Prof. Inderjeet Parmar talks about the United States domestic and foreign policy in 2023. Parmar is a professor of international politics at the City, University of London, and co-editor of the book series "Routledge Studies in US Foreign Policy".
In this session, he discusses the future of the Republican Party and former President Trump heading towards the 2024 elections, before shifting the focus overseas. The main issues addressed are American interests in the Indo-Pacific, including discussions on India, QUAD, and Taiwan, the Ukraine war and its impact on the international order, and the special relationship between the US and the UK.
Interviewers: Giovanni Luca Catucci and Anurag Mishra - US Team
The undisturbed incursion by the Chinese balloon into American territory and over military sites captured the attention of analysts worldwide, climaxing in a spectacular battle between an F-22 fighter jet and a balloon. After some hesitation by American leadership, the downing was authorised and live-aired but raised many legal and political issues.
The first question is why China, a technological giant, would need balloons to spy on US territory.Compared to drones and satellites, balloons are infinitely less expensive and preferable in an operation at a high risk of loss of the device. Furthermore, balloons float at an altitude significantly lower than satellites, thus potentially capturing audio that the latter cannot intercept, and providing higher-quality imaging. Balloons also allow constant surveillance whilst being much less detectable, as they can hover for long escaping radars, and can even deploy their drones. Lastly, whilst subject to wind patterns, they are more manoeuvrable and their flight altitude can be modified.
The test of International Law
Before addressing the political consequences of the balloon’s destruction, it is important to put the operation to the test of international law. According to the Chicago Convention (ICAO, 1944), articles 1-3, “every state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory.” Commercial airliners and balloons both qualify as civilian airships, and thus cannot fly over the territory of another country without permission.
But what constitutes sovereign airspace?
International law is very clear about the horizontal limits of sovereignty, which is established in the 1982 UNCLOS: it extends until the territorial waters of a state (12nm from the baseline). Conversely, there is no agreement over what constitutes the vertical boundary of sovereignty, a matter on which the Montego Bay Convention, the Chicago Convention, and the Outer Space Treaty are silent. States have thus used divergent standards to draw the line between national airspace and outer space. Technically, states could claim as sovereign territory up to 100 km of space above ground (62 mi, the Kármán line).
The consequences of this distinction cannot be overstated: states have sovereign authority and jurisdiction over their airspace, but no one has authority over outer space, which is an international commons.
China contends that the balloon was a civilian device conducting meteorological research in outer space, while the most credible accounts report the UAV flying at 60.000 feet above the ground. According to US practice, this would be considered within American airspaces, like all aircraft flying below 100.000 feet, and its transit would thus be conditional upon permission by state authorities. Article 3(bis) of the Chicago Convention proscribes the use of force against civilian aircraft. Nonetheless, in the case at hand, international and domestic rules were violated, giving the US the right to restore its domestic law & order via countermeasures and the use of internal force, as long as proportionate and necessary, a test facilitated by the absence of human personnel on the airship.
Moreover, if it were proven that the balloon was a spy device - increasingly likely while it is being dismantled and studied - its status would not be regulated by the Chicago Convention, which deals only with civilian aircraft. Indeed, a spy balloon is considered a state military aircraft. A violation of sovereign airspace by such an airship would thus amount to a use of force in violation of “the territorial integrity or political independence” of the United States, as per art.2(4) of the UN Charter. As similar past episodes showed, the US was entirely within its rights in neutralising the possible threat, again provided that the response was necessary and proportionate.
The Communist Party answered in dismay, alleging a force majeure justification in a note by the Foreign Ministry. Top diplomats have harshly criticized President Biden for his aggressive tone in the State of the Union address. Nevertheless, the official response was not excessively confrontational, and a final answer on the nature of the incursion is yet to arrive. Furthermore, evidence is emerging concerning a larger swarm of Chinese balloons over all five continents, and of a case where China, on the receiving side of a surveillance balloon, shot it down in 2019 alleging similar justifications.
After having established the legality of the shooting, the next step requires analyzing its political context and consequences. This incident inserts itself into a string of tensions between the two superpowers, the zenith of which consisted in Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August.
Biden and Xi’s meeting in Bali helped thaw out the situation, with both leaders agreeing on the need for open and direct diplomatic channels to communicate. However, top American military officials have criticized the Chinese leadership for not fulfilling their promise in the case at hand, leaving calls by the Defense Secretary unanswered. Fears are that a lack of communication may make misunderstandings and flare-ups more likely; crisis hotlines during the Cold War with the Kremlin proved vital for averting open hostilities.
