Tom Arms’ World Review

Baltimore

The Baltimore Bridge disaster was more than a fatal human tragedy. It was a commercial and trading disaster which starts in Baltimore and ripples well beyond American shores.

But let’s start with Baltimore and its immediate environs. When the Singapore-flagged container ship Dali crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge it closed a major land and sea route in and out of a city which is one of America’s most important as well as one of its most socially-deprived.

The 1.6 mile long bridge crossed the Patapsco River which is the major sea channel in an out of the Port of Baltimore which in turn is a major exit and entry point for America’s vital car trade. That sea channel is now blocked. In 2023 the port handled 52.3 million tons worth $80 billion. It directly employed 15,000 people and indirectly supported another 139,000 jobs. This is in a city known as the heroin drug capital of America and where residents have a one and 20 chance of falling victim to violent crime. Powder keg Baltimore does not need thousands to be suddenly laid off work.

The bridge carried a major highway – Interstate 695 – as well as well as spanning the entrance to the port. I-295 is a major arterial road connecting New York, Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Last year it carried nearly 12 million vehicles. As the Easter weekend descends on one of the most congested areas of America, hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks will be forced to travel hundreds of additional miles on roads ill-suited to carry the extra traffic.

The impact of the bridge disaster will be felt well beyond Baltimore. Eighty percent of the world’s trade moves by ship. It is called the “global supply chain” and when a link in that chain is broken it affects shipping movements across the world. And a major factor in the price of goods is the cost of transporting them.

In recent years the biggest impact on the global supply chain was caused by the covid pandemic. But other factors have been a drought which this month disrupted the Panama Canal; the six-day blockage in 2021 of the Suez Canal by the giant container ship Ever Given; naval battles in the Black Sea as a result of the Ukraine War and attacks by pro-Palestinian Houthis in the Red Sea.

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge is one of a growing number of breaks in the increasingly fragile global supply chain which pushes up prices for us all.

Russia

Tajiks have lots of reason to hate Putin’s Russia. Tajiks attached to Islamic State-Khorashan even more so. They don’t need the Ukrainians, the CIA or MI6 to egg them on.

That is why there is universal scepticism towards Vladimir Putin’s allegation that the four Tajik terrorists who gunned down 130 people in Moscow’s Crocus City Hall theatre were acting in league with Ukrainian, British and American intelligence. The assertion is made more ludicrous by IS-K’s instant claim of responsibility.

It is unclear whether the terrorists were drawn from the estimated two million Tajiks living in Russia or if they come from Tajikistan or if they originated from Afghanistan where the Persian-speaking Tajiks make up 25 percent of the population. It is known that they are Muslims and that would be enough to turn them against Vladimir Putin.

Putin climbed to power on the back of genocidal war against the Muslims of Chechnya. It made him popular with ethnic Russians but a hate figure for the Central Asian Muslims who were once part of the Soviet empire and the Tsarist Russian Empire before that.

Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) is the radical successor to the Islamic State which attempted to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. It is even more fundamentalist then the Taliban in Afghanistan which it has criticised for accepting aid from NGOs.  IS-K is fighting almost everyone. It is opposed to the Taliban, the government of Tajikistan, the Chinese because of their treatment of the Uighurs, Pakistan for its support of the Taliban, the Russians and America and all of Europe. It claimed responsibility for a foiled New Year’s Eve attack on Cologne Cathedral.

Both British and American intelligence fear that there is a real danger of a major IS-K attack on a Western target. The battle against IS-K is one of the few areas of common cause between Russia and the West, at least the West sees it that way.  That is why the CIA warned Putin of a likely attack. But the Russian leader is blind to all threats except those from Ukraine. He ignored the warnings. He paid the price.

Israel

Israel has always been able to count on American support at the UN – until this week. A resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza War was tabled at the UN Security Council and the US abstained. The resolution was passed.

The absence of the American veto was the surest sign yet of President Joe Biden’s frustration with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But will the American abstention have the desired diplomatic effect? Will Netanyahu allow life-saving aid to flow into Gaza? Will he halt the illegal West Bank settlements? Will he stop the ground offensive against Rafah? Will he abide by the Security Council Resolution? Will he discuss the two-state solution?

The answer is almost certainly no. In fact, Netanyahu’s two-fold response to the abstention was to double-down. He immediately withdrew from talks in Qatar for a six week ceasefire in return for hostages. He also cancelled a trip to Washington to discuss military tactics. He must reckon that if America won’t support him then he must plan and act alone.

