3 June 2024

Many Separate BRICS, No Single Wall: India and an Expanding BRICS

Krzysztof Iwanek

The global architecture, as constructed after 1945, lies on its deathbed, while BRICS is institutionalizing itself as a new basis of the multipolar world – or so one scholar argued four years ago. I will mercifully skip the academic’s name since, when I look around in 2024, I do not see a single shred of evidence that this is happening (especially the latter part of the process). If BRICS is a basis of a “new multipolar world,” when was the last time BRICS, as a group, involved itself in a military conflict? Solved a dispute? Saved a country from an economic crisis?

How about an easier set of questions: Where is BRICS’ headquarters, or a secretariat, located? Oh, right, nowhere, because BRICS is an annual meeting of heads of state without a permanent official structure. Does BRICS have an official website? It doesn’t seem to. Joint statements after each BRICS summit are published on the government websites of its member states.

This may seem like a bad time to raise such BRICS-skeptical points, as January 1, 2024, marked BRICS’ first significant expansion. BRICS invited six states to become members: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates. Argentina declined to join and Saudi Arabia’s status is unclear: In January a South African official said Saudi Arabia was joining, but the next day a Saudi official said Riyadh was still considering the invitation. Egypt, Iran, Ethiopia, and the UAE did join the grouping. Some form of an award should be announced to a person that comes up with a new, catchy acronym.

Why Is the RSS Distancing Itself From the BJP?

Sudha Ramachandran

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have stepped up efforts to beef up the RSS’ image as a cultural organization and project themselves as distinct entities.

In a recent interview published in Indian Express, J. P. Nadda, national president of the BJP, went to great lengths to establish the RSS as an apolitical organization that is separate from the BJP. The “RSS is a cultural organization and we are a political organization,” Nadda said, adding that the RSS has “a century-long experience of working on socio-cultural issues.”

Distinguishing the work the BJP and RSS do, Nadda pointed out that their “areas of working [are] very clearly established”: “Woh ideologically apna kaam karte hain, hum apna” (They do their ideology-related work, we do ours). With the BJP capabilities having grown, it “runs itself,” Nadda said, stressing that “we are managing our own affairs in our own way.” In essence, the BJP chief was making the point that the RSS is not involved in the BJP’s political work.

What an even stronger Modi might mean for US-India relations

ANDREW LATHAM & WILL KOCHEL

To many observers, the leadership of President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has marked an emerging shift in the Indo-American relationship, pointing towards a new era of mutual alignment.

A plethora of bilateral summits proclaiming a “high-level of engagement” to craft “an enduring India-U.S. partnership,” expanded joint-defense collaboration, the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogues, deepening technological linkages, and shared security interests regarding the rise of China indicate there may have been a substantial shift in Indian strategy.

While relations are undeniably strong, policymakers should remain skeptical that this stems from an underlying geopolitical alignment. Despite moving closer to the Western camp, India maintains a strategy of multi-alignment and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Is Under Attack

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will be in Beijing next week to formally inaugurate the next phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Where the first phase, initiated in 2015, focused on infrastructure and energy, CPEC-II will see further development along the 3,000-kilometer network connecting China with the Arabian Sea via Pakistan, in addition to enhancing agricultural cooperation.

Even though work is already underway on CPEC-II, ahead of its formal launch in June, all is not well along the corridor, as Beijing’s dissatisfaction with the progress on CPEC raises question marks over its fate.

Most pertinently, the fresh wave of militant attacks in March targeting Chinese workers, investments, and sites of geostrategic significance has pushed Beijing into going public with its concerns over the lack of security in Pakistan. “We ask Pakistan to take effective measures to protect the safety and security of Chinese nationals, institutions, and projects,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a recent statement, urging Chinese citizens and businesses to “take extra safety precautions” and “do their best to guard against terrorist attacks” in Pakistan. Beijing’s concerns have been expressed much more unequivocally in private.


How Myanmar’s civil war is rippling into the U.S. and around the world

Mithil Aggarwal

More than three years after overthrowing a democratically elected government, the Myanmar military is battling to hold on to power as a protracted civil war in the Southeast Asian country draws in neighbors such as China and India and fuels a rise in cybercrime and drug trafficking that reaches around the world.