While the significance of the data collected is poor, the undisturbed penetration of a Chinese balloon within the US mainland caused a few headaches to American officials. It is a clear signal from the CCP that it has the capacity to trespass on American territory, and not only small atolls in the South China Sea. Moreover, through a grey-zone operation, Beijing has successfully used non-violent means for a clear political goal: destabilising its main adversary while averting an overt military response.
Hence, not only has the incursion shown the disruptive potential of Chinese technology, but it has exposed the vulnerability of American intelligence services, fuelling chaos in American public opinion and halls of power. Hawkish members of Congress, notably Republicans, have lashed out at President Biden for having failed to prevent or act quicker. The live coverage of the balloon’s destruction sought to remedy this fiasco but contributed to exacerbating tensions and Anti-Asian rhetoric, already high in the country, and to fan the flames of a spiralling escalation not only of words.
The balloon incident is just another episode of a saga of a looming US-China crisis. It highlighted the lack of true communication hotlines between the two nuclear powers and the threat this poses to international peace and security. Indeed, misunderstandings between nuclear powers and poor crisis management could lead to apocalyptic scenarios.
While the People’s Republic tested US tolerance, the latter responded by showing that it means business, by annihilating the balloon with a $400.000 missile fired by the most advanced fighter in the world. This adds to its muscle-flexing through a chip embargo and a deal with the Philippines for the use of four military bases.
Overall, both sides seem to ignore conciliatory avenues and through unscrupulous violations of sovereignty, grey-zone operations, discordance in crucial international fora, and muscle-flexing, they keep fanning the flames of strategic competition. Even worse, aggressive rhetoric bounces from Beijing to Washington with little consideration for its consequences.
Through belligerent discourse and the antagonization of the other, the US and China contribute to constructing the idea of the enemy and convincing stakeholders and citizens of the inevitability of conflict, potentially exposing the world to a self-fulfilling prophecy and global catastrophe. While the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists considers this only 90 seconds away, hope is that de-escalation efforts and the Bali agenda return to the central stage.
2022 brought about several game-changing developments in the Middle East and beyond. These events - from domestic political instability, through the weakening of American influence in the region, to the protests in Iran - will all leave a mark in 2023, a year that is shaping to be decisive for the Middle East’s future.
Of the many things to monitor in the region during 2023, four issues stand out the most, largely due to their international significance. These are the American involvement in the Middle East; climate change and the region’s efforts - or lack of - to counter it; the domestic upheaval in Iran and its global impact; and the economic situation across the region, with a growing number of countries in economic disarray (Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Yemen).
The US in the Middle East
Going into 2023, the United State’s role in the Middle East is undefined. Had it been clear and obvious, American officials wouldn’t have to reiterate that their country will remain pivotal as it once was. The facts on the ground suggest less American physical involvement. There are less American troops in the region; American diplomacy has been weakened; and one is much more exposed to alternative soft power than before. In that sense we are expected to see declining American presence across the region. Diplomatically, the US is losing grip as well. While it largely has Israel on its side in its competition with China and Russia, other allies - most notably Saudi Arabia - are becoming less and less dependent on the US, fueling a multipolar world where the US is now one of many, rather than the one. The US can stay assured that it will continue to have leverage over several individuals and countries in the coming year, but all in all - and much due to the multipolar inertia across the region - this leverage is not infinite, and further distancing from American policies are likely to follow. This dynamic played out in the relations between President Biden and the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin-Salman, where the latter refused to give-in to American pressure on oil prices, proving that the American leverage on him and his country is limited. In other words, American superiority will not only continue to be challenged from afar, but also from within the region itself.
2023 might very well be the year of the Persian Spring. The revolutionary protests that began in September have the potential to spin the regime out of control and to create a new reality in the country, and the region. What started as a social protest against the state’s brutality and the killing of Masha Amini has developed into a full regime-change movement, with the slogan “death to Khamenei” gaining momentum and legitimacy on social media. It is of course possible that the harsh and lethal crackdown by the state will break the back of the revolution, but these past few months and the ones to follow will certainly change Iran and affect the region as a whole, whichever way the wind blows.
Furthermore, in light of the internal turmoil and the fact that the Iranian nuclear deal is all but alive, it is likely that Iran will push to both enrich as much uranium as possible and to create destabilizing chaos across the region in the coming months. All in all, what happens in Iran during 2023 will determine the near future of the Middle East.
