Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Remember Ukraine? A reminder: It is the East European country sandwiched between Russia and Poland which Russia invaded in February 2022.

You would be forgiven for letting it slip from your political consciousness. Six months ago it and its president Volodomyr Zelensky were being hailed as the “democratic shield” protecting the West from land-hungry autocratic Russia.

Now it has been pushed out of the headlines the corridors of concern by the war in Gaza and whichever crisis comes next.

The problem is that Ukraine cannot afford to slip off the front pages. It needs a successful PR campaign to stay in the war and keep the shield intact. Its armaments industry and its population are limited.

Russia’s manpower pool is four times the size of Ukraine’s. Its historic label is “steamroller.” Its armaments industry is ten times larger and was preparing years before the war started. It is also receiving weapons from Iran, North Korea and possibly China.

It is weapons that are particularly important at the moment, especially artillery shells which are used by both sides to hold the enemy at bay. Russia is estimated to have fired 22,000 rounds a day during the summer to stymie the Ukrainian counter-offensive. The Ukrainians fired 5,000 rounds.

European members of NATO promised Ukraine 1 million rounds of artillery shells by the end of 2023. It will fall well short of that target, although several European countries–  including Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Finland and the Baltic states—have started to increase their armaments production. However, a lot of the increased production will go towards replacing depleted national stocks.

America, is, of course, the historic “arsenal of democracy.” But President Biden’s promised support is being held up by Republican congressmen who either want to divert money to Israel or feel that Ukraine is solely a European problem.

If the defense of Ukraine is left entirely to Europe then the hard-pressed European economies will have to increase armaments production even more. At the current rate, the million promised rounds is only enough to keep the Ukrainian guns firing for another six months.

UK and Rwanda

Britain’s Rwanda asylum issue is morphing into a constitutional crisis. At stake is the independence of the British judiciary, a long-established cornerstone of the country’s democratic foundations.

The UK Supreme Court recently threw out government plans to fly asylum seekers to the central African country of Rwanda. The basis of their decision was that the proposal was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on Refugees and three British acts of parliament relating to asylum seekers and refugees. Rwanda was not safe, ruled the court, because its government was likely to return asylum seekers to the country from which they had fled. This is known as refoulement.

The problem is that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made the flights to Rwanda the top priority of his immigration policy and immigration the top priority of his re-election campaign. The issue has also split the conservative party. Outspoken Home Secretary Suella Braverman was sacked over the issue and immediately attacked that Sunak as weak on immigration. Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick recently resigned saying that new Rwanda legislation announced this week failed to tackle the immigration problem.

The emergency legislation which caused Jenrick’s resignation is a simple Act of Parliament which declares Rwanda a “safe country” and bans any court from ruling otherwise or considering previous human rights acts.

The “safe country” claim is untrue. Rwanda has a record of returning asylum seekers to their country of origin. But that is not stopping the Sunak government from declaring that black is white and daring the court to challenge it.

The problem is that the UK Supreme Court is not as powerful as other supreme courts in the western world. It is certainly not as powerful as US Supreme Court which has the authority to overturn legislation in breach of the written US constitution.

Britain lacks the same degree of checks and balances as exists in America. Under its unwritten constitution parliament sovereignty is supreme and the court does not have the power to overturn primary legislation, which Sunak’s latest act would be.

However, the UK Supreme Court has the power to issue a “declaration of incompatibility” with existing international laws such as the European Convention on Human Rights. The declaration cannot itself stop a law being enacted. It has been used a few times since the court’s creation in 2009. Each time the government backed down because it felt that the wider issue of the independence of the judiciary was more important.

Hopefully, enough conservative MPs will think that an independent judiciary is more important than flying asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Italy

Italy made headlines in 2019 when it became the only G7 country to sign up to China’s Belt/Road Initiative.

It made headlines again this week when Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said they were planning to withdraw.

Western countries generally have shied away from China’s trillion dollar global infrastructure project. They fear Chinese dominance of the global economy and the possibility of the BRI doubling as a military and political Trojan horse.