Ethnic militias have been fighting the Myanmar junta since February 2021, when the military ousted Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s leader. But a coordinated offensive by an alliance of armed groups has made stunning advances since last fall, with resistance forces claiming the junta controls less than half of the Texas-sized country.

“This is a people’s revolution,” Kyaw Zaw, a spokesperson for the National Unity Government, Myanmar’s government-in-exile, told NBC News in a phone interview.

The New Tale Of Two Cities: Hong Kong And Singapore Under De-Globalization – Analysis

He Jun

Hong Kong and Singapore are two Asian city-state economies that have often been compared. The former is recognized as a regional international financial center, while the latter is a functional international financial center within ASEAN. Before 2019, Hong Kong held a higher status as an international financial center compared to Singapore, where it had a larger capital market and more comprehensive financial services.

However, since 2019, the situation has changed significantly. In 2019, Hong Kong experienced nearly a year of social unrest, which severely impacted its image as a free and secure international financial center. Starting in 2020, the three-year COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the increasingly severe anti-globalization wave and geopolitical conflicts, has greatly affected Hong Kong as well. Over the past five years, the development trajectories of Hong Kong and Singapore have diverged, with Hong Kong declining and Singapore rising.

New Cold War proxy conflict brewing in Myanmar

BERTIL LINTNER

By any measure, it would be a stretch to say that the United States is currently engaged in a New Cold War proxy war with China and Russia in Myanmar.

But as the conflict between the State Administration Council (SAC) junta and a proliferating array of ethnic and political resistance armies escalates, the rivalry between the world’s two big blocs could yet determine the outcome of Myanmar’s increasingly vicious civil war.

On one side, the US is supporting the anti-coup National Unity Government (NUG) and by extension its affiliated People’s Defense Forces armed groups scattered across the country. On the other, China and Russia are more clearly, although not always overtly, in the junta’s camp.

With its substantial and geostrategically important investments in Myanmar, China has the biggest great power interest in the war’s direction and outcome.

Can China, Japan, and South Korea just get along?

JAMES PARK

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and Chinese Premier Li Qiang met in Seoul for a trilateral summit this Monday, agreeing to promote positive regional cooperation between the countries. However, it also revealed real shortcomings and challenges to their engagement.

The summit was notable just for taking place. The last time South Korea, Japan, and China held a trilateral leadership summit was in 2019. The outbreak of coronavirus initially got in the way, and heightened tensions over regional security issues — including advances in North Korea’s missile and nuclear program and increasing confrontation over Taiwan — also presumably served to delay agreement to meet again by aggravating the political atmosphere and complicating agenda-setting.

At this week’s convocation, the three governments committed themselves to improving communications through regular summits and deepening cooperation on trade, cultural exchanges, and non-traditional security issues like climate change, natural disaster relief, and public health. They also agreed to resume their trilateral free trade agreement negotiations, which started in 2012 and have yet to be finalized.

Taiwan-China: A Timeline of Tensions in 2024

Micah McCartney

Taiwan President Lai Ching-te faced China's largest-scale military exercises in nearly two years during his first week in office, with one analyst telling Newsweek she expects more to follow.

"This is the exercise season, so I expect more military drills around Taiwan intended to intimidate and warn the new Lai administration against pursuing independence actions," Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Newsweek.

China says Taiwan is its territory, although the Chinese Communist Party has never governed there. Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to unify his nation with the island by force if necessary.

Myanmar Is Fragmenting—but Not Falling Apart

Richard Horsey

The conflict in Myanmar, now in its fourth year, has claimed thousands of civilian lives and displaced more than three million people. Since toppling the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021, the military junta under General Min Aung Hlaing has failed to consolidate its authority. Over the last seven months, the military has suffered a succession of humiliating defeats at the hands of opposition forces.

