Category Archives: Europe / International

Anything to do with European / international issues

Conference to confirm our internationalism

For years now committed internationalists in the party have complained that our reputation for internationalism is fading and that parish pump politics has taken over. Worries are being expressed that we could lose that internationalist core vote that has identified with us for decades. Despite serial attempts at proposing emergency motions on international crises to conference, these have repeatedly fallen way behind domestic issues in the ballot and not received a debate. Similarly droves of new members who joined us as pro-Europeans to fight Brexit have not seen their key issue high enough up the agenda. The good news is that change is on the way.

At Spring Conference our Europe motion which restated our long-term aim of getting back to the centre of Europe kicked off a new international focus. Working with our European allies is fundamental to the UK reclaiming a meaningful international presence. Autumn Conference this year will see several international themes on the agenda, as well as starting a series of detailed motions to give us a road map to the closest possible relationship with the EU, and eventual membership.

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How much do we still want a rules-based international order?

At the end of the recent G7 meeting, participants declared their commitment to ‘democracy, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights’. How many had fingers crossed behind their backs? Boris Johnson for one, but probably others, spared their own blushes by the blatant fraudulence of their host regarding Northern Ireland.

But it is not just Northern Ireland. Last week his government declined its obligations under Common Article 1 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, ‘to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances’. After Israel’s recent punitive and extensive destruction of life and property in the Gaza Strip, the UK rightly rebuked Hamas for its undoubted war crimes but declined to rebuke Israel, essentially because it is ‘an important strategic partner for the UK’. To our shame, we pick and choose. Currently, the UK defies the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea regarding the Chagos Islands, which in January ruled that the UK has no sovereignty, confirming the same conclusion by the International Court of Justice in February 2019. Of course, the UK should have recognised the human rights of the Chagossians at the outset in 1965, or when challenged in the ensuing decades. Persistent failure to do so constitutes a crime against humanity. I feel sullied and I expect you do too.

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ALDE Party Congress online or, how to juggle four screens and a print-out

At the weekend we met with old friends and new from our European sister parties for ALDE Congress, albeit via a Zoom link, as the Congress was online for the first time. It was my privilege to lead a diverse Lib Dem delegation of around forty, which in addition to the official categories for diversity, included several UK nationals resident in the EU and a few EU citizens resident in the UK.

Ahead of the Congress we had met to propose amendments and again to discuss the amendments tabled by other delegations. These are negotiated in the “Working Groups”, which usually take place onsite at the beginning of Congress. Online they were held several days in advance of Congress and a high proportion of delegates were unavailable. Some were unaware that this was the real forum for debate. The procedure is not unlike the European Parliament Committee stage where the political groups negotiate compromise amendments. At the final plenary voting session there is no debate and delegations work to voting lists.

The Working Groups did not go to plan, as the scheduled sessions of two and a half hours each ran to six and five hours respectively. Even delegates who started the sessions were often not there by the end. I was sat with original text on one screen, amendments on another, proceedings on my iPad, delegation WhatsApp and the voting platform both on my iPhone plus a print-out of our voting line.

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Change of Guard in Tel Aviv – what hopes for peace?

It’s a momentous day because Netanyahu has been voted out of office and like his predecessor Ehud Olmert now faces the prospect of jail and so will hopefully disappear. He leaves power as Prime Ministers often do because he lost. But as Anshel Pfeffer in today’s edition of Ha’aretz points out, he is overall a winner.

The man who was written off so many times as a passing and inconsequential politician, even after his first term as prime minister in the 1990s, became Israel’s longest-serving leader – even longer than the founder, David Ben-Gurion. Someone who managed to hold onto power for 15 years didn’t lose, even if he was forced out at the end.

According to Pfeffer all previous Israeli Prime Ministers thought that the problems between Israel and Palestine had to somehow be solved, otherwise the rest of the world wouldn’t leave them alone.

