Tag Archives: NATO

Observations of an Expat: Special Relationship

It’s time for the Special Relationship to be extracted from the diplomatic cupboard and dusted off.

Britain needs it. Europe needs it. And, although they are less keen to admit that they need help from any quarter, the US needs it to become the cornerstone of a new Transatlantic Alliance.

For years the UK shared the “Special Relationship” tag with France and Germany. In fact, after Brexit, Britain probably slipped into third place in Washington’s relationship arrangements.

But French President Emmanuel Macron has politically castrated himself with the recent political elections and the dull and dreary German Chancellor Olaf Scholz fails to inspire either the Germans or the wider world community

Britain may no longer be an EU power, but Sir Keir Starmer’s landslide victory gives him latitude at home and kudos abroad.

He is helped by a foreign secretary who has the potential to go down in history as one of the best in modern times. David Lammy wasted no time in stamping his image on British foreign policy. Almost before Sir Keir had finished his acceptance speech, Lammy was on the plane for Paris, Berlin, Warsaw and Kyiv. This week he was at the prime minister’s elbow for the NATO summit in Washington where Sir Keir was the only NATO leader awarded a tete a tete with President Joe Biden.

Lammy also has extensive American connections. The new foreign secretary has worked, studied and lived in the US. He has family in America and his father is buried in Texas.

But what if Donald Trump returns to the White House? A prospect which appears increasingly likely as Joe Biden ages with every passing day. Lammy is on record as labelling Trump a “woman-hating neo-Nazi sympathising sociopath” and a “profound threat to international order” as well as a racist and a fascist.

But both Sir Keir and Lammy have said that the transAtlantic relationship remains the “bedrock” of British foreign policy. And in a recent speech at the conservative US think tank the Hudson Institute, Lammy said that Trump’s comments on European security had been “misunderstood.” He has also gone out of his way recently to meet senior Trump foreign policy advisers.

Unfortunately, Trump’s negative policy towards Europe is based on good, sound politics. It is a reflection of a growing US isolationism which in turn is a reaction to series of foreign policy reversals. That feeling of being hard done by the rest of the world (especially its European allies) will continue regardless of whomever win the November election.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

NATO

French President Emmanuel Macron set the cat among the NATO pigeons this week when he hinted that France just might – no stronger than might at this stage – send troops to Ukraine.

The suggestion was definitely on the table when 21 Western heads of state or government and six foreign ministers met in Paris this week. Polish President Andresz Duda confirmed it.

It was apparently raised by Macron and we know that the frontline Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania backed it. We also know that the British, American and Germans vetoed it – for the time being. Everyone else is keeping their cards close to their chests.

On two things the allies were agreed: Russia is stepping up its cyber and disinformation attacks and that some time in the next few years, according to Macron, “we have to be prepared for Russia to attack the (NATO) countries.”

Immediately following the Paris summit, President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual state of the nation address in which he warned that any further NATO involvement in Ukraine “raises the real threat of a nuclear conflict that will mean the destruction of our civilisation.”

On a slightly less apocalyptic note, Putin said that he would be strengthening Russian forces on its Western flank which means recently annexed Eastern Ukraine, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the Russian borders with the Baltic States and new NATO member Finland.

Ideally, NATO would avoid a head to head with Russia by providing Ukraine with the means to keep fighting. But Europe’s defense industries lack the capacity and America’s $60 billion military aid package is being blocked by MAGA Republicans.

One solution was voiced this week by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She suggested using the $300 billion in frozen Russian assets to purchase weapons for Ukraine. The money had been earmarked for reconstruction purposes. But if Ukraine is defeated than there will be nothing to reconstruct.

Russia

Meanwhile, as of this writing, martyred Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is being laid to rest in Moscow’s Borisovskoye Cemetery.

The funeral service was held in a Russian Orthodox Church near the Navalny home in southeast Moscow. A large crowd gathered outside the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God. As Navalny’s body was carried in and out of the church the crowd chanted “Navalny, Navalny” interspersed with “executioners, “executioners”

The church was surrounded by masked police guards who blocked several of Navalny’s closest allies still in Russia from entering the church. They also banned cameras and videos from the church, although Navalny’s supporters were able to broadcast much of the event on a You Tube channel which was watched by hundreds of thousands.