After a rather unsuccessful COP27 failed to produce actionable policy solutions or real commitments from the international community, a decisive year lies ahead for the Middle East, where people will continue suffering from the consequences of the climate crisis. Most prominently, water scarcity will lead to an increasingly dire situation, fueling food insecurity, economic downturn, civil unrest, and violent extremism. That said, several innovative start-ups and promising technologies are on the rise, with the GCC countries upping the funding to accelerate developments in the field. Hope now lies upon the Abu Dhabi COP28, set to take place in November and, ironically, hosted by UAE’s National Oil Company CEO, with civil society organizations and academia urging for serious action.
A cleavage in economic performance is increasingly visible among Middle Eastern countries, with the oil-based GCC monarchies witnessing continuous growth - whereas others are facing economic decline, leading to or exacerbating existing socio-political turbulences. The economic outlook for 2023 indicates that inflation is likely to surpass 30% in numerous countries, with Syria at 63% and Lebanon at a staggering 167% . Further regional actors, such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Yemen, face economic hardship while also having to tackle political challenges, civil unrest, and violent conflicts. Overall, domestic and international factors - such as the war in Ukraine - are likely to deepen a looming recession and the energy crisis. While it is likely that wealthy GCC countries will continue to support struggling regional allies, countries such as Yemen, Libya and Lebanon will continue to be used as arenas for proxy wars, further deepening their economic troubles.
The geostrategic rivalry between China and the US is affecting the semiconductor and integrated circuit industry.
In recent months, Washington has implemented a clear strategy to contain Chinese geo-economic expansionism, to prevent Beijing from gaining access to semiconductor manufacturing technologies. The technology war between Washington and Beijing has now reached the WTO. A few days ago, Beijing filed a request with the World Trade Organisation, asking it to analyse the restrictive policies imposed by the United States on the export of hi-tech products. This has not stopped companies operating in the sector from moving to protect themselves. First of all, Amazon started to design a new microchip aimed at PCs, with the aim of integrating semiconductor production in-house. In this technology war, other companies are also moving. Nvidia and TSMC have started to design new products for the industry.
For the Chinese government, this economic aid package is part of its strategy to decouple its economic sector from that of the US, reducing its dependence on Washington in technology sectors. While China is one of the largest exporters of rare earths, it has a strong dependence on the US for hi-tech products, which are essential for its military modernisation project. In this context, Beijing aims to break free from its technological dependence on the US within the next three years, with the target of meeting 70% of its domestic needs.
However, this status in the semiconductor industry would risk putting it under great pressure as many companies, anticipating commercial retaliation from the US, might self-impose to stop doing business with China or cut off contact with Chinese companies. Beijing meanwhile has started its plans to support its companies and help them in the China-US competition. Despite the dialogues and communication channels between Beijing and Washington, the two superpowers maintain a certain distance and mutual distrust between them. The Semiconductor War of this millennium has entered its most delicate phase.
Tensions between China and the United States seem frozen at the moment, a consequence of domestic commitments of both Beijing and Washington. On the one hand, Xi Jinping will have to pass a Communist Party Congress to secure a third term as General Secretary of the Party, reappointment to the post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and reappointment as President of the People's Republic. Xi has several dossiers. The first is the issue of the anti-covid policy that has blocked production chains in recent months due to continuous lockdowns; the second is the delicate relationship with Moscow, which has seen in its Russian partner a greater weakening and consolidation of Beijing's political position in several areas of influence. For Xi, the October Congress is the turning point for the consolidation of his leadership within the Party. The main international dossier facing Beijing during the Congress session will be relations with Washington and the sensitive Taiwan issue. In the previous months several articles have been published by Chinese academics linked to the Party. CSIS, Center for Strategic of International Studies, translated an article by Liu Jieyi, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council from a seminar on the Taiwan issue held between August 17 and 18. The seminar was attended by several academics close to Communist Party and government positions. Liu Jieyi in the piece titled "Reunification Has Entered an Irreversible Historical Process [统一进入不可逆转历史进程]" described that the reunification process has now entered an irreversible historical process and that not even Taipei's so-called "anti-Chinese forces" and "independence vagueities" will oppose the unification of the Island with the People's Republic.
