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

British news continues to be dominated by “partygate”, which could be acting as a convenient cover for UK-EU talks on resolving the dispute over Northern Ireland. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has taken over responsibility for Brexit talks from hardliner Lord David Frost and appears to be taking a more conciliatory line. Brussels likes Ms Truss. Unlike Lord Frost, she is not a Brexit ideologue. She voted to remain in the EU and is known as a dealmaker. But she still has problems. One is that the Prime Minister may use the EU scapegoat card to deflect attention from his domestic problems. Then there is the fact that the EU negotiators may shy away from concessions because they believe Boris Johnson is about to be ejected from Downing Street. Ms Truss’s past pro-EU positions has also raised concern about her among Brexiteering Conservative MPs in the European Research Group as well as within Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. Ms Truss and EU negotiator Maros Sefcovic have said that they want to resolve the long-running dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol by the end of February in order to dispense with it before May elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. If they fail to do so, then the danger is that the election will become a de facto referendum on whether Northern Ireland remains in the Single Market and Customs Union—a sort of Brexit referendum mark two but confined to Northern Ireland.


It has been one year since the military coup in Myanmar. Under the leadership of Junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing, thousands have been thrown into prison, the media suppressed, villages razed to the ground and an estimated 400,000 are now officially classified as displaced persons. The economy is in free fall. The currency has been devalued by more than 60 percent against the dollar and the country’s schools are effectively closed. The rest of the world, has largely forgotten Myanmar. There are sanctions against the generals and its leadership is banned from meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but these measures have had little effect as the country drifts towards failed state status and splinters along a multitude of ethnic divisions. Western countries appear reluctant to become involved. It is another faraway country whose fate has little or no meaning to domestic audiences. It does, however, attract the interest of neighbouring giants China and India who are jockeying for influence in Myanmar and who may come to blows over the future of the Southeast Asian nation. That would interest the West.

Coup in Burkina Faso

The battle against Jihadists in the Sahel region of West Africa suffered a major blow this week with a military coup in Burkina Faso.  The West is operating one of the world’s biggest anti-terrorism operations in the Sahel Region. France has more than 5,000 troops operating there and there are additional forces from Britain, the US, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. The UN has 15,000 peacekeepers in Mali. In Burkina Faso about seven percent of the population—1.5 million people—have been displaced. Nearly 10,000 have been killed. A key element in the West’s strategy for success is building sustainable democratic governments to counter the growing threat of Jihadists affiliated with IS and Al Qaeeda. Military coups undermine that strategy. Mali has suffered two in as many years. The military takeover in Burkina Faso—the eighth since independence from France in 1960– has compounded the problem and made it more difficult for the West to neutralise the Jihadist threat.

* 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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  • Steve Trevethan 30th Jan '22 - 9:10am

    Thank you for your interesting piece.

    Might justice in the U. S. A. be more impartial, and so more secure, if the members of its Supreme Court were chosen, from suitably qualified and willing judges, by lot?

  • Brad Barrows 30th Jan '22 - 9:36am

    It is ironic that the Supreme Court is currently considering whether taking the race of applicants into consideration when deciding which students get university places is legal – and Biden has explicitly ruled out all races except one for his upcoming appointment to the Supreme Court. In doing so he has done a disservice to whichever excellent candidate is chosen as it will always be suggested that they didn’t quite make it on their own credentials alone.
    As an aside, I believe Michelle Childs is from South Carolina and would be the savvy pick as the two Republican senators from South Carolina would support her.

  • @Steve Trevethan — I think you are right. But first let’s ask why the American system is as it is, and to do that you really want to read my book “America Made in Britain.” But here is the abridged version. The appointment system for the American courts is set down by the written US constitution which is very difficult to amend. At the time that the constitution was written the Founding Fathers borrowed heavily from legal practices in vogue in Britain. And at that time, British judges were still appointed by the king. So the Founding Fathers decided that their “elected king” would have the same right.

  • Ianto Stevens 31st Jan '22 - 8:34am

    This world review is always so usfull. Thank you

  • Peter Hirst 1st Feb '22 - 4:01pm

    China will eventually realise that it has more pressing issues than the independence of Taiwan. If two vice-Presidents exchanging pleasantries attracts such attention it show’s China obsessioin with its place in the world. Though it might become the world’s superpower it cannot expect to dictate all happenings. It needs to become less sensitive and seek solution via normal diplomatic means.

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