The Founding Fuel Masterclass pans on the chances of a nuclear war, the looming energy crisis, why climate financing never took off, India’s G20 presidency, the churn in the Middle East and more. This complete learning package includes a 90+ min video recording, reflections from three leaders, and a 10-minute summary.
The panellists include
- Meera Shankar, former ambassador to the US and Germany
- Sir Graham Watson, former member of the European Parliament
- Sundeep Waslekar, president, Strategic Foresight Group
The masterclass was co-hosted by Indrajit Gupta, co-founder, Founding Fuel, and senior journalist Archana Chaudhary.
We invited three esteemed members from our community to reflect on the masterclass by posing them one question: what did you learn from the Masterclass conversation that was new and different?
We’re sharing their 2-5 minute audiograms here, followed by the full video and a 10-minute summary of the Masterclass.
“One area of insight was the changing alliances in the Middle East. Traditional rivals have been talking to each other.” - Prof Rama Velamuri
“The refugee crisis was discussed…where refugees migrate, cultures clash. Cultures need to learn to co-exist” - Mandar Apte
“The future of AI will be determined by the future of democracy in countries where AI is marching forward is a key takeaway for me” – Anuradha Rao
Watch the full video
Read a 10-minute summary
1. The US-China rivalry
- There have been efforts to dial back the tensions between the US and China.
- On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping agreed to work to ease tensions and open lines of communication which had clogged up after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
- Both sides tried to reassure each other that they will compete vigorously but not look for conflict, and promote dialogue on climate change, global health and food security, and macroeconomic policy and stability.
- Actions on the ground indicate otherwise, for example the US stopping exports to China.
- This is an example of their tech rivalry taking a very competitive form. And this will not reduce, as both want dominance in frontier technologies which will determine their dominance in the global economy.
- There are three pillars to the Biden administration’s China strategy: invest more in technology and infrastructure; work with allies and partners to oppose Chinese aggression; and they don’t desire conflict.
- The agenda will continue to be driven by internal considerations in both countries rather than a wider worldview. We are seeing change in both countries—Biden is not as provocative as Trump was; and Xi has become much more pragmatic in recent months and has predicated his legitimacy on a stronger nationalistic position as economic growth is slowing down.
- At the same time, we’ve seen the US put far more pressure on Europe to be tough on China.
- In the US, the Republicans are urging a very tough policy on China.
2. The security environment globally
Context: The Ukraine war continues; Japan and Sweden have announced increases in defence spending; tensions with China in Taiwan and on India’s border; a hard-line government is taking shape in Israel; and North Korea remains a threat.
- There is a world of opportunity and a world of risk—the world of risk is likely to be more dominant.
- South Korea has announced it would like to acquire nuclear weapons.
- In China there seems to be more stability but it is still unpredictable.
- There is a fear of a risk of nuclear war: National security advisors to Biden and Putin are in dialogue to prevent such a war. The heads of intelligence agencies in the US and Russia are also in a process to minimise the risk. While this process gives hope, the fact is, they found a need for this process.
- We don’t know which way it will go.
- There are diplomatic implications for India, as chair of G20. If Putin doesn’t attend the September summit—or does attend and is humiliated by the Western countries—it will be awkward for India.
- Putin might want to extend the war till January 2025 when a new president gets elected in the US, and wait to see the new attitude. There have been 10-year wars in the past.
- Will either side achieve their objectives? If they don’t, what are the fallback positions? The US-Europe position is they will support Ukraine. The Ukrainian position is to drive Russia out—but what is the cost to Ukraine and the rest of the world? There is a need to start exploring a ceasefire.
Middle East—interesting things are happening
- Will Netanyahu’s election turn the tables? Traditional rivals have opened communication channels.
- Turkey has established relationship with Israel after 10 years
- Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia are talking with each other
- Even Qatar has softened its attitude towards Israel
- Plus, the Abrahamic Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, and indirectly Saudi Arabia.
- The remarkable European unity will endure because Europe has come to see this conflict as an existential war. It regrets not intervening when Russia invaded Crimea.
- The Ukraine conflict has brought the US and Europe back together again.
- Beyond Ukraine there are a number of other flashpoints: The Horn of Africa; The South China sea; the possibility of regime change in Iran.
- More dialogue between the big powers will be necessary.
3. The energy crisis and climate finance
- The cost of our lack of coordinated action on climate change will grow exponentially—extreme weather, crop failure, movement of diseases from subtropical climates, etc
- Reducing dependence on fossil fuels will require enormous investments from governments and the private sector, and continued breakthroughs in technology. (The breakthrough in nuclear fusion is a hopeful sign, but commercial nuclear fusion is years away.)
- Governments will have to take away the regulatory barriers to private investment.
- We will need much better transmission technology.
- The European Union has had a big argument on the taxonomy of sustainable finance. It’s not just about making money available for renewable energy; it is not making money available for new oil and gas fields.
