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Locating the paradiplomacy of Indian states

Currently, the space for Indian states to play a role in foreign policy is largely in the economic realm.

One of the growingly popular frameworks to analyse how sub state actors can play a role in foreign policy is paradiplomacy. According to Adam Grydehoj, paradiplomacy is a political entity’s extra-jurisdictional activity targeting foreign political entities.

Andre Lecours looks at how states participate in foreign policy in Europe and North America. He believes that they participate in three layers based on their geopolitical aims or behavior.

Political Issues of Paradiplomacy- Andrew Lecours

Political Issues of Paradiplomacy- Andrew Lecours

Lecours believes that paradiplomacy has been successful only because states have constitutionally granted powers to work in the foreign policy space. They have then proceeded to set up mechanisms by which states can play bigger roles in international relations. Belgium which is one of the best example of sub-state diplomacy provides all its regional actors with a veto on matters pertaining to international relations. Canada has set up communication and sectoral channels (so that the sub state authorities can approach relevant departments or ministries, share information and coordinate) apart from specific bodies devoted to bringing all domestic stakeholders on the table to discuss relevant international policies.

However, it will not be possible for all countries to follow this sort of paradiplomacy. Lecours acknowledges that in developing countries, sub nationalism may threaten sovereign identity or even result in the lack of national coherence. Therefore, paradiplomacy is viewed with suspicion by developing countries which generally have unitary governments.

Debates about participation of states in foreign policy eventually lead to debates on federalism. The Indian Constitution has placed foreign affairs (all matters which bring the Union into relation with any foreign country) in the Union List. The Central Government also has sole authority over diplomatic, consular and trade representation, war and peace, foreign jurisdiction, citizenship, extradition and so on. This has structurally left the states little space to intervene in policy issues.

Any discussion about states in foreign policy in India goes back to how regional parties have pressured the Centre- with Tamil Nadu and West Bengal as the primary examples. States with land or sea borders have interacted beyond the Indian subcontinent much before Independence. Therefore, they have a natural interest in foreign policy. Since liberalization, states have started looking beyond the Union Government for sources for revenue. An overwhelming number of states now organize a Global Investor’s Summit to woo foreign investors. As I have argued earlier, states are also stepping up their game on NRI affairs because the importance of remittances has grown.

If we try to look at Indian states in Lecours’ layers, then it becomes immediately evident that states fall under the first layer in some capacities. Some states have actively pursued foreign investment to boost the state economy. The most striking example, of course, is the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh state under Chandrababu Naidu who actively courted investments in a bid to convert Hyderabad to the IT capital of the country. Telangana has recently come into the news for wooing large international companies like Amazon, Uber, Ikea and Apple to set up offices in the state.

Few states fall under the second layer. Tamil Nadu has held ‘World Tamil Conferences’ to reach out to Tamil Speakers and enthusiasts all over the world at regular intervals. While cultural associations emphasizing regional identity like the Kerala Sangam have been set up, these are non-profit initiatives set up by diaspora in various parts of the world.

The third layer is interesting because it is representative of why the Union Government would like to have authority over foreign policy. As India is an amalgamation of regional identities, the emphasis on political distinctness does not bode well for a coherent foreign policy. However, even this form of paradiplomacy has few takers simply because States see it as an infringement of their sovereignty.

India, states will increasingly pursue paradiplomacy for economic issues. While Lecours’ model may work well for developed countries, Indian states will find a way to maneuver foreign policy with the help of the centre. After all, the aim of foreign policy is to further India’s national interests which states also share.

This post is the part of a series of blogposts on ‘States in Foreign Policy’.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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Nadaan Parindey, ghar aaja

Kerala, Gujarat and Punjab show that states can play an important role in diaspora relations.

States are increasingly reaching out to their diaspora

States are increasingly reaching out to their diaspora

States are maneuvering around foreign policy considerations by reaching out to Non Resident Indians (NRIs). Foreign Policy is considered the domain of the Union Government however, some state government have proved adept at working around this by focusing on selected areas of outreach. One of the primary ways that states play a role in foreign policy is by reaching out to diaspora. As NRIs are an important source of remittances to the states, the states benefit from solving the issues faced by NRIs. States are also better poised to engage with diaspora as they have direct links with them and can devote more resources than the Union to deal with issues. One of the ways in some which states have done this is by forming a public sector undertaking which can work with relatively more freedom than the state administration itself.