Myanmar is undergoing fragmentation: large parts of the country, including most of Myanmar’s international borders, are now under the dominion of various ethnic armed groups. These groups are expanding control of their ethnic homelands and building autonomous statelets. But this does not necessarily mean the country is headed for a catastrophic collapse with the kind of chaotic intergroup violence that has played out in other fractured states, such as Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

At the same time, fragmentation has greatly diminished the prospects for building a federal union in Myanmar. Doing so would require regional rulers to cede partial authority to a central government and nonstate forces to disarm, both of which are extremely unlikely. Rather than trying to forge a grand political solution to the current conflict, outside actors should accept the messy reality. Given the most probable alternatives—a protracted war, a consolidation of military rule, or both—decentralized control of disparate parts of the country may be the least ruinous outcome.

U.S., Chinese Defense Chiefs Confirm Plan to Reopen Hotlines in First Face-to-Face Meeting

Feliz Solomon and Chun Han Wong

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met China’s new defense minister face-to-face for the first time and reaffirmed plans to reopen direct lines of communication between their militaries, part of an effort by both sides to prevent frictions in Asia from shattering a fragile rapprochement.

Communication was a primary topic of discussion in Austin’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Adm. Dong Jun, at the start of a security conference in Singapore, according to a readout of the encounter provided by the Pentagon.

Progress should come over the next months, the Pentagon said, with the resumption of phone conversations between U.S. and Chinese theater commanders. The two sides also plan to convene a crisis-communications working group by the end of the year.

Bye Bye Bad Chinese Routers

Rebecca Grant

At last, Congress is poised to protect Americans from one of China’s top cyber weapons: cheap network routers. Led by U.S. Representatives Bob Latta (R-OH) and Mary Peltola (D-AK), the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee voted 43-0 to advance the Removing Our Unsecure Technologies to Ensure Reliability and Security or ROUTERS Act.

“The ROUTERS Act is an important, bipartisan bill that will help ensure our communications networks are secure from threats posed by foreign adversary-controlled technology in the United States,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).

That’s the good news. The bad news is that U.S. government agencies, including NASA, the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense, reportedly have already purchased routers by Chinese company TP-Link.

Even if Congress passes the ROUTERS Act, this is only the beginning of the effort to protect this country from Chinese digital espionage. More needs to be done. The Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community need to re-examine their own networks to ensure that hackable Chinese routers are removed.

The dangerous retreat into protectionis

Carl Bildt

Trade barriers, tariffs and other protectionist tools are starting to feature more prominently around the world, often appearing under the heading of economic security. The decision by President Joe Biden’s administration this month to quadruple US tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles to 100 percent, as well as doubling the tariff on solar cells (to 50 percent) and more than tripling the tariff on lithium-ion EV batteries (to 25 percent), represents a momentous new step in this direction.

Until now, US restrictions on trade with China had been justified on national-security grounds, to prevent the Chinese military from acquiring sensitive technologies. While one could debate whether this policy made sense, it at least seemed to fit into a longer-term strategy. But these latest protectionist measures have nothing to do with China’s military capabilities. Instead, they aim solely to prevent cheaper, often better, green technologies from reaching US consumers.

The connection to the US election is obvious. Biden has been trying to head off Donald Trump by playing to the same protectionist sentiments that Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has been stoking for years. It was Trump, after all, who put the world on a new protectionist path when he imposed sweeping tariffs on steel, aluminium and many imports from China. Keen not to be outdone by Biden, he has already said that he would double the tariff on Chinese EVs from Mexico and apply additional ones to an even wider range of products.

China's Investment Trap | Opinion

Chen Guangcheng

Under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) there is no rule of law. Executives of foreign corporations and investment firms that invest in China must know this fact. Yet so many have taken the risk, enticed by profits and confident they can stay in the good graces of the ruling dictatorship. But how safe are investments in China? At what point will foreign corporate leaders realize they have fallen into a trap?

That trap is the shifting landscape of Chinese policy and law, which the CCP manipulates to ensnare unsuspecting enterprises. Though domestic companies frequently fall prey, corporations from outside that are used to operating under the protective umbrella of a commonly understood legal playbook are particularly vulnerable.

Unlike in the U.S. and other societies governed by the rule of law and independent judiciaries, the CCP has long relied on a combination of policy and laws to maintain control of the nation and ensure its privileged position of power. The party can arbitrarily decide when policy follows the law, or when the law follows policy, according to its needs. When it wants to have policy as the presiding force, the law will be nothing more than scrap paper. But when the party wants to punish opponents or stifle foreign companies, it will pull out every crime on its books to repress dissent while painting an appearance of legality over what is in fact wanton repression—or outright theft.

