Covid-19 Culture Politics Society The World In Review

September 2020: The World In Review

In this series of articles, our foreign affairs editor Colin McGinness provides a concise roundup of the biggest geopolitical events from the past month.

International Headlines

The number of recorded deaths related to Covid-19 has officially breached one million. Whilst it is suspected that this number might even be lower than the true figure, with different places recording in different ways, it is still a grim statistic as the world edges closer to one full calendar year of the pandemic. As the race for the vaccine continues, experts are at odds about how long it will take for the case and death count to slow. 

Under inauspicious conditions, the United Nations celebrated its 75th anniversary this month, with leaders and representatives from all of the 193 member states delivering speeches to the General Assembly. Many of these stressed cooperation to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and the existential threat posed by climate change. One notable exception was the speech made by American President Donald Trump. Trump proceeded to attack China, who he blamed for causing the pandemic and again advocated for focusing on his own nation. Nationalism has been a key element to most of his UN speeches, which have proven popular with his voter base. With both the challenges of Covid and climate change not going anywhere for the foreseeable future, the UN has its work cut out for it in trying to facilitate further international cooperation. 


This month in Japan, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) voted in Yoshihide Suga as the new party leader, and therefore the country’s Prime Minister. Mr. Suga won the race handily, but has incredibly large shoes to fill in his new role, taking over from Shinzo Abe after the former Prime Minister’s abrupt resignation. Suga has pledged to continue his parties politics and focus on the three arrows of Abenomics, which have proved popular and could ensure the LDP’s electoral victory in the next general election.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have trading serious blows in one of the largest escalations in their border dispute in recent years. Both claim ownership of the Nargorno-Karabakh region, which is nominally within Azerbaijan territory but with a significant Armenian majority population. After a conflict from 1988-1994, there has been a simmering tension between the two with occasional border skirmishes breaking out. However this recent engagement has seen both sides using heavy weapons for the first time in three decades, and observers are worried that neither country is willing to back down. 

Surprisingly, the governments of India and China have published a joint declaration announcing a disengagement of troops along their shared Himilayan border. Both countries had been accusing each other of expansionism and aggression on the agreed upon ‘Line of Actual Control’ that separates India and China. This detente comes at a welcome time, as winter conditions near the contested border were expected to increase tensions as soldiers stationed there would be battling the elements as well as any potential foes. 

Middle East & North Africa

 This month, in a diplomatic victory for the embattled Netenyahu government, the nations of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates officially recognised and normalised relations with the state of Israel. Signed jointly in Washington DC with the American president Donald Trump, the move demonstrates a clear shift in priorities among Arab states and their once-contentious relationship with Israel. With a shared enemy in the form of Iran, President Trump announced that more states will likely join with Bahrain and the UAE in the following months. 

The crisis in Lebanon continues to worsen as the interim Prime Minister Mustapha Adib stepped down amidst failed attempts at forming a new government. The previous government had resigned in the wake of the disastrous explosion in Beirut last month, that highlighted some of the worst instances of mismanagement in the country. With a debt crisis looming, it is critical that a new government is formed and policies undertaken to help stabilise the nation’s economy. However, largely sectarian gridlock may prevent this from happening. 


Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in again as the president of Belarus in a covert and surprise ceremony, with the backing of the Russian government. Often referred to as the ‘last dictator of Europe’, Lukashenko has held power in the country since it broke away from the Soviet Union. Protests have rocked the country since a suspicious election was held in August, with many leaders either being forced into exile or fleeing for their lives. Russian president Vladimir Putin has pledged to provide an economic relief package for the country, which many view as an attempt to prop up one of his few remaining allies in the region. 

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has left a German hospital where he had been admitted to recover from an attempted poisoning. Novichok, the suspected nerve in question, is highly deadly and Navalny’s survival can be attributed to the fast reaction of those around him at the time. While still weakened by the attempt on his life, Navalny has continued to update his supporters via social media and urged them to continue in their opposition to the Putin regime. 

North America

 With the American election only a month and half away, the New York Times published a bombshell report regarding President Trump’s taxes. Allegedly, the president paid as little as $750 USD in federal income tax during 2016, the year he was elected. Before then, he had several years where he paid essentially no tax at all, as most of his businesses were losing significant amounts of money. Another interesting note is that, allegedly, president Trump owes nearly 300 million dollars in loans that will be due over the next four years.  The president has since accused the New York Times of falsifying information and spreading ‘fake news’. Whether or not this will impact the support Trump enjoys from his core voters has yet to be polled. 

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away this month, creating an open seat on the court that President Trump and the Republican controlled Senate could seek to fill before the election in November. Ginsburg was a lifetime advocate for gender equality, and was considered one of the Supreme Court’s most stalwart liberals. Should Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barret, be confirmed then the court could have a heavy conservative lean for the foreseeable future. 


 Attempts to launch a single west-African currency, known as the Eco have been pushed back indefinitely due to the economic damage caused by Covid-19. The countries involved were mainly former French colonies that share a similar and largely interchangeable currency (CFA franc), which is financially guaranteed by the French treasury. However, these nations sought further economic and financial independence from the former colonial power by creating a new joint currency under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). 

Also in the region, the leaders of the military coup in Mali have announced that civilian leaders will begin to take control of the government. This was one of several conditions set by Ecowas that the Malian junta would have to meet before sanctions can be lifted. Colonel Assimi Goita, the leader of the coup had chosen Bah Ndaw for the role of transitional president. Once the return of power to civilian leadership is completed, the nation would then begin planning elections. 

Latin America

 Wildfires have ravaged the Pantanal wetlands in Brazil, which have been uncharacteristically dry and vulnerable. Continuous drought in the region and government mismanagement has led to one of the worst blazes in decades. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro claims however that his government has handled Brazil’s environment better than any other country has done, and accused the media of exaggerating the impact of the fires. 

The President of Peru Martin Vizcarra dodged an impeachment vote when opposition members of the legislature were unable to gather enough votes needed to remove him from office. President Vizcarra had been accused of giving government contracts to a locally famous folk singer that had previously helped his predecessor campaign. While there were enough votes to begin the impeachment process, opposition leaders were divided in their approach to the crisis. President Vizcarra has recently announced that he will not seek reelection in April 2021.

Colin McGinness is The International’s foreign affairs editor