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.

Two more mass shootings in America. Another 16 dead bodies. And another round of calls for gun control. Of course, gun control in America means something different than everywhere else in the world. It does not mean – as in most developed countries – the virtual outlawing of the sale of weapons to the general public. No, in the case of the United States it means banning the sale of semi-automatic and automatic assault rifles, weapons with multiple cartridges and thorough background checks on potential buyers. President Joe Biden wants these controls. He may manage to achieve two out of three. Opposing him are the National Rifle Association, and the die-hard proponents of the Second Amendment who have captured the Republican Party and turned gun control into a bipartisan issue. Combined with the power of the filibuster, this means that Biden’s hopes are blocked by the fact that he needs 60 Senate votes. So, your average American will be able to continue to buy sub-machine guns. They can even buy tanks and grenade launchers (but not grenades). However, the president is expected to win on the less thorny issue of background checks on potential buyers. And if the Senate refuses to work with him, there are signs that Biden is prepared to use executive decrees. This would mean tightening rules on who is allowed to sell guns and banning the import of certain guns and gun parts.

The world this week continued its slide into East-West Cold War style camps. Following the disastrous Sino-American summit in Alaska, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged a meeting of NATO foreign ministers to turn their attention to China and the Asia-Pacific. On Thursday, the message was reinforced when Joe Biden addressed a virtual summit of EU leaders. On the other side of the political equation, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov met and issued a joint statement saying that they rejected Western criticisms of their foreign and human rights policies, attacked sanctions against them and agreed to coordinate activities against the US and Europe. Wang Yi, meanwhile, is preparing for a foray into a US-dominated region with a tour from next Tuesday of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. It all looks distressingly familiar.

Gathering a political armoury for a vaccine war with Britain was the main agenda item at this week’s Europe summit. But the EU is unlikely to use the assembled weaponry. Commission President Ursula Van Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron pushed through a proposal to block exports of coronavirus vaccines to Britain and other countries until the mainly British-produced Astra Zeneca honours its commitments to EU countries. The pronouncement is a political necessity for new commission president van Leyen. EU bureaucracy fouled up the early stages of its vaccine programme which is now lagging far behind the UK and US and suffering a deadly third wave of coronavirus cases. The EU had to be seen to act. But as former commission president Claude Juncker said it would be “stupid” to use the new powers and would cause “major reputational damage to the EU”. Belgium and the Netherlands have also announced their opposition to the use of a vaccine export embargo. And in the next few days Dutch Prime Minister and British counterpart Boris Johnson are expected to attempt to head off any action with an announcement about increased production of Astra Zeneca in the Netherlands. In the meantime, precious few of the doses are reaching the underdeveloped world where the number of cases are growing exponentially. Kenya this week literally ran out of hospital beds. The World Health Organisation has heavily criticised the US, UK and EU for hoarding supplies.

How is this for a scenario: An Arab political party maintains Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu in power. It sounds impossible. But in the Alice through the looking glass world of Israeli politics the most unlikely scenarios are feasible. The cause of this seemingly outrageous possibility is this week’s deadlocked election results – the fourth in two years. Once again Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud Party and his allies in the main Orthodox Jewish parties won the most seats with 59, but they need 61 to form a majority government. A fragmented opposition coalition of centrist and left-wing parties secured 57. Holding the balance of power is Mansour Abbas, whose United Arab list or Raam has secured four seats. Palestinian Arabs still comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population, are represented in the Knesset, and, surprisingly, Mansour Abbas has said that he is prepared to join a coalition with Palestinian arch-enemy Benjamin Netanyahu – on the right terms, of course. He has also said he could swing the other way. The two deciding issues are likely to be the West Bank and the forthcoming trial of Netanyahu. Abbas will want Netanyahu to shelve plans for his annexation of the West Bank. Netanyahu will want Abbas to help block his trial next month on bribery and fraud charges. There is another possibility. One of Netanyahu’s erstwhile allies, former defence minister Natalfi Bennett has hinted he could shift his allegiance leftwards, taking seven Knesset members with him. A prediction is impossible in unpredictable Israel.  

Happy Birthday 50th birthday Bangladesh. And the South Asian nation has a lot to be happy about. And a lot to be unhappy about. But let’s start by focusing on the good news. Bangladesh is the seventh fastest growing economy in the world. In 1972 – the year after Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan in a war costing three million lives – its GDP was $62 billion. In 2019, it was $305 billion and is expected to be around $600 billion by the end of this decade. Then there are social advances. Ninety-eight percent of children finish primary school and life expectancy is the highest in South Asia. The United Nations Committee for Development Policy recently recommended that Bangladesh be promoted least developed country designation to developing country. Now for the really bad news. Seventy-nine percent of Bangladesh’s 166 million people are crammed into the low-lying delta region which empties into the Bay of Bengal. The average height of this region – two thirds of the land area of Bangladesh – is less than five metres above sea level. Because of climate change, between 12 to 15 percent of the land is expected to disappear under rising sea levels by 2050. It is estimated that 20 million people will be displaced. The political story is also dire. The country has spent 50 years lurching from dictatorship to democracy to military rule. Current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina secured her fourth term in 2018 with an election marred by violence and extensive vote rigging. The dominant Awami League has been criticised by the think tank Freedom House for consolidating “its power through sustained harassment of the opposition and those perceived to be allied with it.” At best, the country is a quasi-democracy.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 28th Mar '21 - 5:06pm

    The “China Crisis” rolls on. Having more or less told the EU, and France in particular, to do one and blacklisting certain Tory MPs and virtually tearing up the Hong Kong Treaty, China also plays tough with Uncle Sam. It almost seems like payback time for the way the Western powers treated China’s imperial predecessor after the Boxer Rebellion, or going back further, the Opium Wars.

