“Better that right counsels be known to enemies than that the evil secrets of tyrants should be concealed from the citizens. They who can treat secretly of the affairs of a nationMore
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has acknowledged the progress made in implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord, in its report on its 22nd session, held in New York from April 17 to 28. The Bangladesh delegation spoke about the achievements of the government in the implementation of the agreement during various meetings of the forum.
CHT has a history of a bloody conflict between its Bengali settlers and indigenous communities. After the assassination of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, the state deployed military force to maintain law and order in CHT which led to further escalation of conflicts between law enforcers and indigenous communities who have been living there since time immemorial.
However, to introduce peace and end bloody conflicts in the three hill districts, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed the CHT Peace Accord in 1997. As a part of the accord, the people of CHT witnessed the withdrawal of 250 army camps from the region. Also, some 1,800 rebels surrendered their arms to her on February 10 in 1998 at Khagrachhari Stadium. It needs no emphasizing that the insurgents did it as the government of Sheikh Hasina could earn their confidence in the government. It was indeed a glaring example of resolving disputes peacefully. Such an instance of arms surrender is rare in human history.
Some 48 out of the total 72 clauses of the CHT Peace Treaty have already been implemented while 15 others partially implemented and the remaining nine clauses are under implementation process.
Before the peace accord the ownership of the land in the CHT were determined by the British-era laws according to which people of indigenous communities were not able get land ownership.
But after the accord, people of CHT enjoy the ownership of the land just as the people of other regions in the country do.
Earlier, life in the hilly region was difficult due to lack of economic opportunities in absence of development activities. But the incumbent government over the years has changed the scenario. Now the people of the hill districts, especially in remote areas, are reaping the benefits of improved infrastructure as many locals are now running hotels and restaurant businesses in their areas. Over the last ten years, the people of CHT have gone through a lot of development initiatives taken by the government. Road and transportation scene of CHT has drastically changed and consequently lifestyle of hill people has improved in the last decade or so.
Some 48 out of the total 72 clauses of the CHT Peace Treaty have already been implemented while 15 others partially implemented and the remaining nine clauses are under implementation process.
We hope that Sheikh Hasina’s government will do everything to fully implement all the sections of the peace accord as her government was the first to take noble initiatives for the welfare of the indigenous communities.
To put an end to the brutal confrontations between the government troops and the tribes and hillsmen of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord was signed 25 years ago. Following the agreement, it was thought that if it were put into practice, the economy would pick up. This hope has come true over the past 25 years. The locals’ way of life has changed. The government’s numerous development initiatives have improved the economic situation for millions of people in the region.
Before the deal, visitors were hesitant to visit the hilly areas. As the security situation has improved, tourists are now visiting the mountains without hesitation. Trade and commerce used to move slowly because of the inadequate communication infrastructure, but now it moves much more quickly. The wheel of everyday existence had been closed for two decades prior to then. In the modern regional and international arena, the successful political resolution of the CHT conflict is considered a remarkable achievement for our country.
The 1997 Bangladesh government made an effort to create enduring peace in the hill areas. After that, in 1997, there was an armistice that ultimately came to be known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts Agreement or the Peace Accord. The majority of the agreement’s provisions, according to the administration, have allegedly been carried out. Additionally, the unrealized clauses will be promptly implemented, therefore a favorable climate is required.
On the other side, a number of schools and colleges, including Rangamati University of Science and Technology and Rangamati Medical College, have been established in the 20 years after the peace deal. The field of communication has seen advancement.
The majority of the jhum crops would have been lost along the route in the past, but since road connectivity has improved there, hill farmers now can simply sell their jhum crops at the market.
The lumber industry has seen the largest improvement since the accord. Since the deal, the region’s timber trade has expanded. Despite not previously purchasing hillside tree gardens, traders are now doing so. The gardeners reap financial rewards.
All of the Chittagong Hill Tracts districts, including Rangamati, have experienced general economic development as a result of improvements in every area, including education, communication, and security. A native of Rangamati named Laxmidhan Chakma remarked, “Government jobs used to seem like golden deer to us.” The educated and deserving children of the Hill Tracts are now, however, easily obtaining government jobs as a result of the Hill Tracts Peace Accord. Without the agreement, it was never feasible.
The wheel of the mountain economy continued to turn after the peace deal notwithstanding a few episodes focusing on rivalry and hegemony among the regional parties.
Due to many actions the government took after the peace deal, economic prosperity has been attained in a similar manner to how people’s living standards have increased. Analyzing the periods prior to and following the peace accord can help us comprehend this.
The Hill People were allowed to trade easily following the Hill Tracts Peace Accord. The blockage of some regional groups frightened the general population. However, the residents of the hills are now exhaling in relief as a result of the ceasefire deal. With the administration’s unparalleled collaboration, the locals operate independently. Before the Hill Accords, trade and business in the hill country were at a standstill. The typical person was unable to move freely. But that time is passed. People can conduct business freely today. Trade and commerce have benefited from the expansion in communication. The police administration is set up so that everyone in this place can carry out their responsibilities on their own.
Ten additional development projects have been started in the meantime to further develop the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Planning Commission has received a proposal from the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts for inclusion in the Green Leaf in the upcoming 2021–22 Fiscal Year’s Annual Development Program (ADP). The allocation has been requested concurrently for 19 active projects.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board’s Rural Road Development Project in Rangamati Hill District will last till 2021–2024. In the Rangamati Hill District, the construction period for rural infrastructure has been set at 2024.
The improvement of the water system in Bandarban Municipality and Lama Municipality of Bandarban Hill District is planned to include the construction of a master drain by 2023. Additionally, a deadline of 2023 has been set for the development of the different rural roads built by the Board in the Bandarban Hill District.
It has been determined that construction of a bridge and connecting road from Upazila Sadar to isolated regions of the Khagrachhari district will begin in 2025 with the goal of assisting the socioeconomic development of the Chittagong Hill Tracts’ underprivileged residents. The completion date for the road project connecting Khagrachhari district’s Laxichhari Upazila Sadar and Barmachhari Bazar is 2025. Building rural road infrastructure in the Khagrachhari Hill District is being done in an effort to connect isolated villages in various Upazilas to the Upazila Sadar communication network.
Construction is underway on a rural road that would connect Ruma Upazila in the Bandarban Hill District to Roangchhari Upazila Sadar. In the isolated Chittagong Hill Tracts, a high-value spice farming initiative is being conducted.
A master drain for the development of the drainage system of the Khagrachhari district headquarters and the elimination of water blockage are also being built, along with two bridges over the Sangu river and one over the Sonakhali canal in Bandarban Hill District.
Additionally, there is an increase in cotton farming in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region and a reduction in farmer poverty, as well as development in all Upazilas, including Rangamati municipality, and power supply via the installation of solar panels in remote Chittagong Hill Tracts areas (Phase II). Construction of irrigation drains in various Upazilas of the Bandarban Hill District, irrigation drains in various Upazilas of the Khagrachhari district of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and the provision of potable drinking water via GFS and deep Tube Well in all areas in rocky areas in various Upazilas of the Bandarban district are all included in this project.
Other programs to reduce poverty include growing cashew and coffee in the CHT region, as well as managing water supply and sanitation in the Khagrachari district’s marketplaces and surrounding neighborhoods. establishing and executing the network, which at the moment serves as the main access point for the residents of the three hill districts of Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachari to get essential social services.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord recognized the hill people’s unique status and dignity. A regional council made up of the local government councils of the three hill districts has been established in accordance with the peace deal.
The Regional Council is organized as follows: Chairman 1, Native American Member 12, Native American Woman 2, Native (Non-Indigenous) Male 6, Non-Indigenous Member, Female 1. The accord asks for the creation of a Ministry of Tribal Affairs, headed by one tribe, to regulate operations concerning the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Their land will be returned if the tribes’ land ownership rights are established. In order to ascertain who owns the property, a land survey system will be implemented in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Every home of the tribal people is now filled with educated young people. The literacy rate of Chakmas is 96 percent on average, with at least one employee per household.
The development of tribal people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is significantly better than that of any outlying area of Bangladesh due to the implementation of quota systems in all jobs, including BCS, priority systems, and quotas for tribal students in all medical schools and universities as well as scholarships in Europe, America, and Australia.
The current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, is always working to meet the expectations of the residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In the highland areas, the current administration has not implemented any anti-people, anti-democracy measures. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board’s chairperson was chosen when the Awami League administration took office.
The Minority Cultural Institutions Bill 2010 and the creation of the Land Commission have been approved by the National Assembly. In the interim, everyone has come to terms with the idea that tribes, minorities, ethnic groups, and communities can safeguard the nation’s integrity. We believe that in order for there to be development, Sheikh Hasina’s efforts to bring about peace must be supported.
The successful execution of numerous ongoing socio-economic development initiatives provides compelling evidence of the need for the Hill Tracts Peace Agreement to be put into effect. The conviction to uphold the rights of all citizens as stated in the peace agreement must be put into action, but the hill-Bengalis must work together to do so.
