Thursday, August 13, 2020

US Hegemony in World Affairs- In for a Change?

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Nikhita Gautam

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US Hegemony in World Affairs- In for a Change?


Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 13, 2020


The US Passport

The US Passport | Source: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

The collapse of Soviet Union in the late 1980s brought an end to the cold war being fought through proxies by the USA and USSR. This heralded an era in which the USA emerged as the sole superpower which started to dominate the globe in a way that no country has done in recorded history.

This domination was based on brute strength the US enjoyed in the field of military power, economic power, scientific research, democratic institutions, and above all the American ideology which frames it as an exceptional country. Off late there are signs which indicate that a process of decline in this domination has started.

The US domination was evident in the adoption of liberal economic and governance models by the former Soviet bloc and non-aligned countries during the 1980s and 1990s. This neo-liberal model relied on international cooperation and globalisation was its rallying cry. This allowed international organisations like the World Bank, IMF, and WTO to force smaller countries to make their fiscal policies as per their models. It also nudged countries to join various multinational Free Trade Agreements (FTA).

The other aspect of global cooperation was different agreements on climate control, arms control, missile technology control, nuclear non-proliferation, terror funding, anti piracy, and international criminal justice system. In all the economic, security or governance related international mechanisms, it was the US soft and hard power which stood as a guarantor.

Over time, the unrivalled hegemony of the US started showing some cracks. Russian economy recovered from the ashes of the collapsed USSR and the country underwent a massive overhaul of its military. It once again started challenging the USA in eastern Europe and the Middle East. From Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Kosovo, or Iceland in Europe to Iran, Syria, Yemen, or  Libya in MENA to Venezuela in South America, Russia and the USA are backing opposing forces.

Photo of Chinese city Shanghai from the rooftop of Jin Mao Tower, 23rd tallest building in the world | Source: Denys Nevozhai via Unsplash

China has also quietly gained a lot of influence in the developing and underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa at the time when the USA is seen retreating. This process has hastened in the last decade when China, buoyed by a rising economy, started investing in the infrastructure of Asian and African countries without any baggage of human right concerns which normally comes with the USA or European countries.

China and Russia anchored many new international institutions like BRICS, New Development Bank, AIIB, EAEU, SCO, which tackle regional security, military cooperation, economic infrastructure and internet governance. All of these exclude America. Apart from these countries, India, Brazil and other emerging regional powers also started challenging the USA narratives on geopolitical and economic affairs.

Donald Trump holding a press conference | Source: The White House via Flickr    

That, and how the current president Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized allies, sympathized with dictators, issued travel bans, undermined international organizations like WHO and NATO, and pulled back from treaties. These actions leave a leadership role that America played in the past to be fulfilled, which further advances the China-Russia agenda.

The unhinged rhetoric of the US President Donald Trump has also played a role in emboldened the adversary as well as friends of the USA to increasingly chart an independent course which may be diametrically opposite to the US stand. His focus on America First has dented the post WW-II US moral leadership which based on  the divine responsibility of helping the world.

The US has always had an interventionist approach where they “help” and “lead” the rest of the world, giving them more power, which comes with both rights and responsibilities. Trump has rejected that and instead made an “America first” which focuses on material, fiscal gains rather than ideological ones. This can be seen in how President Trump tries to broker deals with money rather than cultural and ideological nuances in conflicts such as the widely criticized Israel-Palestine peace plan.

A person holding US Dollars | Source: Viacheslav Bublyk via Unsplash

There is also how the usage of the dollar for global trade, while providing the country global dominance, cheap goods and borrowing costs, also makes it run a trade deficit, which Trump endeavours to reduce. That, however, might prove impossible without changing the global currency in itself. The fact that America extorts political leverage using economic methods like sanctions also made many countries look for the replacement of the US dollar as preferred currency for global trade.

Another casualty of America first is the withdrawal of the USA from many international treaties and agreements under President Trump watch. The US withdrew from Arms control treaties with Russia, Free Trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, International climate treaty, Iran nuclear deal, UNESCO, UNHRC, UNRWA, WTO, TPP and many other significant international and bilateral agreements under President Trump.

The US withdrawal has inflamed the allies and emboldened the adversaries of the USA. Its allies in Europe are increasingly taking an independent stand on foriegn policy and looking for raising a Europe centric security setup, independent of NATO. They are also strengthening intra-EU trade and standing up to the US pressure on trade policies.