(Netanyahu) ..was the first to recognize the fatigue of world leaders, as well as that of Arab dictators, over the Palestinian issue. As a ruthless pragmatist, he correctly assessed that as time passed, his fellow statesmen would prefer economic and security ties with Israel, and that the Palestinians had nothing to offer.

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LibLink: Christine Jardine – Biden has changed the narrative

Writing in the Scotsman as the G7 summit takes place in St Ives, Christine Jardine breathes a sigh of relief that we have a grown-up in the White House again and looks at how Joe Biden has been a good friend to the UK. Sometimes, she says, your best friends tell you the truth.

She compared this summit to the Atlantic Charter, Churchill and Roosevelt’s vision for the post war world:

Eighty years later, Biden referenced that moment as he cast the other leaders in his shadow to declare that the United States will donate half a billion dozes of Pfizer vaccines to 92 low and middle income countries.

“America will be the arsenal of vaccines in our fight against COVID-19, just as America was the arsenal of democracy during World War Two”, he promised.

This was the statement of intent that the world needed.

A commitment from a US President to those who had begun to doubt his country’s engagement with foreign affairs. Leadership.

The UK and others have made similar vaccine commitments but this was America’s moment to step forward and begin to lay the foundations of a post-Covid international order.

Christine also sees hope in the fact that we now have Joe Biden in power after four years of someone who inspired contempt, protests and blimps.

America got rid of Trump, and maybe we can get rid of our equivalent:

Three years ago, every utterance of the then President brought fresh waves of disillusionment bordering on despair.

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ALDE Party eCouncil – a comfortable seat, a nice cup of tea and a cast of hundreds…

Friday morning and, for those of us that aren’t naturally early risers, the hour time difference between Brussels, the nerve centre of the ALDE Party, and the United Kingdom was the cause of a slightly hurried morning routine for your correspondent.

First, there was a rather sad piece of business, as the Congress was asked to make a decision on how to proceed following the sad demise of Party President Hans van Baalen. There had been some consultation as to whether or not a by-election should take place to fill the vacancy, amidst rumours that a candidate was already “working the room”, and our delegation had concluded, having read the Statutes, that it should wait until the regular Autumn Congress, on the basis that the post would have been up for election then anyway.

We apparently weren’t alone, as Congress voted pretty overwhelmingly to postpone, leaving the senior Vice Presidents, Senator Timmy Dooley from Fianna Fáil and Ilhan Kyuchyuk MEP from the Bulgarian Movement for Rights and Freedom, to act as joint President for the time being.

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United with Belarus

I come originally from the South-East part of Poland. I was 10 when the Berlin Wall collapsed and I must admit that I didn’t grasp the importance of these historical events, for my native country as well as the whole of Europe. I discovered its significance later on.

In the last couple of weeks, I was reflecting on the journey of each one of the countries behind the “Iron Curtain”. Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic – they all did well and it is clear that a massive democratic transformation served them and their residents well.

However, there is one country, also a former Soviet Union republic, which has been struggling since 1990’s and which brought international attention for all the wrong reasons. Plane hijacked, which simply equals an act of terrorism, imprisonment of opposition leaders or ordinary members of the public, often as young as 14-15 year olds, lack of free speech, economical progress and recovery or inability to peaceful demonstrations; the list goes on. While completing my Master’s Degree in History, I had an opportunity to meet many people from Belarus, who were studying in my home town, Lublin. I often wonder in these situations whether there is anything I should be doing to help. But what, and more importantly how could I do that?

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Webinar: will the tragedy of Afghanistan become Europe’s tragedy?