On 7 October 2022, the United States government implemented export controls in an effort to hinder the development of China’s semiconductor industry. An expert on the subject told the Financial Times, ‘The whole point of the policy is to kneecap China’s AI [Artificial Intelligence] and HPC [High Performance Computing] efforts’. The next day, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said:
In order to maintain its sci-tech hegemony, the US has been abusing export control measures to wantonly block and hobble Chinese enterprises. Such practice runs counter to the principle of fair competition and international trade rules. It will not only harm Chinese companies’ legitimate rights and interests but also hurt the interests of US companies. It will hinder international sci-tech exchange and trade cooperation and deal a blow to global industrial and supply chains and world economic recovery. By politicising tech and trade issues and using them as a tool and weapon, the US cannot hold back China’s development but will only hurt and isolate itself when its action backfires.
As part of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research’s collaboration with No Cold War, we studied the implications of these export controls with a focus on semiconductors. Briefing no. 7 teaches us about the vitality of semiconductors and why their use in the New Cold War will not bear the fruits anticipated by Washington.
On 8 April, Chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee Michael McCaul was asked to explain ‘why Americans… should be willing to spill American blood and treasure to defend Taiwan’. His answer was telling: ‘TSMC [Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company] manufactures 90% of the global supply of advanced semiconductor chips’. The interviewer noted that McCaul’s reasoning ‘sounds like the case that [was] made in the 60s, 70s, and 80s of why America was spending so much money and military resources in the Middle East [when] oil was so important for the economy’ and then asked whether semiconductor chips are ‘the 21st century version’ of oil – that is, a key driver of US foreign policy towards China.
Semiconductor chips are the building blocks of the world’s most advanced technologies (such as artificial intelligence, 5G telecommunications, and supercomputing) as well as all modern electronics. Without them, the computers, phones, cars, and devices that are essential to our everyday lives would cease to function. They are typically produced by using ultraviolet light to etch microscopic circuit patterns onto thin layers of silicon, packing billions of electrical switches called transistors onto a single fingernail-sized wafer. This technology advances through a relentless process of miniaturisation: the smaller the distance between transistors, the greater the density of transistors that can be packed onto a chip and the more computing power that can be embedded in each chip and in each facet of modern life. Today, the most advanced chips are produced with a three-nanometre (nm) process (for reference, a sheet of paper is roughly 100,000-nm thick).
The Semiconductor Supply Chain
The commercial semiconductor industry was developed in Silicon Valley, California in the late 1950s, dominated by the United States in all aspects, from research and design to manufacture and sales. From the outset, this industry held geopolitical significance, with early manufacturers selling upwards of 95% of their chips to the Pentagon or the aerospace sector. Over the subsequent decades, the US selectively offshored most of its chip manufacturing to its East Asian allies, first to Japan, then to South Korea and Taiwan. This allowed the US to reduce its capital and labour costs and stimulate the industrial development of its allies while continuing to dominate the supply chain.
Today, US firms maintain a commanding presence in chip design (e.g., Intel, AMD, Broadcom, Qualcomm, and NVIDIA) and fabrication equipment (e.g., Applied Materials, Lam Research, and KLA). Taiwan’s TSMC is the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer or foundry, accounting for an overwhelming 56% share of the global market and over 90% of advanced chip manufacturing in 2022, followed by South Korea’s Samsung, which holds a 15% share of the global market. In addition, the Dutch firm ASML is a critical player, holding a monopoly on extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines needed to produce the most advanced chips below 7-nm.
The largest part of the semiconductor supply chain that lies outside of the control of the US and its allies is in China, which has developed into the world’s electronics manufacturing hub and a major technological power over the past four decades. China’s share of global chip manufacturing capacity has risen from zero in 1990 to roughly 15% in 2020. Yet, despite its sizeable developmental advances, China’s chip production capabilities still lag behind, relying on imports for the most advanced chips (in 2020, China imported $378 billion worth of semiconductors, 18% of its total imports). Meanwhile, China’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, SMIC, only has a 5% share of the global market, paling in comparison to TSMC.
The US Campaign against China
In recent years, the US has been waging an aggressive campaign to arrest China’s technological development, which it views as a serious threat to its dominance. In the words of US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Washington’s goal is to ‘maintain as large of a lead as possible’. To this end, the US has identified China’s semiconductor production capabilities as an important weakness and is trying to block the country’s access to advanced chips and chip-making technology. Under the Trump and Biden administrations, the US has placed hundreds of Chinese companies on trade and investment blacklists, including the country’s leading semiconductor manufacturer SMIC and tech giant Huawei. These restrictions have banned any company in the world that uses US products – effectively every chip designer and manufacturer – from doing business with Chinese tech firms.
The US has also pressured governments and firms around the world to impose similar restrictions. Since 2018, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have joined the US in banning Huawei from their 5G telecommunications networks while a number of European countries have implemented partial bans or restrictions. Importantly, in 2019, after more than a year of intense US lobbying, the Dutch government blocked the key firm ASML, which builds and supplies the most advanced chip-making machinery to the semiconductor industry, from exporting its equipment to China.
These policies do not only target firms; they also have a direct impact on an individual level. In October 2022, the Biden administration restricted ‘US persons’ – including citizens, residents, and green-card holders – from working for Chinese chip firms, forcing many to choose between their immigration status and their jobs. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a leading Washington, DC think tank, characterised US policy as ‘actively strangling large segments of the Chinese technology industry – strangling with an intent to kill’ (our emphasis).
Alongside its containment measures against China, the US has ramped up efforts to boost its domestic chip-making capacity. The CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law in August 2022, provides $280 billion in funding to boost the domestic US semiconductor industry and reshore production from East Asia. Washington views Taiwan’s role as the manufacturing hub of the semiconductor industry as a strategic vulnerability given its proximity to mainland China and is inducing TSMC to relocate production to Phoenix, Arizona. This pressure, in turn, is generating its own frictions in the US-Taiwan relationship.
However, US efforts are not infallible. Although China has suffered serious setbacks, it has intensified efforts to promote its domestic capacity, and there are signs of progress despite the obstacles imposed by the US. For example, in 2022, China’s SMIC reportedly achieved a significant technological breakthrough, making the leap from 14-nm to 7-nm semiconductor chips, which is on par with the global leaders Intel, TSMC, and Samsung.
A Matter of Global Importance
It is important to note that the US is not only targeting China in this conflict: Washington fears that China’s technological development will lead, through trade and investment, to the dispersal of advanced technologies more broadly throughout the world, namely, to states in the Global South that the US sees as a threat. This would be a significant blow to the US’s power over these countries. In 2020, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee decried that China was facilitating ‘digital authoritarianism’ because it has ‘been willing to go into smaller, under-served markets’ and ‘offer more cost-effective equipment than Western companies’, pointing to countries under US sanctions such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe as examples. To combat ties between Chinese tech firms and sanctioned countries, the US has taken severe legal action, fining the Chinese corporation ZTE $1.2 billion in 2017 for violating US sanctions against Iran and North Korea. The US also collaborated with Canada to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 on charges of circumventing US sanctions against Iran.
Unsurprisingly, while the US has been able to consolidate support for its agenda amongst a number of its Western allies, its efforts have failed across the Global South. It is in the interest of developing countries for such advanced technologies to be dispersed as widely as possible – not to be controlled by a select few states.
If you are reading this newsletter on your smartphone, then you should know that this tiny instrument has billions of miniscule transistors that are invisible to the human eye. The scale of the developments in digital technology is staggering. Earlier conflicts took place over energy and food, but now this conflict has heated up over – amongst other matters – the resources of our digital world. This technology can be used to solve so many of our dilemmas, and yet, here we are, at the precipice of greater conflict to benefit the few over the needs of the many.
In memory of Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury (1941–2023)
On Wednesday 24 April 2013, 3,000 workers entered Rana Plaza, an eight-story building in the Dhaka suburb of Savar in Bangladesh. They produced garments for the transnational commodity chain that stretches from the cotton fields of South Asia, through Bangladesh’s machines and workers, and on to retail houses in the Western world. Garments for famous brands such as Benetton, Bonmarché, Prada, Gucci, Versace, and Zara are stitched here, as are the cheaper clothes that hang on Walmart racks. The previous day, Bangladeshi authorities had asked the owner, Sohel Rana, to evacuate the building due to structural problems. ‘The building has minor damage’, said Rana. ‘There is nothing serious’. But at 8:57 am on 24 April, the building collapsed in the span of two minutes, killing at least 1,132 people and injuring over 2,500 more. The circumstances of the collapse were similar to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, where 146 people died. Tragically, a century later, garment workers are still subject to these dangerous labour conditions.
The list of avoidable ‘accidents’ in Savar is long and painful. In April 2005, at least 79 workers died in a factory collapse; in February 2006, 18 workers died in yet another collapse, followed by 25 in June 2010 and 124 in the Tazreen Fashion Factory fire in November 2012. Since the Rana Plaza devastation ten years ago, at least 109 other buildings in the area have collapsed, resulting in the death of 27 workers (at minimum). These are the deadly factories of twenty-first century globalisation: poorly built shelters for a production process geared toward long working hours, third-rate machines, and workers whose lives are submitted to the imperatives of just-in-time production. Writing about the factory regime in nineteenth-century England, Karl Marx noted in chapter 10 of Capital:
But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its werewolf hunger for surplus labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. … All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour power that can be rendered fluent in a working day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer’s life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.
