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War in Ukraine: Is the world sinking into a spiral of conflict? | International

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The world is entering a phase of upheaval it hasn’t seen for decades. Russia’s war in Ukraine is one factor exacerbating the polarizing dynamics that were already evident in the tensions between the West and China. On the one hand, Western democracies are closing ranks with their Asian allies, as seen during the recent G7, NATO and EU summits. On the other, Russia and China are trying to join forces while attracting other countries, as indicated by last Thursday’s BRICS summit between its five member states – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The unusual accumulation of summits within a short space of time has flagged up this polarizing trend that is already having brutal and heartbreaking consequences, and which carries serious risks of further conflict in the near future. In it, the West retains preeminence in practically all areas, but China is gaining ground and Russia has energy and military assets of great strategic scope.

What the summits demonstrate is that the West has a higher level of internal cohesion. Russian aggression has caused NATO members to close ranks, with Sweden and Finland now keen to join. The conflict has also brought Western and Eastern democracies such as Japan and South Korea onto the same page. Meanwhile, despite the overtures of friendship, the relationship between Russia and China still has a limited trajectory, and the final declaration at the BRICS summit exposes the tricky terrain separating the two.

Meanwhile, the cohesion between NATO allies, which accounts for more than half of world military spending, is being shored up by the bond between Western powers and their partners in the Asia-Pacific region. The 29 countries providing military assistance to Ukraine also account for more than half of global military spending. Moreover, given the Russian aggression, several countries in the Western hemisphere are planning consistent increases in military investment over the coming years.


Military spending in the world

Military spending in the world

Military spending in the world

In the field of technology, the US and its democratic allies retain a considerable advantage, thanks to the muscle of so many cutting-edge American companies, giving them a major strategic advantage. In the same vein, coordination between Western countries in the field of intelligence is far more efficient than the looser cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.

Even so, China is rapidly gaining ground both militarily and technologically, due to huge investment and a thriving ecosystem of powerful companies. Europe, on the other hand, is lagging behind in this area, and is seeking to make up the shortfall with plans to strengthen its strategic autonomy.

Within this context, it is worth noting the importance of Taiwan, which has a strong microchip sector, and could well be a point of conflict between the two global powers, with China determined to bring it back into the fold, and the US committed to keeping Taiwan as a democratic territory.


Location of main tech

companies in the world

Based on market capitalization.

Number of businesses

Location of main tech companies

in the world

Based on market capitalization.

Number of businesses

Location of main tech companies in the world

Based on market capitalization. Number of businesses

Although the advantage the Western network has over China and Russia as a whole is clear, it would be a mistake to overestimate it, or to underestimate the potential of its adversaries. The West’s ability to maintain a cohesive and incisive course is being challenged by the very serious repercussions of the war in Ukraine. The foundations of its union are not in question, but its capacity to project a united and strong position is. The unrest exacerbated by both the conflict itself and sanctions against Russia, in terms of price escalation, supply shortages and potential waves of migration, may foster public dissent and threaten the cohesion.

While there is nothing comparable to NATO’s close military alliance, or the EU’s political and economic cooperation, there are a number of key risk factors. For example, China and India have significantly increased their purchase of Russian crude oil. They do so at a discount but, even so, their investment substantially compensates for the blow dealt to the Russian oil industry by Western sanctions, which is of enormous strategic importance.

Energy dominance is the most obvious aspect of the ongoing global reshuffle that goes beyond the disconnect with Russian fossil fuels. The growing distrust of China is prompting not just reflection but action in the West regarding the reorganization of production chains. The strategic aim of liberal democracies is to become less dependent on China’s manufacturing power and acquire greater autonomy. It will be a gradual but far-reaching process.

Even so, it is premature to interpret this as leading to de-globalization. Rather, it looks as though it might be a redesign of our globalization model. The scale of economic and trade ties is enormous and in some respects, these serve to check the polarizing forces.