The Diplomatic clash between China and the United States on the Taiwan issue was raised after the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi but two other elements changed the approach of Sino-US relations. The first was the presentation of a new document(Taiwan Policy Act 2022) by the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that if approved could allocate some $6.5 billion in aid. If it is approved by both the House and Senate it could further deteriorate Washington-Beijing relations. Another bone of contention is the approval by the U.S. side to sell a $1.1 billion arms package. At the moment, relations between the People's Republic and the U.S. have returned to a certain "new" normalcy, a consequence of the domestic commitments of both Beijing (Party Congress" and Washington ( Mid-Term elections for the renewal of the U.S. Congress) .
On the international context, the war in Ukraine could, in the coming months and early 2023, lead China and the U.S. to engage in consultation given that at the SCO summit in Samarkand a certain Beijing discontent with the war being waged by the Kremlin was noted, a position that after the Party Congress could solidify further reducing Beijing's indirect support for Russia's junior partner.
In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Prof. Germano Dottori addresses and analyzes Iran's role within the new developments in the Middle East. The interview focuses on the possible outcomes of Biden's travel to the Middle East and the developing potentials of new Middle Eastern alliances.
Professor Germano Dottori was the Chair of Strategic Studies at Luiss-Guido Carli University in Rome until November 2020. He was an Adviser to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between 2001 and 2006. He has worked with the Rivista Italiana di Difesa (Italian Defence magazine) since 1997. He has published books and research in Italy and Great Britain on security and defence.
For its third event of "The View from" Series, Ilas Touazi from University of Sétif 2 and Michele Tallarini, ITSS Verona, Africa Team, discuss US-China competition in Africa, touching upon regional dynamics, trade, BRI, questions of debt, and Chinese military presence in the continent.
In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Prof. Manochehr Dorraj addresses and analyzes the gradual development of bilateral relations between Iran and China. The interview focuses on the importance of Iran to China, how both countries try to optimize their gain and influence through this bilateral relation, and how this relation is affected by and may affect regional bilateral relations with China.
Manochehr Dorraj is a Professor at Texas Christian University where his areas of focus cover International Affairs, Comparative politics, Political Theory and Middle East politics. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author, coauthor, editor or coeditor of 7 books and more than 80 refereed articles and book chapters.
Interviewers: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.
In this second event of "The View From: Voices from South East Asia" conceptualised and moderated by ITSS Verona members Arslan Skeikh and Arnaud Sobrero, Dr Richard Bitzinger and Dr Fitri Bintang Timur share their immense experience on issues regarding international security, great power competition, trade, diplomacy, and conflict in greatly strategic South East Asia.
On 15th September 2021, a trilateral security agreement, AUKUS, was announced by the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, as part of a broader US foreign policy effort in the Indo-Pacific. Although not explicitly specified in the text, the agreement seems to be directed as a wider strategy to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Despite AUKUS being a standard security agreement and apparently harmless for the EU, it has caused the biggest diplomatic crisis in transatlantic relations since the Iraq War in 2003, as it came as a surprise package to the European Union and France in particular. As written in the text, AUKUS will contribute to build eight nuclear-powered submarines in Australia and “will focus specifically on deepening integration in defense-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains, with particular emphasis on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and new undersea capabilities”.
The reasons for France's discontent are numerous. The first one is that Australia unexpectedly scrapped France from a A$90bn (£48bn) submarine contract, signed with the contractor Naval Group in 2016, to purchase 12 conventional attack submarines and to replace its old six conventionally powered Collins-class submarines. Moreover, Paris was not informed by Canberra beforehand and found out about the agreement together with the rest of the world, showing a serious breach of trust between the two countries. Last, but not least, this agreement also had an unfortunate timing: AUKUS was announced to the public the same day the EU published its own strategy for the Indo-Pacific, putting the EU in a disadvantageous position compared to the other Western powers and reviving the discussions on the EU’s strategic autonomy.
Even though the submarine contract between France and Australia was a bilateral issue only with no other EU member state being affected, the AUKUS deal resulted in a serious breach of trust with deep consequences not only for France but for the EU in general: this agreement raises, first of all, serious doubts within the EU about Biden’s administration pledge to multilateralism, demonstrating de facto that this administration is still acting unilaterally, continuing to carry on what is becoming an American trait. Secondly, and most importantly, this strategic agreement relegates the EU to a secondary player position with no real say in decisions concerning the Indo-Pacific, highly contradicting what was written in Biden’s administration Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, in which it is clearly stated that in order to deal with an increasingly assertive China, the US pledged to restore and further strengthen its alliances both in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific region.