The World This Week: NATO at 70, Protests in Iran, and COP 25 in Madrid

NATO at 70: Brain Dead and Jaws Dropped
What happened?
The NATO summit 2019 held in London marked 70 years of the security alliance. More than any collective action to celebrate the seven decades, the summit witnessed statements, cynicisms and gossips from the leaders, affecting its outcome.

Trump called Macron’s “Brain Dead” comment, “very disrespectful.” At a reception in the Buckingham Palace with members of the royal family, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was heard mocking Trump’s extended press conferences with reporters and saying Trump staffers’ “jaws dropped to the floor,” at Trump’s decision to hold an international summit at one of his resorts.

What is the background?
The US used to be the highest contributor to NATO; in 2019, it reduced its spending from 22 per cent to 16 per cent, identical to that of Germany’s spending on NATO. In a meeting in 2006, the members had set a guideline to spend at least 2 per cent of their GDP on defence. In 2014, they agreed to move ahead with the target.

During his 2016 election campaign, Trump alarmed the NATO allies by questioning their commitments and military spending. In the July 2018 NATO summit, Trump made a strong demand that the members must meet the 2 per cent target immediately and also proposed the possibility of doubling the target to 4 per cent.

What does it mean?
The US is reluctant to continue supporting NATO intellectually, politically and militarily. There is a mistrust in Europe about the intentions of the US role in Europe.

NATO has also failed to address the new threats facing the alliance – China’s rise, radicalisation and migration. These issues should have been primary concerns of NATO and discussed in details, as it prepared for the eighth decade.

For the past few decades, NATO has been working to build a partnership with Russia, with practical cooperation mechanisms and dialogues. Today, NATO is divided on its approach to Russia, a cause for concern. Russia continues to be a dividing factor for the alliance. It has managed to project the security alliance as incompetent and divided, in the context of the increasing political challenges and instabilities.

 

Iran: The protests continue
What happened?
Amnesty International on Monday said, around 208 people were killed during the protest against the government in Iran. The government admitted to having used force against the protesters but disputed the death toll of international agencies.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered that those who died in the unrest will be given the status of martyrs and pledged compensation for their families.

What is the background?
The unrest began in mid-November when the government hiked the fuel prices by 300 per cent to offset the effects of US-led nuclear sanctions on the economy. One of the key demands of the protesters is for the religious leaders to step down from power.

The protests have been the deadliest since the 1979 Iranian revolution. It has spread to 160 cities and left around 2000 injured and 7000 incarcerated, besides several dead.

As the unrest continued into the second week, the security forces responded with force. Iran blamed the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia for the protests.

What does it mean?
Firstly, the death toll estimates have gained international attention. There is pressure on Iran; the “martyr” statement from the Ayatollah highlights the seriousness at the highest level.

Secondly, the protests could have gone viral like Hong Kong protests. However, the government blocked the internet. Iran seems to have learnt the lessons of how not to control the protests.

Thirdly, there is a regional context. In Iran’s immediate environment, there are protests in Iraq, and Lebanon primarily due to socio-economic causes. Will there be another Spring in the region?

 

Spain: COP 25 begins in Madrid
What happened?
Madrid is hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2019. The events include the Conference of Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC, meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 2), meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 15), 51st session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 51) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 51).

The main agenda for COP 25 is to discuss various matters related to the operationalization of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Civil society groups, on the other hand, including those led by the young activist Greta Thunberg, have been holding demonstrations in the city, demanding stringent measures to combat climate change.

What is the background?
COP 25 initially was to be held in Santiago, Chile. However, due to protests and an unstable political situation, the event is now being hosted by Spain. The President of the Conference is Carolina Schmidt, Minister of Environment, Government of Chile.

Before COP 25, the world witnessed significant developments with respect to the environment and climate change. The United States walked out of the Paris Agreement formally but will remain as a party till 4 November 2020.

2019 witnessed large-scale climate-related disasters: massive wildfires in Brazilian Amazon, Arctic, Australia, and Indonesia; the death of a large Icelandic glacier Okjökull; devastating floods and cyclones in India and other parts of South Asia; and the mysterious oil spill along the Brazilian coast. Climate change has manifested itself in different forms across the globe.

The civil society in various developed countries has become more proactive and has been pressurizing the governments to undertake stringent measures to curb climate change. The role of youth in these protests is particularly evident.

The Pre-COP meeting aimed at bridging the UN Climate Action Summit and COP 25, was held in Costa Rica. It also discussed IPCC’s report on the “Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” (SROCC) and other unresolved issues of COP 24.

What does it mean?
First, civil society has become much more active. People in developed countries have held mass protests against governments and policies that fuel climate change. Civil society is more concerned than big powers about the environmental issues and the repercussions. The United States government is on a climate denial mode. Ambassador Marcia Bernicat heads its delegation to the COP 25, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. The quality of delegation depends upon the importance of a country attaches to the conference and its agenda.

Second, climate change conferences have either produced remarkable results or have not been successful in bringing the negotiating parties on the same board. Some meetings are a success from the very beginning. For example, the Paris Summit was bound to be successful due to the proactive role and firm stance of important countries. It is yet to be seen whether COP 25 will be a success or will fall short of expectations.


Also, during the week… 

The Impeachment storm in the US
The White House counsel in a letter has denounced the impeachment inquiry and asked the Democrats to finish it quickly so it could proceed to a Senate trial. The letter has condemned the process as “completely baseless” but has provided House committees with the approval to debate and approve impeachment articles as soon as next week. This arrangement suits the Democrats perfect as they wanted the process to end before the Christmas closing.

Mysterious shootings in Iraq
On 6 December, 15 people died, and some were injured, when unidentified shooters opened fire on the protesters in Baghdad. The assailants fired live ammunition from cars during the night. It is not clear who is responsible for the shooting although the government blames it on the militia. It is not a rare incident; since the starting of the protest, several attacks on the protesters by unidentified assailants have been commonly reported.

Merkel visits Auschwitz
Angela Merkel travelled to Auschwitz on 6 December 2019, her maiden visit to the notorious Nazi concentration camp during her 14 years of leadership. She spoke of the “deep shame” she felt being a German. This visit has a strong gesture as it is planned amid the rising anti-Semitism sentiments in Germany, and could be a step towards curbing it.

Protests return to Columbia
Columbia witnessed the third national protest by the trade unions, students and indigenous groups in all the major cities to pressurize the government of President Iván Duque further. The committee representing the protesters has 13 demands. Nevertheless, their primary demand is that the government fully meets its obligations under the terms of the peace process signed in 2016. They also want steps to be taken to prevent the killings of social activists and former rebels.

 

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Harini Madhusudhan, Sukanya Bali, Rashmi Ramesh and Aparupa Bhattacherjee