The export data shows which countries have a special interest in maintaining a global order with a stable trade framework. China and Germany stand out as the two export giants. During its presidency of the EU in the second half of 2020, Germany pushed for the signing of a new agreement with Beijing on investment and trade. The pact, however, has foundered in the subsequent ratifying of the accord.

Awareness of the need to reduce dependence on the Chinese market has been growing in Europe, particularly in the German industrial sector, adding weight to the divergence of the US, which began in the Trump era with a trade war, and continues – with somewhat less animosity, but a similar approach – under the Biden presidency.

Global exports

In trillions of dollars


Some 41% of global trade comes from Asian countries.

Some 41% of global trade comes from Asian countries. China alone accounts for 15% of global exports.

The commercial ties between the world’s two giants run deep. China is the largest import market for the US, and the US is the largest export market for Beijing. But things are changing. Apple – perhaps the biggest symbol of the link between US technology and Chinese manufacturing – is moving production lines to Vietnam, where it will start manufacturing devices such as iPad and AirPods. Many other companies are following suit, though the involvement runs so deep and is so lucrative that the process will necessarily be gradual.


Where the US imports from

Where the US imports from

Where the US imports from

Where the US

imports from

The financial sector is another intertwined element, with China as one of the US Treasury’s main creditors. The different interwoven elements of the relationship between the US and China are of particular importance for reading a world order undergoing metamorphosis. Russia wields a strategic influence and harbors a strong capacity for destabilization due to its nuclear arsenal, energy resources and geographical size, but the future depends largely on what kind of relationship the two true superpowers will maintain, and on the positioning of other key players, such as the EU, India and Russia itself, on the chessboard shaped by the two titans.


Which countries own US debt

Owners of US

sovereign debt

in March 2021

Which countries own US debt

Owners of US

sovereign debt

in March 2021

Which countries own US debt

Owners of US sovereign debt in March 2021

In the financial sector, as well as the military and technology sectors, the US continues to enjoy enormous preeminence thanks to the dollar and its dominant position in global markets. It is by far the most widely used currency in transactions and the one most frequently used for reserves.


Importance of the US dollar

Importance of the US dollar

Importance of the US dollar

The energy sector is another determining factor in the current upheaval. The war in Ukraine has created shockwaves, with the West determined to do without Russian fossil fuels. The EU suffers from a high dependence on Russian fuel, which is causing particular turbulence. The impact on inflation is already high, and Russia seems determined to use this tool aggressively, as evidenced by recent measures to reduce supplies to Germany and Italy, two of its major customers.

The Kremlin probably believes that it can largely offset the losses from these exports by hiking prices and redirecting – especially of the more manageable crude oil – to other Asian customers. It also seems to believe it will be able to manage the suffering of Russian society – subjected to severe repression – better than European governments can manage the increasing pressure from a public anxious about the deteriorating situation, which could lead to a shift in their current foreign policies.


Gas, oil and coal exports in 2020

 

Liquified and via pipeline

Crude and petroleum products

Gas, oil and coal exports in 2020

 

Liquified and via pipeline

Crude and petroleum products

Gas, oil and coal exports in 2020

Liquified and

via pipeline

Crude and

petroleum

products

The severing of energy ties with Russia is indicative of the depth and breadth of the current conflict. This, together with the reconfiguration of supply chains and the tightening of alliances such as the Aukus (Australia, UK, US), indicate that polarizing forces are prevailing.

The main polarizing forces are, of course, seeking to attract more neutral countries into their orbit. Significantly, the BRICS summit invited a dozen countries to attend, including Iran, Indonesia, Algeria and Argentina. The G7, in turn, has invited India, South Africa, Senegal and Argentina, while NATO has invited Asian leaders from countries such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand for the first time. This is the great 21st century game. And the risk of war is much higher than in previous decades.

Sources: IMF, World Trade Organization, WITS, US Treasury Department, SIPRI, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, International Energy Agency and companiesmarketcap.com.

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‘There are snakes – but we attack the fires’: refugees fight flames in the Sahara | Global development

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Ahmedou Ould Boukhary knows he can get the call at any time, day or night from the local authorities in Bassikounou, a town in the south-east of Mauritania. Someone has spotted a fire in one of the villages perched on the edge of the Sahara. How soon can he and his men be there?