More and more states have begun to institutionalise NRI relations through specific departments, divisions or boards. The states with the most developed institutional structures are Kerala, Punjab and Gujarat. These three states that stand out are not surprising given that they have huge diaspora spread out in different parts of the world. The states have tailormade their policies according to the interests of the diaspora which allows them flexibility and innovation.

Institutions dealing with diaspora relations in Kerala

The State Government of Kerala has expressly looked at institutionalizing administrative processes with respect to the interest of non-resident Keralites (NRKS) through a department called Non-Resident Keralites’ Affairs Department (NORKA). However the real work is done by a PSU established under the Department called NORKA ROOTS. Kerala which receives the highest remittances in the country has been working on making its diaspora employable from arranging pre-departure orientations, easy authentication of certificates, skills upgradation programme, financial assistance, rehabilitation projects for returnees, job portal, travel assistance etc.

Institutions dealing with diaspora relations in Gujarat

On the other hand Gujarat has set up an NRI division under the General Affairs Division which merely allocates funds and decides the composition of the Non-Resident Gujarati Foundation (A Government of Gujarat Undertaking). The NRGF looks at how NRIs can play a vital role within the state and has set up district committees for NRIs in every district to deal with any problems, to provide financial aid to the Gujarat Samaj, create a database of NRGs etc.

Institutions dealing with diaspora relations in Punjab

The NRI Affairs Department in Punjab has an intensive mandate from coordinating with the Home Ministry, liaising with NGOs, providing grants and waivers for NRI investment, focusing on twinning of cities such as Derby with Kapurthala and Jalandhar with the Borough of Hounslow, cultural exchanges etc. Punjab has gone a step further and allowed NRIs to vote in state elections (though they have to return to India to cast their votes).

There are some common strands across the policies of these three states such as the outreach to diaspora, creation of databases, grievance addressal and encouraging investment. The state governments of Kerala and Punjab have set up NRI cells under the respective police (though for Punjab, this has been upgraded into an NRI wing with cells in every district). While Gujarat has not set up similar institutions, it has set up an NRI cell under the State Women’s Commission to deal with complaints related to harassment of women abroad. While the grievances of the NRIs generally fall under the Home Ministry, the states have ensured their own jurisdiction by making BRI grievances a law and order issue pertinent to the state.

All the three states have also focused on issue identity cards to NRIs. The issue of cards such as Non-resident Keralite, Non-Resident Gujarati and Non-Resident Punjabi pushes for the sub-national identity which has generally subsumed under the larger Indian visa. This also reinforces the regional identity of the NRI and gives them a stake in the domestic affairs of the state.

States working in diaspora relations is a crucial and overlooked part of foreign policy. Increasingly, states have started looking to their diaspora for several reasons. Even states with relatively smaller diaspora such as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have started engaging with diaspora so that they can be important stakeholders of the state. The role played by states in diaspora relations is an important one because it eases some of the burden that the Union bears in dealing with all these problems. It also acts as a bridging mechanism between NRIs and the Central Government. Other states in India should also consider similar mechanisms (or those more contextualized to its needs) so that they can tap into the advantages of their residents in a globalised world.

This post is the first of a series of blogposts on ‘States in Foreign Policy’.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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The Trumping of Marrakech

The 22nd Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCC negotiations at Marrakech have barely been in the mainstream Indian news simply because it is hard to find the media space between the withdrawal of the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes and the U.S Presidential elections. The COP 22 negotiations were to represent the optimism of a hard fought climate deal and design the implementation strategy for the Paris Deal. However, they have been largely overshadowed in light of contemporary geopolitics.

On November 4th, the outcome of the 2015 Paris negotiations came to fruition as 176 countries (the largest number to sign an international instrument since UNCLOS) deposited their instruments of signature at the United Nations. India had jumped on the bandwagon by ratifying the climate deal on the symbolic date of Gandhi Jayanti.

