Ten years after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Kazakhstan and Indonesia, a new connectivity initiative was unveiled with great fanfare by the United States, India, and the Arab Gulf and European countries during the G20 meeting in New Delhi earlier this month.
Since the announcement was made without the presence of the Russian and Chinese presidents, it has stirred conflicting interpretations. Some see it as a potential alternative to BRI, while others, pointing to the failure of similar projects backed by Western powers in the past, view it as a paper tiger.
Details are still missing, but the project’s ambition is enormous. It follows a transregional approach as noted by the White House statement: “Through the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), we aim to usher in a new era of connectivity with a railway, linked through ports connecting Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.”
The idea of this corridor dates back to 2021 and has also been discussed as part of the I2U2 group that includes India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United States. Like the BRI, its design vision follows the corridor's logic. This is no surprise. “Corridorization” is the most significant spatial manifestation of infrastructural capitalism and geo-economics since the beginning of this century.
Corridorization, which is part of the thriving “minilateralism” space, could be viewed as contradictory because middle powers are trying to navigate between two hardening geopolitical blocs. But the ongoing process of reshaping the global supply chain connectivities created by decades of globalization could make it a viable proposition.
The BRI and the IMEC seem to share many similar goals. But there are also critical geographical differences. Most importantly, the new initiative features India, which has never been part of the BRI, as a central cross-regional player amid rearranged geo-imaginations.
Each of the parties to the new initiative comes with its own perspective and interest.
For the United States, the I2U2 and IMEC serve as platforms for infrastructure investment, bringing together Middle Eastern and South Asian partners and providing an alternative to Chinese projects. Washington sees this approach as an opportunity to encourage its regional partners to take a more active and independent role in shaping the region’s future, allowing the United States to reduce its own resource investment while maintaining its presence and influence.
For the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the goal is to strengthen their increasingly diversified and multi-networked economic diplomacy covering a wider geography. Both countries are active members of the BRI, and their cooperation with China is growing. Apart from burgeoning trade, they are dialogue partners of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and will soon become full members of the expanded BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Both countries are trying to expand their strategic autonomy and vying to become influential regional and international players. Getting involved in multiple new minilateral groupings is a key ingredient of their approach to strengthening their middle power status.
As Saudi Arabia opens to the world with a tilt towards China, the UAE has found its new unique selling point in connectivity and multi-alignment. While diverging approaches toward geostrategic and regional issues, particularly China’s rising power and global influence, remain a concern, Gulf Arab countries’ participation in U.S.-led initiatives reflects their new penchant for equidistance amid U.S.-China competition.
Indeed, the United States might see the IMEC as a vehicle to counter China’s growing influence in the region. In the Middle East, however, competition and convergence are mixed and less black and white than the increasing U.S.-China bipolarity would suggest. If the United States expects this to be a “counter BRI” move for the region, it will likely be disappointed. Competition in the Indian Ocean could escalate, but potential synergies and convergencies should allow for some degree of mutual accommodation.
India, which the United States treats as an “indispensable partner,” has been showcasing a good template of multi-alignment for others to follow. It is a member of the Quad and I2U2, both comprising the United States, and it’s also a member of BRICS and SCO, with China in both, despite New Delhi’s feud with Beijing over border issues. The IMEC adds another thread to its longstanding multi-alignment policy, as it highlights the other connectivity corridor that India is promoting — the International North South Transport Corridor — with Iran and Russia. Together, these projects add value to India’s development story and its boast that it is the fastest growing economy in the world.
The new economic corridor also envisions the potential addition of Israel. This should be seen as a step in the renewed U.S. efforts to expand the Abraham Accords by facilitating the normalization of Israeli-Saudi relations. This form of regional engagement also allows Israel to manage tensions with the United States, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia in the wake of the politics of a far-right coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
For Israel and the United States, expanding the Abraham Accords, especially to include Saudi Arabia, remains a top priority despite Riyadh’s insistence on linking the normalization of relations to progress on the two-state solution. There are tentative indications that Netanyahu might agree to some concessions on the Palestinian front, even at the cost of his right-wing coalition falling apart, in order to capitalize and sustain Israel’s broader regional integration.