If peace negotiations collapse and the Taliban take power in Afghanistan, the UK and Europe may well be faced again with another wave of mass migration (are we really going to turn away women and their families at deadly risk from the Taliban?), a strengthened base for the export of terrorism (Taliban have not broken links with Al Qaeda, CIA reckons even US at risk again within three years) and continued supply of opium to European youth from the largest producer in the world.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah, a figure well-known in the UK who is the Afghan Government’s chief negotiator for the intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban and former Chief Executive Officer of the Unity Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2014-2020) will be addressing UK Liberal Democrats on the latest state of play 18.30-20.00hrs this Monday 7th June. You are encouraged to register for this LIBG/Lib Dems Overseas event at the Paddy Ashdown Forum.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah will be joined by members of the Afghan Civic Democrats, a parliamentary grouping in the Wolesi Jirga (lower house), with whom Lib Dems Overseas have a strong association, as well as the Head of Office from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, direct from Kandahar/Helmand province. The Lib Dems response will be given by Baroness Northover, our Foreign Affairs spokesperson in the Lords.

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Roman Protasevich abduction – time for Britain to act?

The criminal hijacking of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, with a Belarussian anti-government activist on board has led to calls from across Europe and beyond for firm action to be taken against the Belarus Government led by Alexander Lukashenko, whose agents advised the flight crew that there was a bomb onboard, and then seized Protasevich and his partner, Sofia Sapega, whilst the plane was on the ground in Minsk.

Layla Moran was quick to call upon Dominic Raab to respond;

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, in advance of today’s European Council meeting, demanded;

  • The immediate release

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Interested in attending the Congress of European Liberals in two weeks time? Then read on…

The 41st ALDE Party Congress, will take place from 11-12 June 2021 online.

Preliminary information about the programme, political deadlines, venues and logistics is available on the ALDE Party website.

The UK Liberal Democrats are currently the second largest voting bloc in the ALDE Party. The Congress is the largest event of the year for ALDE and it is a policy-making event, with policy motions submitted by member parties for debate and voted on during the Congress. The ALDE Party Congress is the biggest annual event gathering Liberals across Europe with;

  • Over 650 members of Liberal parties from around the continent,
  • Top politicians including Prime Ministers, European Commissioners, Ministers, Members of the European and national Parliaments, Members of the Committee of the Regions, and many other delegates,
  • European visibility, acknowledging the role of the supporting party within a European and not only a national political context,
  • Topical debates, high level speeches and policy discussions,
  • Plenty of Networking opportunities.
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Tom Arms’ World Review: Palestine, Trump, Morocco v Spain and China

At last a ceasefire. But not until acting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reduced Hamas’s rocket manufacturing capability to a pile of smouldering twisted metal and brick dust. Hamas had tried smuggling ground to air missiles into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt. But they were too easily discovered and closed by the opposition. So they turned to Iranian expertise to develop a home-grown defence manufacturing industry. It worked. At the start of this latest spat, there were thousands of missiles launched from sites dotted around Gaza with ranges of between six and 120 miles. Netanyahu had to react quickly because of the ever-present threat that the conflict could rapidly escalate. Iran could join in from bases in Lebanon and Syria. The US would then be obliged to come to the aid of Israel. What would Russia do? How about Turkey? The Arab countries….? In fact, four rockets were fired from southern Lebanon, and they appear to have been a factor in Israel’s decision to cave into the growing international chorus for a ceasefire. But a military truce is only a tiny step towards resolving the underlying problems. That can only come with the implementation of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords and the implicit two-state solution. These were shelved in favour of Israeli hegemony by increasingly right-wing Likud governments which was emboldened most recently by the unquestioning support of Donald Trump. During this most recent clash Joe Biden has taken the traditional pro-Israeli line (“Israel has the right to defend itself”), but changing American demographics and a growing pro-Palestinian faction in the Democratic Party is shifting political parameters. It is also further polarising the parties with the Republicans embracing Trump’s sycophantic pro-Israeli position and the Democrats starting to question it.