Multilateral negotiations for the climate deal saw India change its stance from a disrupter to a norm follower- a stance it has echoed in other multilateral negotiations including nuclear proliferation and the WTO negotiations. India had resolutely refused to sign any climate deals that did not involve Western nations in pulling their weight. Indian diplomats had claimed that in order to allow their citizens dignity of life through economic development, they could not commit to energy cut back of the scale required and insisted that countries responsible for the emissions take the lead.

However, this was not a viable position for long. Once China, the world’s largest contributor to carbon emissions joined with the US to cut down on emissions, India would have found its disruptive stance an even more unpopular and isolated position. India has shifted its stance and declared its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). However India’s new stance also stresses on its reliance on the rest of the world in bridging its energy needs through technology and help. Over the last year, steps have also been taken within the country to support its stance at the COPs. By streamlining its civil aviation rules and signing the CFC cutdown treaty, India has shown its willingness in combating climate change.

However, all of that now stands to change. The biggest shadow over the Marrakech COP is the US Presidential elections. While hyperbole has shown anti-Trump supporters protesting even at Marrakech, Donald Trump’s record on climate change shows little promise. He has repeatedly dismissed climate change and global warming as hoaxes and even gone on record to state that climate change was a conspiracy pioneered by the Chinese to reducing American manufacturing potential. Trump has stated that he would roll back the Paris Agreement. But speculation about Trump’s potential climate policy will lead us down a road that goes nowhere.

The Paris Agreement was ratified by President Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit. In a show of US-China alignment, leaders of both countries deposited the Paris deal together is Hangzhou. The Paris Agreement also does not allow countries to withdraw from it for a period of three years. Therefore, there is little danger of Trump rolling back the Paris deal.

However, it is important to remember that INDCs are, at the end of the day, voluntary mechanisms based on good faith. They are non enforceable and bear little penalties in international law though the effects of climate change may seem apparent to everyone but Trump supporters. What is possible is that Trump will not prioritise the INDCs or fund the Clean Energy Plan, the brainchild of the Obama Administration. This is particularly important in terms of signalling for other countries. Countries like Saudi Arabia whose economies depend on conventional sources of energy could take the lethargy of the United States as a signal to disregard the Paris Deal. This would mean that the hard won negotiations of the last seven years have come to nought. Trump’s disregard for climate change will also stir the Chinese to take the lead on the issue. Already, Chinese officials have stated that they are committed to their climate change declarations despite political changes in other countries. China has also set up its national carbon emission trading market and has reportedly reduced its carbon intensity by 20% between 2011 and 2015.

What does this mean for India? India directly faces the effects of climate change as much of its agriculture is contingent on the monsoons. It has shifted its stance from norm disrupter to norm follower as a way to break out of the climate chakravyuh. However, if the United States will not stick to its INDC and China will, which path will India choose? Several commentators are already questioning India’s stance considering its close ties with the US. However, a comprehensive definition of security would require India to stick to its INDCs as the country is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. India needs to exercise its strategic autonomy and continue with tackling its INDCs.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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SAARC: A Sunk Cost

Following the Uri Attacks, the 19th SAARC Summit that was due to take place on the 15th and 16th of November has been postponed. India refused to attend the summit, placing the blame on cross border terrorism perpetrated by a single country. Soon, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan also chose to opt out of the summit meeting which was due to take place next month. Pakistan placed the blame on India for derailing processes of regional cooperation and reiterated its commitment to the SAARC charter. For now however, the seven heads of South Asia will not be meeting until India and Pakistan have simmered down tensions.

The Indian media has been quick to attribute the postponement of the SAARC meeting to the success of Modi’s diplomacy. However, SAARC meetings have always been susceptible to bilateral tensions. While the group is supposed to meet annually, it concedes that the regional organisation meets only once in a year and a half or so. No wonder SAARC’s initiatives have been characterised by failure: the countries cannot fulfill commitments to meet but intermittently.