Whether Peace or Escalation in Israel-Gaza, Watch Saudi Arabia

Eugene Chausovsky

As Israel’s war in Gaza continues to rage, there has been no shortage of mixed signals recently over whether the conflict is on the verge of a major escalation or the cusp of a diplomatic breakthrough. From Israel’s offensive in Rafah to Iran’s direct attacks against Israel to shuttle diplomacy taking place throughout the Middle East, it appears that the conflict could veer in any direction at any time. Of course, this direction will be shaped not only by the Israelis and Palestinians but also by numerous external players that are involved in the conflict, including security patrons like the United States and Iran or diplomatic mediators like Egypt and Qatar.

However, there is another player who may not be as openly or directly involved in the conflict but has, in many ways, proven just as influential in shaping its trajectory: Saudi Arabia. Riyadh’s position has not only been a significant factor in the evolution of the Israel-Gaza war over the past year but also could serve as an important bellwether for the future direction of the conflict and its ripple effects throughout the region and globally.

A key backdrop for the Israel-Gaza war and the October 7 attacks that precipitated it is a diplomatic warming process that had long been taking place between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The two states had been exploring enhancing ties for much of the past decade, and this was accelerated by the U.S.-facilitated Abraham Accords of 2020, which saw Israel establish formal diplomatic relations with the UAE and Bahrain (and later Morocco and Sudan). Such agreements were motivated by a shared interest in forming a counterweight to regional rival Iran while also establishing greater trade linkages and economic integration between Israel and the Gulf states. While initiated under the Trump administration, the Biden administration sought to build on them with a particular eye on one of the leading players in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia.

Israel could have used smaller weapons against Hamas to avoid deaths in Gaza tent fire, experts say

TARA COPP AND JOSEF FEDERMAN

Defense experts who have reviewed debris images from an Israeli airstrike that ignited a deadly fire in a camp for displaced Palestinians questioned why Israel did not use smaller, more precise weapons when so many civilians were nearby. They said the bombs used were likely U.S.-made.

The strikes, targeting Hamas operatives, killed as many as 45 people sheltering in a temporary displacement camp near the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday and have drawn international condemnation.

Israel is investigating the attack but says the Hamas targets were 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) away from a declared humanitarian zone and that its review before the strike determined no expected harm to civilians.

Taking the Fight to Russia: The West Weighs Ukraine’s Use of Its Weapons - The New York Times

Lara Jakes

With Ukraine’s second-largest city bracing for a new Russian offensive, a growing number of NATO allies are backing Kyiv’s pleas to allow its forces to conduct strikes in Russian territory with Western weapons. This week Canada became the latest of at least 12 countries to declare that arms it has given to Ukraine could be used to hit military targets over Russia’s border.

But the most important supplier of weaponry to Ukraine, the United States, remains reluctant to take the step, worried about provoking Russia into an escalation that could drag in NATO and set off a wider war. Without sign-off from Washington, the American-made long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, can only strike Russian targets inside Ukraine.

Yet many Western leaders and military analysts say that with Russia massing thousands of troops on its side of the border — less than 20 miles from the northeastern city of Kharkiv — Ukraine badly needs the authority to strike inside Russia with Western weapons.

“Russian commanders are well aware of Ukraine’s inability to strike back,” said Peter Dickinson, a Ukraine analyst at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

IDF unearths more tunnels, gains control of Philadelphi Corridor

SETH FRANTZMAN

Three weeks after launching an offensive along the border of southern Gaza and Egypt, the Israel Defense Forces achieved “operational control” of the Philadelphi Corridor. This is the name of the border area of southern Gaza that stretches from Israel to the Mediterranean Sea. Part of the area includes Rafah while its eastern and western ends are mostly rural areas. The operational control means the IDF can now spend weeks or months dismantling tunnels and other terrorist infrastructure along the border. Israel’s National Security Advisor Tazhi HaNegbi said on May 29 the war in Gaza could last another seven months.

