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Tom Arms’ World Review

Mahsa Amin’s death

They are burning their headscarves and police cars in Iran. Persian women are fighting back against the mullahs’ morality police. The catalyst for their anger is the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin. The Iranian authorities claim she died of a pre-existing heart condition. Rubbish, say her family, there was nothing wrong with her heart. She died, they claim, because she was beaten in the police van on the way to the station. Ms Amin was arrested because she was wearing her hijab or head scarf improperly. That is common offence which the morality police monitor along with the wearing of tight trousers and leggings, holding hands or kissing in public.

Iran is not the only Muslim country with morality police. Afghanistan has probably the most severe. Iran probably holds the number two slot. Others include Nigeria, Sudan and Malaysia. Then there is Saudi Arabia where the ruling family’s adoption of Islam’s strict Wahhabi sect led to the establishment of the notorious Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Better known among Saudis as simply “The Committee.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, however, has been circumscribing the morality police to the point of near extinction. The backlash in Iran may force the Mullahs to follow suit which can only undermine their wider claim to political legitimacy.

Another lurch to the right in Europe

Europe is taking another lurch to the right. This month two national parties with links to a fascist past have either come to power or are poised to do so.

Sweden has been known as Europe’s most tolerant country towards cultural diversity. But this month the rabid anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats emerged as the second largest party and is forming a government with the centre-right Moderates.

In a disturbing echo of Donald Trump, party leader Jimmie Akesson declared it was time to “Make Sweden Great Again.”

Georgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy has an equally upsetting motto which links her party to its fascist past—“God, family and fatherland.” Ms Meloni is expected to emerge as Italy’s prime minister after Sunday’s vote. Her party is Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-abortion and has expressed doubts about NATO membership.

Italy and Sweden join Hungary, Britain, Czech Republic, Slovakia Austria and others who have lurched rightwards. There are differences between them but the one common element is the disturbing trend to portray their country as a victim.

Iceland

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Editor’s Note: This was submitted on 9th September but held back because of the death of the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II

One of my other hats is leader of the local cub scout group. As such, an important part of my job is explaining the cub scout promise to incoming cubs. The second line was, until this week, “to uphold scout values and honour the Queen.” Now it will be “honour the King.”

But regardless, of the gender of Britain’s monarch, my explanation of the importance of that line will be the same. It is that the monarch is the physical repository of a thousand years of British history, tradition and laws. Many of these laws and traditions have spread all around the world and, by and large, have influenced it for the better. I tell my cubs that they are not pledging an allegiance to a person so much as to the unwritten constitution which the monarch represents. I believe this to be true. I wouldn’t tell my cubs so if I thought otherwise.

BUT Queen Elizabeth II was different. She did more than act as a constitutional repository. She did so in a way that demonstrated a selflessness and devotion to duty which set an example for every person in the United Kingdom and for hundreds of millions in the Commonwealth and beyond. She was working up until two days before her death. Queen Elizabeth II was loved and respected around the globe because she loved. Her reign was a link between Euro-centric imperial world with only 50 members in the United Nations to one with 193. Her first Prime Minister was a hero of the Boer War. Her last was seven years old when the Falklands Task Force set sail.

Viewed from the rose-tinted perspective of 70 years of hindsight, the world seemed a secure and certain place when Elizabeth Windsor was crowned Queen. But it was only seven years after the end of World War Two. Rationing was still in force. Britain was staggering under the burden of a huge war debt and an empire it could ill afford. Today it is recovering from the cost of a pandemic and facing mounting bills brought on by the withdrawal from the EU and a war in Ukraine. Since the time of Victoria the role of the British monarch has been to stand aloof from politics. To play the role of the rock of constancy in a sea of constantly shifting tides. Queen Elizabeth II played her part magnificently and has the established the template for King Charles III.

Ukraine

Volodomyr Zelensky and his generals have fooled me. More importantly, they have fooled Vladimir Putin and his generals. Everyone knew that the Ukrainians were planning a counter-offensive, if only to prove to their Western backers that they were worth the military aid and economic sacrifices. The riverside city of Kherson in Southeast Ukraine was expected to the main target of the counter-offensive. Ukrainian forces controlled or destroyed the main bridges across the Dnieper River. Putin rushed troops to the city and built up his forces in Crimea to the immediate south. But Zelensky’s men decided instead to focus their counter-offensive in the northeastern sector of Ukraine and the city of Kharkiv. In a single day the Ukrainians managed to break through Russian lines and regain several towns and villages in the Kharkiv region and 400 square kilometres of territory.

The Russians have grudgingly admitted the Ukrainian success.  While the Ukrainians were advancing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting Kyiv to announce another $2 billion in US aid. So far Washington has contributed $15.2 billion to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defence has reported that 15,000 Russian soldiers have died in Putin’s “special military operation.” That is the same as the official Moscow death toll for the Soviet Union’s ten-year war in Afghanistan (although the recognised unofficial figure is nearer 50,000).

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The nuclear reactor we should be worried about

Forget about Chernobyl. That was small fry worry. Focus instead on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Zaporizhzhia  supplies half of Ukraine’s nuclear-generated electricity; is next door to the city of Enerhodar (pre-war population of 53,000) and sits alongside the Dnieper River which supplies the drinking water for millions in southeastern Ukraine and Crimea.

The nuclear facility was captured by Russia on 4 March during the Battle of Enerhodar. The power plant is being kept in operation with Ukrainian workers retained by the occupying Russians. But Putin’s forces have—according to US and Ukrainian sources—started using plant precincts as a base for artillery barrages.

