Tag Archives: NATO

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 Kyiv didn’t have much to start with and most of it was out of date Soviet-era Russian-produced weaponry.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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Tom Arms’ World Review

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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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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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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