The first time the SAARC Summit was derailed was in 1989 when Sri Lanka protested against the delay of the IPKF’s withdrawal from the country. The 7th Summit in 1992 was pushed by a year because of the Babri Masjid riots. A year later, India-Pakistan contentions impacted SAARC processes and the 8th Summit was pushed to 1995. The period between 1998 and 2003 saw repeated postponement of the 11th Summit because of a number of low intensity conflicts between India and Pakistan (from the Kargil War in 1999 to the Parliament Attacks of 2001). The 12th Summit was derailed because of the coup in Nepal and the Dhaka bombings.  After the 26/11 Attacks, the summit was again pushed by a year because of contentions between India and Pakistan. 2012 Summit

The postponement of the SAARC Summit is not a victory of Indian diplomacy but a feature of the SAARC mechanism. Unlike organisations like the ASEAN which have managed to keep channels of communication open even during times of conflict, SAARC’s history remains intertwined with the Indo-Pak power politics. It is unable to accomodate power dynamics of the region and allows for bilateral contentions to easily derail any processes. Even if the SAARC summit had taken place, what would have the result been? SAFTA is dead while the South Asian Economic Union is a pipe dream; regional trade remains at a meagre percentage.

At the 2014 Kathmandu Summit, hullabaloo was created about the launch of a SAARC satellite and cooperation of forces to deal with disasters. The Kathmandu Summit had taken place in the first year of the Modi rajya and there was much talk of the neighbourhood gaining importance- a move indicated by Modi’s unprecedented invitation to the heads of South Asian States to attend his swearing in ceremony. Two years later, bilateral ties between India and the remainder of the South Asian states (the case of Pakistan is debateable) are definitely on the upswing, however, the SAARC remains as ineffective as it has always been.

India needs to acknowledge that this multilateral initiative is not a success and direct its attentions towards the external neighbourhood. It needs to de-hyphenate itself from being merely a South Asian power and look at a larger region such as the Indo-Pacific. India is gradually improving ties with countries in South-East Asia and West Asia, which is the way to go. Maybe it is time to recognise that SAARC is a sunk cost and invest those resources in a more fruitful venture under the larger Asian security architecture.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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Don’t Hold Your Breath for the G-20

The G-20 Summit this weekend will see world leaders descend upon Hangzhou. How much will be accomplished considering the G-20 has been meandering since 2010?

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

Over the last few months, Chinese media has depicted the G-20 Hangzhou Summit as a major upcoming milestone in global governance. Media Reports claim that the Summit’s agenda includes issues ranging from global taxation, innovation, growth, investment, climate change, trade barriers to even anti-corruption. How much will the G-20 be able to deliver on?

The Answer: very little.

It will do us well to question what the G-20 has actually achieved in the last six years. It was the primary coordinating agency after the 2008 Financial Crisis and came up with the standstill policy. At the 2010 Seoul Summit, there was a 6% quota rebalancing to emerging countries in the composition of the executive board of the IMF. The 2011 and 2012 Summits were overshadowed by the Eurozone Crisis. At the Cannes Summit, it was suggested that the IMF would provide additional financing to Europe as a whole rather than a single country. Japan led the pack with 60 billion dollars while the BRICS countries followed suit but the US remained aloof from the efforts. In 2013, the G-20 for the first time, addressed political contentions, particularly the Syrian civil war and the use of chemical weapons. In 2014, the Brisbane Summit saw leaders pledge to lift GDP by 2% by 2018. However, there is little evidence to prove that most countries are departing from their national policies to meet their commitments. The 2015 Agenda simply reiterated the need for meeting past commitments.

Thus, broadening of its agenda beyond international financial reform has also meant that the G-20 has had little impact on anything. The counter argument is that the G20 is a deliberative body rather than a decision making one. However, the purpose of deliberations is to drive decisionmaking at some level. The G-20 always possessed a feature of complementarity: it was to work alongside other major international institutions. However, reform of international institutions has proven to be a long arduous task and the G-20’s assumption of other tasks (comparable to the agenda of multiple other international institutions) will bear little fruit.

The main problem with the G-20 is that it is unable to deal with the power politics amongst its members. Given the unanimity requirement in the organisation, an issue is pushed off the agenda if there is a considerable opposition from several G-20 members forming an issue specific coalition. Agenda Setting dynamics within the G-20 generally pit developing and developed countries against each other. On the other hand, China which is the global growth engine and the US, still the global superpower, both seek to dominate the G-20 agenda. This is addition to individual countries attempting to carve out special deals for themselves. This cacophony of voices is one of the reasons that the G-20 has failed to deliver.