The state media did not report the funeral and the Kremlin, when asked to express condolences, refused to do so.

Navalny’s death is the most high profile and dramatic anti-dissident action by the Putin regime. But it is not the only one. This week 70-year-old Russian human rights activist Oleg Orlov was sentenced to two and a half years for criticising the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Orlov is best known as the co-chair of Memorial, a Russian human rights organisation which was one of three winners of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. In October he was fined $1,600 for an article in which the state said he “discredited” the army. Not enough, decreed Putin. So the verdict and sentence were cancelled and Orlov was this week placed on trial for the same crime and this time sent to prison.

Orlov and Navalny are only two of thousands of Russians who have dared to criticise Putin. Most of them have either joined Navalny in the grave or Orlov in prison.

United Kingdom

Islam is the new scapegoat of Europe. Actually, that is not accurate, fear of Islamisation has been around since before the Battle of Tours in 732.

But it appears to have reached a fresh apogee in Britain. And the rest of Europe’s far-right parties are no slouches in the Islamaphobic stakes.

Viktor Orban in Hungary, Marine Le Pen in France, Gert Wilders in the Netherlands, the Swedish Democrats in Sweden…. They have all helped to move the anti-Islam dial and, in doing so, have infected the mainstream political parties.

In Britain it stayed on the distant fringes of the far-right for a long time. Parties such as the British National Party and English Defence League were associated with football hooliganism as much as Islamaphobia.

That started to change with the rise of UKIP and its successor party Reform. They have been gradually chipping away at the right-wing of the Conservative party with the result that the Tories have started to steal some of their anti-Islamic clothes in order to keep their voters.

This became all too apparent this week when Conservative Party Chairman Lee Anderson told the right-wing news channel GB News that the Muslim Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan was controlled by Islamists and that he had given the city away “to his mates.”

For working purposes, the term “Islamists” is generally interpreted as either Islamic extremists or Islamic fundamentalists. I personally know Sadiq Khan. Before I joined Liberal Democrats I had a brief flirtation with the Labour Party and deputised for Sadiq on two occasions when he was my constituency MP. He is almost as far from being an Islamic extremist as the Pope.

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Observations of an Expat: What does America get out of NATO?

Donald Trump is a transactional kinda guy. He is a businessman who measures success and failure in dollars and cents.

He works on the basis of if we do something for you then we expect tangible, easily measurable, rewards in return.

America does a lot for its European NATO allies. It protects it with 100,000-plus troops on 85 European bases. Its 5,000 nuclear warheads are an essential deterrent against the 6,000 Russian nuclear warheads.

In return, successive American administrations – not just Trump – have asked their European allies to spend two percent of their GDP on defence. Only a third do. America spends 3.6 percent of its GDP on its worldwide military establishment.

Trump – and a growing number of Republicans – think that NATO is a rotten deal for America. That the Europeans are financing their social welfare programmes off the back of the American defensive umbrella.

So what does America get out of NATO? Quite a lot actually.

Let’s start by looking at what upsets the MAGA crowd the most – the balance sheet. Roughly half of all Europe’s military equipment is American-made. That is worth $400 billion a year to US weapons manufacturers. Those manufacturers employ an estimated two million people.

The Biden Administration is pushing the Europeans to buy more American military hardware. The Europeans – led by the French – see the need to build up their own defense industries, spurred on by Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric and the Republican congressmen’s blocking of military aid for Ukraine.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kicked off his election campaign with a prayer. And it was a prayer in the most controversial ethno-religious setting that he could find, thus further strengthening his ethno-religious claim to be the standard bearer of Hindu Nationalism.

The setting was the consecration of a partially-constructed Hindu temple in the town of Ayodha. It was controversial because the temple is being built on the site of a 16th century Muslim mosque which was torn down by Hindu nationalist rioters in 1992.

The destruction of the mosque led to nationwide religious riots which left 2,000 dead, most of them Muslims.

The Hindus tore down the mosque because they believed that it was built on the birthplace of Lord Ram, the chief deity in the Hindu pantheon of gods.