The border area is 7.5 miles long. It has long been a center of weapons smuggling that has fueled Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza. The IDF last took control of this area in an operation in 2003 when it also dismantled terrorist infrastructure in Rafah and along the border, before leaving Gaza completely in 2005. Since January, when the IDF began to wrap up operations in northern Gaza, Rafah has been in the crosshairs of Israel’s military and political establishment. The IDF chose to concentrate on northern Gaza first in a ground maneuver in late October and November. In December it shifted focus to Khan Younis, the city near Rafah that is the hometown of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. After a pause in operation in April, the IDF chose May for the Rafah offensive.

A Plea for Political Economy

KAUSHIK BASU

The world economy is at a turning point. As global supply chains face increasingly frequent disruptions, the structures underpinning markets and international trade are unraveling, leading to economic instability which, in turn, is spilling over into other domains and fueling conflict and political polarization.

In the face of these challenges, it is worth asking why, despite an unprecedented influx of data, mainstream economic thinking and policymaking appear to be failing. I believe that the problem lies in the lack of theoretical research, particularly when it comes to exploring overarching ideas needed to connect and interpret seemingly disparate data points and trends.

The growing backlash against economic theory in recent years has tended to focus on the field’s reliance on developing mathematical models for their own sake rather than to inform and improve public policy. Many argue that instead of trying to imitate physics, economists should emphasize data-based empirical analysis. But while I do not doubt the importance of collecting data and addressing urgent social issues, major turning points demand that we direct our attention to more fundamental issues and consider the need for an economic paradigm shift.

Whose Business Is It To Shape The Mekong’s Geopolitical Landscape? – Analysis

Yunkang Liu

The Mekong subregion is a geoeconomic hub within ASEAN, comprising Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. Its strategic location and abundant resources have enhanced its appeal to multinational corporations and great powers, situated at the intersection of major infrastructure development programs such as the Asian Development Bank’s Economic Corridor projects and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The region is covered by trade agreements such as the ASEAN Free Trade Area, the ASEAN Plus Free Trade Area framework and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. But action among major powers in the Mekong subregion has gradually shown signs of shifting from geopolitical manoeuvring to a geoeconomic battleground.

Historically, major powers have competed for influence in this strategic region to gain access to key resources, trade routes and geopolitical leverage. Among major players, Chinese, Japanese and South Korean companies have long been investors in the Mekong, underscoring the increasingly pivotal role of geoeconomics in shaping power dynamics in the Mekong.

Ukraine Military Situation: Russia May Be Preparing To Reinforce Offensive Combat Operations In Kharkiv – Analysis

Can Kasapo─člu

Battlefield Assessment

This week Russia targeted the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv with growing intensity. The Kremlin’s war machine has been simultaneously pursuing three principal objectives there: deliberately targeting civilians to depopulate the area, advancing into the city’s outer ring to bring its urban core within tube artillery range, and forcing the Ukrainian Armed Forces to allocate troops for defensive efforts. While Russia has not yet scored a breakthrough, it presses on.

Kharkiv remains contested at the tactical and strategic levels. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Ukraine has deployed its 82nd Air Assault Brigade and 57th Motorized Brigade to run defensive combat operations. Visuals from the battleground depict the 82nd Air Assault Brigade using Stryker infantry fighting vehicles to combat the Russian invasion in Vovchansk. The Ukrainian General Staff’s initial assessment concluded that Kyiv’s combat formations have stabilized the situation following quick Russian gains along the front lines.

Clashes have also intensified in Vovchansk, Tykhi, and Lyptsi. Battlefield reports suggest that the Russian military has been pouring troops, firepower, and new platforms into the fight. Moreover, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy recently indicated that the Russian military is amassing another grouping of forces near the Kharkiv sector. Depending on the size of these follow-on forces, the situation could become even more perilous for Ukraine.

US military conducts tunnel warfare exercise in Morocco

Dylan Malyasov

The US military recently concluded a tunnel warfare exercise in Tifnit, Morocco, as part of African Lion 2024 (AL24), a premier joint exercise led by U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF).

The exercise, held from April 19 to May 31, featured over 8,100 participants from 27 nations, including NATO contingents.