The news that New York has moved their investigation of the Trump Organisation from a civil to a criminal case is no shock horror story. Falsely manipulating property values to obtain loans and tax breaks—as the Trump Organisation is alleged to have done—is fraud, which is a criminal offense. The bigger question is what effect will this have on the ex-president’s political future. It could go either way. True to form, Donald Trump was quick to brand the switch from the civil to criminal legal system as part of a Democrat-organised “witch hunt” which puts it alongside the Mueller Inquiry, double impeachment and election “Big Lie”. At last count 70% of Republicans believe him and the handful of Republican Congressmen and Senators prepared to oppose the ex-president are losing their jobs and being booed on the floor of the house by their party colleagues. But New York’s actions have moved the future of Donald Trump out of the political arena and into the courtroom. The fight now is not between Republicans and Democrats in Congress but between Trumpists and the independent judiciary, or Trump v. the constitution.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 2 May 2021

America now has its mid-term election issue: President Biden’s report to Congress. Not since FDR has the US been presented with such a left-wing agenda. Overnight, Joe Biden has been transformed from the one of the most boring to one of the most radical of presidents. He is no longer “sleepy Joe.” But there are some practical political differences between JB and FDR’s administrations which complicate Biden’s plans. The main one is that President Biden has a slim majority in the House of Representatives, and only a one-seat majority in the Senate (when you count the casting vote of Vice …

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Observations of an Expat – India Imagined

India is now the epicentre of pandemic. It is a humanitarian disaster with political roots. By the end of this week 200,000 deaths have been officially recorded and there is strong evidence that there are many, many more unrecorded tragedies.

The country is desperately short of essential medical supplies. And although it is the world’s largest producer of vaccines, its immunisation programme has stalled with less than 10 percent of the population vaccinated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a populist in the mould of Brazil’s Bolsonaro and America’s Trump. Saving lives is secondary to the political goal of retaining power by pandering to their large but ill-informed electoral base. In the case of Modi he is exploiting the long-simmering Hindu-Muslim divide in an attempt to transform India from a secular to a Hindu nation, and is prepared to subvert democratic institutions to achieve that goal.

The confusion and polarisation means more political rallies, more Hindu festivals, less transparency, more lies, more corruption, more division and more fertile political ground for coronavirus.

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Hans van Baalen (1960-2021)

It has been announced that Johannes Cornelis “Hans” van Baalen, President of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) Party, passed away this morning after a short period in hospital, having recently been diagnosed as suffering from cancer.

A member of VVD (The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), he served as a member of the Dutch Parliament between 1999 and 2002, and from 2003 until 2009 until he took his seat in the European Parliament. His political career started as the International Secretary of VVD, the first step in what became a love of international politics that saw him rise to the top of European and international liberalism.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 25 April

Liverpool’s famous football manager Bill Shankly once said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death… I can assure you, it is much, much more important than that.” The quote is for many a truism which sums up why world headlines have been dominated by the attempt to form a European football Super League. 100,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border; global pandemic deaths soared past the three million mark; America may have reached a turning point in race relations and the starting gun has effectively been fired in German federal elections. Football has become the world’s number one sporting institution. It has become an international cultural treasure, spreading in less than a 100 years from a league game played between a handful of British public schools to every corner of the globe. To escape civilisation I once paddled 12 miles up the Gambian River and trekked through three miles of jungle to stumble across a mud hut where a lone bookie armed with a mobile phone was taking bets on that day’s English Premier League matches. The row also underscores another issue: stewardship. To whom do the clubs belong? The fans? The players? The directors? Bill Shankly had something to say about that as well: “At a football club, there’s a holy trinity–the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors…are only there to sign the cheques.” They are at best stewards of national and international cultural phenomenon. They are only allowed the financial rewards and a degree of self-satisfaction awe and respect. Those rewards are for ensuring the success of a sporting institution for the widest possible audience.

Sixteen years of Merkel rule is drawing to a close in Germany. “Mutti” (mother in German as she is called by her legion of fans, will not be standing for re-election as Chancellor. Almost an entire generation of Germans have known no other leader. The East German pastor’s daughter has played a vital role in continuing the reunification of Germany and inching Europe towards a federal state with a good dose of common sense and quiet diplomacy. That is on the good side of the political ledger. On the bad side is her partial responsibility for the Brexit debacle; an immigration policy which fuelled racism in Germany and beyond and her government’s management of the pandemic. But perhaps Angela Merkel’s greatest deficiency has been her failure to groom a successor for leadership of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union. One finally emerged this week: 60-year-old Armin Lascher. He is a solid if somewhat pedestrian figure. Lascher is by profession a mining engineer whose strong links to North Rhine Westphalia’s coal mining industry undermine his green credentials. But he is resolutely pro-EU, has strong links with the Turkish community and backed Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to admit a million refugees. If the latest opinion polls are an accurate pointer, The CDU and their Bavarian partners the CSU (Christian Social Union) are expected to win the most seats in the September elections. Currently they stand at 28 percent. The Greens are five points ahead and are likely to be in a coalition government. The SPD (Social Democratic Party) has slipped to 15 percent. The FDP (centrist Liberal Democrats) are more or less tied with the anti-immigrant and anti-EU AfD (Alternative fur Deutschland). The latter have damaged their prospects with internal divisions and an anti-lockdown position. Whomever succeeds “Mutti” will need to move quickly and decisively to fill her shoes and stamp their authority on German, European and international politics.

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Tom Arms World Review – 11 April 2021

Northern Ireland was a key part of Britain’s Brexit referendum. Remainers claimed that withdrawal from the EU risked undermining the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and a return to The Troubles which raged through the province for 30 years. “Fear Factor” retorted the Brexiteers. “It won’t happen.” But after a week of sectarian violence it looks as if there was something to fear. The Troubles began in 1968 because the Protestant-controlled Stormont government insisted on anti-Catholic legislation. The Catholics saw their only hope in unification with the Republic of Ireland in the South. The Good Friday Agreement kept the dream alive for the Catholics and kicked it into the long grass for the Protestants. The north/south border was to stay open. Why not? Both countries were members of the EU. The aspiration of Irish unification was allowed to remain on the table, but no date or form was agreed. Perhaps the two EU members would gradually move towards some sort of federation under the auspices of an overarching European Union. After all, the EU was a guarantor of the peace along with the US, Britain and Ireland. Then came Boris Johnson’s easy-peasy-oven-ready-you-can-have-your-cake-and-eat-too deal. In a major concession to Brussels, Washington and Dublin, Johnson stabbed the Protestant Union Democratic Party in the back and agreed to keep open the north/south border and draw a new customs border down the Irish Sea, separating mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. This is the Northern Ireland Protocol. It immediately complicated trade between the Ulster provinces and Britain and it moved the aspiration of Irish unification from the long to the short grass. The result is that this time the Protestants are taking the lead in violence and they can be even more stubborn than and just as nasty as the IRA.

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Observations of an Expat – Consequences of Greenland

Greenland is not usually a world election hotspot. This is because most of the time the biggest issue for the 57,000 inhabitants is filling the pothole on Nuuk’s high street or the siting of a new streetlight to illuminate the long cold winter nights.

Not this time. The issue at stake—mining—will have consequences well beyond the shores of the misnamed Danish possession involving the environment, world shipping, defence, economic development and tectonic shifts in global power.

The election was won by the Inuit Ataqatigiit or Community of the People Party on the platform of stopping development of the uranium and rare earths mine at Kvanefjeld. The increasingly sought after rare earth minerals are essential for the running of computers and various medical treatments. Eighty percent of the world’s rare earths are found in China who are keen to keep their virtual monopoly. Greenland has the world’s second largest deposit, which is why a Chinese company is behind the Kvanefjeld mine.

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Stepping up to the plate on Iran

Just how powerful is Global Britain, as the country walks out of the EU door? The question has taken on a certain urgency given the disturbing events of the last few days regarding Iran.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the country’s most senior nuclear scientist, was assassinated on the outskirts of Tehran on Friday. The Iranians immediately blamed Israel, which is not as outrageous a claim as some the Islamic Republic makes. Tel Aviv has made no secret of its wish to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions – as it did earlier with Iraq – and Dr Fakhrizadeh was not the first leading Iranian scientist to be “taken out”. Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has at times made graphic presentations about what he sees as the Iranian nuclear threat.