Modi made it one of his key election pledges that a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram would be built on the site of the former mosque.

And to insure the maximum political return, Modi pulled out all the stops for the consecration of the temple and placed himself at centre stage. For a start, the Indian Prime Minister dressed in the saffron robes of a Hindu monk and publicly fasted for five days before the consecration.

Then he invited every possible Bollywood star, businessman and politician – except Muslims and the opposition Congress I Party – to the consecration.

A military helicopter was ordered to fly overheard during the consecration ceremony showering flower petals on the crowd. Modi, of course, led the prayers.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, was immensely proud of the fact that the Indian constitution declared India a secular nation. Modi is doing his best to reverse that.

NATO

NATO this week launched its biggest European military manoeuvres since the end of the Cold War.

Codenamed Exercise Steadfast Defender it involves 91,000 service personnel from 31 NATO countries and Sweden. It is the first time Finland will be participating as a full member of the Alliance.

Sweden’s NATO membership was finally approved by Turkey this week and is expected to get the final nod from the Hungarian parliament next month.

Steadfast Defender is meant to demonstrate NATO – and especially American – commitment to the defense of Europe. It involves all three branches of the military – army, navy and air force – and will focus on moving troops as fast as possible into the new frontline states of Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland and Slovakia.

The Russians have lodged the usual protests, but more importantly they have used their bases in Kaliningrad to jam military GPS devices in the Baltic Region.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Donald Trump and NATO

While NATO and its partners pull together to protect world shipping it has emerged that ex-president Donald Trump has been doing his best to pull the Western Alliance apart.

According to French EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, who is responsible for EU defense issues, Trump told commission president Ursula von der Leyen that NATO is dead and that America would refuse to defend Europe.

M. Breton, told the European Parliament this week, that the threat was issued in 2020 during a private bilateral at the World Economic Forum between Trump and Ms. Van der Leyen.

According to Breton, Trump told the commission president: “You need to understand that if Europe is under attack we will never come to help you and support you. NATO is dead, and we will leave. We will quit NATO.”

Trump then made reference to van Der Leyen’s previous job as German Defense Minister and added: “By the way, you owe me $400 billion because you didn’t pay. You Germans, you had to pay for defense.”

Trump is odds-on favourite to win Monday’s Iowa caucus for the Republican nomination.

Israel

Israel was the first to sign the 1948 Convention on Genocide. This is not surprising as the international law was a direct result of the horrors of The Holocaust.

This week, however, the Israeli government is appearing before the International Court of Justice at The Hague charged with the same crime that they levelled against Hitler.

The case is being brought by South Africa’s ANC government. It should be noted that there is little love between the ANC and Israel.

There is historic animosity between Jewish state and the ANC. Israel provided South African Whites with nuclear weapons technology and Mossad and the Bureau of State Security (BOSS) regularly exchanged information. Many South Africans also believe that the Likud government’s policies on the West Bank and Gaza are at least partially modelled on the Bantustans and pass laws of the apartheid era.

So, it is unsurprising that the South African government took the lead this week in pursuing a charge of “genocide” in the International Court of Justice in relation to Israel’s attack on Gaza. They claim that Israeli attacks and blockades that have so far cost 23,357 lives qualify as genocide under the 1948 convention that Israel was so keen to sign.

The lead lawyer, Adila Hassian, told the 17 judges of the ICJ that Israel’s actions show “chilling” and “incontrovertible” intent to commit genocide.

At the end of the first day of a two-day hearing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retorted: “We are fighting terrorists. We are fighting lies. Today we saw an upside down world. Israel Is accused of genocide while it is fighting against genocide.”

The 1948 convention states that “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” is genocide. It further states that acts of genocide include: “killing members of the group; causing them serious bodily or mental harm; imposing living conditions intended to destroy the group; preventing births and forcibly transferring children of the group.”

Usually the ICJ takes months to make a ruling. But South Africa has asked for an interim ruling which means that a decision may be published as early as next week.

ICJ rulings are final. There is no appeal. But they are not enforceable. Russia, for instance, was recently branded guilty of genocide in Ukraine. Putin ignored it. If the court rules against Israel Netanyahu will likely do the same. But Israel’s democratic mantle will be severely damaged.

Ecuador

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Observations of an expat: Ukraine and NATO

Vilnius is about to enter the history books. The capital of Lithuania will next week (Tuesday and Wednesday) be the scene for a potentially historic NATO summit.

At the top of the agenda will be the question of NATO membership for Ukraine.

Needless to say, a decision to invite Ukraine into the Western Alliance would have global repercussions. It would both deter and infuriate Russia. Extend the Eastern borders of NATO. Strengthen the European arm of the Alliance. Allow the US to move more resources to the Pacific which would anger the Chinese.

As of this writing most of the European members of NATO – with the exception of Hungary and possibly Turkey – favour the admission of Ukraine. The Biden Administration is not so keen because of the fear of Russian retaliation. On Fri c day, Moscow conducted nuclear air drills over the Baltic region. It was a clear pre-summit warning of the possible consequences of Ukrainian NATO membership.

However, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, made a compelling case for Ukraine half in NATO in this week’s issue of Foreign Policy magazine. “Today,” he writes, “Ukraine is a net contributor of security protecting the European-Atlantic Community from an aggressive and revanchist Russia… When Ukraine wins the war it will have battle-hardened Ukrainian troops protecting NATO’s Eastern flank.”

He appears to accept the political and security problems that would accompany full-fledged membership of the Western Alliance. “We are not seeking immediate membership,” he writes. “We will not drag NATO into this war. We have never requested foreign troops on the ground in Ukraine. With the generous assistance of our partners we will defeat Russia on our own. This war is ours to fight.”

But he adds that the “next war” can be avoided by admitting Ukraine into NATO. However, Kuleba leaves open when that membership would be finalised. Instead he suggests that NATO publicly accept that Ukraine is as important to NATO to as NATO is to Ukraine. Furthermore that Ukraine is an “inseparable part of the Euro-Atlantic security” framework and finally that Ukraine is invited to join NATO and that that membership will take effect “when all the conditions are met.” The foreign minister does not spell out what the conditions should be.

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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

So we know that abortion is now, or is about to be, illegal in about half of the American states. But what about the rest of the world? And what affect is the Supreme Court decision having elsewhere?

In Brazil at the moment abortions are allowed in cases of rape and incest. Populist right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has used the overturning of Roe v Wade to call for a total ban. At the same time, other countries have condemned the ruling. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a “major step backwards.” Almost simultaneous with the Supreme Court decision, Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law that bans doctors from offering information about abortion procedures. Spain took steps to remove parental consent for 16-17 year olds. French legislators proposed a bill to make abortion a constitutional right and the Dutch voted to abolish a mandatory five-day wait for women seeking an abortion. Within the EU only Malta has a total ban on abortion. Poland is the next strictest country on abortion laws. It allows pregnancy terminations in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is threatened. Generally, abortion has become accepted as a woman’s right in all but 37 out of 195 countries in the world.

The Ukraine War is sucking ammo dumps dry. The Russians are the worst hit. A tough Ukrainian defense has forced them to resort to blanket artillery barrages. They started with high precision missiles and by mid-May had fired off an estimated 2,200 of them. They are not cheap. Each cruise missile costs $1.9 million. They also take time to build and involve semi-conductors and transistors which are unavailable in Russia. Moscow’s now depleted precision munitions means that it is using more low precision artillery shells – about 20,000 a day – which increases the collateral damage. Tanks are another problem. The Ukrainians have been particularly adept at knocking out Russia’s tanks. So far the kill rate has topped a thousand. Each tank costs about $4 million and takes a minimum of three months to build.

But the other side – Ukraine and its Western backers – is also having problems. Kyiv didn’t have much to start with and most of it was out of date Soviet-era Russian-produced weaponry. It now has to rely on NATO defense equipment which they do not know how to use. So they have to be trained which takes time. Britain has taken a key role in training Ukrainian troops. But NATO is also running short of weapons to send Ukraine, especially the Europeans who have been particularly generous. Poland for instance, has given a quarter of its tanks to the Ukrainian army. Britain has donated about a third of its highly-effective Starstreak anti-tank missile systems and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is pleading the special case argument to increase defence spending to 2.5 percent of GDP.

