“We have to remember that we in mauritius are in a major geostrategic zone”

17 mars 2024, 14:24


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“We have to remember that we in mauritius are in a major geostrategic zone”

Formerly Mauritius’ permanent representative at the UN, Milan Meetarbhan, delivered a talk this week outlining his views on the changing global order and Mauritius’ place in it.

Threats and risks

On Wednesday, Mauritius’ former top diplomat, Milan Meetarbhan, delivered a talk hosted by the Rotary Club of Phoenix on the changing global order, its risks, and challenges as well as changes within the Indian Ocean region. Citing a recent survey by the World Economic Forum, he outlined the major global risks that we identified by it. According to the survey over the next three years, the major threats identified were firstly, misinformation and disinformation across the globe. This, Meetarbhan linked with the acceleration of artificial intelligence technologies across the globe, warning that the digital gap between high- and low-income countries could grow. “If many people believe that misinformation and disinformation will become worse, this is also because of the acceleration of AI,” he said.

The second major risk identified was extreme weather events: with Meetarbhan pointing out that February 2024 was the hottest month on record. Thirdly, societal polarization, which he explained as partly driven by a global economic slowdown, “if you have a global economic downturn, you will have more economic inequality and more polarization within societies”; and fourthly, cybersecurity risks and armed conflicts.

Referring to armed conflict, Meetarbhan warned against what he termed ‘conflict contagion’ with conflicts spreading geographically; “we see that happening right now, after the war in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen have attacked commercial ships, and in response the US and UK have bombed sites in Yemen. The Houthis have openly stated that they are doing this because of what Israel is doing in Gaza. So here you have a conflict that reportedly started because of what is happening in Gaza”. Another threat he identified was democratic backsliding in many states, with the rise of populism, nationalism, and xenophobia alongside falling trust in governments and traditional political parties.

The Indian Ocean

With the global order changing, Meetarbhan emphasizes that “we in Mauritius have to remember that we are in a major geostrategic zone. The Indian Ocean is a major geostrategic zone”. He pointed out that 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil and 100,000 commercial vessels crisscross the Indian Ocean each year, making its sea lanes vital for global commercial shipping as well as major seaports such as Singapore, Mumbai, and Jakarta. Pointing to the Indian Ocean as a triangle with its points being India, South Africa and Australia, Meetarbhan argues that this zone contains coastal powers, including smaller players such as Pakistan, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as external powers such as the US, Russia, China and France. Much of the great power rivalry within the region is about trade routes: “Both of the regional powers, India and China, are concerned about trade routes and the threats to trade. The stakes are higher for both of them.” Whereas India has come up with its SAGAR policy to counter China’s BRI, both are investing in infrastructure within the region.

Coupled with this great power competition, Meetarbhan points out, are challenges endemic to the region, such as political instability within the small island states of the region – “Mauritius is the only country in the region where there has not been a coup” – piracy, which may rear its head again and climate change, with six out the 10 most vulnerable states to climate change being within the Indian Ocean region. Since independence Mauritius has maintained neutrality and equidistance from the major powers in its foreign policy, emphasizing regional cooperation and integration; and has been a part of organizations such as the non-aligned movement. With this changing global landscape, Meetarbhan asks, “The question is whether we are changing course?”

The changing global order

These threats are emerging in a global order that is changing. “We are about to see a multipolar world,” says Meetarbhan, that will be significantly different from what we have seen previously. “For a long time, we had a bipolar world with the US and the USSR. After the collapse of the USSR, the world became unipolar with the US. Today, we cannot really talk about a bipolar world returning,” adds Meetarbhan, citing the relative weakness of Russia and the challenges within China. Instead of either one of these two states challenging the US in a bipolar order, what we are about to see is the emergence of a much more complicated global order: “It will instead be the US, the EU, China, some of the BRICS states and Russia.”

The second major change is the retreat of globalization: “For years everybody talked about globalization, now the question is whether we are retreating from that, particularly starting with the Trump years”. Thirdly, competition within this changing global order is driven by technological competition: “A lot of the tension between the US and China is not really about the military, but rather the technological might of China… I think the problem really is about technology where China is ahead in certain technologies”.

And finally, the changing global order, Meetarbhan argues, is about the declining importance of multilateralism and international institutions: whether it is about the problems within the World Trade Organization (WTO), the declining role of institutions such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, or the efficacy of the UN itself, particularly when it comes to its inability to come up with a consensus on the ongoing conflict in Gaza. “What is also worrying is the emergence of restricted organizations such as the OECD, G7 or G20, which are elite organizations.”