Tom Arms’ World Review

USA

America’s looking glass politics dominated the news agenda again this week. Donald Trump is not a perp. He is a victim. And he is exploiting his victimhood to the maximum political advantage.

The ex-president has re-galvanised his base with classic hyperbolic claims about Democratic witch hunts. The sad thing is that in the case of this week’s indictment – the first of a past or present American president – he may actually be right.

The office of District Attorney for South Manhattan is an elected one, and Alvin Bragg won the vote on the back of a promise to bring Donald Trump to trial and convict him. Lady Justice is portrayed blindfolded with her sword and balancing scales. She is not elected.

The law is meant to be based on precedent.  No man (or woman) should be protected by their political position but neither should their political position be the determining factor in their innocence or guilt.

Of course, Donald Trump, is more than prepared to play both sides of the legal coin. His 2016 campaign rallies were marked by the endless chant/rant of “Lock her up” related to Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails for government use. The demand was dropped as soon as Trump entered the White House.

Possibly the saddest aspect of Trump’s indictment is that DA Bragg’s case is the weakest against the ex-president. Secret documents at Mar-a-Lago, the January 6 riots and attempts to fix the Georgia election returns all look more promising. Legal eagles believe he can beat the rap on the Stormy Daniels case – if only on one of several technicalities. If Trump is acquitted then he could use that acquittal to fight off other legal challenges and ride the victimhood express all the way to the Republican Party nomination and possibly beyond.

China

Diplomats say interesting things sometimes. Fu Cong, Beijing’s ambassador to the EU was certainly in expansive and interesting mode when he spoke to the New York Times on the eve of the Macron/von de Leyen state visit to China.

At the top of President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda in Beijing was Ukraine. In fact, his feet had barely touched Chinese soil when he was telling Xi Jinping: “I am counting on you to bring Russia to its senses.”

France, America and the rest of the West are terrified that the Xi/Putin “friendship without limits” will eventually lead to Chinese weaponry supporting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ambassador Fu, however, dismissed the “limitless” phrase as “rhetoric.” He also pointed out that Beijing has refused to recognise the 2014 annexation of Crimea or the more recent Russian land grabs in the Donbas.

All of the above is true. It is also encouraging that a senior Chinese diplomat has gone on record to try and balance the debate. But friendship with Russia and Putin remains at or near the centre of Xi’s world strategy. To put it bluntly, Xi sees Russia as key to his plan of eroding the Western-oriented world order and replacing it with one that is more autocracy-friendly.

The Chinese president hinted at his big picture plan in his opening remarks to Macron’s visit when he said that China and France have the responsibility to transcend their differences “as the world undergoes proposed historical changes.”

To realise this plan, Xi wants to drive a wedge between European and American policymakers. To do this he is dangling the financial incentive of improved Sino-European trade links. That is why EU Commission President Ursula von de Leyen and an accompanying herd of French businessmen have been tacked onto Macron’s state visit.

The question remains whether the fine words that come out of the Macron/von de Leyen visit will be mere “rhetoric.”

Finland

Russia’s border with NATO is now 800-miles longer. Finland has ended decades of neutrality and joined the Western Alliance. Simultaneously it has changed its government.

The two events are surprisingly unrelated. Membership of the Atlantic Alliance was not an issue in the election which saw the end of the left of centre coalition government of Sanna Marin and the start of the right of centre coalition government of Petteri Orpo, leader of the National Coalition Party.

While the country as a whole may not agree on the political complexion of its government, it is totally united in its opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Recent opinion polls showed a staggering 80 percent of the population in favour of NATO membership.

Most of Europe’s far-right parties are at best ambivalent towards Vladimir Putin. Not so the Finnish equivalent, the Finns Party led by Rikka Purra. They are focused on the other hard-right bogeys of Brussels, immigration and climate policy.

During what now must be called Cold War One, Finland was a key element in what was termed the Nordic Balance. Iceland, Norway and Denmark were part of NATO. The Baltic States were Soviet. Sweden was neutral and Finland was Western-oriented but under the heavy thumb of Moscow.

Any political moves to change the balance of power was seen as a threat to Russian security and world peace, and Soviet diplomats worked hard to maintain it and prevent the NATO encirclement which Putin has created.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi-Iranian rapprochement took another step forward this week with a meeting and handshake between the two countries’ foreign ministers. At the same time, OPEC-plus announced it was cutting oil production to raise prices. Brent Crude prices are expected to raise to $90-95 a barrel.

This is good news for Vladimir Putin whose Ukraine War is being kept afloat on a sea of bloated oil revenues. It is bad news for just about everyone who is forced to pay their energy bills.

There are several engines driving the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. Beijing is using it to establish diplomatic credentials in the region and – by extension – the rest of the world. Putin, of course, benefits with increased oil revenues.  He is also pushing Saudi Arabia away from its traditional alliance with the United States and strengthening the position of his drone-producing friends in Tehran.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is perhaps the biggest beneficiary. Poor relations with Iran have resulted in an expensive and dirty war in Yemen. He also has to deal with a large and sometimes rebellious Shia population in eastern Saudi Arabia as well as the occasional Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations.

All of the above threatens MBS’s ambitious plan to transform the Kingdom into a modern state playing a major role on the world stage with a thriving multi-dimensional economy.  The Tehran-Riyadh axis may be less surprising then it at first appeared.

* 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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5 Comments

  • Finland’s entry to the NATO alliance is an important building block in the development of collective European security. As this Atlantic Council article argues NATO poses a threat to Russian imperialism not Russian security.
    “Moscow’s objections [to NATO] … are rooted in resentment rather than genuine security concerns. The Kremlin’s frustration over the expanding presence of the alliance is not difficult to understand. While NATO poses no plausible security threat to Russia itself, it does create major obstacles for Russian imperialism. Put simply, NATO prevents Russia from bullying its neighbors.”

    “This should provide critics of NATO enlargement with food for thought. Opponents have long accused the alliance of provoking Russia by welcoming countries from the former Eastern Bloc, but it is now painfully apparent that the decision to keep Ukraine internationally isolated was actually far more provocative in practice. Indeed, the security guarantees that come with NATO membership are probably the only reason why we are not currently confronted by an even larger war and further Russian invasions. Unless Ukraine can secure similar security guarantees, a lasting peace in Eastern Europe will likely remain elusive.”

  • China, as a permanent member of the security council, needs to be part of the effort “to bring Russia to its senses”. It does not supply military equipment to Russia or high level communications technology. A grouping of the P5, the Ukrainian representative and the EU representative chaired by the UN secretary general should be convened and continue meeting until the Russian invasion of Ukraine is brought to an end and the territorial integrity of Ukraine restored.
    Pushing for such peace negotiations would be a concrete demonstration that the fine words that come out of the Macron/von de Leyen visit will not be mere “rhetoric.”

  • Peter Hirst 11th Apr '23 - 2:58pm

    If China can help to bring some peace to Yemen that must be welcomed. It is to be expected that it will play an increasingly important role in world affairs. Persuading it that peace is a desirable and rewarding goal will probably come at a disconcerting price to western democracies.

  • Peter, Indeed peace is a desirable and rewarding goal but if the price of “*persuading* China of this is to allow it free rein to oppress and effectively declare war on its own people, or continue to engage in bully boy tactics around Taiwan and the South China Sea, the price is not disconcerting but unacceptable.

    History has taught us that we can always apparent peace by continuously giving in to aggressive, authoritarian dictatorships. But it never buys a change in attitude. That only comes when the cost of war to a dictatorship clearly exceeds any possible gain.

    Ultimately you welcome those who despise you and your values at you own peril.

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