Germany, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have seriously depleted their weapons stocks. One of the reasons that the NATO summit agreed to a near ten-fold increase in troop and weapons levels in the Baltic region is because the defense cupboards in that region are heading towards bare. US ammo dumps are also taking a hit. Ukrainians have made good use of American-made Javelin missiles. Seven thousand of them – roughly a third of the total US stock of Javelins – has been sent to Ukraine. The American armaments industry produces an estimated 1,500 Javelin missiles a year. But the US has other similar systems and the industrial capacity to expand production. In a war of attrition, the West is much better placed then Russia. The next question is: Does it have the political will?

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Sweden and Finland want to join NATO. Vladimir Putin has reversed himself and reluctantly said that membership of the Alliance by the two Nordic countries posed “no threat”.  A seamless Swedish-Finnish application seemed certain.

Wait, the diplomats forgot about the perennial thorn in NATO’s Southern flank- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An application to join NATO requires the approval of all 30 members and President Erdogan has threatened a Turkish block. His reason? He is angry because Sweden and Norway give asylum to members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which he is trying to wipe out. Sweden and Finland also imposed sanctions against Turkey when Erdogan ordered his troops into Northern Syria in 2016 (they are still there).

At the top of the list of criteria for NATO membership, is, according to the US State Department, a commitment “to uphold democracy, including tolerance for diversity.” On that basis, Erdogan’s Turkey would fail membership requirements. Since the attempted 2016 coup, Erdogan has jailed nearly 80,000 judges, military officers, civil servants, police, teachers and journalists. 130 media organisations have been closed. Homosexuality is banned and Erdogan has announced plans to reinstate the death penalty. There is, of course, no question of booting Turkey out of the Alliance. It is the strategic bridge between Europe and Asia and at the moment prevents Russian ships from sailing through the Dardanelles to join the war in Ukraine. Realpolitik trumps human rights.

But should Erdogan be allowed to prevent solidly democratic countries from joining NATO? The British government have indicated a possible workaround if Erdogan refuses to change his mind. It has signed a separate “mutual assistance” treaty with Norway and Sweden. If other NATO countries followed suit then the Turkish veto would be irrelevant.

The shooting in a Buffalo supermarket which left ten African-Americans dead is not an isolated incident. According to a report by the respected Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 67 percent of the domestic terror incidents recorded in 2020 were organised by far-right and white supremacist groups. Many of those who stormed Capitol Hill were White supremacists. FBI Director Christopher Wray described White Supremacy as a “significant and pervasive threat” to the US. President Biden called it a “poison running through the body politic.”

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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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Observations of an expat: Amazing Ukraine

It is incredible what the Ukrainian army has achieved. If NATO answers the Ukrainian foreign minister’s call for “weapons, weapons and weapons” then Vladimir Putin is almost certain to suffer the most humiliating of humiliating defeats.

A few facts and figures: Ukraine’s defence budget is $5.4 billion. Russia’s is $61.7 billion. Russia has five times as many active military personnel as Ukraine; six times as many tanks and artillery, four times as many armoured vehicles; 13 times as many aircraft and more than ten times as many ships.

The line-up in Ukraine resembles the Biblical David and Goliath tale and with the same result.

The reason is that wars are not always decided on the simple issue of numbers and types of guns. There are any number of other unquantifiable factors that are thrown into the messy mix and can determine the outcome of battle.

For a start there is the undeniable question of justice. Right v. wrong. Good v. Evil. There is no doubt that in the opinion of the overwhelming proportion of the world’s population that Ukraine stands on right side of the equation and Russia on the wrong.

That has been underscored by this week’s vote in New York to remove Russia from the UN Human Rights Commission by a shattering majority of 93 votes to 24 with 58 abstentions. To remove a permanent member of the Security Council from an important UN body is a major international political statement which must reinforce the resolve of every Ukrainian fighter preparing to repel the anticipated Russian offensive in the East.