These Bangladeshi factories are part of the landscape of globalisation echoed in factories along the US-Mexico border, in Haiti, in Sri Lanka, and in other places around the world that opened their doors to the garment industry’s savvy uptake of the new manufacturing and trade order of the 1990s. Subdued countries that had neither the patriotic will to fight for their citizens nor any concern for the long-term debilitation of their social order rushed to welcome multinational clothing companies that no longer wanted to invest in factories. So, they turned to subcontractors, offering them narrow profit margins, compelling them to run their factories like prison houses of labour. The garment industry in Bangladesh, which comprises 80 per cent of the country’s total export earnings, grew entirely in security zones, offering workers few prospects to unionise. It is no wonder that these factories are a warzone.
The subcontracting process allowed multinational firms to deny any culpability for the actions of small factory owners, allowing wealthy shareholders in the Global North to enjoy profits from the lower costs of production without having their consciences stained by the terror inflicted on these workers. Men like Sohel Rana, a local tough guy who oscillated between different political parties depending on who held power, became local thugs for multinational firms. After the collapse of the building, Rana was hastily disowned by all politicians and arrested (the trial against him continues, although he is out on bail).
Men like Rana assemble workers, shove them into these shoddy buildings, and ensure that they are beaten if they threaten to unionise while elites living in the mansions of Gulshan and Banani offer small gestures of liberalism through charity and the allowance of modest, but unfulfilled, labour laws. Labour inspectors are few, and – even worse – they are powerless. As the International Labour Organisation noted in 2020, ‘Labour inspectors have no administrative sanctioning power and cannot impose fines directly. However, they can file a case in the labour court, but the resolution of these cases usually takes a long time, and the fines imposed… do not provide a sufficient deterrent’. An occasional outburst of liberal sentiment in the Global North forces some companies to ‘self-regulate’, an exercise in whitewashing the horrors of the global commodity chain. Capitalist democracy requires this alliance of brutality and reform, of neofascism and paternalism. It celebrates the Ranas of the world until they become a liability, and then it simply replaces them.
One day after the building collapse, Taslima Akhter went to Rana Plaza and photographed the ruins in what she saw as an act of remembrance. A selection of her photographs illustrates this newsletter. Later, Akhter published a 500-page book, Chobbish April: Hazaar Praner Chitkar (‘24th April: Outcries of a Thousand Souls’), which displays a collection of the posters put up by frantic family members looking for their loved ones and passport photographs of the dead with a brief note on their lives.
Chobbish April opens with the story of 35-year-old Baby Akhter, a swing operator at EtherTex Garment who began working at Rana Plaza only 16 days before her death. Akhter came to Dhaka from Rangpur, where her father was a landless peasant. Eighty per cent of the workers in these factories are women, and most, like Baby Akhter, migrate from conditions of landlessness. They bring with them the desolation of the countryside, its overworked soil and poisoned water ravaged by industrial agriculture as well as by the law of value that makes the small farmer redundant before the might of capitalist farms. Baby Akhter’s husband, Delowar, recalled that her luxuries were chewing paan (‘betel leaf’) and using a hand-held fan. ‘She was ready to fight any war’, he said. Her photograph exudes defiance and kindness, a smile hidden in her face.
Bangladeshi workers like Baby Akhter have regularly organised to fight against their wretched conditions. In June 2012, the year before Rana Plaza collapsed, thousands of workers in the Ashulia Industrial Zone outside Dhaka protested for higher wages and better working conditions. For days on end, these workers closed 300 factories, blocking the Dhaka-Tangail highway in Narasinghapur. In retaliation, the owners shut down the factories, and the state took their side, with inspector Abul Kalam Azad declaring that the factories would only re-open if the workers ‘behaved properly’. Police officers marched down the street with batons and tear gas used to ‘educate’ the workers about so-called proper behaviour. After the 2012 protests, the government set up the Crisis Management Cell and the Industrial Police, both of which ‘collect intelligence and pre-empt labour unrest in industrial areas’. When Human Rights Watch investigated the situation in 2014–15, one worker told the investigator that despite being pregnant, she was ‘beaten with metal curtain rods’. One of the owners of a big factory explained to the investigator why the violence is viewed as necessary:
Factory owners want to maximise profits, so they will cut corners on safety issues, on ventilation, on sanitation. They will not pay overtime or offer assistance in the case of injuries. They push workers hard because they don’t want to miss deadlines… Workers have no unions, so they can’t dictate their rights… Some of this can also be blamed on the branded retailers who place bulk orders and say, ‘Scale up production lines because it is a big order and improve your margins’. Even 2–3 cents can make the difference, but these companies don’t want to factor [labour rights and safety] compliance into costing.
Each of these sentences seems lifted directly from Marx’s Capital, written over 150 years ago. The harsh conditions set by the global commodity chain make Bangladesh one of the worst countries in the world to be a worker. A study published in January 2023 shows that during the pandemic, multinational garment companies squeezed subcontractors to cut costs, which resulted in harsher conditions for workers.
In 1926, the All Bengal Tenants’ Conference met in Krishnanagar to form the Kirti Kisan (‘Worker-Peasant’) Party, an early communist political platform in South Asia. Kazi Nazrul Islam sang his Sramiker Gaan (‘Song of the Workers’) at this meeting, a poem that could have been written for Rana Plaza workers and for the millions who toil along a global commodity chain that they do not control:
We are mere coolies working at the machines
in these terrible times.
We are mere dupes and fools
to discover the diamond and to make a gift of it
to the king, to adorn his crown.
Hold fast your hammer, pick up your shovel,
sing in unison and advance.
Switch off the machine-light, the Satan’s eye.
Come along, O Comrade, and keep your weapon high.
US OUTPERFORMS EUROPE IN THE ECONOMIC SPHERE
The Economist magazine in an article (13 April 2023) has lauded the impressive US economic performance compared to the other rich countries in the West. If GDP is taken as an example The Economist states “In 1990 America accounted for a quarter of the world’s output, at market exchange rates. Thirty years on, that share is almost unchanged, even as China has gained economic clout. America’s dominance of the rich world is startling. Today it accounts for 58% of the g7’s GDP, compared with 40% in 1990”. The magazine adds “For the world as a whole, America’s outperformance says much about how to grow. One lesson is that size matters. America has the benefit of a large consumer market over which to spread the costs of r&d and a deep capital market from which to raise finance. Only China, and perhaps one day India, can boast of purchasing power at such a scale”.
DISAPPEARANCE OF A UNIPOLAR WORLD
The very fact that China and India are cited as examples illustrates that the unipolar world that was accepted since the Second World War no longer exists and the US has to take along NATO and the European Community members to take the challenge posed by China and the non-aligned Movement members of Indian sub-continent and African countries freed from British, Portuguese and other European nations.
MONRO DOCTRINE AND THE IMPORTANCE OF THE US ROLE
In this newly emerging situation, Monroe Doctrine played a crucial role in the US warning the European nations not to interfere in the American continent. Since the Spanish-American War, the United States had a significant hand in various conflicts around the world. The US surrounded by two oceans had the luxury of living in a separate world of its own and impose the Monroe Doctrine as it saw fit. Albeit Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy that opposed European colonialism in the Americas. It argued that any intervention in the politics of the Americas by foreign powers was a potentially hostile act against the United States. The Monroe Doctrine was issued at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved or were at the point of gaining, independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires. The Monroe Doctrine stated that further efforts by various European states to take control of any independent state in the Americas would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” President James Monroe asserted that the New World and the Old World were to remain distinctly separate spheres of influence. A lot of water has flown under London Bridge and today’s world has a completely different shape.
STEPHEN WALT ON THE DISAPPEARANCE OF UNIPOLARITY
Harvard Luminary Stephen Walt in an article observed former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s warning of the “undeniable danger” of U.S. unilateralism, and of former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine’s statement that “the entire foreign policy of France is aimed at making the world of tomorrow composed of several poles, not just one.” Current French President Emmanuel Macron’s support for European unity and strategic autonomy reveals a similar impulse…Although the Biden administration recognizes that the US is back in a world of several great powers, it seems nostalgic for the brief era when the United States didn’t face peer competitors. Hence its vigorous reassertion of “U.S. leadership,” its desire to inflict a military defeat on Russia that will leave it too weak to cause trouble in the future, and its efforts to stifle China’s rise by restricting Beijing’s access to critical technological inputs”.
Taking into consideration the picture drawn by Stephen Walt recent visit by XI-JINPING to Moscow (the 40th time the two leaders-Vladimir Putin- have met in person) is significant. The two leaders have publicly declared “limitless” solidarity and displayed the efficiency of the Western efforts to reach essential goods to the needy. It was to emphasize that the Communist system is superior to that of the West. As an example, China has launched its Belt and Road Initiative to construct infrastructural needs of the middle and poverty-stricken countries that do not have the resources to finance their needs.
UN vote on the Russian invasion of Ukraine clearly displays that the motion was backed by 141 nations with 32 abstaining and seven, including Russia, voting against it. India reiterated its position on the invasion, saying that peaceful dialogue was the only way out. Delhi has increasingly faced pressure to take a firm stand on Russia. Many countries, including the US and Ukraine, have publicly appealed to Delhi to take a clear stand and “do the right thing”. But India has resisted the pressure and continued with its strategy of not criticizing Russia directly. It has abstained from similar resolutions both at the UNGA and at the UNSC in the past. The two countries have decades-old trusted relationships since the Cold War. Russia is also India’s largest arms supplier even though its share has dropped in recent years largely due to Delhi’s decision to boost domestic defense manufacturing and a widening imports portfolio. The two countries also have a history of diplomatic cooperation — Moscow has vetoed UNSC resolutions over the disputed region of Kashmir. Delhi, however, has talked about the importance of “the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” in its past statements on Ukraine.
