Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Ukraine is tank country. It is part of the flat and fertile North European plain which stretches from the Urals to the North Sea. That very same corridor has throughout history doubled as a military highway for invading armies head East or West.

This geopolitical fact is why Russia started the Ukraine War with a massive arsenal of 10,000 tanks and Ukraine had 2,500.  Since the fighting started nearly a year ago, the Russians have lost about 1,500 of their tanks. But relatively speaking to the initial size of their forces, the Ukrainians have fared worse with a loss of about a quarter of their tanks.

The Ukrainian losses on the tank battlefield, coupled with the importance of armour in the flat terrain, is the reason why Vlodomyr Zelensky is pleading with NATO for more armour.

The three countries that have tanks to spare are the US, Germany and Poland. The UK and France decided ten years ago that another North European war was unlikely and ran down their tank forces. France has only 200 main battle tanks and the UK about 220.

The US is well short of the Russians at 6,612 tanks, but if you add Germany’s 2,761 Leopard tanks and Poland’s fast-growing arsenal, the Ukrainians could match Russia tank for tank.

The problem is that the Germans are reluctant to be seen to escalate the conflict and the Biden Administration needs a strong European (which in this case means German) commitment to justify sending state of the art M1 Abrams tanks.

This leaves Poland, with some help from Finland and the Baltic states, to fill the yawning gap in Ukrainian armoured battalions. In the meantime, Ukraine is preparing for Russia’s inevitable tank-led spring offensive.

New Zealand

Jacinda Adern, has voluntarily, out of the blue, resigned. The prime minister of tiny New Zealand is one of the most respected international figures. She successfully introduced strict gun laws after the Christchurch mosque shooting left 51 dead; led her Labour Party to an historic landslide victory and organised one of the few successful containments of the covid virus. But Ms Adern has decided her work is done and is stepping down.

Now compare the New Zealand leader to other Western politicians who are prepared to lie, cheat and twist the law to cling to power. Britain’s Boris Johnson and America’s Donald Trump immediately spring to mind. Trump with his unfounded claim that he won the 2020 presidential election and Boris with who claimed ignorance of Downing Street parties during the covid lockdown. Ms Adern led by example when she was in office and she is doing same with her departure and is being praised for doing so. Politicians who are concerned about their legacies should take note.

USA

The moral high ground is where every politician wants to be. Donald Trump has never managed more than a foot or two up the mountain and his failure to climb higher was a factor in his 2020 electoral defeat at the hands of “relatively honest” Joe Biden. Now, Biden has suffered a major downhill slide: classified documents have been found where they should not be – in his office and even his garage.  Their discovery has inevitably been compared to the discovery of classified material in Trump’s Mar-a-lago home and led to another special counsel investigation of another president.

However, document-gate does not appear to have adversely impacted on Biden’s popularity. His approval ratings have actually gone up this month from 38 to 44 percent.  Pundits believe that the voters are inured to moral shortcomings but have been impressed that the US is enjoying record unemployment, lower inflation and impressed by the Democrats’ performance in the mid-term elections.

Trump also appears to have benefitted from the latest round of document-gate. Despite his candidates’ poor showing in the mid-terms, the former president is 17 points head of main challenger Ron de Santis in a poll of Republican voters. They appear to have indulged in a bout of whataboutery in regards to the Mar-a-lago documents  to reaffirm their support for Trump. Thus, at the moment, 2024 looks like a re-run of the Biden-Trump race.

USA – again

If you regularly pay the interest (and perhaps a bit of the principal) on your loans then you can be more or less guaranteed a Triple A credit rating. In fact, the more you borrow the better. The bank are not so concerned about how much you owe as your ability to pay the interest on the loans. After all, that is how they make their money.

However, should you default on a monthly payment then your financial world will come crashing down.

The same rules apply to governments. They can borrow as much as they want as long as they keep up regular payments. If they default then their economy simply collapses and the bigger the national economy the bigger the impact on the world economy.

You cannot get bigger than the American economy. The US is 24.1 percent of global GDP and the US government debt is $31.4 trillion out of the $226 trillion owed by all the world’s governments. If the US government defaulted on its debt payments the results would be catastrophic. Not only would hundreds of millions individuals be affected but the banking industry would collapse and America’s chief creditor nations – Japan, China, Britain, Ireland and Luxembourg – would be in deep trouble.

As in most countries, debt and public spending are major political issues. Generally speaking the Republicans are agin it and the Democrats are for it. But because it is such a big issue, the US has a congressional-imposed debt ceiling. The government is by law restricted – at the moment – to a maximum debt of $31.4 billion. To exceed that a mount the government needs the approval of the House of Representatives.

This week the Biden Administration reached the debt ceiling. Following the mid-term elections the House of Representatives is controlled by the fiscally-conservative Republicans who are in turn increasingly dominated by their more extreme right-wing Freedom Caucus.

President Biden has until about June to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a default. It will be an interesting – perhaps even nail-biting – winter and spring in Washington.

Israel

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is heading towards a dangerous head-on collision with his country’s Supreme Court. He is unhappy with some of the court’s rulings, so he plans to change the structure of the court to give the government more control over bench appointments. This has galvanised the usually quiescent opposition who have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands to protest.

The latest court versus Bibi clash concerns the cabinet appointment of ultra-orthodox Aryhei Dei, Leader of the Shas Party, to Netanyahu’s. Dei’s appointment has been blocked by the Supreme Court because of the far-right politician’s conviction for tax fraud. The Shas Party has threatened to pull out of Israel’s shaky coalition if Netanyahu refuses to defy the court. But if Netanyahu caves in to political demands then he will be in contempt of court and there is no appeal to a Supreme Court decision.

