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.

The United States is back in the international driver’s seat and has chosen climate change as its lead vehicle. Donald Trump adopted a xenophobic unilateralist foreign policy and used departure from the Paris Climate Change Accord as a signature stratagem. Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement on his first day in office and this week hosted a virtual summit of 40 world leaders to discuss climate change strategy as part of the diplomatic spadework required for the 200-nation COP25 climate summit in Glasgow in November. So far, Biden has announced plans to halve carbon emissions by 2030, and the EU has proclaimed a 55 percent target. Brazil’s Bolsonaro has surprised the world community by pledging to end illegal deforestation. Japan, South Korea and Canada have all tabled new proposals. China and India have surprised everyone by turning up and appearing willing. The three biggest problems appear to be China, India and Australia. The first two are big CO2 emitters, and the Australian economy is heavily dependent on coal exports to China. Regardless of the outcome of this week’s meeting or the November summit, President Biden faces an uphill environmental struggle at home. The problem of climate change is an immediate problem which requires a long-term solution. American politics are by nature short-term. Trump has made climate change denial a key plank of Republican Party policy. In November 2022 they could regain control of Congress and there is no guarantee that Biden or a fellow Democrat will be in power after 2024.

The 100,000 Russian troops despatched to the border with Ukraine are returning to base. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the aims of the “snap checks” had been achieved. But what were those aims? To prod and poke at NATO defences. To demonstrate Moscow’s resolve to control Ukraine and demand to be treated as a great power and to force cracks in the Western Alliance. During the Cold War the same tactic was used in Berlin, Korea and most dangerously Cuba. Former KGB officer Vladimir Putin is merely continuing the high stakes chess game of his Soviet predecessors. That was clear in his annual state of the nation address this week. He claimed that the West was in peril of crossing “red lines” which would trigger a “rapid and harsh response from Moscow.” Putin’s red line referred to more than Ukraine. It includes criticism of Russia’s human rights policy, especially sanctions over the fate of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Also attacks on roaming assassination squads of GRU officers; breaches of nuclear arms agreements and flak about Russian cyber-attacks and interference in elections. Almost all of which Putin denies. Everyone knows he lies. Or at the very least deals in “alternative facts.” What Putin forgets is that there are two sides to a line and it can be crossed from either direction.

Once every twelve years devout Hindus gather on the banks of the River Ganges at the northern city of Haridwar. They meet for the Kumbh Mela Festival when they immerse themselves in the waters of the sacred river. The devotees believe that this action will release them from the cycle of life and death and lead their souls to Nirvana. 2021 is the twelfth year. The two-month festival is in full swing and will not end until next Saturday. So far an estimated two million believers—none of them socially distancing and few of them wearing face masks—have crowded onto the river banks and spilled into the waters of the River Ganges. They believe that the river will protect them from coronavirus as well as provide with a place in Nirvana. As a result, India has now broken world records for the number of new cases and deaths from Covid-19. 314,835 new cases were reported on Wednesday, and 2,104 deaths. Six hospitals in Delhi have run out of essential oxygen supplies needed to keep patients alive. More than 99 percent of the intensive care beds are full. Crematoria have been reduced to building funeral pyres in their car parks. The vaccination programme which started with great promise in January has stalled. So far only 13 percent of the population has been vaccinated. Government handling of the crisis has been deemed a disaster. There is no national lockdown and political rallies—including one organised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi– have only recently been banned. India has surpassed the United States as the world’s worst-hit country and it appears to be a long way from bottoming out while America is heading towards recovery. But most frightening of all for the rest of the world, is that India’s covid crisis has led to development of a new and dangerous mutation. With one billion Indians, it will be impossible to contain the variant on the sub-continent.

* Tom Arms is the Foreign Editor of Liberal Democratic Voice. His book “America Made in Britain” has recently been published by Amberley Books. He is also the author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War.”

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7 Comments

  • Little Jackie Paper 25th Apr '21 - 1:13pm

    Armin LASCHET.

    German leaders never seem able to find a successor. Not a uniquely German problem perhaps but still surprising.

  • Peter Martin 25th Apr '21 - 3:41pm

    “The FDP (centrist Liberal Democrats)”

    No they aren’t. They are ultra right wing economically. Even the German parties, such as the Greens and the SPD which are supposed to be on the left have a certain level of intellectual difficulty to when it comes to understanding Keynesian Economics. The FDP have even more problems than most! There’s only Die Linke which is in the right ballpark.

    They might have moved a tiny bit to the left since 2013!

    https://www.politicalcompass.org/germany2017

  • Paul Barker 25th Apr '21 - 5:15pm

    Most commenters in Germany describe The FDP as Centre-Right. Its always seemed to me that Libdems have more in common with The German Greens than with The FDP. International Political Groupings often dont make a lot of sense, European Greens are lumped in with a bunch of Nationalist Parties for example.

  • Brad Barrows 25th Apr '21 - 6:05pm

    @Peter Martin
    Yes, the FDP changed in 1982 after its decision to renege on a coalition deal with the SDP in order to join a new coalition with the Christian Democ rats, resulting with a significant change of government and political direction for the country without the voters getting a say in an election. This decision led to a large proportion of centre-left members leaving the party, leaving centre-right members in control.

  • John Marriott 25th Apr '21 - 6:40pm

    Ah. Die Freie Demokratische Partei Deutschlands – FDP for short – also known as ‘Die Liberalen’, the party of the first Federal President, Theodor Heuss, Walter Scheel, former Foreign Minister and fourth President, and long time Foreign Minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher – none of them rabid right wingers. You could probably add to that list Gustav Stresemann, joint winner in 1923 of the Nobel Peace Prize, whose leadership either as ImperialChancellor or Foreign Minister did more than most to rehabilitate his country after the ignominy of Versailles or the hyperinflation of the early 1920s and whose sudden death in 1929 deprived Weimar Germany of probably its strongest weapon against the Nazis. As a member of the so called ‘People’s Party’, as the FDP did not exist before WW2, he would certainly have leaned towards it, had he been alive after WW2.

    Commentators have a habit of describing the FDP as a ‘business friendly party’. That may be how it seems to us outside; but many Germans, certainly before the rise of the Green Party, used to call the FDP ‘das Zünglein an der Waage’, as holding the balance of power between the CDU/CSU and the SPD. That’s why, despite hardly ever winning any directly elected parliamentary seats, the party, provided it negotiates the 5% barrier, quite often gets enough MPs through the regional lists to enable it to help form a coalition government. Only Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, between 1956 and 1959 has succeeded in forming a majority government in Germany since 1949.

    To call the FDP ‘ultra right wing’ whether in economic terms or not, is a gross insult to the tradition of Centrism and some of the outstanding politicians who identified as such, that goes back to the founding of the Second German Empire in 1871.

  • The Covid Pandemic in India does seem to be getting worse by the day. Bill gates has called on the US and UK to get vaccines out there as quickly as possible. The country is clearly in need of help of all kinds – medics, vaccines, oxygen supplies, ventilators, masks and PPE.

  • John Marriott 26th Apr '21 - 8:53am

    And even Pakistan is sending aid. There is hope yet for the human race! Well done, Imran! But, what about China?

    It’s an unpleasant observation; but three of the countries worst affected appear to be the ones, who, at the start of the pandemic, had three right wing authoritarian COVID belittling Leaders in Trump, Bolsonaro and Modi.

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