BANGLADESH LIBERATION WAR
One must recall the repeated vetoes given by the Soviet Union on efforts by Western nations in total disregard of the genocide perpetrated on unarmed Bengalis by the Pakistani military junta for a political solution with the Pakistani military regime. It was not for nothing that many countries from the East and the West realized, not for the first time, that the Western so-called cry for democracy was a farce. From the US Edward Kennedy visited the refugee camps in Indian West Bengal in millions were welcomed by then-Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi but for whose untiring efforts liberation of Bangladesh from the clutches of Pakistani hordes could have been indefinitely delayed. If we switch from 1971 when Bangladesh’s liberation was fought to the present time we find an entirely different world. US-European suzerainty is gone, multi-polarity has appeared and a Sino-Russian entente has emerged. As this article had indicated earlier the world would not like to have a saber-rattling contest between the US and Russia with nuclear weapons. The great majority of the people of the world would prefer a peaceful solution of the Ukraine problem that would ensure Russia her territorial integrity with Ukraine not joining either the Russian side or the Western side.
BANGLADESH IS AN EXAMPLE OF POVERTY AND CORRUPTION
According to a report published in Dhaka Tribune(Syed Zakir Hussain and Meraj Mavis-January 22 2023) After Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, 80% of its people initially lived below the poverty line, but now that percentage has reached 20%. However, the actual number of poor people has not decreased in this period, considering the percentage, a report revealed on Saturday. Still, 35 million people in Bangladesh live below the poverty line — a fact that came out in the Bangladesh Poverty Watch Report 2022. During the launching program of the report, experts and economists said that 35 million people remained poor since 1990 despite the poverty rate halving in the last three decades. They also urged the government to take and implement policies required for decentralization to uplift marginalized people above the poverty line, ensuring inclusive growth. The report was jointly compiled by the Institute for Inclusive Finance and Development (InM) and the Centre for Inclusive Development Dialogue (CIDD). Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, chairman of InM and Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), in his opening remarks said: “Income-based poverty measurement will not eliminate the actual poverty. We have to find out about multidimensional poverty.” Atiur Rahman, former governor of Bangladesh Bank, said that: “The economy is facing some challenges regarding geopolitical tension, energy shortage, and supply chain disruption, and the government should take steps considering these challenges.” Mustafa K Mujeri, chairman of the CIDD, said: “It’s true that poverty is in constant decline. The government has taken initiatives to solve this problem. But poverty is not only measured by ‘lack of income’, rather it includes the shortage of choice, opportunity, and lack of being heard.” Prof Salma Akhter, trustee of CIDD, in her keynote presentation, said that: “About 94% of the Garo males work as day laborers while the remaining are engaged with informal sectors.” All members of the community consider themselves poor throughout the year as men earn Tk300 a day, while women only Tk100. Around 60,000 people from the Munda community face shortage of food for three to four months every year. The daily income of the Mal Paharia community varies from Tk100 to Tk200. About 92% of 129,000 Santals live below the poverty line. Most women and children in these groups face additional marginalization, and rights violations, and have fewer opportunities to access education, health, economic opportunities, protection and justice, Prof Salma added that the legal, administrative and other social institutions do not usually work equally to protect the rights of ethnic minorities and transgenders. Thus, their voices remain mostly unheard as the marginalized communities in Bangladesh are powerless and less organized than other citizens in claiming their civil rights.
SUGGESTIONS TO ACCELERATE SOCIAL INTEGRATION
The report offered several key activities to accelerate their social integration. The key will be to integrate these policies into the government’s broader inclusive development strategies, which address cross-cutting and national-level issues such as strengthening inclusive growth, ensuring financial inclusion of the marginalized, reducing income and social inequality, accessing quality education, health, nutrition, and other basic services, adopting appropriate macroeconomic policy, addressing the marginal groups or regions, and implementing initiatives at the local level. Apart from the philosophies behind corruption, it would be useful to find out the causes of corruption in countries like Bangladesh. It is easy to give advice from armchairs on the ways to remove corruption from societies like ours. But in countries where millions of people are illiterate and have to depend on so-called literate persons to translate government orders which again would not be done without bribe millions of people remain at the mercy of middlemen to get service which in some cases are free entitlement to the recipients. So the nexus between corruption and receiving government services are clear. Corruption, therefore, has to be eliminated. But it is easier said than done. Corruption has taken such deep roots in our societies that it has become impossible to eliminate corruption. Additionally, when corruption has backers at a high level with powerful connections one has to keep quiet and suffer the indignities of becoming a victim. 35m Bangladeshis still live below the poverty line regular monitoring of progress emphasized in the recent
POVERTY WATCH REPORT 2022
Poverty Watch Report 2022 to assess actual poverty line Bangladesh is among five countries where the world’s extremely poor reside. According to a report published in Dhaka Tribune(Syed Zakir Hussain and Meraj Mavis-January 22 2023) After Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, 80% of its people initially lived below the poverty line, but now that percentage has reached 20%. However, the actual number of poor people has not decreased in this period, considering the percentage, a report revealed on Saturday. Still, 35 million people in Bangladesh live below the poverty line — a fact that came out in the Bangladesh Poverty Watch Report 2022. During the launching program of the report, experts and economists said that 35 million people remained poor since 1990 despite the poverty rate halving in the last three decades. They also urged the government to take and implement policies required for decentralization to uplift marginalized people above the poverty line, ensuring inclusive growth. The report was jointly compiled by the Institute for Inclusive Finance and Development (InM) and the Centre for Inclusive Development Dialogue (CIDD). Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, chairman of InM and Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), in his opening remarks said: “Income-based poverty measurement will not eliminate the actual poverty. We have to find out about multidimensional poverty.”
Atiur Rahmnan, former governor of Bangladesh Bank, said that: “The economy is facing some challenges regarding geopolitical tension, energy shortage and supply chain disruption, and the government should take steps considering these challenges.” Mustafa K Mujeri, chairman of the CIDD, said: “It’s true that poverty is in constant decline. The government has taken initiatives to solve this problem. But poverty is not only measured by ‘lack of income’, rather it includes the shortage of choice, opportunity, and lack of being heard.” Prof Salma Akhter, trustee of CIDD, said that: “About 94% of the Garo males work as day laborers while the remaining are engaged with informal sectors.” All members of the community consider themselves poor throughout the year as men earn Tk300 a day, while women only Tk100. Around 60,000 people from the Munda community face shortage of food for three to four months every year. The daily income of the Mal Paharia community varies from Tk100 to Tk200. About 92% of 129,000 Santals live below the poverty line.
Most women and children in these groups face additional marginalization, and rights violations, and have fewer opportunities to access education, health, economic opportunities, protection and justice, Prof Salma added. She further said the legal, administrative, and other social institutions do not usually work equally to protect the rights of ethnic minorities and transgenders. Thus, their voices remain mostly unheard as the marginalized communities in Bangladesh are powerless and less organized than other citizens in claiming their civil rights. The report offered several key activities to accelerate their social integration. The key will be to integrate these policies into the government’s broader inclusive development strategies, which address cross-cutting and national-level issues such as strengthening inclusive growth, ensuring financial inclusion of the marginalized, reducing income and social inequality, accessing quality education, health, nutrition, and other basic services, adopting the appropriate macroeconomic policy, addressing the marginal groups or regions, and implementing initiatives at the local level. Apart from the philosophies behind corruption, it would be useful to find out the causes of corruption in countries like Bangladesh.
It is easy to give advice from armchairs on the ways to remove corruption from societies like ours. But in countries where millions of people are illiterate and have to depend on so-called literate persons to translate government orders which again would not be done without bribe millions of people remain at the mercy of middlemen to get service which in some cases are free entitlement to the recipients. So the nexus between corruption and receiving government services are clear. Corruption, therefore, has to be eliminated. But it is easier said than done. Corruption has taken such deep roots in our societies that it has become impossible to eliminate corruption. Additionally, when corruption has backers at a high level with powerful connections one has to keep quiet and suffer the indignities of becoming a victim.
Remarkably, during her visit to Ghana in late March 2023, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the US Treasury Department’s Office of Technical Assistance will ‘deploy a full-time resident advisor in 2023 to Accra to assist the Ministry of Finance in developing and executing medium- to long-term reforms needed to improve debt sustainability and support a competitive, dynamic government debt market’. Ghana certainly faces significant challenges in this arena, with its external debt standing at $36 billion and its debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio hovering over 100 percent. As Harris left Accra, Reuters reported that Ghana had hired the Bermuda-based financial advisor Lazard to represent it in talks with the Paris-based Rothschild & Co., which will represent the international bondholders that are the largest creditors of this cash-strapped nation. Rather than pressure these wealthy bondholders to cancel some of the debt (what is known as a ‘haircut’) or to extend a moratorium on debt servicing payments, the US government merely provided Ghana with a ‘technical advisor’.
In December, Ghana signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) through its Extended Credit Facility to receive $3 billion over three years. In return, Ghana’s government agreed to ‘a wide-ranging economic reform programme’ that includes a commitment to ‘increase domestic resource mobilisation and streamline expenditure’. In other words, Ghana’s government will conduct an austerity regime against its own people. At the time of this agreement, consumer inflation in the country had risen to 54.1 percent. By January 2023, it was clear that electricity, water, gas, and home prices had risen by 82.3 percent over the course of a year. The World Bank estimates that Ghana’s poverty rate is already 23.4 percent, which it projects will ‘increase slightly, due to the cumulative effects of increases in electricity and water tariffs, rising food prices, and an increase in [consumption taxes]’. Further cuts to public spending alongside the restructuring of domestic debt will mean despair for almost all of Ghana’s roughly 33 million people.