The Ukrainians are firing back. On top of that, no one from the UN oversight organisation the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is making the regular visits that insure that all safety measures and checks are being followed. IAEA director Rafael Grossi this week told Associated Press “You have a catalogue of things happening that should never happen in a nuclear power plant.” Mr. Grossi is trying to negotiate access to Zaporizhzhia but to do that will require his inspectors passing through both Ukrainian and Russian lines. This is extremely dangerous for the inspectors and inordinately difficult to arrange.

 The fight to be UK Prime Minister

The British election campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the Premiership of the country this week slipped into high farce and sailed into choppy constitutional waters. Starting with the farce, favourite Liz Truss announced that she would cut public sector pay by about $10 billion by reducing the wages of out of London public sector workers.

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Tom Arms’ World Review 19 June 2022

Cheeseburgers and cars without seatbelts

Big Macs are a thing of the past for Muscovites.  McDonald’s—along with 400 other Western businesses—shut down their Russian operations as part of sanctions against Putin’s War in Ukraine. But the Russians have come with an answer. They have simply taken over the McDonald’s outlets and handed them to oligarch Alexander Gorvov. The golden arches have been pulled down and Coca-Cola and Big Macs are off the menu. But there is some consolation for Russian carnivores– a double cheeseburger is 30 roubles cheaper. However, the rebranding of McDonalds does not mean that sanctions are failing. For example, this week the Russians launched what wags are calling the “anti-sanctions car”. Because of Western sanctions Russian car maker Lada cannot import key components. So the new Lada is without seat belts, air bags, an anti-lock braking system or electronic stability control. It is, however, cheaper. Set against these inconveniences is the fact that Russian oil and gas exports have provided the regime with a $26 billion trade surplus in the first five months of this year. However, at the same time, economists believe that sanctions will start to bite by the end of the year and Russian GDP will have shrunk by ten percent.  If this happens then Muscovites may not be able to afford cheap cheeseburgers or cheap cars

Resistance in Ukraine

Winston Churchill called it the Special Operations Executive and ordered it to “set Nazi-occupied Europe alight.” Eighty years later Volodomyr Zelensky has created the Special Operations Forces (SSO) and ordered it to set Russian occupied Ukraine alight. They are doing just that. They are responsible for dozens of attacks on Russian airbases and have blown up railway tracks, bridges and radar stations. Eight Russian soldiers died from poison pies baked and distributed by a little old lady. She was an SSO operative.  So far, the Ukrainian resistance has claimed the lives of more than 150 Russian soldiers, and as the war in the south and east heats up so does the SSO-organised resistance. They are even reputed to be responsible for mysterious fires at military facilities across the border in Russia.

Rivers are one of the world’s most effective natural barriers, especially in war torn Ukraine. The current 60-mile long frontline is dominated by the Siversky Donets River. The Russians have to cross it to control the Eastern Donbas Region. Ukrainian civilians trapped by Russian artillery have to cross it to reach safety and Ukrainian soldiers have to cross it in the opposite direction to fight the Russians. Key to control of the river is mastery of the city of Sieverodonetsk which is currently the scene of street fighting and heavy Russian bombardment. 500 civilians—including 40 children—are trapped in the city’s Azot Chemical factory. The Stalinist era plant is well stocked with food, medical supplies and a labyrinthine network of tunnels; much the same as the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. The roughly 700 defenders of Mariupol have disappeared into Russia, and a similar fate probably awaits the soldiers and civilians in Sieverodonetsk.  Diplomats, however, are trying to organise their rescue out of the city and across the Siversky Donets River and to Sieverodonetsk’s sister city of Lysychansk. With the river between the city and the Russian forces, Lysychansk will be easier to defend.

Boris Johnson in trouble

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 27 March 2022

Fifteen thousand US troops have been either sent from America or re-deployed to NATO’s Eastern blank in Poland, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. The total number of American soldiers now based in Europe is 90,000. But before NATO supporters become too excited by this show of martial resolve, it should be noted that at the height of the Cold War in 1960, when the Berlin Wall was built, there were 400,000 American soldiers in Europe spread across 100 sites. One should also remember that NATO has a border with Russia in the Arctic region as well as in Eastern Europe. Until 1999, Norway was the only NATO ally with a land border with Russia. Military planners are working on this strategic fact next week with a military manoeuvre in Norway dubbed “Cold Response”. The military exercise involves 30,000 troops from 27 countries, including 3,000 US marines. These exercises are meant to be held every other year, but because of reluctance from the Trump Administration and Covid, they have not taken place since 2014. This is a pity, because Norway is one of the most strategically placed NATO countries. During World War Two, its long North Atlantic coastline dotted with sheltered fjords, provided Hitler’s navy with a forward base from which to terrorise Allied shipping in the North Atlantic.

In the meantime, Ukrainian Volodomyr Zelensky is pleading for more weapons. The Biden Administration has responded this week by despatching another 2,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 2,000 shoulder-launched Javelin launchers, Another 15,000 anti-tank and surface to air missiles are being provided by other European countries, mainly the UK and Sweden. The EU meanwhile has upped its spending on military equipment for Ukraine to $1 billion. Ukraine will need every penny of it. The British and American arms manufacturers are not giving away their equipment. They are selling it, and just one Javelin missile costs $175,000 whether it hits or misses its Russian target.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 13 March 2022

Back in the halcyon days of the Cold War both sides accepted a nuclear strategy called Mutual Assured Destruction which was gifted with the appropriate acronym of MAD. It had a simple basis: Both sides (the West and the Soviet Union) possessed enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the other (and the rest of the world). Therefore it was in neither’s interest to use their nuclear weapons. As mad as MAD sounds, it worked. No nuclear weapons by either the US or Soviet Union, or Britain or France were used throughout the Cold War. There were some almost incidents, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, but Armageddon was always averted as a MAD sanity prevailed. However, the problem with MAD is that it is built on the premise that the leadership in Washington and Moscow is led by rational people. Now the people in the West are seriously concerned because of doubts about Putin’s sanity. Three years ago there was concern about the mental stability of Donald Trump who famously said: “I can’t understand. If we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them? It appears that there is a growing need for a failsafe chain of command among the nuclear powers to avoid the problems of hubris-driven mental instability leading to a disastrous button-pressing incident.

Russia, according to the White House, has prepared chemical weapons for use in Ukraine. Moscow claims that Ukraine has done the same. Ridiculous say both Washington and Kyiv. If the latter are to be believed then Putin is preparing a false flag operation whereby Russians claim they have been attacked by Ukrainian chemical weapons and respond with chemical guns blazing. But what chemical weapons? The Soviets at one time had the world’s largest biological and chemical weapons store. In fact, an estimated 65,000 were employed in the deadly business. Then along claim the 1973 Biological Weapons Convention and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention which banned these instruments of mass destruction. At the time, Russia had nearly 40,000 tons of chemical weapons. In 2017 the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that Moscow had destroyed its “declared” weapons stock. Then came the 2018 Novichok attack in Salisbury on former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter followed by a similar murderous attempt in 2020 on Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. In 2021, the CIA reported that Russia was back in the chemical weapons business, or, it had never really left it. This week’s White House announcement about the spectre of Russian chemical weapons leaves an important unanswered question: Is Russian use of chemical weapons a red line for NATO? If not, why mention it?

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Tom Arms World Review: The global impact of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Russia’s attack has started a worldwide rearrangement of the political order. Old alliances need to be reinforced. Some will be reconsidered. New Alliances, treaties and trade deals will be made as governments decide where their vital interests lie—with the autocratic but advancing Russia or the the democratic but defensive America and Europe or in the narrowing neutral land somewhere in between. Washington and Moscow will declare: You are with us or against us. We are not entering Cold War Two. We are entering a significantly new warmed up war.

The World Economy

One of the first causes of concern is the economy. Governments cannot fight cold or hot wars without cash. The world economy as a whole has already been severely weakened by the pandemic. World stock markets—the source of equity finance– dislike instability and uncertainty. Ukraine has created both, and the markets around the world have plummeted. Energy prices have also climbed as Russia is the world’s largest supplier of natural gas and second largest producer of oil. Nearly half of continental Europe’s energy originates in Russia. Germany—the EU’s economic engine—is especially dependent on Russian fossil fuels. But Russia is also a large exporter of gold, nickel, and the other rare but important mineral element palladium. The black earth of Ukraine is Europe’s bread basket. World bread prices will rise. Governments will need to borrow more money which will drive up interest rates and inflation. There will be more investment by Russia, NATO and others in troop numbers, missile deployments, cyber warfare, space, and intelligence gathering. This means there will be less money for social welfare, civilian infrastructure projects and any other vote-winning projects. More resources to defend Europe means less to protect other regions from Jihadism or to fund foreign aid programmes. These are the sacrifices of which politicians speak.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – Key players in the Ukraine crisis

Putin

Vladimir Putin must be as happy as a five-year-old who has just inherited a sweet shop. Statesman after stateswomen are trekking to Moscow to implore him not to plunge Europe into war by invading Ukraine. If the Russian leader’s intention was to put himself and Russia at the centre of the world stage then he has succeeded. At the top of this week’s visitors’ list was French President Emmanuel Macron who spent five hours talking geopolitics across a table the size of a football field. Macron was in Moscow with several hats: President of France, current President of the European Council, a rabid Europhile, and a candidate in the 2022 presidential elections. He needed results for the sake of European peace, EU unit and his campaign. At the post-summit it seemed as if Macronian diplomacy had worked. The French president said he had offered “concrete security guarantees” and Putin confirmed that they were worth exploring.” However, neither side was willing to elaborate on what the guarantees were and almost as soon as Macron was on the plane for Paris via Kiev, Putin was rattling his sabres again.

NATO splits?

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 30 January 2022

A new Justice

It is time to appoint another Justice to America’s Supreme Court.  The new vacancy has been created by the resignation of liberal 83-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer. President Joe Biden has responded by announcing that he will nominate the first-ever African-American woman to the court. But will she win the approval of the Senate which is split 50/50 but with the casting vote of Vice President Kamala Harris tipping it into the Democratic camp? It is not a foregone conclusion. If the Republicans stand firm on blocking Democratic presidential nominations (as they have done in the recent past) then Biden may chalk up another failure. It will take only one Democrat to break ranks. Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have proven that is an only too real possibility. If Biden does get his way then there are half a dozen top contenders: Keranji Brown Jackson, Leonora Kruger, Michelle Childs, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, Eunice Lee and Sherrilyn Ifill. Some legislators have already taken issue with the president basing his decision on race and gender. But each of the likely candidates have impeccable liberal Democratic Party credentials. None of them, however, will change the political direction of the court. Donald Trump’s three appointments mean that there will continue to be twice as many conservatives as liberals on the Supreme Court.

Talking to Taiwan

Words spoken by top politicians matter, even if they are limited in number and confined to a few pleasantries at a public occasion. That is why Beijing has taken offence at a verbal exchange between Vice President Kamala Harris and her Taiwanese counterpart William Lai. The two exchanged words at the recent inauguration of Honduran President Ximara Castro. The White House said it was a brief conversation in which neither China or Taiwan were mentioned. In fact, they didn’t talk about anything in Asia. Instead, said the White House, Ms Harris briefly mentioned America’s immigration policy and its “root causes” strategy aimed at curbing migration from Central America. Taiwan’s Central News Agency was even more circumspect—“It was a simple greeting,” the agency reported. The brevity of the conversation was irrelevant complained Beijing. The fact is that the Number Two in America’s political hierarchy implicitly recognised the political existence of Taiwan. This is unacceptable to the Chinese. The cursory exchange was not an accident. It was almost certainly arranged well in advance and American diplomats would have pointed it out to reporters. It was meant to annoy Beijing—and keep them on their toes.

Northern Ireland Protocol

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Tom Arms’ World Review: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Netanyahu

Will Russia invade Ukraine? Will it achieve its goals with a threatened invasion? What are Putin’s goals? Mixed signals shoot out from every quarter. Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky is urging his country to not panic and at the same time be prepared for the worst and calling on the West for more help. President Biden says a “minor incursion” would mean less sanctions. The White Hoyuse and State Department then said he didn’t mean what he said. Is Secretary of State Antony Blinken trying to persuade his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to accept a deal on nuclear force levels in return for a promise not to invade Ukraine? If so, how would NATO react to that? And what about the Germans and the rest of the EU? Will they support sanctions which could hurt them almost as much as the Russians? Will the Russians cut off Europe’s gas supplies or launch a cyber-attack if Europe joins America in fully-fledged sanctions against Russia? Finally, what is Putin planning? What are his aims? He has publicly stated that he wants to restore the Soviet empire. That he sees Ukraine as an integral part of greater Russia. That he wants legal guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO. Are these negotiating positions, non-negotiable policy objectives or worrying statements to keep the West divided and off-balance? Has Putin now gone so far that he can’t back down? Does the Russian president think that he has a window of opportunity to achieve geopolitical objectives in the wake of the Afghan withdrawal debacle, EU divisions, a weak Biden Administration, an energy crisis, the pandemic, partygate, French elections and Brexit? As tensions continue to rise these are all factors that are being considered by the political cost-benefit analysts in Moscow, Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin….

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Tom Arms’ World Review: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Justice at home and abroad, Sri Lanka

Ukraine

After a week of Ukrainian talks the question is whether Vladimir Putin is using negotiations to avoid war or create a pretext to start one. The communiques emerging from Geneva, Brussels and Vienna shed little light on the subject. They are peppered with insubstantial diplomatese phrases such as “frank,” “friendly” and “constructive.” Off the record, journalists are being told that chief US negotiator Wendy Sherman is offering to widen the talks with suggested discussions on missile deployments and other issues. The US is clearly trying to drag out talks in the hopes that protracted jaw, jaw will lead to reduced tensions. But on one issue the Americans and their NATO allies appear to be standing firm: They will not agree to a legally binding commitment to block Ukraine (and Georgia) from NATO membership. Putin has made it clear that Ukrainian enrolment in NATO is unacceptable. In fact, Putin has compared it to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The Russian leader has also denounced America’s strategic arms policies, blaming them from withdrawing from the ABM Treaty (true), INF (not true) and the Open Skies Agreement (not true). However, Putin is also adamant that he will not be bogged down in the “swamp” of protracted negotiations. His concern over lengthy talks is at least partly related to the fact that if he doesn’t move soon Russian tanks will become mired in the mud of a Ukrainian spring. If Putin does invade, Biden has threatened sanctions “like none he has ever seen.” These are likely to include locking Russia out of the international banking system and blocking the Nordstream2 gas pipeline.

Kazakhstan

It now appears that the uprising in Kazakhstan was more of an internal power struggle than a popular uprising. In the wake of the violence the head of, Kazakhstan’s security services, Karim Masimov, has been sacked and charged with treason. In addition, 81-year-old former president Nursultan Nazarbayev has been removed from the chairmanship of the nation’s powerful Security Council and his family has dropped from public view. Nazabaryev, who was an autocratic president for 25 years, hand-picked Kassim-Zhomart Tokayev as his successor. It had been assumed that the ex-president was still pulling the puppet strings and grooming his daughter for the presidency. Now it seems that the puppet has cut the strings and turned on his master. He also appears to have the blessing of Russia’s Vladimir Putin who still holds considerable sway in the former Soviet republic. Twenty-five percent of Kazakhstan’s 18 million citizens are ethnic Russian. Its gas pipelines all run to Russia, and 2,000 Russian troops were called in by Tokayev to protect Russian assets when the revolt started. After killing 164 protesters, arresting 10,000 and possibly neutering the Nazarbayev family and their supporters, Tokayev appears to be firmly back in control and the Russian troops are back in their barracks.

War criminals face justice

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Tom Arms’ World Review: Capitol anniversary, Kazakhstan, Turkey, EU/China

Capital Hill one year on

In his inaugural address President Joe Biden said he wanted to be a unifying figure. For the past year he has sought to do that by largely refraining from attacking Donald Trump and his “election lie” and by staying aloof from the congressional inquiry into the Capitol Hill Riots. This week he climbed off the fence and took off the gloves with this speech in the Rotunda at Capitol Hill. He accused his predecessor of “spreading a web of lies” that led to the 6 January assault. He lamented that the “threats to the constitution have not abated” since he took office and attacked Trump for caring more about his “bruised ego than the democracy or our constitution.” If Biden’s intention is to unite, his speech may have been a mistake. Staunch Republicans have denounced it and even the centre-right Wall Street Journal labelled it divisive.” Biden’s address coincides with the launch of a book entitled “How Civil Wars Start.” The author, American academic Barbara Walter, has spent years, studying civil wars around the world and has sadly concluded that America may be going down the same path as Egypt, Syria and the former Yugoslavia. Ms Walter says one of the main causes of civil war is politicians exploiting ethnic divisions for political gain. She points out that Republicans are appealing to Whites and Democrats to a coalition of ethnic minorities and the country could—based on the experience of other countries—she says that the US may be heading inexorably towards violent conflict. Can it be averted? Biden’s speech may have been divisive but could he afford to continue to ignore Trump’s outrageous claims on the anniversary of the Capitol Hill riots?  The situation has certainly not been helped by Trump’s rambling over the top response to the Biden speech.  Americans should dispense with the phrase “it can’t happen here” and start seriously thinking about how to stop a civil war happening.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is currently discovering the cost of keeping the lid on dissent. Since independence from Moscow in December 1991 the government has blocked access to the internet, kept a tight rein on the traditional media, controlled the courts and organised elections which resulted with the government regularly winning 100 percent of the vote. After 25 years in office Nursultan Nazarbayev handpicked his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in 2019 but retained power behind the scenes as chairman of the country’s Security Council. Since independence the country has enjoyed major economic growth as it exploited its vast oil, gas, goal and mineral resources. But the cash has not filtered down to the country’s 18 million people who inhabit a country the size of all pof Western Europe. Their average income is only $3,000 a year. The man and woman in the street, however, did enjoy a few perks such as a cap on the price of liquefied petroleum which is used to run most of the country’s vehicles. It was the lifting of that cap which provided the spark that blew the lid off the Kazakhstan pressure cooker this week. So far it has been reported that 26 protesters (President Tokayev labelled them “terrorists” and “bandits”) have been killed. More than a thousand have been injured and 400 hospitalised. Tokayev has ordered troops to shoot to kill future protesters. He has also called on his friend Vladimir Putin for 2,000 “peacekeeping” troops under their collective security treaty. Russia has a major stake in Kazakhstan. There is a large Russian-speaking minority; Russian military bases; major gas pipelines and the world’s largest—Russian-owned– satellite launching facility. The Russians are keen to see stability return to an important ally and were probably behind the decision to re-impose the price cap on LPG fuel for the next six months.

Turkey

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Tom Arms’ World Review: China and the US, democracy and Brexit fallout

There has been an acute outbreak of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. It has been brought about by an even more acute outbreak of Sinophobia. It appears that the one—and possibly only—thing that upon which Democrats and Republicans can agree is their common fear of the rise of China. But most of all, they worry about they worry about defeat in the technology race which provides the essential tools for all the above. That is why the Senate this week voted by an overwhelming majority of 68 to 32 to pump $250 billion over five years into and development in America’s high-tech industries. It needs it. They worry about losing the values debate, the economic competition and the military debate. At the core of the technology business is semi-conductors and America’s global share of production of semi-conductors has dropped from 37 percent in 1990 to 12 percent in 2021. Meanwhile, China, this year surpassed America’s spending (private and public) on R and D spending in high-tech. Xi Jinping has said that he aims to have China self-sufficient in the production of semi-conductors and other high-tech products and services by 2025. It is a short jump from self-sufficiency to global dominance. US and Chinese competition in this field should be great news for the rest of the world because the likely result is more and better technology services for the rest of us. It should also spur other countries to follow suit for fear of falling behind. Israel and South Korea already invest more of their GDP’s on research and development than anyone else—4.6 percent according to the latest available figures. Britain has recently announced that its R and D investment will rise to more than $250 million a year to turn the country into a “science super power.”

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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: Cheney and Trump – Round One to the Cult of Trump v. the traditional Republican Party

The ousting of Congresswoman Liz Cheney from the number three spot in the Republican ranks appears to be a victory for Trumpists and supporters of the stolen election “Big Lie.” Or is it? It is true that 70 percent of Republicans believe Trump won the election despite the fact that every court and election official (including Trump’s own appointees) rejected the former president’s claim. It is also true that Republican Party grandees such as Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz are four square behind the Big Lie. But, by alienating Liz Cheney, the forever Trumpers have created a formidable opponent who has dedicated herself to the maintenance of the rule of law, the US constitution and ensuring that Donald J. Trump or his ilk never occupies the White House again. And she is one tough lady with impeccable traditional party credentials.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 9th May

The success of Brexit depends on a willingness to succeed and the desire to place the shared requirement for European stability before narrow political interests. This week’s Anglo-French dispute over English Channel fishing rights indicates that it ain’t gonna happen. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has again demonstrated his disdain for international law by slipping in additional restrictions related to the licensing of French fishing boats and the French over-reacted by threatening to block electricity to the British Channel Island dependency of Jersey. President Emmanuel Macron then added fuel by giving his blessing to a French fishermen’s blockade of Jersey and Boris went over the top by dispatching Royal Navy ships to the scene. The reason for this diplomatic comedy of errors (although no one is laughing) is the fishing clauses in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Both the British and French fishing industries demanded that their negotiators secure a win-lose agreement in their favour. Or, at the very least, the semblance of a win-win deal. Instead, both constituencies have suffered what they regard as a lose-lose deal. British fishing communities were a rich source of pro-Brexit and conservative votes. Now they feel cheated and are turning on their former hero Boris Johnson. His dispatch of the Royal Navy is meant to demonstrate his willingness to fight the fishermen’s corner. President Macron faces elections in 12 months. Jean-Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Rally, is edging ahead in the latest polls. She has a strong base of support in the French fishing community. Macron needs to erode that if he is stay in the Elysee Palace.  Both Boris and Macron backed down almost immediately as wiser heads in Brussels and Whitehall prevailed, but if their shoot-from-the hip reaction is a harbinger of things to come than expect a rocky road in post-Brexit Anglo-French and Anglo-EU relations.

