rare unity given the deep divisions that have emerged in British politics and with a Prime Minister who is facing massive domestic pressures while trying to negotiate with European Union tough conditions for the 2019 divorce of the United Kingdom from the Union.
A definitive feature and cornerstone of British foreign policy since Post War has been the Churchillean vision of a Special Relationship that would play a key role in shaping the post war global order. Winston Churchill may have not had a post war political legacy but his coinage of ‘US UK Special relationship’ and ‘Iron curtain’ maintains its relevance, both these articulations of global politics seems to be under immense stress in the 21st Century. The deepest engagement of the 21st Century between the two countries was in the post 9/11 context. Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his best political performance in the 2001 October Labour Party convention. His appraisal for the United States was unprecedented. But the most remarkable piece of the speech should be revisited, he said, ‘The kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux, and soon they will settle again. Before they do let us reorder this world around us and use modern science to provide prosperity for all’.
He ended the speech with these lines, and received a standing ovation which went on for few minutes. Thus the merger of Pax Britannica with Pax Americana was clearly articulated by Blair. The same spirit of the relationship took the two countries into wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and is still taking them to wars in Yemen.
The British Public grew weary over the last decade of America’s unending wars and Brits towing along.
From a British perspective what was crucial in this relationship was not merely the interplay between the two nations, but how through this relationship Britain managed to maintain its global standing. The sheer challenge of remaining relevant in global affairs for a former imperial power. The relationship was not just maintained by good will of the political leadership it was more reliant on the military and security component.
"We cannot escape what is coming we need to intelligently engage with all powers and be the lead space of interaction"
The linkages the defence and intelligence communities maintained between the two countries were a result of a structural architecture that sustained the relationship. Yet increasingly in the 21st century this once robust structure seems to show signs of brittleness. The complex transformations of the globe including the rapid surge of China, transformation in the energy landscape, American nationalism, and European populism are testing the post war relationship. The current Trump controversy is not the first time the relationship has had gone through rough times, Gordon Brown and Barrack Obama did not have a great relationship, though it was Brown’s tactic to stem the effects of the financial crisis of 2008 that Obama had to resort to bail Wall Street out.
Brexit of June 2016 and the subsequent divorce negotiations have clearly put Britain as the weaker link. Theresa May’s government has already agreed to make a massive payment to the Union amounting to more than 50 Billion sterling pounds.
The timing of Trump’s tweets got Britain at a difficult time, already reeling from hard negotiations with European partners, Trump’s bombshell that targeted the very core of British society and its idiosyncrasies while blaming the current government has made Britain rethink about where it stands globally and which partnerships should be
"A depleted and a hollowed out US State department is struggling to convince friends, partners and allies of solid US commitments yet when the president suddenly unleashes a scathing attack on its ultimate friend and ally harms the US and its global standing"
Placing Prime Minister May between a rock and a hard place when it comes to geo political alignments.
Trump’s tweets are not just testing or questioning the structural integrity of the most important geo strategic partnership of the geo political west. It will make countries which are dependent on America as a vital strategic partner to rethink or even recalibrate their own alignments. American policy analysts were equally shocked with the President’s comments.
Already many allies are feeling uneasy with American commitments especially in strategic settings. A depleted and a hollowed out US State department is struggling to convince friends, partners and allies of solid American commitments yet when the president suddenly unleashes a scathing attack on its ultimate friend and ally harms the United States and its global standing.
Japan unveiled its Defence white paper a few months ago and Australia unveiled its much awaited and hyped Foreign Policy white paper two weeks ago. Both these countries represent the Geo political west and are the lead States including India as the Bulwark resisting fledging Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific Oceans. Reading both white papers it is quite clear that their relationships and partnerships with the United States are central and critical to achieve strategic objectives hence become core components of any foreign or security policy. The architects of these white papers may feel terribly uneasy with Trumps onslaught on Theresa May.
There is a lesson to be learnt for Sri Lanka, the 21st Century global political complexity makes it clear that even small States cannot afford to be looking at the world from the vantage point of 20th Century mentality. Recently in a forum of Professional Bankers, the writer was asked about the geo political importance of Sri Lanka maintaining its Non Aligned policy.
The Writer was on the view that the moment Sri Lanka attempts to be Non-Aligned amidst an unravelling power contest in the Indian Ocean, we would be subjected or forced to take a side, and our foreign policy should evolve into that of total engagement not defensive escapism.
We cannot escape what is coming we need to intelligently engage with all powers and be the lead space of interaction. We should not take the unnecessary risk of trying to balance external powers instead we could take the calculated risk of managing the competition to advance our own interests. Special relationships are susceptible to end as Shakespearean tragedies; Sri Lanka can do
The writer is the Director, Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS)