Tag Archives: Finland

Tom Arms’ World Review

NATO

The current Arctic military exercises are relatively small by NATO standards. But they are hugely significant. They are they the first manoeuvres in which Finland has participated as a full member of the Alliance.

In fact, 12 countries are participating; two of whom are NATO partners: Sweden and Switzerland. The latter has been neutral for more than half a millennium.

There is no chance that the Swiss will end their neutrality, but in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Sweden decided that the NATO umbrella was more important than its 200-year non-alignment policy. Unfortunately, NATO membership requires the support of all 31 member countries. Two members, Turkey led by President Tayyip Recep Erdogan and Hungary led by self-declared illiberal Prime Minister Viktor Orban, blocked it.

The hope of the rest of the Alliance is that Erdogan will be more receptive to compromise following his 28 May re-election for a further five years. In the next few weeks there will be a constant stream of visitors to Ankara to try to persuade the Turkish leader to drop his veto. They will be led by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg but will also include senior officials from the US, UK, France, Germany, the Baltic states and, of course, Sweden.

The aim is to change Erdogan’s mind so that the Alliance welcome the Swedes into NATO alliance at the heads of government summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on 11-12 July. But NATO has to overcome Hungarian objections as well as Turkish.

Hungary’s veto is based on two important foreign policy pillars: good relations with Russia and Turkey. The former is rooted in land-locked Hungary’s total dependence on Russian oil and gas. This is also the reason Hungary continues to defy Western sanctions by buying Russian energy. The Turkish connection is based more on a common ideology between the two right-wing populists – Erdogan and Orban.

The official stated reason for Hungarian opposition is Swedish criticism of Orban’s democratic credentials. “Stockholm,” wrote a Hungarian government spokesperson recently, “sits on a crumbling throne of moral superiority.” It is a weak argument. Swedish criticism of Orban is no greater than that of most of Western Europe, and the hope is that if Erdogan has been brought into line, Orban will follow.

USA

America will NOT default on its debt. That is a near – but not quite – certainty. The House of Representatives has voted to raise the debt ceiling. The Senate has to follow suit by 5 June and is almost certain to do so.

In the end there was the inevitable compromise between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic President Joe Biden. To please the Republicans $1.3 trillion was shaved off the federal budget.

There were some cuts to welfare spending but not enough to alienate Democratic Congressmen but enough for Republicans to point to an achievement. The biggest White House concession was to allow the building of an oil pipeline through West Virginia in order to secure the support of troublesome Democratic Senator Joe Manchin as well as Republican congressmen.

In the context of the bigger picture the amount saved is insignificant. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government will spend $80-plus trillion over the next ten years.

The problem that both parties face is that there is virtually no room for discretionary spending cuts. To start with there is defense. Both parties support a large defense establishment. The result is that US defense spending is 3.1 percent of GDP and 12 percent of the federal budget.  American government spending on its military represents 40 percent of military spending in the entire world.

But an untouchable military is only part of the budget problem. Two-thirds of federal spending is the even bigger sacred cow of social security (state pensions) and medicare (medical insurance for the elderly). Both of these are increasing in line with an ageing American population.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA

America’s looking glass politics dominated the news agenda again this week. Donald Trump is not a perp. He is a victim. And he is exploiting his victimhood to the maximum political advantage.

The ex-president has re-galvanised his base with classic hyperbolic claims about Democratic witch hunts. The sad thing is that in the case of this week’s indictment – the first of a past or present American president – he may actually be right.

The office of District Attorney for South Manhattan is an elected one, and Alvin Bragg won the vote on the back of a promise to bring Donald Trump to trial and convict him. Lady Justice is portrayed blindfolded with her sword and balancing scales. She is not elected.

The law is meant to be based on precedent.  No man (or woman) should be protected by their political position but neither should their political position be the determining factor in their innocence or guilt.

Of course, Donald Trump, is more than prepared to play both sides of the legal coin. His 2016 campaign rallies were marked by the endless chant/rant of “Lock her up” related to Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails for government use. The demand was dropped as soon as Trump entered the White House.