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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 – 18th April

America lost. It has joined other imperial powers—mainly Britain and the Soviet Union—in filling thousands of graves in the mountains, hills and plains of Afghanistan. More than 4,400 NATO troops of which 2,488 were American have died in the past 20 years. In addition, an estimated 43,000 civilians and 70,000 Taliban fighters have lost their lives. America’s longest war is estimated to have cost the US Treasury $2 trillion, and its NATO allies $525 billion. Afghanistan has been a melting pot, trade route and gateway to the riches of India for centuries. The Mughals conquered northern India through Afghanistan and the British fought three Afghan Wars to keep the Russians out of India. After the third Anglo-Afghan War, King Amanullah Khan moved to modernise Afghanistan. Inspired by Ataturk he secularised the strongly Islamic laws to allow co-education and other rights for women and introduced limited political rights. This never right down with the Mullahs who continued to hold sway in the remote mountainous villages of the Hindu Kush which covers three quarters of Afghanistan. The final straw for the fundamentalists came in April 1978 when the Marxist People’s Democratic Party grabbed power and started a major crackdown on fundamentalists. Civil war broke out and in December 1979 Moscow invaded in support of their communist clients. Their defeat after ten years was a major factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the fundamentalist-inspired Taliban who were nurtured in Pakistan’s Madrassas. With the help of Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia they fought their way to power in 1998 and introduced a medieval form of Sharia Law. They also provided a base for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeeda whom they refused to relinquish after the 2001 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. The result was an Anglo-American invasion which toppled the Taliban from Kabul in just two months. But the Taliban did not disappear. It regrouped in bases in Pakistan and fought back. It now controls roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan and will no doubt soon topple US-supported President Ashraf Ghani. But will they again become a base for international Islamic terrorism? Will their brutal suppression of women’s rights be too much for the West to bear? Will the 14 ethnic groups with three main languages collapse into civil war in the absence of a common foreign enemy? It is clear, as both Trump and Biden, has said that there is no military solution to the problem of Afghanistan. But is there even an acceptable political solution, or is Afghanistan like a chronic cancer—manageable, treatable but incurable and gets you in the end.

Minneapolis used to be best known for Lake Itasca, source of the mighty Mississippi. Then there is juicy Lucy, a delicious cheeseburger with the cheese inside the meat. And, of course, the famous Mall of America is only a stone’s throw away. Now, it is infamous for the police killing of George Floyd, the subsequent Black Lives Matter riots and the trial of his alleged killer Derek Chauvin And this week for the “accidental “shooting of 20-year-old African-American Daunte Wright in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Centre. On the face of it, Minneapolis is not your typical racial hotspot. African-Americans comprise only 20 percent of the population (Detroit is 79 percent Black). Mayor Joseph Frey has well-established liberal credentials and Police Chief Medana Arradondo is African-American. But that is not the whole story. Blacks may be 20 percent of the population but 60 percent of all police shootings are of African-Americans, and in his days as a young police lieutenant, Chief Arradondo sued his own force for racism. The problem appears to lie with the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis and, in particular, its Trump-supporting leader Bob Kroll who has fought hard to keep the 800-stong force predominantly White. Kroll himself has been involved in three police shootings and 20 internal affairs investigations. He called George Floyd a “violent criminal” and branded protesters “terrorists.” The good news is that he has finally been forced out of office.

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Tom Arms World Review – 4 April

Georgia’s Republicans may have shot themselves in the foot. The White-dominated local party dominates the state legislature and were shocked by Trump’s loss of George and the Senate victory of two Black Democrats. Something had to be done. So they passed legislation to vote by post; gives the legislation greater control over the conduct of elections; bans the provision of food and water to those standing in long queues to cast their ballots; reduces the number of drop-off ballot boxes and demands strict ID requirements for all voters. All of these are aimed at making it harder for African-American voters who vote overwhelming for liberal Democrats. But have they gone too far? The measures are clearly designed to reduce the Black vote. Could it instead galvanise it? The 2020 elections were a record turnout—67.7 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, the highest figure in more than 100 years. The reason was – still is—divided and politicised like never before. The liberal Democrats hated Trump and the conservative Republicans responded in equal measure in their feelings with Joe Biden and co. Attempts to restrict the Democratic vote could very well have the effect of encouraging Democratic activists to try harder at the mid-term elections in 2022 and the presidential vote in 2024. We proved in 2020 that we could break the Republican lock, the activists can argue. We have them on the run. Sort out your ideas and bring thermos flasks and sandwiches to the voting queues.

 

The US State Department regularly produces country reports for Congress. This is because Congress decides whether a state should be given Most Favoured Nation trading status, have sanctions slapped on them, or something in between. The country report  makes recommendation and Congress usually follows them. This week—in response to Beijing’s Hong Kong crackdown– the State Department advised Congress finish the job started by Donald Trump and end Hong Kong’s preferential trading status. Not good news for Hong Kong and China. For a start the Hong Kong dollar is tied to the US dollar. That is likely to end. Hong Kong also has its own visa arrangements with the US (and other countries) which makes it easier for Chinese to travel to and from America for study and business. That is expected to cease. Tariffs on Hong Kong goods will go up, especially those re-exported from Mainland China. Controls on technology exports to China will be extended to Hong Kong. University contacts will be reduced. However, there will be a beneficiary. Singapore has for decades offered itself as an alternative Far Eastern base. It is looking even more attractive.

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Tom Arms World Review: 28 March 2021

In this week’s review, our regular correspondent Tom Arms looks at yet more mass shootings in America and the struggle for stronger gun control. He turns his attention to events in Israel and the failed Sino-American summit in Alaska. Europe has been at times teetering on the edge of vaccine wars and it is the 50th anniversary of the seventh fastest growing economy in the world, Bangladesh.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 21 March 2021

The primary responsibility of every government is the protection of its citizens.

The wannabe federalists of Europe have dismally failed at fulfilling this obligation with their handling of the coronavirus vaccine programme. And to compound their errors they have tried to cast Brexit Britain in the role of scapegoat at a time when they should be trying to develop a positive relationship with the UK.