Boukhary leads the Brigade Anti-Feu – the Anti-Fire Brigade – a volunteer force of about 500 Malian refugees living in M’bera camp, towards the border with Mali, 11 miles (18km) from the town. When the call comes, teams of between 50 and 70 men pack themselves into the backs of pickup trucks and zoom out of the camp to deal with the blaze. Sometimes they travel up to 20 miles to put out fires.

A view from a plane of the vast expanse of Sahara close to Bassikonou and M’bera Camp where bush fires rage after the rainy season under the immense heat of the sun and the gusts of wind that spread the burning.
Malian refugees queue outside a distribution centre in M’bera camp for their allocation of food and feminine hygiene products
Two Malian refugee herdsmen watch their cattle next to a water trough in M’bera camp.
Members of the M’bera camp Brigade Anti-Feu drive to their training exercise. Before the rainy season, wildfires become a risk

With little more than axes and tree branches, the brigade helped to put out 36 fires in and around the camp since October, during the most recent dry season, which runs until June. The fires typically come after the rains, when scrubland, full of green plant life, slowly becomes a tinderbox.

Ahmedou Ould Boukhary, a founder of the 200-strong Anti-Fire Brigade who organises training for its members, at a tree nursery in the camp. A key method by which the community prevent bushfires is the creation of fire-breaks cleared of plant debris and other vegetation.

  • Ahmedou Ould Boukhary, a founder of the Anti-Fire Brigade, at a tree nursery in the camp.The brigade plants trees to replace those used for building and cooking

During a recent practice run, the trucks race into the desert. When they halt, the men jump out and start hacking at a small tree, passing its wispy branches around to use as makeshift brooms. They form a line, and start sweeping at the ground just as they would if putting out a real fire. Dust and sand billows into the hot air, which fills with the sound of excited shouts. The equipment may be modest, but branches used well are enough to stamp out many scrubland fires.

Brigade members arrive for a training exercise

“It’s a little tiring, it’s a little risky,” says Mine Hamada, one of the brigade leaders. “We have the courage to not be afraid. We’re brave – we go at midnight, we go at 1am, we go at whatever hour. We go into the bush. There are snakes, there’s everything – but we attack the wildfires.”

An influx of thousands of refugees escaping an upsurge in violence and rising insecurity in Mali since March has reduced the number of callouts this year. The hungry livestock they brought with them ate many of the shrubs and trees that would have posed a fire risk. Between October 2020 and June 2021, the teams extinguished 58 fires.

A man swings an axe cutting branchs from one of the many shrubs that litter the Sahelian landscape.
Brigade members practise a variety of different fire-fighting techniques. Some sweep, some swing and some hitting the ground aggressively with branches. In the background, a younger boy also practises. The Anti-Fire Brigade has acquired a heroic cachet. Teenagers can join once they are 18.
Members of BAF stand listening to a debrief from leader Ahmedou Ould Boukhary after the training session while dressed in long tunics and tagelmusts head scarves.
As ordered by their leader Boukhary, men walk in a diagonal line across the desert whooping and yelling as they practise a variety of fire-fighting formations

  • Clockwise from top left: a man chops long, bushy branches from a shrub – highly effective for beating back low-level fires; brigade members practise fire-fighting techniques. A younger boy also practises: the brigade has acquired a heroic cachet, and teenagers can join at 18; men practise and listen to a debriefing from Boukhary.

Founded in 2013 as an initiative between the Mauritanian NGO SOS Desert, the local authorities and the UN high commissioner for refugees, the brigade is among a number of volunteer groups that have sprung up in M’bera since the camp was established 10 years ago. The camp is home to about 80,000 Malians.

As well as putting out fires, the refugee fire brigade attempts to mitigate the risk of blazes by cutting down trees and shrubs to create firebreaks between patches of vegetation. The brigades also plant trees to replace those cut down to make homes in the camp and for cooking. These efforts are contributing towards the Great Green Wall – a massive reforestation project that aims to grow an 4,350-mile-long barrier to combat environmental degradation in the Sahel.