The G-20 is important for corridor diplomacy however, G-20’s importance boiling down to corridor diplomacy cannot be regarded as a success in any sense of the term. The main problem with the G-20 was that it was a minilateral envisioned to have taken the most important powers into consideration for effective deliberation. However, this minilateral is not small enough to align nations’ strategies and is beset by concerns of national interest.  The 2016 G-20 agenda is too wide a net for any effective outcomes. The only way forward is for the G-20 to prioritise its most important issues and stick to its original mandate: answering systemic economic challenges.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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Rebel No Longer

India’s stance on nuclear norms is changing in order to keep up with the trends of the time.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

Until 2010, India was the norm breaker of international nuclear negotiations. However, the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal saw India take a different approach to nuclear negotiations. Now, in order to gain access to nuclear fuel and technology, India is lobbying hard to be a part of export control regimes. This endeavour is just a step for India to become part of the international rule-making mechanisms on nuclear issues.

During the early years of the Cold War and its existence as a new democracy, India vociferously supported the cause of nuclear disarmament. As national security was the primary objective of India’s grand strategy, and nuclear weapons could lead to mass destruction, a nuclear weapon free world was a moral but also realist stance. Jawaharlal Nehru famously called for a standstill agreement on nuclear testing. However, as negotiations underway for a non-proliferation agreement, India found the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) discriminatory and unbalanced towards countries that had not detonated a nuclear device. India did not sign the NPT and the succeeding Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or the Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT) because of the lack of commitment towards disarmament.

India’s Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) in 1974 and finally its nuclear test in 1998 both faced criticism at the global stage. The PNE spurred the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which aimed at reducing proliferation through the implementation of restrictions on nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports. The control of supply of nuclear fuel and technology left India to indigenously develop technology for its nuclear programme. The 1998 tests faced sanctions from the United States and Japan and huge global outcry that India was “nuclearising” South Asia.

Since the 2005 Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal however, India has changed its position gradually. The India-specific waiver by the NSG to engage in nuclear trade and commerce meant that India’s proliferation record were taken cognisance of.  India has also made efforts to be seen as a responsible power committed to non-proliferation. It harmonised its export control lists along the lines of international norms and has made sure that its non-proliferation track record is impeccable.

Recently, India attempted to gain membership in the NSG and the MTCR -the latter proved successful while the former is proving to be a formidable diplomatic task. India has also been an active participant of the Nuclear Security Summit, the most relevant forum for negotiating nuclear affairs currently. India’s attempt is to become part of the rule making mechanism rather than act as a rule-breaker. This would ensure India becomes an integral player in the future nuclear discourse. This is important because of India’s unique nuclear programme- uncomparable with any other in the world.

India is no longer rebelling against the international nuclear norms. This is also a result of the changing dynamics of the nuclear debate. Non-proliferation is not the main agenda anymore; the discourse is moving towards counter-proliferation, anxieties over nuclear security and nuclear terrorism. As India is trying to establish itself  a responsible nuclear power as it shares the concerns of the other countries in the world. To this end, the way is within nuclear security architecture and not outside it.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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The G-20 Report Card

 The G-20 proved successful as a exigent mechanism post the 2008 Financial Crisis but hasn’t been able to provide solutions to global issues. The 2016 Summit in September will show if the grouping will become yet another defunct multilateral forum or if it can revitalise decisionmaking in the international system.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

In the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the G-20 was thought to be the most effective institutional response to the crisis. Since then, the multilateral forum has been struggling to stay relevant to the changing geopolitics. Delivering more structural, longer-term solutions to create a more balanced global economy requires more far-reaching actions at domestic level, often needing the approval of national parliaments, which effectively makes advancing the G-20 agenda more difficult.[1] Since 2008, economic changes have been rapid and unpredictable. The Chinese reminbi was admitted into the SDR basket of currencies in 2015 but the Chinese economy in the same year went through a number of shocks and had to devalue its currency. Thus, China which hosting the 2016 Summit, faces a completely different context from the earlier years because of its own economic problems. The Summit, to be held in September 2016 will show if the grouping will become yet another defunct multilateral forum or if it can revitalise decisionmaking in the international system.

