Observations of an ex pat: While we are divided

Russian President Vladimir Putin may not have actively colluded with Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential campaigns. He may not have plotted with the Brexiteers in the referendum vote of the same year. But he has certainly benefited from the results—BIG TIME

Those results are an erratic president dividing America and angering European allies.  On the other side of the Atlantic it is a Britain hopelessly split over membership of the EU. The turmoil in both countries is proof that even the darkest clouds contain a silver lining for someone somewhere. In this case the main beneficiary is Russia.

Russia is Britain and America’s main foreign adversary. It is in the interests of President Putin that the Anglo-Saxon world’s two main pillars are distracted by domestic divisions so that he is free to conduct an increasingly authoritarian and repressive domestic agenda and pursue foreign adventures abroad.

The end of the Cold War saw an initial change in Moscow’s attitude towards the EU and NATO. But Vladimir Putin has reversed that. He clearly wants to re-establish Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe. The EU and NATO block that ambition. A second Cold War looms if it is not already upon us. But Washington and London are too distracted to notice or do anything about it

Many in the Trump Administration argue that China is the bigger threat. But little is being done about the growing influence of the Eastern giant other than slapping a blanket of tariffs on Chinese goods which only rebounds on the US and world economy. In the meantime China continues to establish its hold on the South China Sea; develop its Belt/Road Initiative; suppress human rights, block the internet and gun down demonstrators in Hong Kong.

The two wannabe super powers are not the only problems. North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them, despite President Trump’s “great relationship” with hereditary communist dictator Kim Jong-un. The American president wasn’t bothered by short-range missile tests—and tweeted accordingly. They couldn’t reach the American mainland. But this week Kim launched a missile from a submarine. This means he now has the capability to move the launch pads for his nuclear weapons to within easy range of American cities. There has been no response from a White House under congressional siege.

Iran is forging ahead with its nuclear weapons programme and is suspected of launching a drone attack on Saudi oilfields. Tehran is a Trump target, but only because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling the shots. Europeans counselling diplomatic calm are ignored and this is placing an even greater strains on the alliance.

In Africa relations between the two economic power houses—Nigeria and South Africa—are deteriorating. Egypt, Sudan  and Ethiopia are on the verge of blows over a giant Ethiopian-built  dam that will affect the flow of the Nile. Islamic Jihadists in the form of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabab in Somalia are destabilising East and West Africa. Libya is in the throes of a civil war with a dose of Islamic fundamentalism. Ebola has reared its ugly head in Central Africa. More than two thousand people have died and the disease is spreading.

In South and Central Asia the never-ending war in Afghanistan drags on and on. Pakistan is leaning ever more towards fundamentalism and in hock to the Chinese. The disputed Kashmir region is under martial law. About two million people who fled Bangladesh in 1971 are on the verge of being made stateless and the Rohingyas continue to be oppressed in Myanmar.

In Eastern Europe, former Soviet Bloc countries are undermining the values of the EU with growing restrictions on the judiciary and the press as well as stringent anti-immigration laws. The German economy is faltering.. The European Central Bank is talking about negative interest rates. Spain has had four governments in four years and Italy is suffering an identity crisis.

Most of Central America appears to be run by criminal gangs who are driving the population to seek sanctuary in the US where Donald Trump has proposed shooting them in the legs to stop them from crossing the border. FARC has returned to the bush and the gun in Colombia. Brazil is literally burning. The Argentine economy is a mess. Peru is in a political crisis with two politicians claiming the presidency and a third resigning 24 hours after being named interim leader. Venezuela, of course, is a political and economic disaster area.

Hanging over all of the above is climate change. Scientists are issuing dire warnings that the Earth is heating up faster than expected. Polar ice caps are rapidly melting. Glaciers are disappearing. Sea levels and temperatures are rising. Storms are increasing. Island nations and coastal communities are slipping under the waves. A 15-year-old Swede has become the poster girl for climate change activists. Climate sceptic Trump has responded to Greta Thunberg’s fame with his usual  personal insults.

All the above may be interpreted as a call to just get Brexit over and done with and drop impeachment proceedings in the US so Boris and Donald can get on with the job of saving the rest of the world. That interpretation would be wrong. Neither Boris nor Donald are capable of dealing with world problems because they are self-serving, narcissistic politicians who equate the national interest with their personal political gain and are prepared to right roughshod over the rule of law in pursuit of questionable ends.

A solid domestic base is a prerequisite to an effective foreign policy. The only way that America—and junior partner Britain—can re-establish their pre-eminence in world affairs is by ending the divisions in their country. In America that is best done by legally removing Donald Trump from office as soon as possible. In Britain it should be achieved by ending the national pursuit of unicorns and resuming the country’s rightful place in Europe.

 

* Tom Arms is membership secretary for Tooting Lib Dems. He also broadcasts on foreign affairs for US Radio, regularly contributes to Lib Dem Voice, lectures and is working on a book on Anglo—American relations which is due to be published next year.

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6 Comments

  • Andrew McCaig 6th Oct '19 - 3:37pm

    Tom,
    I would mention that the USA and Russia seem intent to tear up disarmament treaties and engage in a new nuclear arms race, plus new technology with drones, cyberattacks, space weapons and hypersonic missiles is likely to render big targets like aircraft carriers completely obsolete, shifting the balance of power. We have seen how easily Saudi oil production could be halted by very cheap weapons.
    We need to be entering into dialogue with Putin and others as we did even during the Cold War to avoid a nuclear armaggedon which is still a much bigger threat to the human race than climate change.

    The other thing that many Russians worry about is that Putin could quite soon be replaced by someone much worse…

  • If an election takes place before the UK leaves the EU, then parliament is going to look a lot less divided.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Oct '19 - 11:04am

    Your piece argues for a stronger United Nations; we should abolish the present security council membership’s embargo and create a larger body with revolving members, leaving about six permanent members. It should be able to apply stick and carrot to members on majority or super-majority votes. If members leave they should be subject to sanctions that prevent this happening. It is only by nations working together that we can solve these issues.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Oct '19 - 11:06am

    Sorry, I meant veto, not embargo.

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