It is unlikely that the US government’s ‘full-time resident advisor’ on Ghana’s debt will offer either a factually based assessment of the escalating debt or proffer practical solutions to what has become a permanent debt crisis. It is already clear that there will be no focus on the wealthy Western bondholders such as the United Kingdom’s Abrdn and Amundi or the United States’ BlackRock, which hold a considerable portion of Ghana’s 13 billion dollars in Eurobond debt. It is far easier for the US to blame China, even though the country holds less than ten percent of Ghana’s external debt. That is perhaps the reason why Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo told Harris, ‘There may be an obsession in America about Chinese activities on the [African] continent, but there’s no such obsession here’.
The final section of our latest dossier, Life or Debt: The Stranglehold of Neocolonialism and Africa’s Search for Alternatives, offers practical policy proposals for countries that are afflicted by permanent debt crises. Among them are suggestions to create progressive tax codes, reform domestic banking infrastructure, build alternative sources of funding to the IMF’s debt-austerity trap, and enhance regionalism. Given that the IMF and the World Bank punish any country that deviates from their orthodoxy, such policies would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. Now, with the arrival of alternative sources of financing for development (from China, certainly, but also from other locomotives of the Global South), space has been opened up for the poorer nations to build their own national and regional projects that are grounded in genuine, and sovereign, development theories. As we write in the dossier, ‘These projects must seize multiple opportunities to raise funds, and the fragility of IMF power must also be utilised to advance fiscal and monetary policies that are built on an agenda committed to solving the problems of the African people, not facilitating the demands of wealthy bondholders and the Western states that back them’.
The principles that ground our dossier emerged out of a statement written by the Collective on African Political Economy (CAPE) entitled The IMF Is Never the Answer, which is published in the dossier. Among other key reflections, this statement points out that there is a need for a ‘new kind of institutional apparatus that fosters cooperation rather than competition’, which includes ‘establishing currency arrangements that bypass the US dollar’. Why is de-dollarisation such an important point? US Senator Marco Rubio provided clear insight to this question: ‘We won’t have to talk about sanctions in five years because there will be so many countries transacting in currencies other than the dollar that we won’t have the ability to sanction them’. Reliance upon the dollar not only allows the US to sanction countries; it is also ‘a strong lever of IMF conditionality’, as the CAPE statement notes. The statement also indicates the importance of the ‘urgent need to restore and reinvigorate the capacity and autonomy of the African state to deliver on its development agenda’. This includes increasing the ability of states to mobilise tax revenues and use these funds to build the dignity of their populations. Any approach to development in our times that respects nations’ sovereignty must be focused on creating a new form of financing for development apparatuses as well as a new role for state institutions in this process.
If you are interested in getting involved with CAPE, do write to the collective’s coordinator, Grieve Chelwa, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the mid-April World Bank meeting, Ajay Banga, a former executive from Citigroup and Mastercard, will be anointed as its president. He will be the fourteenth US citizen to hold this job and the fourteenth man since the bank’s first president was appointed in 1946. Banga has no experience in the world of development – prior to commercial banking, he was involved in launching the US fast-food franchises Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken in India. Meanwhile, the New Development Bank, also referred to as the BRICS Bank, has just elected its new president, Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil. Rousseff comes to the BRICS Bank with extensive experience in Brazil’s programme to eradicate absolute poverty. Unlike Banga, who will promote the religion of privatisation, Rousseff will bring her experience of working with robust state policies, such as the income transfer programme Bolsa Família (‘Family Grant’) and the social protections programme Brasil Sem Miséria (‘Brazil Without Extreme Poverty’). As we note in the dossier, the emergence of the BRICS Bank, alongside other institutions in the Global South, has already begun to put pressure on the IMF and World Bank on key issues such as the exhaustion of the neoliberal debt-austerity model and the need for new tools, including capital controls, for governments to increase the sovereignty of their states and the dignity of their populations.
Ten years ago, the Nigerian musician Seun Kuti released a song called ‘IMF’ in his album A Long Way to the Beginning. The song is a damning critique of IMF policy, and the video, directed by Jerome Bernard, develops that critique through the personage of an African businessman being bribed and, ultimately, turned into a zombie. When King Midas touched objects, they turned into gold. When the IMF touches people, they turn into zombies. The art in our dossier is based on images from Seun’s music video, some of which are reproduced in this newsletter. The song is hypnotic:
So much lying from the IMF
So much stealing from the IMF
So much killing from the IMF
Manipulation from the IMF
Intimidation from the IMF
So much suffering from the IMF
Ten days after the 1973 coup against the Popular Unity (UP) government of President Salvador Allende, the military opened the Río Chico concentration camp on Dawson Island, located in the Strait of Magellan, near the southern tip of Chile. The island had served as an extermination camp by a Catholic order between 1891 and 1911 to confine the Selk’nam and Kawésqar peoples, who died due to overcrowding, the spread of disease, and the cold.
The coup regime sent 38 officials of the UP government to the Compañía de Ingenieros del Cuerpo de Infantería Marina (COMPINGIM) naval base and then to the Río Chico camp. It also sent hundreds of political prisoners to Punta Arenas, near Dawson Island. The officials were interrogated, tortured, and forced to work on the island’s infrastructure. The Río Chico camp was dismantled in 1974.
One of the prisoners at the camp was Miguel Lawner, an architect who led the government’s Urban Improvement Corporation (CORMU). During his imprisonment, Lawner walked around the prison to calculate the size of his room, the buildings at the camp, and the camp itself. He drew the layout for the camp but then destroyed it for fear of discovery by the guards. When he was in exile in Denmark in 1976, Lawner redrew the plans from memory. “The function creates the organ,” he said. “I developed an organ: the drawing, capable of fulfilling the function of leaving testimony of our captivity.”
During his imprisonment, Lawner told me, he worried that the military might accuse him of corruption for his leadership of CORMU. “I was trying to calculate how many millions of dollars had been [spent] in my name,” he recalled. “I calculated it to be between $150 million and $180 million. Later, I learned that the military spent six months investigating me and came to the conclusion that they owed me a per diem!”
The UP government (1970-1973) felt that the ministries of Housing and Public Works should be the engine of the economy, as “the two easiest institutions to mobilize,” Lawner said. Other areas, such as industrialization, “required more prolonged prior studies.” “In housing,” Lawner told me, “if you have a vacant lot, the next day you can be building.” In addition, there was a huge need for housing. The CORMU management decided to speed up the bureaucratic procedures and authorize the immediate disbursement of funds through an official, who was Lawner. “Our first year of government was a year of marvelous irresponsibility,” Lawner told me with a smile on his face.
Never Deviate From the Fundamentals
During the 1970 campaign for the presidency, Lawner accompanied Allende to a camp on the banks of the Mapocho River, where the people lived “outside the walls of society.” As they left the camp, Allende said to Lawner, “Even if things go badly for us, to get these comrades out of the mud—for that, it would be worthwhile for them to elect me president.” One year into the government, Lawner said, “We delivered the first houses of Villa San Luis. In April ’72 we had this project completely delivered: a thousand houses, the great majority of which corresponded to these two camps, el encanto and el ejemplo, which sat on the banks of the Mapocho River.” The main task of the UP government, he said, was “to resolve the fundamental demands of the sectors that had always been dispossessed.”
Under Lawner’s leadership, the CORMU officials—not all of them part of the UP project—postponed vacations and worked without overtime pay. “We gave all these officials the conviction that they were operating for the benefit of the common good and not, obviously, for the enrichment of a private company or the banks. In other words, they knew that they were working so that people could live better.” Also, he said, the objective of “making things beautiful” was imposed, arguing “that in social housing, beauty does not have to be the birthright only of the rich.”
The Explosion of the Countryside
Lawner recalled his great pride at the UP government’s nationalization of copper, its delivery of houses, and its role in the “explosion of the agrarian world.” The agrarian reform and the law for peasant unionization were passed in 1962, before the UP government. However, agrarian workers “continued to exist like serfs from feudal times,” Lawner noted. A week into his presidency, Allende was invited by the peasants of Araucanía to a meeting to which he brought his minister of agriculture, Jacques Chonchol. When an Indigenous leader spoke, Allende leaned over to Chonchol and said, “Listen, minister, I think you should remain here.” The minister, who “had to send for even his toothbrush,” remained there for three months, beginning his term installed in the countryside. Half a million hectares were transferred to the landless in the first year of the government.
The UP’s first year, Lawner recalled, was a “year of unbridled aspirations.” “For a person like me who was never a public official, the feeling of power is infinite, and the conviction that you are capable of doing anything is equally infinite… we promised more than we were capable of doing [having done three or four times more than the most that had ever been done in the history of the housing ministry], but everything we could do was done because of what is now lacking: the commitment of the officials. You have to have good leadership, it is true, but if you don’t have the commitment of the base, there is nothing you can do.”