The G-20 is an interesting group for analysis on three different levels: On one hand, it shows the wrangling of the US which has been declining in stature in the international system, unable to cope with the pressures of the system unilaterally. On the other hand, it also sees the diplomatic maneuvering of China on an ascent, keen to reform the international system in its favour. The third level sees middle power countries around the world that are pushing for their own national interests as well as the agenda of developing countries.

The Group of Twenty was initiated in 1999 as a response to the Asian Financial Crisis on the suggestion of the G7: “the commitment to work together to establish an informal mechanism for dialogue among systemically important countries, within the framework of the Bretton Woods institutional system”.  The 2008 financial crisis exposed the fault lines in the global economic system particularly excessive bank credit, build up of private consumption based on uncollaterised loans and an inexorable rise in public debt. The group emerged partly as a result of political pressure on world leaders to ‘do something’ about the global financial crisis.  But it also was a response to the absence of international institutions where international coordination could take place quickly along a broad range of policy instruments.

The G 20 in the short term has achieved a status of one of the most important exigency contingents that allows for consensus building amongst powers of differing capabilities.  In the medium term, the G-20 could reflect and (possibly even help manage) a major reorientation in the relative standing of the world’s major powers.

The G-20 was envisioned as a forum to deal with financial crises beyond the capacity of advanced Western states. However, it has been transformed into an arena for world politics to be played out. Different forces of agenda setting have been played out within the G 20. For one, an America reeling from the impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis, initially set the agenda of the G-20 as the primary mechanism for crises management. However, the US has not been able to dictate processes or outcomes of the G-20.

China, as the rising power and expectant challenger to the power of the US, briefly aligned with the US. This led to fears of the two most powerful actors combining strategies to jointly dictate the agenda. However, China did not follow through with any sort of G 2 arrangement citing domestic concerns. G-20 is also the battlefield for developed countries grappling with the rise of emerging countries. While the G20 emerged as the major platform for global politics, the expansion of its agenda and its relevance amidst dynamic geopolitical and economic contexts in the future will determine its prospects.

The G-20 has other instrumental benefits, namely the formation of a new and updated concentration of power and has cross regional reach.  The growing strength of the G-20 as a forum however does not mean that G-20 decisions are effective. G-20 pessimists often cite lack of progress on curtailing currency wars and macroeconomic imbalances and repeatedly express disappointment over the outcome of the G-20 summits. Global governance, even with just twenty members and consensus based decision making, is an arduous task.

The G-20 demonstrates that in a multipolar world, emerging powers have to share the burden of leadership with great powers. However, it has realised very little since 2009 despite much talk. China’s assumption of presidency could provide the group with the push it needs to effect any major change. However, the agenda for discussions remains unclear thus making durable solutions to the problems of global governance implausible.

[1]  Marcin Szczepański and Etienne Bassot, “The Group of Twenty (G20): Setting the Global Agenda”,  European Parliamentary Research Service (Brussels: January 2015) p.8

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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The Olympics is not just about sportsmanship

It is impossible to keep politics out of sports, particularly at an event whose very foundation rests on national identity.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

Bomb scares, doping allegations, unready rooms, sexual harassment and the clinking of gold medals have turned all eyes to Rio. The 2016 Olympics is sure to be exciting but the mega event is also important because of its geopolitical undercurrents. Indeed, the Olympic Torch may represent ‘peace, unity and friendship’ but the Games have always been about more than sportsmanship. The objective is to carry out sports diplomacy, however the result is often dictated by power politics. This year, for instance, the participation of the first ever team of displaced athletes named ‘Team Refugees’ brings light to the instability of political regimes around the world and the impact it has on civilians. Not only does this indicate an erosion of nationalism but also the fragile state of peace of the post Cold War world.

The Olympics display elements of nation branding embedded in the practices and traditions. It is an opportunity for countries to display their soft power as well as attract investment and tourism. A simultaneous narrative is often one of urban development (or lack of) as countries strive to boost infrastructure and provide ‘worldclass facilities’. Ten years ago, Brazil was touted as one the strongest economies in the world and its hosting the Olympics was to indicate its standing among middle powers. The choice of Brazil as a host city somehow became representative of the North-South debate as, it is the first South American host and the sole in the southern hemisphere.