The abstention also appears to have strengthened the position of the Ultra-Orthodox hawks in the Netanyahu government. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich had been focusing on pushing Palestinians off the West Bank and the destruction of Hamas.  Now they are being outspoken about moving Israeli settlers into the Gaza Strip.  One radical settler organisation – Nachala – has parcelled out 500 beachfront properties to Orthodox Jews prepared to move as soon as the war is ended.

* 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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10 Comments

  • Is it time for International Arrest Warrants to be server on Netanyahu and his minions?

  • nigel hunter 31st Mar '24 - 11:37am

    Is it time to develop our own manufacturing more to avoid future supply chain problems?

    2 State solution? Let Israel have the Gaza strip BUT ALL SETTLEMENTS IN THE WEST BANK THEN ARE TURNED OVER TO THE STATE OF PALESTINE. It is enforced by UN law etc As far as any Gas/oil found near Gaza is JOINTLY OWNED.

  • @ nigel. We will always need to import (and export) and thus we will always have a global supply chain. We need to import iron ore for steel factories; cotton for textile factories; fertiliser for crops; lithium, cobalt, copper and maganese for batteries; rubber for tyres; oil for plastics; timber for paper and construction; sand for glassware….. OR we can just do without the way our ancestors did 500 years ago.

  • @tom – the issue is more about the operation of the global supply chain and its consolidation into a few shipping routes and ports Events have demonstrated the level of just-in-time supply businesses are wishing to operate at, mean they and our economy are more susceptible to relatively small disruptions.

    Additionally, the global shipping network is dependent upon a very small number of huge ports. The problem this gives is when one of these ports has to close, trade and global supply chains get disrupted. In the case of Baltimore, there are no alternative ports with capacity to handle the shifting of commerce from Baltimore. My expectation thus, is that we will soon see work commencing on clearing the bridge and reopening the port. As for the bridge, don’t expect a replacement to be open within 5 years.

    We are seeing a similar trend in computing, with”cloud computing”, where businesses (and governments) are rushing to replace tens of thousands of data centres and machines running in a backroom, with machines running in a handful of mega data centres. We only need one of these data centres to go off line and a significant part of the economy stops…

    Hence in some ways Nigel is right, we do need to review our capabilities to handle global supply chain outages.

  • Jenny Barnes 1st Apr '24 - 10:01am

    “We need to import iron ore for steel factories;”
    Quite soon the last blast furnaces in the UK at Port Talbot will close. Steel production in the UK will then be from electric arc furnaces melting scrap steel.. Somebody thinks we will be ok importing new steel from – presumably – India or China.

  • Peter Hirst 1st Apr '24 - 2:57pm

    One emerging issue in solving the Gaza issue is the Israeli electorate. It seems to have been fed a diet of views and information that is not likely to solve the conflict any time soon. The few who speak out need to be given more publicity both within and outside the country. Israel’s democracy is threatened and perhaps a review of its constitution is needed.

  • Jenny Barnes 1st Apr ’24 – 10:01am
    Somebody thinks we will be ok importing new steel from – presumably – India or China.

    It’s a good job they’re building lots of reliable coal-fired power stations to meet the demand…

    ‘More Than 1,000 New Coal Power Plants Are Being Built–The Majority In China’ [September 2023]:
    https://electroverse.info/1000-new-coal-power-plants-are-being-built/

    In total, there are 1,039 new coal fired power plants currently in the works, that’s either ‘under construction’, ‘permitted’ or ‘announced’. The vast majority are located in Asia, namely China, with almost all in the developing world.

    According to data courtesy of globalenergymonitor.org, this is the global picture:

  • Jenny Barnes 1st Apr '24 - 10:27pm

    “It’s a good job they’re building lots of reliable coal-fired power stations”…
    What you need for blast furnaces is “metallic” coal, not lots of electricity. Being mined by the train and shipload in Australia for the Asian market. Either way, much coal will be consumed and CO2 produced.

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Apr '24 - 10:30am

    Er, what steel producers and what textile manufacturers? Where I lived for 50 years used to have a huge textile industry, but now has none. Coal mines long closed and heavy metal bashing almost extinct.
    I am far more worried about the deliberate running down of food production. Now that does make us far too dependent on imported food.

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