Similarly Russia and China have increased their influence in multinational bodies as they have now become the militarily and economically strongest countries after the withdrawal of the US.

The era of US dominance in world affairs since the end of WW-II in general and after the collapse of the USSR in particular is now resting on very fragile legs. No amount of policy change by the new administration in the USA, to be headed by Trump or Joe Biden, is going to reverse the emergence of a multipolar world in which the US, with all its might, will be one of the poles.

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February 25, 2021 12:44 PM

Constructing Panopticon: Israeli Surveillance Technology and its Implications for the Palestinians

Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher and social theorist designed ‘Panopticon’ in the late 18th century. The panopticon is an institutional building which Bentham describes as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind in a quantity hitherto without example”. The structure's central observation tower, placed within a circle of prison cells, allows a watchman to monitor the inmates of the building without the dwellers knowing whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for a single watchman to observe all the occupants at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that they are motivated to act as though they are being watched at all times. Thus, compelling the inmates to regulate their own behaviour.

Michel Foucoault, a French Philosopher, uses panopticon as a metaphor to explore relations between systems of social control and people in a disciplinary situation. For Foucault, the real danger was not that the individuals are repressed by the social order but the fact that when only certain people or groups of people control knowledge, oppression is a possibility. Contemporary society uses technology for the deployment of panoptic structures ‘invisibly’ throughout society.

This article gives an overview of the massive panopticon that is built and operated by Israel in Occupied Palestine.

Israel’s unaccountable military rule over its Palestinian citizens in east Jeruselum, West Bank and Gaza Strip have kept the Palestinians under constant surveillance and control. As per a report by Amitai Ziv on Haaretz, Israel’s surveillance operation against Palestinians is (as of 2019) “among the largest of its kind in the world. It includes monitoring the media, social media and the population as a whole.”

Among various mechanisms of surveillance, the technological mechanisms of surveillance and control deployed or proposed in the region of Gaza Strip is most empowering to Israel in terms of gathering ‘intelligence’. This includes use of biometric identity cards, Israeli access to Palestinian census data, almost complete access to and control of the telecommunication infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, the ability to track individuals via cell phone, large surveillance zeppelins which monitor the entire electromagnetic spectrum and which can usurp control of these from Palestinian operators (for instance sending text messages to subscribers targeting different demographics) as well as optical surveillance, facial recognition technology, remote controlled and robotic machine gun towers guarding the border that are capable of identifying a target and opening fire automatically—without human intervention.

In the context of occupation, the use of biometric ID cards of Israeli citizens is the sharpest seepage of control technologies.  For a long time, Israel has used a system of differentiated ID cards to distinguish between Jewish and Non-Jewish, citizens and residents of Israel, and citizens and residents of the occupied territories.

These ID cards also have a record of ethnic/religious affiliation of the person, and the ID numbers themselves are coded so as to reflect this information. One’s status of whether they are an Israeli or Palestinian, whether they are a citizen or a resident determines their freedom to travel, their ability to find jobs, and even their ability to get married and avail social benefits.  The Palestinians in East Jerusalem—which was annexed after the 1967 war—are considered as “conditional residents” and not citizens. According to a Human Rights Watch report, a resident of Palestine occupied Israel reported that the Israeli authorities refused to issue birth certificates to his five children, all born in Jerusalem. Other Jerusalem residents without residency status, in their testimonials, described being unable to legally work; obtain social welfare benefits; attend weddings and funerals; or visit gravely ill relatives abroad, for fear Israeli authorities would refuse to allow them to return home.

Another significant technological mechanism is the Facial recognition technology which has found its way into use by Israeli police. Facial recognition system, a globally controversial and scientifically flawed system is being used by the police force in Israel to identify protestors and is also implemented at airports and border crossings.