Generations Contaminated by the Model
When we talked about the differences between the experiences at the end of the first year of the UP and the first year of Chile’s current President Gabriel Boric’s progressive government, Lawner pointed out that, in Chile “we have effectively been fed for 50 years the neoliberal doctrine of a formation contradictory to what you require in a progressive government. Imperceptibly, generations were formed that are, in my opinion, corrupted by the model. It is incomprehensible to them any other way.”
The current president of Chile’s Senate is Juan Antonio Coloma, a man of the extreme right. “When the 50th anniversary of the coup comes this September,” Lawner told me, “Coloma will be the country’s second most important political official.” Fascism’s rise, he said, is a global phenomenon, not only taking place in Chile. But Lawner does not despair. “You cannot determine when there is a spark that lights the fire again, but there is no doubt that it is going to happen.”
Credit Line: This article was produced by Globetrotter.
There is no need to delve too deeply into statistical data when the findings are obvious. For instance, when women and men work at the same job, women are paid – on average – 20 percent less than men. To raise awareness about this persistent disparity, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations Women host the International Equal Pay Day every year on 18 September and, through their Equal Pay International Coalition, lobby corporations and governments to close the yawning gender pay gap. The idea of ‘equal pay for equal work’ was established in the ILO’s Equal Remuneration Convention (1951) in recognition of the fact that women had always worked in industrial factories, increasingly so during the Second World War. The convention adopted ‘the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value’, yet governments and the private sector have refused to follow suit.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an intensified focus on the health care sector, including health care workers, who were applauded universally as ‘essential workers’. In March 2021, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research published a dossier, Uncovering the Crisis: Care Work in the Time of Coronavirus, which reflected the views of women workers in the health care industry. Janet Mendieta of the Argentine Workers’ Central Union reflected on this idea of ‘essential work’:
First, they should recognise that we are essential workers, and then we should be recognised with wages for our work because we work much more than we should have to. We do a lot of work promoting gender equality and health, we work as cooks in canteens and in eateries, and none of this is recognised or made visible. If it isn’t made visible, it certainly won’t be recognised or remunerated.
None of this is recognised, she said, neither during the height of the pandemic nor as we begin to drift out of it. In 2018, the ILO published an important report, Care Work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work, that estimated that the value of unpaid care and domestic work amounts to 9 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or $11 trillion. In some countries the value is far higher, such as in Australia, where unpaid care and domestic work amounts to 41.3 percent of the GDP. Based on time-use survey data collected in 64 countries, the report found that 16.4 billion hours are spent on unpaid care work every day, with 76.2 percent of the total hours of unpaid care work carried out by women. In other words, the daily unpaid care work of women around the world is equivalent to having over 1.5 billion women working eight hours a day for no pay.
In July 2022, the ILO and World Health Organisation published another report on the pay gap, this time with an emphasis on the health care sector. Their report, The Gender Pay Gap in the Health and Care Sector: A Global Analysis in the Time of COVID-19, established that, in the health and care sector, women earn on average up to 24 percent less than men. Despite women accounting for 67 percent of the jobs in this sector, only a small number of them work in upper management, and the gap between the wages of hospital administrators and nurses, for instance, only grows wider each year.
The report offers a number of explanations for this pay gap. Among them, it argues that women are paid less due to the ‘lower pay associated with highly feminised sectors and occupations’. Health care fields such as nursing are paid less than others not because of objectively lower skill levels, but due to their association with ‘women’s work’, which is routinely less valued across the world. Furthermore, the report points out that there is a ‘motherhood gap’ in pay, not often talked about but visible in statistical data and in the demands made by health care workers’ unions. There are low levels of part-time work in the health care industry, except for women in their late twenties and into their thirties, when, the report notes, ‘women have to either leave the labour market or reduce their working hours in order to balance work with unpaid caregiving for offspring’. When women leave the industry and return later or opt for part-time work, they do not get the promotions and wage raises that their male counterparts receive and therefore spend the rest of their work lives with lower wages than men who do the same work.
Women have fought against these social conditions for hundreds of years, and it was struggles led by women that established many of the international conventions on labour and on human rights. At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we have been lifting up the stories of such struggles and the women who have led them. One of our latest publications, produced in collaboration with ALBA Movimientos, is called Chrysalises: Feminist Memories from Latin America and the Caribbean. Here, we shine a light on Nicaragua’s Arlen Siu (1955–1975), Brazil’s Dona Nina (b. 1949), and the Bartolina Sisa National Confederation of Peasant Women of Bolivia (whose members are known as Las Bartolinas), founded in 1980. Each of these women and their organisations have been part of the global fight against the wretched social conditions of inequality.
It is women like Arlen, Dona Nina, and Las Bartolinas who drafted the World March of Women’s demands for economic autonomy. This week’s newsletter ends with their words, as they call for:
- The rights of all workers (including vulnerable workers, such as domestic and migrant workers) to employment with safe and healthy working conditions, without harassment and in which their dignity is respected, throughout the world and without discriminations (nationality, sex, disability, etc.) of any kind.
- The right to social security, involving income transfers in the case of sickness, disability, maternity and paternity leave, and retirement that permit women and men to have a decent quality of life.
- Equal salaries for equal work for women and men, also taking into account the remuneration of work in rural areas.
- A fair minimum wage (one that reduces the difference between the highest and lowest salaries and permits workers to support themselves and their families) instituted by law that serves as a reference for all paid work (public and private) and public social payments. The creation or strengthening of a policy of permanent valorisation of the minimum wage and common values for sub-regions or regions.
- The strengthening of the solidarity economy with low interest credit, support for distribution and commercialisation, and exchange of local knowledge and practices.
- Women’s access to land, seeds, water, primary materials, and all necessary support for production and commercialisation in agriculture, fishing, livestock rearing, and handicraft.
- The reorganisation of domestic and care work so that the responsibility for this work is shared equally between men and women within a family or community. For this to become a reality, we demand the adoption of public policies for the support of social reproduction (such as crèches, collective laundries and restaurants, care for the elderly, etc), as well as a reduction in working hours without cuts in salaries.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. In response, the U.S. and EU, joined primarily by Japan, Canada, Australia, and South Korea, imposed one of the most far-reaching sanctions on Russia. While sanctions have already weakened the Russian economy following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014, the widespread suspension of economic, financial, and trade relations with the West in 2022 and 2023 appears to have significant long-term implications for maintaining the country’s economic strength.
Since the early 2000s, Russia has experienced various economic fluctuations, some of which are due to global economic conditions. Similar to other countries, the global economic crisis of 2008-2009 and the demand and supply constraints of the Covid 19 pandemic hit the Russian economy hard. In addition, Russia has faced economic challenges since 2014 due to sanctions imposed over the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. Average growth from 2014 to the present was 0.5 percent, with negative growth of 2.2 percent in 2022. Compared to the robust growth rates in the first half of the 2000s, which reached 8.5 percent in some years (Figure 1), it appears that the Russian economy will not reach this performance for a long time after the invasion. While the IMF estimate points to positive growth rates for 2023, other prominent international institutions and even the Russian Central Bank expect the economy to be in recession (Figure 1). On the other hand, the IMF’s expectations for the coming years are not optimistic. In March 2023, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva stated that the Russian economy is expected to contract by 7 percent in the medium term.
As Russia’s main source of revenue is energy, Russia’s economic challenges are closely linked to the volatility of prices of and demand for its energy products. In 2021, energy products accounted for more than 50 percent of export revenues, 50 percent of government revenues, and nearly 20 percent of GDP and the European Union was the main consumer of Russian energy. In 2022, major European countries, particularly Germany, continued to import oil and gas from Russia due to their heavy dependence on Russian energy, while making efforts to develop alternative energy sources. Germany increased coal production and extended the life of its remaining three nuclear power plants. Still, Germany remained the largest importer of Russian fossil fuels after China in one year after the invasion. Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, France, Belgium, and other EU countries were still importing in 2022, but at a declining rate as Russian revenues from EU countries fell by about 85 percent.
In fact, the restriction on energy imports from Russia had a negative impact on EU countries, especially Germany. When the EU began imposing certain restrictions on exports to and imports from Russia in 2022, Russia retaliated by halting natural gas supplies to Europe by indicating equipment problems, maintenance needs, and gas leaks. These restrictions have hurt not only the Russian economy but also European countries. The energy restriction contributed to a decline in Germany’s growth rate in 2022, and zero growth expectation in 2023.
As can be seen in Figure 2, Russian energy exports move in tandem with oil prices. In early 2022, oil prices began to rise, and Brent oil reached $123 per barrel and Urals oil $102 in June, leading to a significant increase in Russian export revenues. However, this increase did not last throughout the year, as oil prices fell in the second half of the year, which had a negative impact on Russian revenues. In December 2022, the European Union and the United States, along with other major countries, decided to impose a $60 per barrel price cap on crude oil, which caused Urals crude oil prices to fall to $57 per barrel by the end of March 2023.(Figure 3). The prices of natural gas which is one of the main energy sources of Russia showed fluctuations similar to oil prices.
Recent measures such as the EU ban on imports of Russian seaborne crude oil and refined oil products , which put into effect in December 2022 and February 2023, respectively, and price caps in late 2022 and early 2023 are expected to have a negative impact on Russian revenues. Already, Russian energy exports in February 2023 are down more than 40 percent year-on-year.(Figure 3)
To counter these sanctions, Russia has sought alternative markets for its energy exports that did not comply with the European Union’s sanctions policy, and China has become a significant alternative market for Russia’s energy. While interdependence with the West was decreasing, Russia would become more economically and financially intertwined with China. However, the expansion of Chinese imports from Russia, India, and other countries would not compensate for the loss of European markets for some time. It seems likely that the Russian economy will continue to experience a recession in the coming years, as IMF Managing Director Georgieva indicated.