The men walk in a diagonal formation during their firefighting practice session, whooping and yelling

Miraculously, the brigade has only incurred one injury over the past nine years, Hamada says. Amid high winds, a man tripped and fell into a fire he was battling. His fellow firefighters were able to pull him to safety before he could be seriously hurt.

The volunteers say they take on the dangerous work, which often has them out in the field for hours at a time, because they want to protect the area in which they live. But they also do it out of gratitude – to pay back their Mauritanian hosts for the years they have spent as refugees.

“We must help les adoptants,” says Boukhary, referring to the local Mauritanians who, by accepting the Malians into their country, he suggests have “adopted” them. “We intervene to help them. Because we’re refugees on their territory. No one asked us to ‘Do this, do that’ – it’s our initiative.”

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Kiev Selling Off Country, Prioritizing Poland in This ‘Business Project’ – Russian Foreign Intel

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Previously, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service chief Sergey Naryshkin said that Warsaw and Washington were plotting to “reunite” Poland with western Ukraine, with the statement branded “false” by the Polish secret service.

The Kiev regime has, essentially, already started selling off the country, giving priority in this “business project” to Polish neighbors, the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation stated on its website.

Poland’s aspirations are being facilitated by newly-adopted legislation in Ukraine.

“The new legal framework adopted by the Rada at the end of July offers special guarantees for Polish citizens and allows the sale of Ukraine’s industrial enterprises at a 50% discount, according to the SVR website.

Ukrainian flag and Polish Eagle on the building of the Polish Embassy in Kiev. File photo. - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.05.2022

Poland Plans to Annex Western Ukraine, Former Lawmaker Claims



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The repeal of abortion in the United States leaves doctors in legal limbo | International

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On June 29, five days after the US Supreme Court struck down federal protection of abortion rights, Emily Diament, pregnant with her second daughter, was due for her 20th week checkup. Everything was going well in a pregnancy that “could not be more desired.” She will always remember it: it was Wednesday, at two o’clock in the afternoon, when the doctor told them that the fetus’s heart had stopped beating. “It was terrible. At that time, Ram [her husband] and I had to think: Where does the Supreme Court ruling leave us now? “All of this was new”, adds this 33-year-old public relations officer in an email: “a panorama full of unknowns and fears”.

The gynecologist explained the alternatives. The first, “induction,” was the least safe. It essentially means giving birth to the stillborn baby. The second, more reliable and less onerous for her, was to undergo a D&E operation, an acronym for “dilation and evacuation”. “The process is also faster,” explains Diament. The couple opted for the latter.

The couple live in New Orleans, “the best city in the world”, as Diament likes to define it. The Supreme Court ruling, which overturned the half-century precedent of 1973 by the ruling Roe v. Wade, gave power to regulate women’s reproductive health back to the States. Diament’s legislators in Louisiana, anxiously awaited the moment of a “trigger law”, ready to take effect since 2006. Three days after the ruling, a judge blocked the activation of that rule, one of the most restrictive in the country. But it was just a mirage: on July 8 abortion was outlawed in Louisiana even for rape and incest. And so it goes: after several comings and goings in the courts, the ban holds up, pending new legal battles.

Among the restrictions contemplated by the law is the veto on D&E unless the mother’s life is in danger, or the baby has already died. Diament’s case fell into the permitted categories, but her ordeal compelled her to tell her story. “After going through that process and talking to several doctors about their concerns,” she explains, “I know this happened to me at this exact time for a reason.”

Bhavik Kumar is one of those nervous doctors, pushed into legal limbo by the new rules. He is a consultant in the largest provider of abortions in the United States, Planned Parenthood, in Houston, Texas, another of the epicenters of the restrictive tsunami that hits the United States. He explains that an “induction” can last “from one to 12 or 24 hours”, carries more risks (“the same as childbirth”) and generates more hospital expenses, causing serious debt among less well-off patients. Some, however, prefer it, because “the baby comes out intact, and they can bond with it,” adds Kumar. With D&E, which uses forceps, mothers do not see the dead body.