    The problem is that the West has allowed China to develop an economic stranglehold on trade and commerce, not forgetting the acquisition of precious mineral rights, particularly in Africa and the ‘befriending’ of middle eastern states such as Turkey and Iran. We saw off the ideological threat from the Soviet Union because, by rejecting capitalism, the Soviet version of communism was clearly on a hiding to nothing.

    Now that the Chinese communist state, while retaining an iron totalitarian grip on its peoples by means of ‘bread and circuses’, has armed itself with a version of capitalist ideology, to which we have become gradually beholden, the task of extricating ourselves from its grip, even if we had the courage to do so, might presage a Cold War Mark Two, which might prove harder to ‘win’ than the first.

  • nigel hunter 28th Mar '21 - 5:10pm

    The position of the UK,US, EU over the vaccine selfishness will be remembered by by the developing countries and could drive them into Chinese sphere.Are we to repeat history?

  • Little Jackie Paper 28th Mar '21 - 5:36pm

    If the EU had a case against AZ it would have been in court by now. Assuming all that rules based order stuff wasn’t just rhetoric of course.

  • john oundle 28th Mar '21 - 8:24pm

    Little Jackie Paper

    Agree, the EU have no case, they negotiated a poor contract but want to blame everyone except themselves.

    So much for all the rules based rubbish around the NI protocol when they are prepared to impose a trade blockade.

  • Why isn’t Ed Davey asking questions about this ? Why should it be left to Labour to raise this.

    “There were reports Mr Cameron tried unsuccessfully to increase Greensill Capital’s access to government-backed loans by contacting officials as well as the chancellor, Rishi Sunak. Now the Sunday Times has reported that, during Mr Cameron’s time at Number 10, Mr Greensill gained privileged access to Whitehall where he promoted a financial product that he would – in later years – go on to benefit from.

  • Joseph Bourke 29th Mar '21 - 1:18am

    David Raw,

    I wouldn’t bother with David Cameron and focus instead on the real job issues. The future of Liberty Steel and its 3000 workers following the collapse of Greensill capital. The government has rejected a £170m rescue loan and the administrators will likely struggle to find a buyer. Looks like a job for the Clean Steel fund to put its mission of transitioning to lower carbon steel production into practice

  • Nonconformistradical 29th Mar '21 - 7:42am

    “The government has rejected a £170m rescue loan and the administrators will likely struggle to find a buyer.”
    Mightn’t the real problem lie with Sanjeev Gupta?
    “Steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta owes an estimated £4 billion to stricken Australian finance house Greensill and some of the world’s biggest lenders.

    Analysis of the industrialist’s spending and borrowing spree over several years reveals that he owes more than £3 billion alone to Greensill….”
    “Steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta reportedly used now-collapsed bank Greensill Capital to borrow £400m in government-backed loans during the pandemic.

    Under the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS ), firms are allowed to borrow up to £50m, with 80 per cent of the loan guaranteed by the government.

    But, the Sunday Times reported, Gupta and Greensill used a loophole in the scheme to borrow eight times the allotted amount.

    The British Business Bank, which administers the scheme, is reported to have removed its guarantees for the loans three weeks ago.

    Under the bank’s rules, some firms can borrow up to £200m, but only if such a move has been preapproved.

    “Lenders and borrowers must not conspire to circumvent the spirit of the [scheme] by seeking to structure around these requirements”, it says in the rules for the scheme.

    The revelation comes as Gupta seeks new financing for his metals empire, which employs 35,000 people around the world, after the collapse of Greensill last week.

    The boutique bank was among GFG Alliance’s biggest lenders, and its insolvency has left the company scrabbling to find new financing.

    On Friday in an internal email to colleagues Gupta said that he was seeking a standstill deal with Grant Thornton, Greensill’s administrators, over the money that GFG owed the bank.

    Unions have called for ministers to prepare themselves to step in to prop up the firm in order to preserve jobs in case funding cannot be found.

    The CLBILs scheme is not the first time the steel magnate has used government guarantees to fund his business.”

  • @ Joseph Bourke Correct……. of course, but what sort of a Government, Prime Minister and Business Secretary would get into a mirror image of the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae situation with regard to British Steel ? And what was the Energy Secretary doing at the time ?

    There are some hard questions to answer about competence and integrity.

  • I find most of the reporting on the Covid 19 vaccine tactless. The narrative in the UK has been completely subborned into that of Little Englanders. As A British European i.e. a member of the British diaspora in Europe, not an “expat” (urgh) but an immigrant originating from the UK in the EU, I find that even liberal and democratic people fed on the fascist diet of offal from the British Establishment spue the sort of diatribe evidenced in this piece. Grow up, get out more and move on from a imperial past.

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