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World Review: French elections, Barbados, Russian security pact, MI6 and abortion rights in America

The French Presidential elections are hotting up. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour announced his candidacy this week. He is Euro-sceptic, virulently anti-immigrant and possibly the most anti-Semitic Jew in European politics. The 63-year-old journalist claims that he will save France from decadence and minorities that “oppress the majority.” Zemmour is neck and neck with seasoned extreme right campaigner Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally Party. Which means that the extreme-right vote is split. The left-wing parties are in disarray and have been effectively written off by the French media in the April presidential elections.

On Sunday, primary elections for the Gaullist-oriented Les Republicains ends. There are five candidates: Michel Barnier, Xavier Bertrand, Eric Ciotti, Philippe Juvin and Valerie Pecresse. In the past Les Republicains were described as centre right. But no longer. Emmanuel Macron has stolen those clothes, especially the economic threads. In response, all five Les Republicains candidates have moved to the right with anti-immigration and Eurosceptic policies. All of the above is good news for Macron, who is staunchly pro-European and staying aloof from the immigration debate. Not that he is popular. His approval ratings have slipped from a high of 48 percent in 2017 to under 20 percent. But he stands alone in the winning circle of the centre/centre right. At this moment the betting is on Macron to win as the last man standing.

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World Review: Tensions east, in NATO, in Facebook and in Boris’s Britain

In this weekend’s World Review, Tom Arms comments on the implications of a mutual defence pact between Greece and France for Turkey’s role in NATO. Heading for cooler climes, Covid-19 has reached Antarctica but for those who as destined to suffer or die from malaria in sub-Sharan Africa, a vaccine has been approved for to tackle the disease. Tension are building in the east and Taiwan, China, the US and other countries are in danger of falling into the trap of unintended consequences. Can Facebook be held to account? And how can Boris boast about Britain being one of the world’s wealthiest countries while branding it “broken”?

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World Review: Israel, cyber-attacks, Ethiopian elections and Trump trumping his book

In today’s briefing from our foreign affairs correspondent, Tom Arms look at congestion, vaccination and schooling in Israel. The NATO summit allowed Joe Biden to stress that the Trump Era was over and “America is back”. And Biden is prepared to retaliate for any cyber attacks from Russia. Elections are due in Ethiopia on Monday – they are “worthless”. Finally, Tom talks of Donald Trump’s new book. Move over the Bible and the Koran, this will be “the greatest book ever.” Should this “great” book be called “Trump Through the Looking Glass”? Suggestions on a title are welcome.

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That NATO Summit discord, in context

The recent NATO summit in the UK filled the headlines for a few days. What was the summit really all about ?

Arguments about low defence spending amongst some members, about perceived military weakness relative to Russia in the Baltic States, spilled out. There was even an apparent threat from Turkey to delay progress on the Baltic States issue until the rest of NATO accepted that Kurdish defence forces in Syria are ‘terrorists’.

After 70 years of NATO, the irreconcilable discord dominated.

The underlying problem is that members do not agree any more on what exactly NATO is for.   What is worse is that its members are in a kind of gridlock; there is little leadership on mutual interests, lots of taboo topics, and sticking plasters everywhere.

Spending spats are really disagreements about control; some members being reluctant to extend spending until there is more equal status in NATO decision-making.

The history is key.  NATO was never part of any ‘grand plan’ at the outset. Its formation & development after WW2 was something of an accident.  NATO’s origins lie with the 1947 Dunkirk Treaty between France and the UK, and then the Brussels Treaty Organisation (BTO) in 1948 which brought in the Benelux Countries, creating the Western Union (WU) with US support. The WU was precursor both to NATO and to EU defence cooperation.

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Corbyn and NATO

 

That an absolute neophyte at serious politics like Donald Trump becomes the first American presidential nominee (from either the Democratic or Republican Party) to question Washingtons NATO article 5 obligation of “Collective Defense” shouldn’t surprise anybody.

But that a sitting Labour party leader fighting to continue in that job, and hoping to win the next general election, does the same is absolutely incredible. And the fact that he did so only a couple of weeks after flip-flopping over EU membership (from a very conditional “Remain” before, to a “get out now” the day after the Referendum)  creates the impression that he thinks the UK can go it alone, without the support, let alone the trust of European partners, on all foreign policy issues.