For China, which will soon host the first in-person BRI summit in Beijing after major COVID-19 shutdowns, IMEC throws up a challenge and an opportunity. It could dismissively treat the IMEC like the United States has done with the BRI. The other option, as indicated soon after the G20 meeting, is to demonstrate its openness to support multidirectional connectivity, even if it is not part of this corridor, as long as such projects are “open, inclusive, and form synergy,” and do not become “geopolitical tools.”
The last piece in this new connectivity saga would be Europe, especially the Eastern Mediterranean countries. The IMEC is a welcome development because the “Global Gateway,” the European Union’s own connectivity project, has not gained adequate momentum because European diplomats in Brussels are hesitant about multi-alignment strategies and transregional corridors.
While the IMEC is an economic-diplomatic-security interplay, its prospects will depend on its ability to promote connectivity and translate its economic potential into commercial success. Critics have already pointed out that the initiative may be unviable in terms of profit. However, it could also be argued that there are virtues other than economic efficiency. In a world of de-risking and politically induced supply chain shifts, the new corridor could be viewed as a tool for promoting strategic resilience, friendshoring, and tech cooperation, especially for middle powers.
Maximilian Mayer is Junior-Professor of International Relations and Global Politics of Technology at the Center for Advanced Security, Strategic and Integration Studies (CASSIS), University of Bonn. He is currently leading the research group on „Infrastructures of China’s Modernity and Their Global Constitutive Effects”, funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Dr. Gedaliah Afterman is the head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy & Foreign Relations at Reichman University (IDC Herzliya). He previously served as an Australian foreign service officer working on Asian regional security issues and a diplomat at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, where he focused on issues related to China’s foreign policy, including the Middle East.
Dr N. Janardhan is Director, Research & Analysis, Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy, Abu Dhabi. He specializes on Gulf-Asia-Africa relations and offers PGD & MA courses on them. His last book was Arab Gulf’s Pivot to Asia: From Transactional to Strategic Partnerships. With a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he is Non-Resident Fellow, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, & Managing Assistant Editor, Journal of Arabian Studies.
Photo credit: New Delhi, Sept 9 (ANI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi shares a light moment with the United States President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during a meeting on the margins of the G20 Leaders' Summit, in New Delhi on Saturday. (ANI Photo)
Roughly three in four Democrats support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, according to a new poll from Data for Progress that highlights the sharp divide between the Democratic Party and its supporters as Israel resumes its ground campaign in the war-torn strip. A total of 61% of Americans polled said they were in favor of a ceasefire.
While the Biden administration has signaled that it is concerned about the level of civilian casualties in Gaza, the White House maintains that any sustained pause in fighting would embolden Hamas and enable future attacks against Israel.
The administration’s hard-line position stands in contrast to the growing support for a ceasefire in the House, where roughly half of the Democratic caucus has called for an end to the war. Biden’s policy has, however, earned a better reception in the Senate, with only two Democrats saying they back a ceasefire.
The poll, which surveyed roughly 1,200 likely voters between Nov. 22 and 25, also found that a plurality (49%) of Republican voters support a ceasefire, though that number dropped by more than 10 points when respondents were told that such a move would “keep Hamas in power and allow them to prepare another attack against Israel.”
The survey highlights the political headwinds facing Biden as he continues to publicly back Israel’s assault in Gaza, which has left more than 15,000 Palestinians dead, the majority of whom are women or children.
A coalition of Arab American and Muslim leaders have launched a campaign calling on their supporters to not vote for Biden in the 2024 election. The #AbandonBiden movement, which focuses on swing states with significant Arab or Muslim populations, could have a significant impact on the Democratic president’s reelection chances, according to Shadi Hamid of the Washington Post.
“If the 2024 election is close, Arab and Muslim Americans could be numerous enough to make a difference,” Hamid wrote in a recent column. “If Arab and Muslim voters abstain in unusually large numbers, others might follow suit. Note that 70 percent of young voters of all ethnicities disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war.”
The new poll confirms the finding that Hamid referenced: 63% of respondents under 45 said they support a ceasefire, while only 22% said they were opposed.
Voters also overwhelmingly support the idea that weapons sales to Israel should be conditioned on human rights, according to the survey. That trend is particularly strong among Democrats, 76% of whom say Tel Aviv should only receive weapons if it uses them in accordance with “our standards for human rights.”