Disturbingly, reactions in the Iranian media over the weekend included the suggestion that Haifa should be targeted for reprisals – even though would mean civilian casualties. The security situation for the whole region has suddenly got a whole lot worse.

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16 days of Activism against Gender-based Violence

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and 10 December is International Human Rights Day. The ALDE Party is marking the two days with a campaign running between them, focusing their efforts on the fight for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. As Jacob Moroza-Rasmussen, the ALDE Party’s Secretary General, puts it;

Combatting violence against women is a priority for Europe’s Liberals (as stated in our 2019 electoral manifesto) and we continue to call for the European Union and all EU Member States to ratify the Istanbul Convention. As Liberals, we are also committed to promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls, and to working for the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making.

The campaign starts with a Liberal Breakfast at 8.30 a.m. GMT which will;

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The new war in Ethiopia. The first step towards peace is understanding the conflict.

For many LDV readers, Ethiopia is associated with arid land, drought and terrible famine; made famous in the 1980s by Bob Geldorf and ‘Live Aid’.

The recent resurgence of civil conflict, mass fatalities and the exodus of 200,000 refugees into Sudan, seems inexplicable for the casual British observer. Is there a well-founded explanation?

Some perceptions have to be undone. More than 90% of the 100m population live in the green, fertile west of the country. Most of Ethiopia’s cities are modern and the capital, Addis, has a hi-tech urban rail system and glitzy shopping centres. Ethiopia has recently experienced high economic growth, and is a favoured investment location for Chinese and Western investors. The new Prime Minister won the Nobel peace prize for his rapprochement with breakaway Eritrea. So what’s the problem ?

Modern Ethiopia was largely created as an ‘empire’ by conquest in the late 19th Century under Emperor Menelik II, from what is now Addis Ababa, up to World War 1, with the support of Italy.

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Burmese Days

The election is more important than COVID-19.

Not the words of Donald Trump but the words of the State Counsellor of Burma, Aung San Su Kyi. Yes, I know the name of the country was changed by the State Law and Order Restoration Council-SLORC but Burma is still Burma in the eyes of many.

The election will be held on November 8th with various challenges. There are of course security challenges. Conflict zones in the border areas where voting is suspended and COVID-19. This election will have suspensions in Rakhine state with no vote taking place in a number of townships due to the fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military. Of course, very few of the Rohinyas that remain in that area will be eligible to vote as they are without national identity cards. Many of the displaced people in other parts of Burma face a similar problem as they lack documentation.

COVID-19 is another major problem. Burma has seen increasing number of infections and fully implementing prevention measures at the polling stations is going to be difficult. The question of postponing the election was raised but the Union Election Commission (UEC) is proceeding as scheduled, a decision supported by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

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A Belgian, liberal perspective on handling the pandemic

Leading Belgium’s #COVID19 task force, Federal Minister Philippe De Backer from our sister party, Open VLD, has shown leadership and resilience in the face of crisis. I thought that our readers might be interested to see a liberal response to this crisis.

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Crisis in Belarus and possible EU and UK policy response

#Живёт Беларусь – two words that are the rallying cry for what appears to be a tipping point for the Lukashenko regime with mass strikes at factories, schools, TV anchors resigning and signs that security forces are refusing to follow orders or resigning. Despite the repeat of the Lukashenko play book of arresting or brute elimination of opposition figures, the country coalesced around an unlikely figure in the form of a quiet housewife who has fired up the imagination and bamboozled the regime. It is also a test of how the West, the EU and most notably the UK in …

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From Russia with Loathing

I got my first taste of Russia and the other side of the Iron Curtain on a schoolboy visit to Moscow and Odessa in 1976. Brezhnev was the Soviet Leader and the Soviet Union was in the middle of a hot Cold War with the West.