Tunnel warfare involves the use of tunnels and underground cavities for military operations, both for offensive and defensive purposes. It can include creating underground facilities to attack or defend, using existing natural caves, and constructing artificial underground structures. Tunnels can be used to undermine fortifications, launch surprise attacks, facilitate ambushes, conduct counterattacks, and move troops covertly. They can also serve as shelters from enemy attacks.

The AL24 exercise included a range of scenarios, such as subterranean warfare, psychological operations, building clearing, combined assaults, fast-rope insertion, rappelling, and hostage rescue. These exercises are essential for preparing forces to operate in diverse and challenging environments.

The Kremlin Spells Out Terms of Ukraine’s Surrender (Part Two)

Vladimir Socor

Moscow has recently expressed interest in holding talks with Kyiv without clarifying whether such talks would end with a formal “peace” settlement, an informal “ending (pausing) of the war,” a formal armistice, or an informal suspension of hostilities. The only certainty is that Moscow would use such talks to impose terms amounting to Ukraine’s surrender or, failing that, continue offensive military operations and blame this on unreasonable Ukrainian intransigence.

Russia does not need to offer a ceasefire to incentivize Ukraine to enter into talks. On the contrary, Moscow is intensifying its offensive military operations to force Kyiv into talks. But Moscow could very well offer an armistice, were Kyiv to accept the Kremlin’s settlement terms. These include demilitarizing Ukraine and turning it into an unprotected neutral state, as discussed in March–May 2022 (a framework agreement was initiated in Istanbul on March 29 that year—see EDM, March 30, 31, April 4, 5, 2022 for Jamestown coverage). Additionally, Russia seeks Ukrainian acceptance—possibly without official recognition—of Russia’s territorial gains achieved (see EDM, May 29).

On May 17, 24, and 28, Russian President Vladimir Putin made three extensive statements proposing to reactivate the talks that broke down in the spring of 2022. Putin blamed Kyiv for repudiating the “Istanbul agreements” (Putin’s shorthand for that whole process, in which Istanbul was but a fleeting moment). Putin is factually correct, recalling that Kyiv cast aside those documents and backed out of the negotiations, however, the Kremlin invokes that fact only to blame Kyiv for the breakdown in negotiations.

Time for Netanyahu to start listening to his friends - Opinion

JULIE M NORMAN

Pressure, both external and internal, is rapidly changing the international landscape for Israel.

In 2011, Ehud Barak, then Israel’s defense minister, warned that Israel would face a “diplomatic-political tsunami” of international isolation and censure if it could not resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. More than a decade later, that wave has held off but the current is moving swiftly in that direction.

In less than a week, three major moves occurred that would have been unthinkable prior to the Gaza War. First, on May 20, the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) sought warrants for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The prosecutor, Karim Khan KC, also sought warrants for three Hamas leaders for atrocities committed during and after October 7.

Global Perspectives on the AI for Good Global Summit

Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

World leaders this month have an opportunity to bridge the gap among the many divergent methods of governing artificial intelligence (AI). The International Telecommunication Union, forty other UN agencies, and the government of Switzerland are convening the 2024 AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva on May 30–31 to explore how AI can capitalize on the immense quantities of human-generated data to drive sustainable development. Four Council of Councils experts preview the summit and write on what they think should be the highest priority for leaders on a consensus AI policy.

The rapid acceleration of AI developments in recent years has highlighted its potential to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Countries are already investing in integrating AI into agriculture, health, education, sustainability, and economic productivity. For instance, smart and low-carbon cities, supported by interconnected technologies and autonomous electric vehicles, can enable smart demand response. This allows electrical grids to better match energy demands, save billions of investment dollars, and help achieve SDGs seven, eleven, and thirteen on climate action.

However, AI-facilitated technological advancements toward the SDGs could instead primarily benefit a handful of countries, largely in the Global North, that already have the public and private resources and infrastructure to scale their development. Moreover, these technologies require significant computing power, available to only a few wealthy nations, resulting in high energy consumption and a carbon footprint that eventually harms marginalized coastal communities in the Global South. The International Energy Agency estimates that data centers and AI could consume up to 4 percent of global energy demand, roughly equivalent to the electricity used by Japan.