Conversation between doctor and patient

And that is all that Kumar asks: that the matter be resolved in a conversation between doctor and patient, “without political interference.” “Since the law came into force [in Texas], the only cases in which we are allowed to intervene after six weeks is if the life of the person is in danger, or if there is no doubt that the pregnancy is not viable.”, he warns.

Kumar, like many of his colleagues, has doubts around the idea of “life in danger”. “It’s not exactly a scientific concept,” he clarifies. “Every doctor, every ER, every clinic, and every hospital may have their own theory of what that means. Now, instead of looking at the data and talking to patients to decide what’s best, doctors, hospitals and clinics have to consult with lawyers, ethics committees or administrators about what they can and can’t do. Meanwhile, they also remain in limbo. The precautions seem justified: both Texas and Louisiana threaten prison sentences of between 10 and 15 years to those who perform abortions outside the supposedly permitted limits.

A gynecologist thus defined the new dilemmas of her practice during an interview with EL PAÍS held at a reproductive health center in Des Moines (Iowa): “It’s terrible,” lamented the doctor, who asked to speak anonymously. “They make us choose between the Hippocratic Oath [the famous “Do no harm”] and the penal code.”

This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland decided to take matters into his own hands with a Justice Department lawsuit challenging a new Idaho law that, when it takes effect at the end of the month, will allow prosecutors to “indict, arrest and prosecute a doctor merely by showing that an abortion has been performed, regardless of the circumstances.” The rule thus endorses the burden of proof on doctors (that is, to prove whether the woman’s life was in danger or not, for example, or if there was incest or rape, in cases where the law contemplates those exceptions). According to Garland, who warned that it would be the first in a series of legal actions by the Biden Administration to mitigate the effects of the new state laws, that provision conflicts with a federal regulation, The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).

“D&E requires training that many physicians lack,” explains Diament. “With the new laws, it is likely that there will be doctors who prefer not to learn the technique to avoid its possible consequences. It’s not that we don’t have autonomy over our bodies, it’s that doctors can’t watch over our health either. This is not protecting life, quite the contrary. It’s completely surreal.”

“We must not forget that we are facing cases in which pregnancies are absolutely desired. First they have to accept terrible news, and then they are forced to go through a process that is very traumatic for many, and after that, a few weeks later, they have to relive the experience when the hospital bill arrives”, argues Gabriela Benazar Acosta, spokesperson from Planned Parenthood Latino, New York.

Kumar warns, for his part, that “medicine is a science with vast gray areas, no matter how hard these legislators insist on the contrary. No one better than doctors, in an empathetic dialogue with patients and their families, can know in each specific case what is the best way to act.”

These days, stories like Diament’s are emerging in the United States (“there have always existed,” says Kumar, “but now the spotlight is on them”). Stories of women who are sent home by hospitals with instructions to return when they get worse and are “really” bleeding (“And that, even when it is clear that there is no turning back,” warns the doctor). A patient in Texas whose water broke at week 18 and was advised to stay in the hospital until week 24 to keep her pregnant until then, which is when “viability” outside the womb is set to begin. Maybe then, the baby might survive (the chances, Alan Peaceman, a professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told NPR that the chances are “as close to zero as far as medicine is concerned”).

“All this means that some have to travel to other states because they do not want to wait to get even more sick,” adds Kumar. Since the Supreme Court toppled Roe, class and race are two factors that have surfaced in the debate on reproductive health in the United States. With this regressive wave, which comes after half a century in which women took for granted a protection that they are now denied, began an exodus of patients from their places of origin to States in which abortions can be performed. This has created yet another gap, between those who can afford to take vacation days, often unpaid, from their jobs and pay for the trip and the intervention, and those who simply cannot afford it. In the case of miscarriages, inevitable in between 10% and 20% of pregnancies, this different position in the wheel of social fortune can become, if things get complicated, deadly.

Translated by Xanthe Holloway.

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