Possibly the saddest aspect of Trump’s indictment is that DA Bragg’s case is the weakest against the ex-president. Secret documents at Mar-a-Lago, the January 6 riots and attempts to fix the Georgia election returns all look more promising. Legal eagles believe he can beat the rap on the Stormy Daniels case – if only on one of several technicalities. If Trump is acquitted then he could use that acquittal to fight off other legal challenges and ride the victimhood express all the way to the Republican Party nomination and possibly beyond.

China

Diplomats say interesting things sometimes. Fu Cong, Beijing’s ambassador to the EU was certainly in expansive and interesting mode when he spoke to the New York Times on the eve of the Macron/von de Leyen state visit to China.

At the top of President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda in Beijing was Ukraine. In fact, his feet had barely touched Chinese soil when he was telling Xi Jinping: “I am counting on you to bring Russia to its senses.”

France, America and the rest of the West are terrified that the Xi/Putin “friendship without limits” will eventually lead to Chinese weaponry supporting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ambassador Fu, however, dismissed the “limitless” phrase as “rhetoric.” He also pointed out that Beijing has refused to recognise the 2014 annexation of Crimea or the more recent Russian land grabs in the Donbas.

All of the above is true. It is also encouraging that a senior Chinese diplomat has gone on record to try and balance the debate. But friendship with Russia and Putin remains at or near the centre of Xi’s world strategy. To put it bluntly, Xi sees Russia as key to his plan of eroding the Western-oriented world order and replacing it with one that is more autocracy-friendly.

The Chinese president hinted at his big picture plan in his opening remarks to Macron’s visit when he said that China and France have the responsibility to transcend their differences “as the world undergoes proposed historical changes.”

To realise this plan, Xi wants to drive a wedge between European and American policymakers. To do this he is dangling the financial incentive of improved Sino-European trade links. That is why EU Commission President Ursula von de Leyen and an accompanying herd of French businessmen have been tacked onto Macron’s state visit.

The question remains whether the fine words that come out of the Macron/von de Leyen visit will be mere “rhetoric.”

Finland

Russia’s border with NATO is now 800-miles longer. Finland has ended decades of neutrality and joined the Western Alliance. Simultaneously it has changed its government.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The Irish question has bedevilled British, European and American politics since… well, forever. It played a role in the Council of Whitby in 664. In 1169 England’s Norman rulers invaded and started centuries of direct conflict.

All this was supposed to end with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Well two events this week have brought it back from a shallow grave: The emergence of Sinn Fein as the largest party on both sides of the border and British refusal to accept the Northern Ireland protocol. The two political incidents have also brought the possibility of a united Ireland a giant step closer. Sinn Fein is totally committed to a referendum in the north on a united Ireland. The long-term stranglehold of the Protestants on the politics of the six northern counties has been a major stumbling block. That has ended.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is also pushing the two halves together. It has tied Northern Ireland economically to the EU and the southern part of the island and weakened trading ties with Britain. The Protestants are, of course, opposed to the protocol. The conservative Boris Johnson government is trying to reverse it because of their traditional links to Protestant parties and commitment to a divided island.  But the Protestant establishment – in the form of the Democratic Unionist Party – is no longer in the majority. And the majority of Northern Irish voters see their future in Europe and that means linked with the Republic of Ireland. But they still have to contend with die-hard Protestants, who, if they cannot win at the ballot box, could easily turn to the terrorist tactics of their IRA counterparts.

Britain was the driving force behind the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949. It pushed for the alliance to quickly admit former Warsaw Pact members in the 1990s and has taken the lead in arming Ukraine. This week British PM Boris Johnson was in Sweden and Finland to sign “mutual assistance” treaties with Sweden and Finland. The three countries are now pledged to come to each other’s aid in the event of a crisis. The treaties are a symbolic first step towards full-fledged Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO which is expected to be finalised at next month’s heads of government summit.

Vladimir Putin is furious and has promised retaliation. NATO expansion, Putin has repeatedly asserted, is one of the main reasons for his invasion of Ukraine.  But for Sweden and Finland, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is THE reason for their decision to end 200 years of neutrality for the Swedes and 67 years for the Finns.

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