The contrast between East and West could not have been greater.

In Russia, apart from in the hard currency shops, consumer goods were in noticeably short supply, as was anything edible except for seasonal produce. The efforts of shadowy black marketeers, who descended on our group at every touristic stopover, whispering ‘buy jeans, dollars, chewing gum’ would have done little to plug the supply shortages.

In hotels, we were under constant surveillance, with a babushka sitting at a desk, at the end of every corridor. The promised day with a Russian family, the much-anticipated highlight of our trip, was cancelled without explanation.

It was only on a visit to a secondary school that we detected some common experiences shared with our Russian peers – an interest in heavy metal bands Led Zeppelin, Motorhead and Van Halen, and scruffy torn denims.

Returning to Moscow last year, over forty years later, jeans were available in all sizes and price ranges, chewing gum could be purchased in every flavour imaginable and the supermarkets were bulging with produce flown in from around the world.

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The geopolitics of Covid19 – international webinar

On Sunday 28 June at 1400 BST, a time chosen to suit a global audience, LibDems Overseas (LDO), a g(local) party, co-hosted our first webinar with the Paddy Ashdown Forum, the centrist think tank supported by the European Liberal Forum. Participants who joined via Zoom were largely drawn from LDO’s 1000 members and supporters living in over 40 countries outside Europe. The event was moderated by LDO Chair, George Cunningham.

Covid19 has been called a “game changer”, knocking all countries sideways economically and in the sphere of public health. It has also awoken the world to the rise of China, where the outbreak started, and which may be perceived as the nation to come out “on top” after the pandemic.

Our first speaker Dr Christine Cheng, (lecturer in War Studies at Kings College London and key member of the Federal Policy Committee) focused on the impact of Covid19 on UK-China relations. Based on a 2019 Delta poll, Brits over-estimated UK’s influence in the world as #2 after the US and ahead of China at #3. Cheng recommended that the UK should stay aligned with the EU for greater clout. The diplomatic row between China and Canada, sparked by the detention of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, was followed by China’s arrests of two Canadians on suspicion of espionage. More recently, Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the Coronavirus resulted in tariffs being imposed on Australian goods. These instances point to a more confident China, ready to defend its ground.

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Ireland at the UN table – An authority in soft power

In the world of international diplomacy, something remarkable happened this week to boost the morale of the UK’s closest neighbour, Ireland. She was elected on the first count to the table of the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, beating the far bigger power of Canada in the process.

You might wonder why Ireland would even want to be there, or why in fact, others would want her to be there. In the short history of the recent state that is Ireland, it will be the fourth time that Ireland has taken its place at that table. An impressive statistic given it’s just a small island in the North Atlantic. To answer this question, you need to get right into the soul of the Irish people to understand why being at the centre of shaping global decision-making and politics is important.

There’s a sense of national pride attached to it – Ireland, the underdog, holding its own amongst the big guns of global politics. More importantly, the island of Ireland has known its own troubles and has overcome them. We understand what feeling oppressed is like. We understand how hard peace is to come by. We understand the importance of language and identity. We understand conflict resolution. We lived it, and if we can come out of it the other side, so can others. 

Let’s look at the result of the count this week. The quota was 128 out of 192 votes. There were three countries up for election – Canada, Norway and Ireland. One the first count, both Norway and Ireland were elected leaving Canada bruised again failing for the second time in recent times to get elected. Two features appeared in the vote – small nations voted for Ireland as well as all the Middle East Arab countries. A vote for Ireland was a vote for the small nations in the UN. Equally, Ireland doesn’t bring baggage to the UN Security Council as it does not have a colonial past and is deemed an honest broker.