At the Birmingham hustings for the leadership elections last week, Corbyn said that when Russia threatens to attack or invade any NATO country, he hoped to avoid that by diplomatic means, and that he “doesn’t want to go to war”. But any historian can tell you that diplomacy can only speak softly if you carry a big stick for people who don’t respect any other kind of argument.  To put it in a Marxist metaphor: without the material fundamentals the political superstructure won’t function.

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Tom Brake calls for Turkey to be suspended from NATO

As the human rights situation in Turkey worsens, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Tom Brake has called for Turkey to be suspended from NATO and for the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU to be scrapped.

He said:

Erdogan’s ongoing purge of newspapers, academics, teachers and judges has nothing to do with Turkey’s security and everything to do with blocking any opposition to his increasingly authoritarian rule. Today’s news that dozens more media outlets have been shut should send shivers down the spine of any person who believes in a free and open society.

The preamble to NATO’s founding treaty refers to it being “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”, all of which are under threat in Turkey currently.

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Opinion: All for one and one for all

flag-russiaRussia has been busy in the Baltic recently – they have been harassing their neighbours and it seems to me they are acting as if the Baltic is their ‘mare nostrum’ as it were. The Polish Defence minister noted that Sweden seems to be the main object of Russian attention.

How do we help Sweden, and Finland for that matter? Finland and Sweden are in a slightly odd position – they are members of the EU but not members of NATO. In the Cold War they were ‘neutral’ but whatever that meant then it means even less now. What does Britain and other EU/NATO countries do if Finland and Sweden are threatened or even attacked by Russia? Finland and Sweden not being in NATO, Britain is not bound by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty (an attack on one is an attack on all) but it seems inconceivable that we would stand idly by if these two countries were in danger.

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Michael Moore MP writes… Scotland’s place in the world

scotlands futureIt is the duty of the government of any state to safeguard national security and to protect its people, territory, economy and interests from internal and external threats.

If Scotland votes to leave the United Kingdom in September, there is no doubt that there would be major challenges for the national security of both Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The size and scale of our armed forces means the UK is considered a partner of choice by many countries around the world, delivering a geopolitical influence that few states …

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Rennie: “Everyone who believes in robust defence of our shores should think carefully before backing independence”

Today’s Guardian reports that if Scotland votes for independence, the new Scottish Government might have difficulty joining NATO:

It is understood that Nato officials said it might be possible to allow Scotland to start fast-track talks – but in a blow to Salmond’s anti-nuclear strategy, the Scottish delegation was also told that no new member would be allowed to join Nato if that state had unresolved military or territorial disputes with other countries.

Under article 10 of the Nato treaty, one assistant general secretary of Nato said at the meeting on 6 July, new applicants also have

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LibLink: Paddy Ashdown – Europe’s free ride on the back of Nato is over

In today’s Daily Telegraph, former party leader Lord (Paddy) Ashdown writes on the challenges facing Nato and the future of European cooperation on matters of defence.

Here’s a sample from Paddy’s piece:

These are confusing times for supporters of Nato. On the one hand, the alliance has completed its mission in Libya without a single casualty. On the other, its future looks less certain than ever in the face of fiscal austerity, increasingly uneven burden-sharing between members, and America’s dwindling faith in its utility.

The fact that the US feels this way is understandable. In 2000, America’s share of Nato defence spending was

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Nick Harvey MP writes: A hard look at defence spending

Today the Commons defence committee published a report criticising the MOD for decisions taken in last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).  The report claims that recent defence budget reductions will leave our Armed Forces unable to execute the operations the Government sets for them post-2015.  
 
I disagree.
 
It is true that the MOD is reducing numbers of service personnel across the Army, Navy and Air Force and indeed the MOD has altered the equipment programme, which led to the deletion of Nimrod and Harrier.  But these tough decisions were necessary in order to address the black hole in the …

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Libya intervention passed to NATO’s leadership

The BBC reports:

Nato has agreed to take command of enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya from the US.

But Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made clear that other aspects of the operation would remain in the hands of the current coalition for now…

The US initially agreed to lead enforcement of the UN resolution, but made clear it wanted only a limited role and would hand over responsibility as soon as possible.

But the handover to Nato became bogged down when Turkey made clear its view that action should focus directly on enforcing the no-fly zone and arms embargo, rather than

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