Instead Brussels has unfairly claimed that the Johnson government is behind Astra Zeneca’s failure to manufacture and deliver sufficient vaccine doses in a timely fashion. To compound the mistake they attempted to tarnish the vaccine with attacks on its safety. This, of course, is backfiring because it provides grist to the growing anti-vax brigade–costing tens of thousands of more lives.

On top of that, the commission is talking about blocking exports of the PfizerBnTech vaccine (largely produced in Belgium) to third countries, which is Brussels shorthand for Britain.

In the meantime both the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have declared Astra Zeneca safe; forcing European countries to put the vaccine back on the metaphorical shelf. But the poorly-managed vaccine programme has meant that Europe is enduring a third and deadly coronavirus wave.

A year ago, Eastern Europe was patting itself on the back for avoiding the worst effects of the first wave. Now their health services are on their knees. According to the WHO the Czech Republic leads the world in new Covid 19 cases per 100,000—over 1,600 a day this past week. Poland has plunged into a national lockdown this week as has Italy, Paris and the French Riviera. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is considering a month-long extension to the German lockdown.

But the hotspot tourist countries of Spain, Greece, Italy, and Malta are still planning to open their borders to tourists in May.

Biden is in a serious muddle with his immigration policy.

Donald Trump was rightly attacked for his inhumanity. But that does not mean that the vast majority of Americans want to open the immigration floodgates. Biden’s actions are still a long way from a social tsunami, but they are close enough for Republicans to be calling it that and finding listeners.

Between the end of October and the beginning of March 400,000 illegal immigrants attempted to cross US-Mexican border—a 15-year high. This is partly result of a pent-up demand created by the Trump Era and partly by the Biden Administration’s decision to end the “Remain in Mexico” for processing policy. Biden now allows migrants across the border to be processed in US-based centres.

The other major issue is unaccompanied children. Under the provision of Trump’s Title 42 hundreds of children were forcibly separated from their parents. Many families are still to be reunited. Biden is now allowing unaccompanied minors across the border. Parents are sending their children northwards because they believe that by pleading the politically significant issue of reunification their chances of joining the young ones will be significantly improved.

An estimated 30,000 unaccompanied minors have entered the US from Mexico so far this year. They are however, being kept in the same detention centres used by the Trump Administration. No one knows the exact conditions in these centres because journalists have so far been banned entry. This has led to attacks on Biden’s immigration policy from the left-wing of the Democratic Party. What a muddle.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 28 February 2021

President Joe Biden must have mixed feelings about the public’s continued fascination with the Donald Trump story. On the one hand it is a distraction from his own agenda. And on the other, it allows him to move forward quickly and efficiently while attention is largely engaged elsewhere. He is doing the latter. This weekend Biden will celebrate 50 million covid-19 vaccinations, putting his administration well ahead of the target 100 million jabs in 100 days. He is also expected to shortly push through Congress a third major pandemic spending package. This one is worth $1.9 trillion and will focus on the poor minorities and women. The only part of the deal which has won Republican approval is $110 billion for business support. Meanwhile, Trump’s problems continue to make headlines. The biggest is that the US Supreme Court has refused the ex-president’s appeal to block a subpoena to obtain Trump’s tax records for the past ten years. Cyrus Vance Jr., the South Manhattan District Attorney leading the charge, believes that the records will reveal massive fraud involving taxes, bank dealings and insurance. Trump has denounced the investigation as part of the continuing “deep state” “witch hunt” and is keeping the Republican spotlight shining on him with a keynote speech this Sunday at a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) In Orlando, Florida. His strongest Senate supporter, Lindsey Graham, said Trump “is going to dominate the Republican Party for years to come.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson must have mixed feelings about the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100,000 deaths, a locked-down economy and a crippling debt is bad news. But at least it is deflecting public attention away from his disastrous Brexit deal. The biggest problems this week have been predicted and predictable—fishing and Northern Ireland. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy which made British waters part of a larger European lake open to all EU fishermen was one of the main reasons for Brexit. The problem is that the deal Boris Johnson has struck with Brussels has possibly worsened the plight of the British fishermen. At the root of the issue is the fact that the fish that are caught in British waters appeal to European palates and those netted in European seas appeal to hungry Brits. And because of various quota and hygiene regulations now in place it is becoming difficult to impossible to land fish in each other’s ports. Then there is Northern Ireland with the new trading border in the Irish Sea. This is to keep open the border between the northern and southern halves of the island of Ireland and, hopefully, avoid a return to “The Troubles” of the last quarter of the 20th century. But this means import and export controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. The British government has responded by proposing that the uncontrolled period of trade between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain be extended to 2023. That is unacceptable to Dublin and Brussels. Any restrictions in trade links between Northern Ireland and the British mainland are unacceptable to the protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who want the current Northern Ireland Protocol jettisoned and a hard border drawn between Eire and Northern Ireland. This, of course, would torpedo the Good Friday Agreement and re-open the prospect of a return to intercommunal fighting.

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Tom Arms’ World Review 14 February 2021

One of the current international ironies is that Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are on trial at the same time. The two men have one of the closest personal relationships on the world stage—dating back to the 1980s when Netanyahu was in New York as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Now he is on trial at the same time as his American buddy for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In true Trumpian style, Netanyahu claims that the trial is a “coup to oust a sitting Israeli Prime Minister.” The trial takes place in the middle of Israel’s fourth general election campaign in four years and is expected to be in full swing when voters troop to the polls on 23 March. It will have an impact. But possibly a more important factor will be the role of Israel’s Orthodox Jewish parties who have been a mainstay of successive Netanyahu coalitions. Orthodox Jews are making themselves unpopular by defying the government’s lockdown restrictions. Many are also refusing to participate in Israel’s world beating vaccination programme. This is creating a backlash against Orthodox Jewish parties. Coupled with his trial, this could bring an end to Netanyahu’s long stranglehold on Israel’s premiership at the same time as his American friend’s career is heading towards the toilet bowl.