The agenda Dublin will be focused on includes supporting a rules-based order that helps to enable small nations to survive. Plus, it intends to lobby for action to be taken against Israel if the planned annexation of the West Bank goes ahead. Ireland regards annexation as a blatant breach of international law. As an honest broker, Ireland is much respected in this regard and has been an active participant in the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) since 1958. UNTSO, established in 1948, is the oldest ongoing United Nations peacekeeping operation. It operates in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel – the parties to the Truce Agreements that followed the fighting in Palestine in 1948. To date, Ireland still maintains troops in the Golan Heights and Lebanon. 

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What’s happening in Israel and Palestine?

While international focus has been on Covid-19, one could be excused for thinking all was quiet in Israel and Palestine. Benny Gantz, who got one more seat for his coalition than Netanyahu in the January elections, tried to form a government initially which included Arab and Centre Left support. He failed, as did Netanyahu with the far right. The two of them have now agreed terms for a centre-right coalition, in which Netanyahu becomes PM for the first 18 months and then Gantz follows.
The Netanyahu/Gantz agreement specifies a timetable formally to annex East Jerusalem and the West …

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Preaching to confine Hong Kong to the Basic Law is wishful thinking

Thus we left Hong Kong to her fate and hope that Martin Lee, the Leader of the Democrats, would not be arrested

wrote HRH Prince Charles in his diaries as Britannia left Hong Kong on 1 July 1997. Prince Charles’s scepticism harks back to years of brain drain as young professionals lined up to migrate in the 1990s. The Hong Kong people will never give up in fulfilling their destiny to protect their way of life. For those who remained in Hong Kong, they tread carefully. Their only firewall now between Red China and the Island was the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the 18 April Hong Kong’s Night of the Long Knives is evident that solely entrusting Hong Kong’s future and rule of law to the Basic Law is futile.

Martin Lee is amongst the handful (literally) of liberal politicians invited to draft the Basic Law. Following the TianAnMen Massacre and years of neglect, he found his position in the Drafting Committee untenable. Indeed, in her book Underground Front, Christine Loh noted that Peking have always only wanted legal advisors who are patriotic to the Communist regime. Hong Kong was never given the opportunity of a referendum on the constitution. Crucially, a constitution should be the guiding legal principles to bind the Administration(s) to the rule of law, and based on the framework citizens can bring the Executive to justice. On the contrary, Peking and its interference on subsequent HK Chief Executives, demonstrates its view that it is the citizen’s responsibility to respect and obey the Basic Law’s power wholeheartedly based on interpretations Peking sees fit.

More importantly, the Basic Law is flawed because Peking, holding on to Reserved Powers, is a regime with no respect to the rules-based international order. FCO archives writes “NPC Standing Committee thus retains a power of interpretation of provisions of the BL which are within the SAR’s autonomy, and such interpretations will be binding on the SAR courts … would compromise the autonomy of the SAR judicial system.” Furthermore, Deng XiaoPing has been referenced to say ‘HK affairs should not all be handled by HK people.’ It is conspicuous Peking was never ready to give Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. Verily, the Chinese Communist Party works on the utilitarianism of Party survival no matter the sacrifices of its image, social culture and people. In a power stability, Mao was ready to inflict the Cultural Revolution; Deng to roll the tanks; and Xi to cover-up on Covid-19. Besides, this is further multiplied by the ingrained Chinese belief of 山高皇帝遠 ‘the lands are vast, but the emperor is far away’. Hunger and fear and without representations are not the recipe to engage all reserved powers at the slightest dissent.

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Everything we do now as a party must have an international dimension

As if Brexit was not enough of an economic self-inflicted wound, the pandemic has struck at our very soul.

It is predicted that the world will have changed after the pandemic with the irony that China, where the virus originated, strengthened economically (although not in perfect shape because of “Belt and Road Initiative” debts owed by others and global supply chains broken), the USA weakened and Britain and the European Union, divided from each other, struggling not to become a plaything of those two superpowers.

However, this is not to say Tom Arms’ recent LDV articles on the crisis should be panda-ring …

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