- The US has legislation to attract more investments to the US for renewable tech. We need others to do that too.
- For India, the critical tech and funding would be in storage (grid-level, batteries, etc) if we want to make renewable energy the first option for electricity use.
- India has approved a $2.4 billion subsidy package for hydrogen; Adani group is planning to invest $50 billion in green hydrogen; Reliance is looking to invest $75 billion in clean energy overhaul of what it’s doing.
- There’s a lack of harmony between climate politics and geopolitics.
- On climate financing, we had a very clear agreement in Paris (2015) that rich countries would transfer $100 billion a year to developing countries to develop renewable energy. In 2023, cumulatively in seven years, we haven’t collected $100 billion.
- China still makes more than 50% of solar panels and produces most of the polysilicon. So ingredients for solar energy have a substantial single source. China also controls many rare earth elements. If there’s a major geopolitical conflict between the West and China, and China decides to stop these exports, that could pose a problem.
- Germany doesn’t want to import Russian natural gas, so it has decided to go back to coal mines.
- The EU has pledged $4.3 billion to the expansion of solar in Africa. But, while you can make the money available, you have to have companies there ready to put programmes into action. There’s also resistance from some countries. The president of Senegal called it “colonialism in green”.
4. India’s presidency of the G20
- For India, the effort will have to be to not let geopolitical conflict overwhelm the issues for which the G20 was set up: global economic development, climate change, pandemics and global health, food security, indebtedness of developing countries, etc.
- You don’t visit war, the war visits you. Similarly, with global conflicts, you will be forced to look at them. The leadership will have to face that dilemma.
- India needs to focus on some aspects that are malfunctioning in the global system: just and fair climate talks; transfer of resources as per the Paris Accord; scientific cooperation (e.g., the ITER experiment in fusion energy, funded and run by seven member parties—China, the EU, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US), etc.
- India needs to recognise the power it has. As of this year it is the world’s most populous country; 12 of the world’s 20 biggest companies have an Indian at the helm; the UK’s prime minister is an Indian, so is Ireland’s. Also, India has not been aligned with any of the great powers, so its soft diplomacy with other countries has great potential.
5. The breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, and its risks
- The benevolent uses of AI in agriculture, in healthcare, telemedicine etc. are great.
- But AI in managing nuclear or biological weapons pose unprecedented danger. For example, if a combination of AI and cyber technology creates false images of a nuclear attack in the early warning, it could lead to a retaliatory attack with real missiles and spark a global war.
- AI helps hypersonic missiles determine their own trajectory and evade radars.
- Lethal autonomous weapons can evade and attack radars.
- Generally, technology is created for the welfare of humankind But some regimes misuse technology for destruction.
- There’s a need for global dialogue to restrict AI use in lethal systems.
- AI could upend employment as we know it. The complexity of tasks AI can accomplish is increasing.
- AI has an unstoppable momentum. But it also raises the risk that humans become essentially livestock on computer-controlled livestock farms.
- Protections against the abuse of our data are insufficient.
- If you can build military drones that track down and kill people, you can do a lot more.
- The US has a Beneficial AI movement. But the US is a democracy; what happens to how AI is developed in Russia or in China?
6. China’s efforts to challenge the dollar’s hegemony
- Saudi Arabia has expressed its openness to trade oil in other currencies including the yuan.
- Such efforts will gather steam, especially after the Ukraine war and freezing of Russia’s foreign currency assets.
- China itself buys a large amount of US treasuries and is the second largest holder of US dollar reserves.
- China has been building yuan as an alternative currency.
- India is also looking at alternative reading arrangements with Russia; other regional countries might also do that.
7. Saudi Arabia and the Middle East
- Saudi Arabia is finding an interesting place for itself in the world of diplomacy, and also some other Middle Eastern countries.
- It facilitated the exchange of prisoners of war between Russia and Ukraine
- Turkey brokered food grains exports from Ukraine.
- The UAE brokered the export of Russian ammonia through Ukrainian pipelines.
- Much as the US talks against autocracies, they love Saudi Arabia. Biden met MBS after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
- Saudi Arabia is developing relations with China, Israel, India—Air India planes can fly over Saudi airspace to Israel. Saudi Arabia is also warming up to Iran. And Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also restoring relationships.
- Though will Natanyahu’s reelection upset some of these trends?
8. Migration as a flashpoint
- In the rich world, where immigrants are needed to sustain people’s standard of living, they are most feared.
- If we are serious about development, we have to recognise that
- migration has happened from time immemorial and cannot be stopped. It is driven by demand.
- it is a good thing—the remittance of income is vastly greater than the amount of official development aid.
- the contributions migrants make to the societies they go into is very important.
- The Canadians do it best. They identify how many people they need in what categories, and then work with those countries to help train the people they need.
- The trend will pick up as you see more extreme climate events and resource-driven conflicts.
- But societies are not prepared to handle the political and social fallout. It’s a fundamental failure to build societies that are ready to absorb diversity.