The far-reaching sanctions against Russia have had a significant impact on the country’s financial system. Several Russian banks were excluded from the global financial system, the assets of oligarchs with close ties to the Russian government were seized, and a significant portion of Russia’s $300 billion in foreign exchange reserves out of $476 billion (excluding gold) held in banks in the U.S. and EU were frozen. These measures led to a loss of confidence in the Russian financial system and a 50% devaluation of the Russian ruble in just a month and a half. In response to these measures, Russia announced in late March 2022 that “unfriendly” countries would have to pay for Russian gas in rubles. This decision prevented further devaluation of the ruble, and the ruble appreciated by mid-2022.To counter further blocking of its international reserves, Russia has increased its holdings of yuan and expanded its efforts to develop a digital currency. In fact, Russian de-dollarization policy has started before the invasion, mainly after the annexation of Crimea. Today, due to the sanctions, and Russian’s promotion of yuan;Dollar and Euro share in external transactions declined and the yuan’s share increased.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Russia had reached a substantial level of about $500 billion before the invasion, with various Western countries investing in the country. After the invasion, however, many of these countries expressed their intention to withdraw from Russia without sanctions requirements. In particular, large foreign companies that had invested in the energy and banking sectors either left the country or expressed their intention to do so. For example, BP, which owns 19.75 percent of Rosneft, Exxon, which had a significant joint venture with Rosneft in Sakhalin, and Shell, which was involved with Gazprom in the Sakhalin project, either transferred their ownership to the Russian government or to the oligarchs who have close ties to Putin, or declared their intention to do so. In addition, France’s Total Energies, which had invested in Novatek, and SocieteGenerale, which had a partnership with Rosbank, wanted to withdraw from these partnerships.It is likely that the transfer of their shares was or will be agreed on more favorable terms for the Russian partners. On the other hand, Russian companies have been forced to sell their subsidiaries in Europe, such as Gazprom’s gas storage facilities in Germany, Rosneft’s oil refinery in Germany, and Lukoil’s oil refinery in Sicily(Aslund, February 4, 2023).
Overall, the invasion of Ukraine and the economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S., the EU, and other countries have had notable impacts on the Russian economy. The sanctions mainly targeted Russia’s energy exports and financial system, leading to a decline in export revenues and a loss of confidence in the financial system. Russia has tried to develop alternative markets and solutions in response to Western sanctions, but it appears that new markets and new financial systems, which are mostly inclined to China and India, are not a cure for its economic strength. Even if the military conflict is resolved, the anticipation of a new Cold War era between West and East suggests that a return to pre-invasion economic conditions may not be possible. The long-term impact of sanctions on Russia’s economic strength remains uncertain, but it is clear that the country’s economic resilience has been tested. Therefore, it is critical for the third parties to gain a comprehensive understanding of the long-term impact of the recent conflict and the consequences of the EU and U.S. responses on the Russian economy in order to adapt to the new economic and political dynamics.
Figure 1: Russian Economic Growth
Figure 2 Russian Exports and Oil Prices
Figure 3: Oil Prices and Russian Exports (Monthly)
The Russian media reported that President Vladimir Putin made an extraordinary gesture as President Xi Jinping left the Kremlin following the state dinner last week on Tuesday evening by escorting him to the limousine and seeing him off.
And Xi during the goodbye handshake reportedly responded, “Together, we should push forward these changes that have not happened for 100 years. Take care.”
Xi was alluding to the past 100 years of modern history that witnessed the United States transforming from a country to the north of Mexico in the Western Hemisphere to a superpower and global hegemon.
With his profound sense of history and dialectical mind, Xi was recalling the intense talks with Putin that dwelt on the contemporary realities burying the US’ unipolar moment in the dustbin and on the imperatives of China and Russia joining hands to consolidate the transition of the world order toward democratisation and multipolarity.
It was an appropriate finale to a state visit that began the previous evening with Xi expressing confidence that Russians will support Putin at the presidential elections next year. At one stroke, Xi “cancelled” the West’s demonising of Putin, mindful of the absurdity of even arranging an arrest warrant against the Kremlin leader to detract from his talks in Moscow.
China has a scrupulous policy of refraining from commenting on the internal politics of other countries. However, in the case of the situation surrounding Russia, Xi has made a notable exception by signalling his keenness for Putin’s proactive leadership in such tumultuous times. The majority of world opinion, especially in the Global South, will agree.
Won’t the erudite Russian public opinion take cognisance too — with a roar of approval? Yes, Putin’s consistent 80 percent rating is a signpost. Xi may have poured cold water on the last desperate western ploys of instigating a bunch of Russian oligarchs to spearhead a regime change in the Kremlin.
To be sure, the timing of Xi’s state visit in the middle of the war in Ukraine messaged the highest importance that China attaches to the relations with Russia. There is great deliberation in doing so, as both China and Russia are locked in spiralling tensions vis-a-vis the United States.
There has been a dramatic change of mood in Beijing. The nadir was reached with the boorish behaviour by President Biden in his State of the Union address on February 7 when he went off-script and hysterically shouted, “Name me a world leader who’d change places with Xi Jinping.”
In the Eastern culture, such boorishness is taken as unforgivably scandalous behaviour. In the weeks since the US shot down the Chinese weather balloon and maligned China internationally, Beijing has rebuffed several attempts by the White House seeking telephone conversation for Biden with President Xi.
Beijing has had enough of Biden’s hollow promises to mend ties while on the sly strengthening alliances across the Asia-Pacific region, inserting the NATO into the Asia-Pacific power dynamic and sending additional forces and firepower to places like Guam and the Philippines, apart from single-mindedly striving to weakening China’s economy.
Xi’s Moscow visit became a great occasion for Russia and China to reaffirm their “no limit” partnership and scatter the western attempts since the war broke out in Ukraine to create rift in the Sino-Russian relationship.
To quote Professor Graham Allison at Harvard University, “Along every dimension—personal, economic, military and diplomatic—the undeclared alliance that Xi has built with Russian President Vladimir Putin has become much more consequential than most of the United States’ official alliances today.”
However, alliance or not, the fact remains that this “new model of major-country relations featuring mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation” — to quote Xi Jinping — is anything but a hierarchical order.
America’s pundits have a problem comprehending equal relationships between two sovereign and independent nations. And in this case, neither Russia nor China is inclined to declare a formal alliance because, simply put, an alliance inevitably requires assuming obligations and limiting the optimal pursuit of interests in deference to a collective agenda.
What emerges, therefore, is that Putin’s strategic calculus in Ukraine will be shaped much more heavily by events on the battlefield than on any Chinese input. Russia’s reaction to the Chinese “peace plan” regarding Ukraine testifies to that reality.
No sooner than Xi departed from Moscow, Putin in an interview with with Russia 1 TV, set the record straight that Russia is outproducing the West’s ammunition supplies to Kiev. He said, “Russia’s output level and its military-industrial complex are developing at a very fast pace, which was unexpected by many.”
While multiple Western countries will provide Ukraine with munitions, “the Russian production sector on its own will produce three times more ammunition for the same period of time,” Putin added.
He repeated that the West’s arms shipments to Ukraine are of concern to Russia only because they constitute “an attempt to prolong the conflict” and will “only lead to a bigger tragedy and nothing more.”
However, this is not to belittle the great significance of the partnership for both countries in the political, diplomatic and economic spheres. The salience lies in the two countries’ growing interdependency in multiple directions that cannot be quantified yet and keeps “evolving” (Xi) and appears seamless.
The Ukraine war, paradoxically, is turning out to be a wake-up call — a war that can prevent another world war rather than engender one. China understands that Russia has single-handedly taken on the “collective West” and shown it is more than a match.
This assessment in Beijing cannot escape the West’s attention and will impact the western thinking too for the medium and long term — not only for Eurasia but also the Asia-Pacific.
A recent article in the Global Times some weeks ago by Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee daily highlighted the ‘big picture.’
Hu wrote that the war in Ukraine “has evolved into a war of attrition between Russia and the West… While NATO is supposed to be much stronger than Russia, the situation on the ground doesn’t appear so, which is causing anxiety in the West.”
Hu drew some stunning conclusions: “The US and the West have found it much more difficult than expected to defeat Russia. They know that China has not provided military aid to Russia, and the question that haunts them is: if Russia alone is already so difficult to deal with, what if China really starts to provide military aid to Russia, using its massive industrial capabilities for the Russian military? Would the situation on the Ukrainian battlefield fundamentally change? Furthermore, Russia alone can already confront the entire West in Ukraine. If they really force China and Russia to join hands, what changes will there be in the world’s military situation?”
Isn’t the notion prevalent in the US and Europe that the Russia-China alliance is an alliance of unequals is itself a self-serving western fallacy? Hu is spot on: Although China’s comprehensive strength is still short of that of the US, in combination with Russia, there is a paradigm shift in the balance and the US is no longer entitled to act as it pleases.
It is the common concern of Russia and China that the world order must return to an international system with the UN at its core and a world order based on international law. There is no question that the two countries’ strategy is to overturn the “rules-based order” dominated by the US and return to an international order centred on the UN.