The Biden administration, however, has shown little interest in conditioning aid to Israel despite its own policy on arms transfers, which says the U.S. will not give weapons to a country that will “more likely than not” use them to commit serious violations of human rights.
That position has drawn some blowback in the Senate, with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) saying that it “would be irresponsible for us to provide an additional $10.1 billion in unconditional military aid that will allow the Netanyahu government to continue its current offensive military approach.” But Sanders’ opposition will likely not be enough to block a funding package for Israel given the broad, bipartisan support that Tel Aviv enjoys in Congress.
When asked which actions the Biden administration should take in response to the war, only 19% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans said the U.S. should prioritize sending weapons to Israel. A slim majority of Democratic respondents said the White House should prioritize diplomatic talks aimed at de-escalating violence and securing the release of hostages.
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Wounded Palestinians were transferred to Al-Najjar Hospital after being targeted by Israeli warplanes, in the city of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on October 13, 2023. (Shutterstock/Anas-Mohammed)
United States policy toward Israel’s war in Gaza was neatly summarized by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on November 30: “Israel has one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. It is capable of neutralizing the threat posed by Hamas while minimizing harm to innocent civilians. And it has an obligation to do so.”
This posture — destroy Hamas but do so in observance of the laws of war — is not that of the administration alone. It has been widely embraced by official Washington.
A key defense of what would emerge as the hallmark of the Biden administration’s Gaza outlook came from Jo-Ann Mort and Michael Walzer in the New Republic on October 18. “A just war requires the defeat of Hamas,” they wrote. “It is a maxim of just war theory that the rules of war cannot make it impossible to fight a just war. There has to be a way to fight.”
In their view, the best way was “to fight with restraint, to reject indiscriminate bombing and shelling, to respect enemy civilians (many, many Gazans are opposed to Hamas), and take necessary risks to reduce their risks, and finally to maintain a clear goal: defeat for Hamas. Nothing more.”
Walzer is the author of Just and Unjust Wars, a hugely influential treatise on morality in war that has gone through successive editions since its publication in 1977. Walzer’s meditation on the just war was especially impressive for taking on a wide range of historical examples, but it was written under the shadow of the war in Vietnam. Walzer condemned that war not only as an unjustified intervention but also as one that was “carried on in so brutal a manner that even had it initially been defensible, it would have to be condemned, not in this or that aspect but generally.”
In his treatise, Walzer closely considered both jus ad bellum (the right of going to war) and jus in bello (the law governing its conduct). As Walzer noted, “considerations of jus ad bellum and jus in bello are logically independent, and the judgments we make in terms of one and the other are not necessarily the same.”
But in the case of Vietnam, he argued, they came together. “The war cannot be won, and it should not be won. It cannot be won, because the only available strategy involves a war against civilians; and it should not be won, because the degree of civilian support that rules out alternative strategies also makes the guerillas the legitimate rulers of the country.”
Do not these strictures apply to Israel’s war in Gaza? Hamas hides behind civilians, or is rather closely intermingled with them, as the Viet Cong once were. It has enjoyed an equal or greater amount of support from the local population. Its acts of assassination and terrorism fall far short, numerically, of those committed by the VC. Walzer was rightly shocked by the civilian toll in Vietnam, which saw a civilian-combatant fatality ratio of approximately two to one. In Gaza, the proportion of civilian-to-combatant deaths is at least five to one and probably much greater. Israeli leaders have made clear that their war is on the whole population. Their criteria for when to bomb, aided by AI, has blown past previous restraints.
Another case taken up by Walzer in Just and Unjust Wars was America’s atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The decision was justified at the time as the only way to avert the far larger casualties likely to ensue were the United States to have attempted an invasion of Japan. Walzer rejected this argument. “It does not have the form: if we don’t do x (bomb cities), they will do y (win the war, establish tyrannical rule, slaughter their opponents).”
Instead, the U.S. government in effect argued that “if we don’t do x, we will do y.” The real problem, Walzer argued, was the policy of unconditional surrender — that is, it had to do with U.S. war aims. Walzer approved the policy of unconditional surrender when applied to Germany — Hitler’s regime represented a “supreme emergency” — but not when applied to Japan.