So, Netanyahu is proposing to change the structure of the court panel which selects its members. At the moment there are nine justices. Netanyahu wants 11. The selection panel is comprised of judges, lawyers and politicians with a non-political bias. Netanyahu’s proposed changes would give the selection panel a political-bias. In addition, a 7-2 vote is currently needed to approve a judge’s appointment. Netanyahu wants a simple majority.

An independent judiciary has a crucial and – it would seem at times – almost counter-intuitive role in democracies. They are, in most democracies, unelected and outside the political fray. A crucial part of their role is to protect the sanctity of elections and democratic values and structures. They do this by being swayed not by the changing whims of the electorate, but by the immutable foundations of history and legal precedent.

They can – and have – acted as guardians against the tyranny of the majority. Which is why at the last count 80,000 Israelis of every political stripe from the centre to the extreme left took to the streets to side with the Supreme Court against Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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10 Comments

  • Mel Borthwaite 22nd Jan '23 - 11:52am

    I think we have to be honest with ourselves and recognise that the most that NATO can realistically expect from this war is for the Russians to achieve a Pyrrhic victory in that they will retain control of a chunk of Ukrainian territory but at massive cost in terms of military and financial losses. For NATO, donating military hardware allows Russia to be weakened at relatively little cost compared to being directly at war. Unfortunately I fear that the greater the cost the Russians have to pay, the greater the land grab Putin will require in order to justify the war to his own people. I think the Dnipro river is likely to become, again, the agreed or at least de facto border between Russia and Ukraine once hostilities come to an end. For those who think I am unduly pessimistic, my pessimistic assessment is that Russia may be able to eventually cross the Dnipro in the south and take Ukrainian territory as far as Moldova. Very depressing.

  • While not disagreeing with you on your comments on Ardern generally can I question your use of the word “tiny” to decribe NZ? Tiny is normally used to describe size. By your definition the UK must be truly miniscule as it’s smaller than NZ!

  • nigel hunter 22nd Jan '23 - 1:05pm

    The Challenger tank is a defensive one that was devised to delay an enemy whilst reinforcements arrived.They are now being updated in light of what is happening.HOWEVER as the strategy was to be no War in Europe the number of tanks were reduced.
    The Abrams is a technological machine stacked with devices AND does not run on petrol and consumes large amounts of fuel. It is a logistical nightmare to maintain.ONLY THE LEOPARD is suitable to be used in Ukraine.As in WW2 mass tank battles were to the fore.If NATO does not come to an agreement the situation in Ukraine could become dire.

  • ‘enjoying record unemployment’ surely record employment?

  • Mel Borthwaite 22nd Jan '23 - 3:17pm

    @ John Waller
    There is currently no serious proposal for UN sponsored peace talks. The Ukrainian position is that Russia can only attend peace talks if it agrees to withdraw to previously recognised borders (including withdrawing from Crimea), agrees to compensate for all material losses due to the war, and submits to an International Court for war crimes. The Russian position is that negotiations with Ukraine are only possible if it first accepts that Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are now Russian territory.

  • Jenny Barnes 22nd Jan '23 - 3:48pm

    The UK has 227 Challenger 2s. These are becoming obsolescent, and there is a contract with Rheinmetall BAE to upgrade 148 of them to Challenger 3 – reading between the lines I think they would be Leopard technology in the Challenger 2 hull. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-shropshire-57025266
    That leaves 70 odd Ch2s that presumably we don’t need, of which we have sent 14. Why not send Ukraine all 70? If we do need more tanks , Rheinmetall have 100 or so obsolete Leopard 2s in stock that could be upgraded to the latest tech…
    Ok, it’s not 2,000, but 14 seems somewhat on the small side?

  • Joseph Gerald Bourke 22nd Jan '23 - 8:25pm

    As I understand it, while public opinion in Germany remains strongly in support of military and economic aid to Ukraine, it is split 50/50 on the issue of sending main battle tanks into the Ukraine conflict. The reasons for caution are understood – Germany’s traumatic experience of two world wars and the post-war legacy of pacifism.
    Some will argue that sending more lethal weapons may escalate or prolong the conflict, while others will argue that an adequate supply of heavy weapons is the only effective means by which Ukraine can prevent being overrun by the Russian military and enter negotiations on an equal footing, rather than simply accepting a Russian ultimatum in a capitulation.
    The ability of Ukraine to defend its territory and people from Russian aggression is not simply a matter of supporting the right of a weaker country to resist occupation by a stronger neighbour. The outcome will have a lasting impact on the framework of European and global security for generations to come as will the eventual demise of the Russian empire.
    Russia whether under the Czars, the USSR or the current regime has always looked to autocracy to quell discontent and it is only military defeat (whether in the Crimean War, WW1 or the cold war ) that has brought about political reform. The sooner Ukraine can liberate its own territory; the sooner the prospect for real political reform will arise in Russia to allow Russians to rid themselves once and for all of the kleptocracy that has brought such ruin to both their country and Ukraine.

  • @ Russell. When I wrote “tiny” in reference to New Zealand I meant in times of population which is 5.1million compared to 66.5 million in the UK. Having said that, New Zealand punches well above its weight on the world stage, mainly because it stakes a claim to the moral high ground and fights to stay there.

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