In fact, Article 5 is the very soul of the joint statement issued in Moscow: “The two sides reaffirm their commitment to firmly upholding the international system with the United Nations at its core, the international order based on international law and the basic norms governing international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and oppose all forms of hegemonism, unilateralism and power politics, the Cold War mentality, confrontation between camps and the establishment of cliques targeting specific countries.”
Make no mistake that this is not about removing the US as the boss and replacing it with China, but about effectively checking the US from bullying smaller, weaker states, and thereby ushering in a new international order with primacy on peaceful development and political correctness that overrides all ideological differences.
As the sun rose over the barren Iraqi desert twenty years ago on the 20th of March, the winds of change were sweeping across the sands, bringing with them the echoes of a war that would shake the world to its core. The deafening clash of metal and flesh rang out across the land, a symphony of destruction that heralded the arrival of a new era. A US-led multinational coalition of top-notch military entered Iraq to supposedly save the people from the ‘authoritarian’ Saddam Hussein under the codename Operation Iraqi Freedom – a classic twist of irony in hindsight for a conflict that would claim over a million lives and breed one of the largest terror organisations on the planet.
The invasion involved over 160,000 troops mainly from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia and was carried out with a combination of ground troops, tanks, and aircraft. The US and its allies deployed a vast array of weapons and equipment, including M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and Apache attack helicopters. They also utilised air power, with F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, B-2 stealth bombers, and AC-130 gunships providing close air support to ground troops.Over the course of the invasion, the coalition forces encountered significant resistance from Iraqi troops and paramilitary groups loyal to Saddam Hussein. There were several key battles, including the Battle of Nasiriyah and the Battle of Baghdad, which saw heavy fighting and casualties on both sides.
Being one of the most controversial and consequential military operations in modern history, the invasion of Iraq was intended to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime from power and eliminate Iraq’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). The decision to invade was based on flawed intelligence and a misguided belief that military force was the only way to neutralise the perceived threat posed by the Iraqi regime.
The primary justification for the invasion was the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. The Bush administration and other Western governments argued that Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a grave threat to regional and global security, and that the only way to neutralise this threat was through military action. However, the subsequent discovery that Iraq did not possess WMDs raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the war and the motives behind it.
Another argument put forward by the Bush administration was that the Invasion of Iraq was detrimental in order to fight terrorism under America’s War on Terror. Carried out by al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks had led to a heightened sense of fear and vulnerability in the United States and other Western countries. The Bush administration falsely argued that Iraq was a supporter of terrorism, and that removing Saddam Hussein from power would help to combat the global threat of terrorism.However, there was no evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein had any direct links to al-Qaeda or was involved in the planning or execution of the 9/11 attacks. In fact, the majority of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia – a key US ally in the region. Indeed, Osama Bin Laden too was a Saudi national, while the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is a Pakistani national. The decision to invade Iraq seems to have been motivated by ulterior geopolitical objectives rather than on sound intelligence or a realistic assessment of the threat.
The animosity that has transpired over the years between the US government and Saddam’s Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party is one of the underlying factors behind the invasion of Iraq. The fundamentals of the Ba’ath Party were those of anti-Western sentiment, that were rooted in a desire for Arab unity and national liberation, as well as espoused anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist beliefs that were at odds with US foreign policy objectives.
The invasion of Iraq had mixed effects on American allies in the region. While some American allies, particularly those in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), welcomed the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime and saw it as an opportunity to promote stability and security in the region, the war and subsequent instability in Iraq fuelled sectarian tensions and led to the rise of extremist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which posed a threat to regional security and stability.
As the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in downtown Baghdad, the people of Iraq had ambivalent reactions to the invasion. While some Iraqis did initially greet the invading force with optimism and hope for a better future, this sentiment quickly turned to resentment and hostility as the war dragged on and the situation deteriorated. While there were certainly Iraqis who welcomed the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime, many others opposed the invasion and the subsequent occupation, seeing it as a violation of their sovereignty and an unjustified act of aggression.Moreover, the perception that the invading force was an occupying power, rather than a saviour, was reinforced by a series of controversial policies and actions, including the dissolution of the Iraqi army, the appointment of an interim government dominated by pro-American figures, and the use of harsh interrogation techniques and other human rights abuses by US troops – the limelight having being shone on the Abu-Ghraib prison torture incidents.
The initial phase of the war, which involved a Blitzkrieg-like invasion by US-led forces, was successful in toppling the Saddam regime and routing the Iraqi military. However, the subsequent occupation of the country was beset by a host of problems and challenges, including a widespread insurgency, sectarian violence, and growing opposition to the presence of foreign troops.
One of the most significant consequences of the war was the rise of extremist groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and later, the Islamic State (IS). These groups were able to exploit the power vacuum created by the US overthrowing of the Saddam regime and the infamous overnight disbanding of the Iraqi military. The invasion of Iraq equipped rising jihadists such as AbūMuṣʻabal-Zarqāwī and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with pressing touchpoints of anti-Western propaganda to recruit and train a new generation of terrorists.
The Islamic State message appealed to the many Sunni Muslims in Iraq who felt marginalised and discriminated against by the US-backed Shia-led government that emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Islamic State was able to exploit these grievances and position itself as a defender of Sunni rights and interests across the region. The group portrayed itself as a champion of the oppressed and promised to restore Sunni dominance in Iraq. Having been boosted by the recruits from Iraq, the Islamic State used the internet and social media to disseminate their Salafi Wahhabi ideology and doctrine of al-wala’ wa’l-bara’ (loyalty and disavowal) across the world.
AQI, which emerged in 2004, was able to carry out a series of devastating attacks on civilian and military targets, and played a major role in fomenting sectarian tensions that fuelled the wider conflict. The Islamic State (formerly AQI/ISIS), which emerged from the remnants of AQI in 2013, was able to capitalise on the chaos and instability in Iraq and Syria to seize control of large swaths of territory and establish a self-proclaimed caliphate. The group was responsible for a wave of atrocities, including mass killings, beheadings, and the enslavement of women and children. It also became a major global threat, carrying out attacks across the world with its largest attack outside of Iraq and Syria being the 2019 Easter Sunday Bombings in Sri Lanka that claimed the lives of over 250 churchgoers and tourists on the island.
The rise of AQI and IS was not inevitable, and the invasion of Iraq played a significant role in creating the conditions that allowed these groups to thrive. The decision to disband the Iraqi army and purge the government of Ba’ath Party members created a power vacuum that was quickly filled by militants and extremists. This is of course not to say that the Ba’ath Party was satisfactory by any means as the party has been linked to terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in the region as well as perceived human rights abuses in Iraq – but rather to comment on the rather naïve perception that the gross violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and execution of its leader is somehow the best method of bringing peace to the region.
The failure of the US-led coalition to provide adequate security and services to the Iraqi population also contributed to the rise of insurgency and sectarian violence.Issues arose including from violent crime and to the access of basic sanitation. Being a powder keg of ethnic division, Iraq quickly descended into civil war on the lines of racialism. The ongoing turmoil and violence in
countries like Syria and Yemen can also be traced back to the invasion of Iraq.
The legacy of the invasion of Iraq remains deeply contested, with many people continuing to question its legitimacy and efficacy. Critics argue that the decision to invade was indeed based on faulty intelligence and hidden geopolitical agendas. They also point to the disastrous consequences of the war, including the loss of thousands of lives, the displacement of millions of people, and the gross destabilisation of the region that continues even after 20 years.
Moreover, the invasion of Iraq also had far-reaching geopolitical consequences. It strained US relations with key allies, such as France and Germany, who were opposed to the war, and emboldened other anti-US hostile powers like Iran, which gained greater influence in the region as a result of the instability in Iraq – especially through the expansion of the Quds Force under Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps under General Qasim Soleimani. Like a game of Jenga, the forcible removal of a key block unbalanced the equilibrium of the whole structure.
Champions of the invasion may argue that it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein from power – although he was rather perfidiouslybacked by the US during the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties. They may also point to the alleged positive impact that the removal of Saddam’s regime had on the Iraqi people, including the restoration of democracy and the establishment of a more stable and prosperous country. But in hindsight, the restorative utopia of American democracy in the deserts of the Middle East is a classic propaganda mechanism in the larger play of neo-colonialist practices by the Global North. The Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq has had devastating consequences on the global stage so strong that all the perfumes of Arabia will fail to expunge its destruction.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was pivotal in modern history with far-reaching consequences. Based on flawed intelligence and ulterior motives, the lessons of the Iraq War are many and profound. They include the importance of careful and accurate intelligence gathering, the need for a clear and realistic macro-military strategy focusing on post-combat reconciliation and nation-building, and the recognition that military force is only one tool in the larger toolbox of foreign policy. The Iraq War is a painful reminder of the cost of war, the difficulty of nation-building, and the importance of diplomatic and political solutions to global problems.
Despite the destruction and chaos that ensued, the invasion of Iraq also serves as a stark reminder of the importance of peace, harmony, and co-existence. It highlighted the fragility of our global community, and the urgent need for greater understanding and cooperation. Just as a symphony requires each instrument to play in harmony to create beautiful rhythm, so too must we work together to create a world where peace and prosperity are shared by all. Let us learn from the lessons of the past and strive towards a future where the drums of war are silenced, and the melody of peace and harmony prevails.
Jude is a political and security affairs analyst