Joe Biden also has a long and generally friendly connection with Netanyahu. The difference is that it is linked to his years as a senator and vice-president and is based more on national interests than personal ties. Those national interests are likely to mean that the US embassy remains in Jerusalem and that the US continues to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Biden will also build on the diplomatic recognition of Israel by key Arab states. However, there will be differences. Israel was a prime mover behind Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Accord. Biden is trying to revive it. Trump cut off US aid to the Palestinians. Biden restored it. Biden has said he supports the “two-state solution”. The Kushner Plan attempted to kill it. On top of that, President Biden has served notice on Saudi Arabia that it will take a closer look at its human rights policies and withdraw support for its genocidal wall against the Yemeni Houthis. Saudi Arabia is Israel’s closest secret ally in the Arab world. However, there may be military-oriented economic constraints on Biden’s human rights-focused policy towards the Saudis. The US is the world’s largest exporter of weapons with sales totalling $47.2 billion in 2020. Their biggest customer by far is Saudi Arabia. Despite overwhelming evidence, Trump refused to accept that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi because, he said, it would jeopardise arms sales to Riyadh.

President Biden’s foreign policy focus shifted to China this week with this first presidential phone call with Xi Jinping. He spent three hours haranguing the Chinese leader about Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Uighurs in Xinjiang. His emphasis was on human rights violations. Xi was unhappy. The issue of human rights, he maintained, was an internal Chinese matter, and the US had no right to interfere in China’s domestic affairs. The plight of the Muslim Uighurs is receiving increasing international attention. Britain’s Liberal Democratic Party has called for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics because of what they call a genocide in Xinjiang. The Johnson government has so far rejected the proposal. But it might find more fertile ground in Washington. It would be ironic if it went ahead. The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics heralded the return of China to world affairs. A boycott in 2022 could mark the falling of a new bamboo curtain.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Move over Donald Trump. America’s conspiracy-driven ultra-right has a new darling. She is the photogenic 46-year-old freshman Congresswoman from Georgia Marjorie Taylor Greene. In less than a month in office, Ms Greene has infuriated Democrats, embarrassed the Republican leadership, made Trump look like a wet liberal, shot to media prominence, sparked a movement to force her expulsion from the House of Representatives, and won the hearts of White supremacists. Ms Greene hit the hallowed corridors of Congress running. The day after she was sworn in she filed articles for the impeachment of President Biden. But it is her record of conspiracy-laden Trumpism before officially taking office that has done Ms Greene the most damage (or help). Obama is a secret Muslim. Mass shootings were false-flag exercises designed to undermine gun rights. Bill Clinton murdered John F. Kennedy Jr. Hillary Clinton is a paedophile. Nancy Pelosi should be executed for treason…. Leading Democrats have called for her expulsion from Congress. They won’t succeed and that, but they have blocked her appointment to committees. However, the Democratic ire seems to only encourage the Republican grassroots to rally around Ms. Greene, especially after Trump declared: “I love her.” One thing is certain: The fate of Marjorie Taylor Greene is now tied to the future direction of America’s Republican Party.

Britain did not, on 1 January, fall off the economic cliff as some anti-Brexiteers predicted. But neither has the country’s formal departure from the European Union been an economic walk in the park. Red tape at borders has meant bureaucratic headaches, especially for anyone supplying perishable products such as fish, meat, vegetables and some medicines. Particularly hard hit has been Northern Ireland which now has an open border with Eire and a hard border with the rest of the United Kingdom. The border, however, can be closed by either the UK or EU if either party has reason to believe that the agreement causes “economic, societal or environmental difficulties.” The commission briefly closed the border to stop the export of coronavirus vaccines. It was a stupid move which was immediately rescinded. Now the pro-Unionist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is calling for the border to be closed and the UK/Northern Ireland border to be thrown open to alleviate the trade in fresh food from the UK to Northern Ireland. But closing the border between North and South Ireland would breach the Good Friday Agreement which is the foundation of the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. A predicted Brexit conundrum.

There is no doubt that Alexei Navalny is a brave man and a hero to thousands of Russians demonstrating for his release from prison. Navalny also receives a favourable press outside of Russia. But beware, he is not the cuddly politician one might think. He is an anti-immigration, xenophobic ethnic Russian nationalist. In 2013 he defended anti-immigration riots in Moscow. He supported Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and has campaigned for the political integration of Russia with Ukraine and Belarus. Navalny has also supported Russian secessionists in Georgia and Moldova and attacked the building of Moscow’s first mosque in 2015. The major difference between Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Putin is the former’s campaign against the oligarchical-controlled corruption that is dragging down the Russian state.

The good news is that this week the US and Russia signed a new five-year Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which cuts the nuclear arsenals of the two countries. The bad news is that Russia withdrew from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty which allowed the US, Europe and Russia to conduct aerial surveillance of each other’s military installations. The US withdrew in November. The treaty is dead. That is a concern. The Russians say they withdrew because of Donald Trump’s withdrawal. But it is not that simple. Trump withdrew because the Russians were blocking surveillance flights, especially over the heavily-armed Russian enclave of Kaliningrad which is sandwiched between the Baltic States and Poland. In making the announcement, President Vladimir Putin said the door was ajar for a renegotiated Open Skies Treaty. But this seems unlikely in the immediate future because President Trump scrapped the specially-equipped planes needed to enforce the treaty. The end of Open Skies is particularly worrying when considered in the context of the end of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty which regulated the nuclear weapons regime based in Europe. START lessens the danger of an intercontinental nuclear exchange. But the demise of the INF Treaty and the Open Skies Agreement increases the possibility of hostilities in Europe.

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