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2020 will reshape the international order

JENNY CLEGG looks ahead at a year where an increasingly multipolar world will challenge US dominance

AMIDST the wider multipolar rebalancing of power with the rise of China, a series of major international events taking place in 2020 may mark the year out as a turning point in setting the agenda for the coming decade and for the rest of the 21st century.

As US-led global militarisation casts a cold-war shadow over historic opportunities for major powers to come together, now is the time for campaigns for peace, climate-change action and social justice to push together from below in a movement for international cooperation.

April-May and Sept: DEFENDER-Europe

The US and Nato will launch their new annual DEFENDER-Europe military exercises, involving the largest deployment of US-based forces to Europe in more than 25 years, to be followed later by DEFENDER-Pacific exercises.

Following a huge increase in US military spending, their aim is to advance “great-power competition” with Russia and China.

Linked together, the exercises take a step towards a global Nato, a long-held ambition of the US to replace the UN.

DEFENDER-Europe 2020 will include operations in Germany, Poland, the Baltic states, Nordic countries and Georgia, among others, while the Pacific-based DEFENDER 2020 will focus on the South China Sea, with China now viewed by the US as posing “the most consequential existential threat since the Nazi Party in WW2.”

These highly provocative manoeuvres are likely to be grasped by Boris Johnson as an opportunity to put “global Britain” on display.

April 27-May 22: NPT 5-year review conference

2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it is also the 50th anniversary of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) under which nuclear-weapons states committed to complete disarmament. The NPT is in serious crisis. Previous conferences have been stymied by US-led efforts to focus on issues of proliferation, directing criticisms at North Korea and Iran, leaving non-nuclear-weapons states utterly frustrated by the lack of progress on disarmament.

With the US and Russian withdrawals from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty last summer, and the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), due for renewal in 2021, in jeopardy, arms control is at the point of disintegration, reversing the gains of decades of peace campaigning.

Nuclear-weapons states are all upgrading their nuclear arsenals bringing the world to the verge of an extremely dangerous unrestrained nuclear arms race. While a repeat of the previous NPT divisions threatens, it is vital that the Treaty remains in tact.

Alongside the conference, the International Peace Bureau is calling an NGO world conference: Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Resist and Reverse the Climate Crisis, for Social and Economic Justice.

May 8 and August 15 — the 75th anniversaries of the end of WW2: VE day May 9 in Russia, and VJ day Sept 2 in US and China

These dates present an opportunity for the US, UK, Russia and China to set aside differences to celebrate their joint victory of the four Allies over fascism.

The WW2 peace settlement in fact remains unfinished business. It is a cold-war Western conceit that Churchill and Roosevelt “saved the world.” Not only has this obscured the role of and sacrifices of the Soviet armed forces and people — but also blanks out the eight-year Chinese war of resistance against the Japanese which prevented Japanese expansion northwards, so allowing the Soviets to concentrate all their forces against the nazis on the Western front.

The costs of war to Russia and China have never been fully acknowledged. The only head of state from the Allied powers to attend China’s 70th VJ anniversary commemoration in 2015 was Putin.

Meanwhile a resurgence of cold-war mentality was evident last year when Putin himself was not invited to the D-Day celebrations. The claims of Russia and China to share the Allied victory as equal stakeholders in the peace of Europe and of the Pacific have yet to be honoured.

This year, reactionary forces in Europe, promoting a historical revisionism which equates nazism with communism, will endeavour to obstruct the remembrance celebrations, with a diversion against the “crimes of totalitarianism.”

How world leaders mark the 75th anniversary will be a test of the international trajectory: towards a new cold war and the continued Western dominance — or towards international co-operation in recognition of the WW2 legacy of multipolar peace.

September 21: the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN

The UN, forged out of WWII, is the ultimate embodiment of multilateral co-operation as the guarantor of a peaceful world through the principle of sovereignty, the system of international treaties and agreements, and with the balance of major powers in the Security Council.

With the Trump administration trampling international institutions and agreements underfoot, the UN is being sidelined and undermined, putting world peace in jeopardy.

The founding proclamation of the UN: “We the peoples … determine to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” also reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights, and committed to establish conditions of respect for international treaties and laws, and to promote social progress and better standards of life.

It is now time to reassert the role of the UN at the centre of world politics by reclaiming the “We the people” declaration from below in a grass-roots movement for international co-operation on climate change alongside the fundamental principles of peace and social justice.

September: EU-China summit

For China, partnership with the EU presents an opportunity for a fairer relationship between developed and developing countries, encompassing the Eurasian continent as a counter-balance to US hegemony. In marked contrast with the escalating US-China trade and technology war, 2019 saw EU-China relations make strides towards an agreement on investment to be set in place in 2020.

However, as increasing numbers of EU countries have signed up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the US has redoubled efforts to block the Eurasian trend, pressurising Europeans against the use of Huawei in their future 5G networks. China meanwhile is expecting that the summit will achieve a “level playing field” for Chinese enterprises in Europe, including 5G.

The summit represents a make-or-break moment not only for multipolar but also climate-change geopolitics. Its agenda presents an opportunity for Europe and China to broker a bilateral agreement on climate change, covering emission-reduction targets, progress on green trade and research and development, as well as investment arrangements to co-ordinate green development projects and industrial strategies. Success in these negotiations would bode well for the following round of climate-change talks.

Nov 9-19: the UN Climate Change Summit (COP 26) in Glasgow

2020 sees the Paris Agreement come into force with countries reviewing their 2015 pledges on carbon emissions. With these pledges currently falling far short of target, the world is on track for a catastrophic 3°C rise in global temperatures and the 2020 summit is seen as the last chance to address the emergency.

But COP 26 will first urgently have to deal with the unfinished agenda of COP 25 in Madrid which failed to reach consensus on carbon markets and on long-term finance for developing countries, as developed countries continually refused to make concessions.

Climate campaigners around the world will be building momentum throughout the year towards the summit, with Britain and Scotland the focal point as the Johnson government, in the conference chair, is put to the test before the eyes of the world.


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