Author Archives: Tom Arms

Observations of an ex pat: Nuclear madness

MAD was the big acronym during the Cold War. For those who cannot remember, it stood for Mutually Assured Destruction.

The thinking behind the terrifying term was that the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers—America and the Soviet Union—would be maintained at such a level that neither could risk striking first for fear that the other power would be left with enough weaponry to launch a retaliatory strike that would leave planet Earth an irradiated cinder block.

It worked. Earth is still green and blue

But the political landscape has changed and is changing. There are new players and new threats. This would seem to indicate the need for a new strategy. All the reports are that this new strategy will be unveiled in the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to be published next month with the term “low-yield” nuclear weapons entering the defence lexicon.

So what is different? Well for a start Moscow and Washington are not the only two countries with nuclear weapons. Throughout most of the Cold War France and Britain were also armed but their arsenals—especially Britain’s—was closely tied to America’s. China joined the club in 1964 and the basic structure of the East V West stand-off was established.

There were also regional nuclear powers. Israel is incredibly tight-lipped about its capabilities, but most experts agree that it has had the bomb since 1966, and its arsenal currently stands at about 80 warheads.  The weapons, however, are clearly meant to be a deterrent against an overwhelming conventional attack from hostile Arab neighbours. Nowadays they are also concerned about a nuclear attack from Iran.

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Observations of an ex pat: Moldova

Keep your eye on Moldova. It could be the cause of the next Ukrainian-style flare-up between Russia and the West.

A bit of background for those who have never heard of Moldova. It is sandwiched between Romania and southwestern Ukraine. It is the poorest country in Europe; ranks 103 out of 168 on Transparency International’s corruption scale; is bitterly divided between pro-Russian and pro-Romanian factions; and Russia has troops in a narrow strip of land on the eastern border which has declared itself independent.

Over 80 percent of the country speaks Romanian. They two countries also share common traditions and even the same name for their respective currencies—the leu. During the interwar years a big chunk of Moldova was actually part of Romania.  After the war it was part of the Soviet Union. In fact, impoverished, landlocked Moldova has over the centuries bounced back and forth between Romania, Russia and the Ottoman Empires.

The Romanians and Russians have especially left their mark—and peoples—behind. The Russians settled a large community on the banks of the Dniester River on the Eastern border. They are the largest ethnic group in an area generally referred to as Transnistria, although it has also gone by the name of Bessarabia and the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic of Transnistria.

When the Soviet Union collapsed  in 1991, Moldova—all of Moldova—declared itself an independent republic. The Russians in Transnistria were unhappy about this. The result was a civil war with the Russian support for the Transnistrians.

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Observations of an ex pat: Tectonic shifts

The Earth is constantly changing. There are something like 15 plates which comprise the Earth’s crust or mantle and they are forever moving towards and away from each other. Geologists call the movements tectonic shifts, and sometimes they cause massive earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

The geological shifts are mirrored in politics. Presidents, prime ministers, governments and countries move to the right and the left. They change alliances and sometimes disappear altogether.

Earthquakes are difficult to predict. The same can be said of tectonic political shifts. In one case we are dealing with nature with all its unknown variables. In the other we are dealing with equally unpredictable human nature.

The political world at the moment is going through one of its shifts. It is a shift which involves the rise of new powers, ideas, concepts, and resources and the decline of their older counterparts in different parts of the world. Just as with an earthquake, or volcanic eruption, these are likely to be disruptive at best and wreak death and destruction at worst.

Fifty years ago the world was locked in a Cold War between two powers—the United States and the Soviet Union—representing two separate and distinct political ideologies. Most of the rest of the world either voluntarily or involuntarily sided with one power or another.

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Observations of an ex pat: 2018

It won’t improve. The world is in a mess. The economy is a bright spot, but politically there is turmoil in every which direction.

Only a fool would offer predictions, but it is worth nothing some of the big events and issues for 2018 that could prove to be important catalysts and platforms.