Israel has also ratcheted its social media surveillance, especially Facebook, Palestinians’ preferred platform. In October 2015, Israeli invasion at the Al-Aqsa Mosque angered several Palestinians. Many teenagers who didn’t belong to military wing or the Palestinian political faction orchestrated the attacks. The Israeli government blamed the social media for instigating the attacks and the military intelligence increased the monitoring of Palestinian social media accounts. Consequently, over 800 Palestinians were arrested for their posts on social media, particularly Facebook. It was later revealed that these arrests were a result of a policing system which uses algorithms to build profiles of supposed Palestinian attackers. This system proctors thousands of Palestinian Facebook accounts sifting for words like shaheed (martyr), Zionist state, Al Quds (Jerusalem), or Al Aqsa. Further, the algorithm identifies a “suspect” based on ‘prediction’ of violence. These targets are marked suspicious and are a potential target for arrest on the grounds of “incitement to violence”. The term incitement refers to all types of resistance to Israeli practices. The Israeli Army declared Military order 1651 in 2010, according to which, anyone who “attempts, orally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the West Bank area in a manner which may harm public peace or public order” or “publishes words of praise, sympathy or support for a hostile organization, its actions or objectives,” will serve a jail time of 10 years. The order defines this as “incitement”. One notable instance has been the poetry of Dareen Tatour. She is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. She expressed her call to “resist” the occupiers through a poem she posted online in October 2015. The video had less than 300 views. But it resulted in nearly three years of house arrest and five months imprisonment. The Israeli government charged Tatour with inciting violence and terrorism while her poem was a call for a non-violent resistance. This incident is a classic demonstration of how Israel uses vague terminology to criminalize online activity when it serves its discriminatory interests.  

Israel’s military industrial complex is a profound enabler of the digital surveillance of Palestinians. The nation not only implements surveillance and control but also manufactures and exports a massive amount of military and cyber security technologies. A report published by Privacy International—an NGO that investigates government surveillance and companies—in 2016—stated that Israel has about 27 surveillance companies which is the highest per capita in terms of surveillance that any country has in the world.

The Guardian collected testimonies from people who worked in the Israeli Intelligence Corps to understand the big brother surveillance of the Palestinians. One of the testimonies revealed that commoners and even completely innocent people were under the radar of surveillance. The attestor stated “As a soldier in Unit 8200, I collected information on people accused of either attacking Israelis, trying to attack Israelis, desiring to harm Israelis, and considering attacking Israelis. I also collected information on people who were completely innocent, and whose only crime was that they interested the Israeli security system for various reasons. For reasons they had absolutely no way of knowing. All Palestinians are exposed to non-stop monitoring without any legal protection. Junior soldiers can decide when someone is a target for the collection of information. There is no procedure in place to determine whether the violation of the individual’s rights is necessarily justifiable. The notion of rights for Palestinians does not exist at all. Not even as an idea to be disregarded.”

Another testimonial exposed that the data collected was hardly in accordance with the security needs. The testimony stated, “Throughout my service, I discovered that many Israeli initiatives within the Palestinian arena are directed at things that are not related to intelligence. I worked a lot on gathering information on political issues. Some could be seen as related to objectives that serve security needs, such as the suppression of Hamas institutions, while others could not. Some were political objectives that did not even fall within the Israeli consensus, such as strengthening Israel’s stance at the expense of the Palestinian position. Such objectives do not serve the security system but rather agendas of certain politicians. One project in particular, was shocking to many of us as we were exposed to it. The information was almost directly transferred to political players and not to other sections of the security system. This made it clear to me that we were dealing with information that was hardly connected to security needs. We knew the detailed medical conditions of some of our targets, and our goals developed around them. I’m not sure what was done with this information. I felt bad knowing each of their precise problems, and that we would talk and laugh about this information freely. Or, for instance, that we knew exactly who was cheating on their wife, with whom, and how often.”

While hidden and unknown surveillance is prominent, Israel has also imposed explicit panopticon surveillance and restrictions on Palestinians in numerous cases. In the village of Beit Ijza, northwest of Jerusalem, the house of Gharib’s family has been enclosed by a 6-meter-high fence, cutting them off from their olive gardens and rest of the village as Israel claimed ownership of the land surrounding the Gharib family's house and created a West Bank settlement over there. The house was built in 1979 on land the family says has belonged to them from as far back as the Ottoman era. “Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank, Jews have been offering my father to sell the house,” Gharib says. “They even brought him a suitcase of money. He refused.” Now, their every move is filmed as cameras have been set up on the bars of the fence. Along with loss of privacy, the panopticon internalized omniscience prevents the Gharib family from taking radical steps to protect their rights. In Israeli military language this is called an “indicative fence” which is also equipped with sensors.  When the fence was built, the family had to negotiate by phone with the police at the nearby Atarot industrial zone every time they wanted to go out and or they had to get the Red Cross to help out. “Sometimes we waited for several hours for them to come and open it” Gharib said.

Constant surveillance in real life as well as digital space is definitely a critical human rights violation. While the case of Palestinians is unique given the Israeli military occupation, the fight for their rights is global. World leaders, governments, civil societies, social media giants and all internet users have an essential role in the battle for a surveillance and censorship free state.

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