However, the Rio Olympics seem to have had the opposite impression. The awaited impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the huge corruption scandal and the terrible recession instead showcase the simmering political discord within the country.  The construction of Olympic specific infrastructure is also problematic because it highlights issues of national importance. Generally, there is a trend of the hosts using the mega event to ramp up the infrastructure in cities. On the other hand, this has also exposed the various pitfalls within the cities themselves. Questions about the preparedness of Rio, has also brought the spotlight to the various problems in Brazil, from the amount of air pollution and the political instability, to high unemployment rates, the crime rates in the city to the pandemic Zika virus.

The criticism levied against Rio is not unique; the Olympics is beset by criticism and political signaling. A set of protestors outside the mega-event has become a regular feature. The 2012 Winter Olympics at Sochi saw massive demonstrations by LGBT activists as well as Georgian protestors. The suppression of Tibetans gained widespread coverage during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Poverty whether it is in Rio, Athens, Beijing or London is a common narrative for host countries. This year, it has gained even more prominence with the popularity of favela tours that are supposed to boost cultural understanding and tourism revenues but have been criticised as voyeuristic slum tourism.

Through political history, the Olympics were reflective of the power politics of the time and were characterised by patterns of political gesturing. The Games were cancelled thrice because of the two World Wars. During the Cold War, antagonism between the two bipolar states was remarkable in the Olympic Games as the raking of medals was a metaphor for the prowess of a superpower. The Olympics have often been sites for geopolitics to be played out as countries boycotted the games to display political displeasure. Of course, the most remarkable event in the history of the Olympics were the 1972 Munich Olympic Games in which 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian extremists.

The messy history of the Olympic Games has translated into a devoted fan following for various sports, with technology allowing for live broadcast and constant reminders. It is an important nation building activity, turning a politically indifferent aam aadmi into a patriotic tally keeper. It is impossible to keep politics out of sports, particularly at an event whose very foundation rests on national identity. What ensues however, is a extravagant display of games and geopolitics, which sometimes intertwine.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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Leaves from South East Asian Books: Dealing with Radicalisation

ISIS is increasingly focusing on South East Asia where large populations of moderate Muslims reside, while governments are intensifying efforts towards deradicalisation and counter terrorism.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

In the last week of Ramzan, terrorist attacks have taken place in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq, Yemen, Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. While some of these incidents remain claimed by different terrorist groups, the influence of the ISIS tactics have been pervasive. In South-East Asia, where large Muslim populations reside have not been immune to the spread of ISIS ideology. The semi-state has already established presence in Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. At the beginning of Ramzan, Furat Media (which is affiliated with the IS) released its first Malay newsletter Al-Fatihin, aimed at Malay speakers across South-East Asia.

This was the IS ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy where the group decided to turn to countries eat of West Asia where huge Muslim populations reside. It first began in 2014 when the Katibah Nusantara, a military wing consisting Malay and Indonesian speaking fighters was formed. Since then, several local groups have pledged allegiance to the group. A Pew Study showed that 11% of Malaysians and 4% of Indonesians displayed favourable view of ISIS.

Countries in South East Asia have been taking proactive counter terrorism efforts. The region is not new to fighting terrorism as radical groups (both local and with links to groups in West Asia) have a long history in the region. However, the governments have responded with swift crackdowns and long interrogations against potential perpetrators. In 2015, over 100 people were arrested and seven plots were foiled in Malaysia while in Indonesia, approximately 74 people were arrested and nine plots detected in time to prevent them. Singapore also followed suit with stringent security measures enforced all over the island.  The three countries are focusing on re-vamping their legal framework to boost counter terrorism efforts.