Ms Meloni expressed similar fears this week but was possibly more concerned that the economic benefits were slanted too much in China’s favour.

Whatever the reason, Italian withdrawal from the BRI is a major blow to Beijing’s hopes and dreams. The Chinese were hoping that Italy would repeat its Renaissance role and act as an entry point for Chinese goods into the wider European market. The EU, is still the world’s largest internal market, worth about $15 trillion.

The loss of the Italian beach head comes at a bad time for the BRI and the Chinese economy in general. Sri Lanka, Kenya, Pakistan, Zambia and Tanzania have all either defaulted on loans involving the BRI are have had to renegotiate them. At the same time, the Chinese economy is struggling in the wake of the Covid pandemic and a property market crash.

Gaza

Well, the Gaza ceasefire is over. So is the exchange of Hamas-held hostages and the release of Israeli-held Palestinian prisoners.

The Israeli bombing and fighting in Gaza has moved to the southern part of the territory where they were told to go to avoid the shelling of the northern half. In the two months since October 7, 17,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed and 46,000 wounded. This compares with 6,000 killed and 11,000 wounded in the first ten months of the Ukraine War.

The United States is showing signs of serious worry about the mounting Palestinian death rate. America’s reputation is on the line. It is Israel’s chief backer. Netanyahu’s government would be hard-pressed to survive without the $3 billion in grant aid it receives every year from US government coffers.

This week US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made American concerns clear when he said that Washington was worried about the gap between the Israeli government’s declared intention to protect civilians and the mounting casualties.

Blinken’s concern is no surprise to any informed observer of the diplomatic scene. In the aftermath of October 7 the Biden Administration was publicly pledging full support and privately urging caution. The surprise is that the private concern has now been expressed publicly.

United States

The US President’s black sheep son Hunter was this week indicted on tax charges. The new indictment is added to the previous charge of buying a gun while a crack cocaine addict.

It is alleged that Hunter failed to pay taxes of $1.7 million between 2016 and 2019. If he is found guilty he faces up to 17 years in prison.

So what now for Joe Biden’s re-election chances? His son’s shenanigans are certainly bad political news, but to date Democrats’ valiant efforts to link the president to his son’s business activities have managed only to generate volumes of innuendoes and conspiracy theories.

Republicans, however, are still rubbing their hands in glee at the black sheep’s legal difficulties. Joe, after all, prides himself on being a devoted father and family man. And Hunter’s problems are a welcome distraction from Trump’s multiple indictments on far more serious charges.

One conservative Republican emailed me this week with two possible courses of action for the president: Resign with the excuse of “family issues” or stay in office in order to pardon his son.

I replied with a third option: “Do nothing. If his son has broken the law then the president should abide by his oath of office to protect the constitution and allow the law to take its course while continuing to provide love and support as any decent father would do.”

 

* 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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6 Comments

  • Martin Gray 10th Dec '23 - 5:45pm

    The Ukrainian spring offensive has obviously failed to meet it objectives. A significant number of the western heavy weaponry sipplied has been proven to be vulnerable to drone attacks ….First it was artillery , then air defence, then tanks , & now f16s…The Ukrainian army is struggling to take ground and hold it – its under constant artillery bombardment when it does…What happens in the US election will be critical…

  • As well as Ukraine and Gaza it is possible that Burma is about to implode. All the coups in West Africa remain unresolved. Venezuela might have a go at Guyana. All of a sudden flashpoints around the world seem ready to relegate the Ukraine war. We must not let it.

  • John Waller. In between Zelensky getting elected and now Russia’s invasion has changed all that. Putin is now a criminal who will see calls for negotiation as weakness. Only Ukraine has the right to decide when to negotiate.

  • Peter Hirst 13th Dec '23 - 2:46pm

    What the Ukrainian people want would seem to be paramount. They have to balance losing more of their population to war and losing their sovereignty or part of it. We can only support them in whatever they decide while remaining transparent about what help we can and cannot provide within specific time frames.

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