Thursday, August 13, 2020

US Hegemony in World Affairs- In for a Change?

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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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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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