The ISIS has garnered limited support in South East Asia because of the effective deradicalisation programmes carried out by governments and awareness programs to sensitise moderate Muslims. Indonesia in 2013 published a National Deradicalisation Blueprint to intervene and persuade people away from radical narrative. While it does face issues with recidivism, it has focused on prisons as a site for radicalisation since the early 2000s. Malaysia’s deradicalisation programmes date back to the 1960s, though it was initially aimed at reintegrating communist insurgents and reducing marginalisation. In October 2015, the Malysian Deputy Prime Minister claimed that the deradicalisation programme had a 97 per cent success rate and was recognised by the United Nations and Interpol.While this certainly is a tall claim, Malaysia’s deradicalisation has largely proved that it has faced even fewer extremist related attacks than Indonesia.

ISIS territory may be wrested from their control however, it will not be the end of the group, the ideology or the tactics. The ISIS also works on the principle of radical networking and even if they do manage to establish a caliphate, it is possible that their supporters all over the world continue with their agenda. While countries in South East Asia grapple with diverse religious challenges (from growing extremism of various religions, communal clashes to persecution of minorities), they have still proved adept at dealing with religious terrorism. Examples from Malaysia and Indonesia can prove helpful at tackling the threats in other countries with large moderate populations with the potential to be radicalised.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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No One Saw the Joint Statement

ASEAN adopted a rare tough stance on the South China Sea expressed in a Joint Statement and then immediately retracted it, indicating divisions amongst members.

by Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

There was a statement and then there wasn’t. The China-ASEAN Special Foreign Minister’s Meeting, organised after a gap of three years, was convened on June 14th to discuss relevant issues before the ASEAN-China Summit to be held later this year. After the meeting, Malaysia released a Joint Statement on behalf of ASEAN. The statement was remarkable because ASEAN seemed to have strayed away from diplomatic niceties and had taken a stern stance on the South China Sea. AFP reported that the statement read,

“We expressed our serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea…We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation, which may raise tensions in the South China Sea…We articulated ASEAN’s commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes…This includes “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the UN Charter…”

While the ASEAN refrains from mentioning China by name, the statement is important because it conveys the institution’s anxiety about the tensions in the South China Sea. Generally, the ASEAN calls for all parties to conform to the 2002 Code of Conduct and attempt to solve the issue peacefully. ASEAN does not directly take part in the conflict. Instead, it tries to act as a facilitator to resolve the conflict as it affects the national interests of several of its members and has implications for the whole region. As the South China Sea is an important shipping route, countries around the world are interested in ensuring the freedom of navigation in the areas.

Less than three hours later, the statement was retracted by the Malaysian government who said that it was not the official statement but the media guideline. Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia released individual official statements where they stressed the need for peaceful resolution of the dispute. Officials from Vietnam and Indonesia later said that the retracted statement was in line with the ASEAN standpoint.  The objection to the statement reportedly came from Laos (the current chairman of ASEAN) and Cambodia, both of whom share close relations with China. The episode evokes memories of the 2012 ASEAN Summit when the institution failed to release a joint communiqué for the first time in 45 years due to Cambodia’s objection to inclusion of the South China Sea issue in the statement.

ASEAN’s success as a multilateral institution lay in its unanimity and consensus based decision making. However for the last few years, arriving at the ASEAN consensus is becoming increasingly divisive, particularly on the issue of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei-Darussalem (along with Taiwan) all have contesting claims to the boundaries of the South China Sea, most of which has been claimed by China under its ambiguous nine-dash line. As China began projects of land reclamation, construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, its military modernisation and increasingly assertive posture has worried the other claimants.

China is also using its bilateral relations with countries like Laos and Cambodia to undermine the multilateral consensus of the ASEAN. Some reports also debate if China’s ‘salami slicing strategy’ has now extended to Malaysia by leveraging its purchase of the debt ridden state entity, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (IMDB) reducing domestic pressure on Najib Razak in return for geopolitical payoffs. China denied the use of pressure either to influence ASEAN proceedings in this case or any others. The reasons behind the retraction of the rare tough stance taken by ASEAN remain unexplained. What it does indicate is that the ASEAN countries have failed to reconcile with a common viewpoint on the South China Sea issue.

The incident is also poignant because the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague is set to deliver a judgement on the second round of hearings on the arbitration proceedings initiated by Philippines in 2013. While China contests the validity of an arbitration proceeding, the decision will be an important geopolitical marker, depending on how different countries respond to it.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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