“Japan’s rulers were engaged in a more ordinary sort of military expansion, and all that was morally required was that they be defeated, not that they be conquered and totally overthrown,” he wrote.
Walzer’s treatment of Vietnam and Hiroshima suggests that there are imperative reasons to stop short of total victory as a war aim, if the result of pursuing it is a moral enormity. If you have to commit wickedness on a titanic scale in order to achieve total victory, you should accept limited war and seek the containment of the enemy, not his obliteration.
This is especially so, one might add, if the enemy one aims to annihilate elicits widespread sympathies elsewhere, making probable some kind of over-the-top retribution in the future. There are 2.2 million Gazans. There are 1.8 billion Muslims. Germany and Japan were friendless in 1945.
It is obvious that Israel’s war in Gaza bears no relationship to the war that Mort and Walzer recommended on October 18. Israel has not fought with restraint, has not rejected indiscriminate bombing and shelling, has not respected enemy civilians. Operation Swords of Iron has been instead the most elaborate and twisted application yet of the Dahiya Doctrine, Israel’s longstanding war plan that makes a virtue out of wildly disproportionate retributions.
That Israel intended to do this was apparent from the outset — 6,000 bombs were dropped in the war’s first six days — but went strangely unnoticed by Mort and Walzer when their piece appeared. The authors stressed the need to get humanitarian aid into Gaza but didn’t mention the Israeli blockade on all things requisite to life, a radical policy totally opposed to laws of war and imposed by Israel on the war’s first day.
In a subsequent interview on October 30, Walzer conceded that there was no justification for Israel’s blockades of Gaza’s electricity, water, and food supply, but also questioned the idea that a humanitarian pause would be justified before Hamas was defeated.
“Acts that shock the moral conscience of mankind” was one of Walzer’s most resonant phrases in Just and Unjust Wars. He meant by that “old-fashioned phrase” not the solipsistic prevarications of political leaders, but “the moral convictions of ordinary men and women, acquired in the course of their everyday activities.”
Clearly, Israel’s war in Gaza has entailed a profound shock to these sensibilities. It is this revulsion, not sympathy for Hamas, that explains world-wide public opposition to what Israel is doing.
From the beginning of the crisis, the Biden administration’s approach to the war ran closely in parallel with the course recommended by Mort and Walzer. Eliminate Hamas. Do so while sparing civilians as much as possible. Then be sweet to the Palestinians and give them an independent state.
Israel was happy to take the first part of this formula and to contemptuously reject the rest. Meanwhile, alongside these homilies to humane war, the United States has undertaken a vast effort to resupply Israel’s stock of bombs.
Confronting the escalating death toll, U.S. policymakers are dazed and confused. They’re still on autopilot in support of Israel’s war aim, while ineffectually shrieking in horror at the cost to Gaza’s civilians.
The truth is that there is no way to destroy Hamas without destroying Gaza. Contrary to Secretary Blinken’s words (and Walzer’s advice), Israel does not know how to destroy Hamas while minimizing harm to innocent civilians. Monumental harm to civilians follows from Israel’s war aim of destroying Hamas, which the Biden administration and Walzer continue to endorse. That war aim stands in urgent need of reconsideration.
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"Malabar 2021" featured tactical training with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Special Guard, U.S. Navy Pacific Special Command, and Indian Navy Special Operations Forces. (Government of Japan/Creative Commons/Twitter)
There are few words in contemporary foreign policy debates that are more abused than “internationalist.”
Internationalism should refer to a foreign policy approach that prioritizes resolving conflicts peacefully, respecting international law, strengthening international institutions, and eschewing coercive policies as much as possible.
As it is commonly used in Washington today, however, internationalism often means almost exactly the opposite. It is a euphemism that advocates of U.S. “leadership” use to describe their preferred policies of pursuing dominance, dictating terms to other states, and routinely using force or the threat of force to get their way. The label internationalist has become code for supporting militarism and interference in the affairs of other countries, which is just about as far from what it used to mean as it is possible to get.