Catalonia: The unilateral independence referendum declared in favour of independence from Spain. The Madrid-approved election also declared in favour of independence. Now it is up to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to make concessions that will prevent his country’s break-up.

It won’t be easy. Rajoy is a dyed-in-the-wool federalist. It was …

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Observations of an ex pat: Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

To start with I would like a new pair of cufflinks (nothing too flashy), a kindle, a good thriller read and the time to read it.

Then there a few other items which I don’t usually place on my Christmas list.

For a start do you think you could work on some magic dust. I know you know how to make it. It’s magic dust that makes your reindeer fly.

So could you just make some dust to scatter while flying around  through the night sky which would restore a veneer of civilisation to the world. Something that would remove the perpetual scowls and angry body language of presidents—and lots of lots of other people. Something that makes them at least look as if they are searching for a solution rather than a fight.

By the way, do you ever take back presents? You know, if the boy or girl has misused them or doesn’t play properly? If so, would you please collect all the megaphones that you handed out to politicians a couple of Christmases ago. Oh, and while you are it, could you remove the cotton from their ears.

At the moment opposing politicians spend  too much time shouting at each other through giant bullhorns while the cotton wool—plus their uncivilised behaviour—prevents  them from listening and discussing.  

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Observations of an ex pat: Adventures in Israel

A long time ago—back in 1977—I was invited to Israel as a guest of the Israeli government.

At the time I was the diplomatic correspondent of a large chain of British newspapers, and, despite the Balfour Declaration, the British press was not known for a pro-Israeli stance.

Their reporters seemed more attracted more to the wild open spaces and the vast starlit skies of Arabia than the Biblical lands.

I, however, am an American, and had absorbed a pro-Israeli stance through osmosis. The Arabs were in bed with the Reds and the plucky democratic Israelis had seen off repeated attempts to push them into the Med.

When I visited everyone was still arguing about the outcome of the 1967 War in which the Israelis managed to secure the rest of Jerusalem and, the West Bank of the Jordan and the Golan Heights in just six days. It was a triumph and the poster of the year in America was of a weedy-looking Hasidic Jew bursting out of a public phone box while tearing off his Black coat to reveal a superman costume.

But ten years later the world was demanding that Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. No, said Israel. We need “defensible borders.” That was the diplomatic mantra: “defensible borders , defensible borders.”

I arrived in the heat of the summer but waiting for me was an air conditioned limousine, a driver and a young Israeli from the foreign ministry. I was his first diplomatic assignment.

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Observations of an ex pat: Wounded Special Relationship

Donald Trump has just shot the special relationship in the foot.

It will recover. The special relationship between the US and Britain does not rely on one president, one prime minister or even one monarch. They are all relatively ephemeral influences in a relationship based on centuries old links involving a common legal foundation, a common language (almost), cultural and family ties, and common philosophical roots.

But the hole in the foot hurts. It means that the relationship will now limp along at a time when frighteningly unstable events on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere in the world demands the normal good steady stride.

So what did Trump do and—more importantly– why? Well, for those who have just emerged from a spelunking trip, the president has been tweeting again, or, to be more precise, retweeting.

This time President Trump retweeted a video from Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right Britain First Party/movement.  The video purported to show the violent activities of Muslim immigrants in Europe. Its clear purpose was to support the movement’s racist, hate-filled, anti-Islamic, anti-immigration message.

Setting aside the morality of such a goal, the videos had virtually no basis in fact. They were the fakest of the fake news that Trump loves to attack. But this did not bother the president  or  his spokesperson Sarah Huckabee who dismissed the credibility issue. It’s the threat that counts, she said, and the threat is real.

Threats, like medical diagnoses, must be based on hard facts. If a doctor makes the wrong diagnosis then the prescribed treatment will be wrong and the patient will die. If a politician—especially the president of the United States—makes his decision on false information then the resultant actions will cost lives.

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