The internationalist label is usually paired with and opposed to the “isolationist” slur used to dismiss critics of U.S. foreign policy. To be considered an internationalist in Washington, one needs to be comfortable endorsing the extensive use of American power, including and especially the use of hard power. Expressing doubts or asking questions about the wisdom or necessity of this extensive use of power is one of the quickest ways to earn the “isolationist” tag.
According to this warped set of definitions, the so-called internationalists are the ones that seek to impose Washington’s will on other nations while the “isolationists” are the ones that respect their rights and sovereignty. Even generally hawkish presidents will be accused of “isolationist” leanings if they “fail” to order military action somewhere, as we saw with Barack Obama and the red line episode in 2013. Meanwhile presidents will be praised for their "internationalism" when they order illegal attacks.
It is common for analysts to conflate support for U.S. primacy with internationalism. Earlier this year, Foreign Policy magazine published a long article by Ash Jain classifying different foreign policy camps and putting them under the headings of “internationalist” or “non-internationalist.” In one of the more bizarre examples of how this worked, the “unilateral internationalists” represented by the likes of John Bolton and Dick Cheney, were included among the internationalists because they were champions of power projection, but restrainers were deemed “non-internationalist” because they favored fewer commitments and a less ambitious overall strategy.
Nothing could better demonstrate how absurd the contemporary use of “internationalist” has become when someone like Bolton, who has a record of despising international law and institutions, can be considered an internationalist while defenders of international law are not.
The conflation of support for primacy with internationalism goes all the way back to the remaking of U.S. foreign policy in WWII. As Stephen Wertheim explained in Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy, "officials and intellectuals redefined armed supremacy as the epitome of internationalism and the core of international organization.” That redefinition was made because internationalism had meant something profoundly different in the past. Unfortunately, the redefinition stuck, and the more older understanding of internationalism faded into obscurity.
That has had serious long-term consequences for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. The distortion of internationalism into a project of global power projection fed the worst impulses of U.S. policymakers. As Wertheim explained, “to install one’s dominance in the name of internationalism is something else. It effectively turns one nation’s military supremacy into the prerequisite for a decent world. This kind of internationalism denies that armed force can obstruct cooperation and provoke others. It also attenuates the value of international rules and bodies.”
Such a deformed, militarized internationalism will not be a stabilizing force, but will often become a threat to the international peace and security that its adherents claim to defend.
As long as the world’s leading power refuses to respect the limits of international law, it will always be a destabilizing force in the world and a contributor to future conflicts. A principled internationalist approach to the world requires that the U.S. not only follow the laws that it expects others to follow, but that it should also hold itself and its clients to the highest standards. Any attempts to carve out exceptions or to create loopholes for the U.S. and the states aligned with it will serve to undermine international law and encourage more violations.
That is what is happening with the war in Gaza right now as the U.S. makes a mockery of international law by enabling a devastating military campaign that has already killed well over 10,000 civilians.
Many self-described internationalists are quick to invoke international law and the U.N. Charter when it comes to the actions of U.S. adversaries, but then become suddenly mute when a U.S.-backed government begins trampling on the same things. The champions of the “rules-based order” evidently do not believe that international law applies to the U.S. and the governments that it arms and supports, and they have no intention of doing anything to hold those violators accountable. If the U.S. is going to take international law seriously, it can’t keep doing this. Washington must not play favorites by giving some states a free pass to commit terrible crimes.
The U.S. would benefit a great deal from the recovery of a genuinely internationalist approach to the world. It would still be deeply engaged around the world through commerce and diplomacy, but it would have a far less militarized and less coercive foreign policy. Because it would be taking sides in very few conflicts, it would be in a stronger position to act as an effective and trusted mediator in whatever conflicts did arise.
If the U.S. made a habit of adhering to international law and did not selectively trample on it when expedient, it would likely find a much more receptive audience in foreign capitals when it appealed for their support in a dispute. The U.S. would not be cutting itself off from the world, but it would also not be overcommitted and constantly embroiled in wars, whether they were its own or those of its clients.
Recovering an internationalism that prizes peace and cooperation rather than the pursuit of dominance and rivalry is crucial for the U.S. in the coming decades to face the global threats of pandemics and climate change. America and the other nations of the world can ill afford to squander this century in fruitless contests for supremacy. To that end, Americans need to rediscover the internationalist tradition that flourished in this country a century ago.