World Review: Begin Doctrine, Merkel exit, Macron boost and Biden democracy

It is called the Begin Doctrine. The main tenets are that Israel is the only country in the Middle East region allowed to have nuclear weapons and that it reserves the right to prevent by any means the possession of nuclear weapons by any other country in the region. The Begin Doctrine (named after Menahem Begin who introduced it) was used to justify its attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in June 1981. It is now being pulled out of the diplomatic cupboard and dusted off in preparation for a possible assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities. At the same time another final effort is being made In Vienna to revive the Iran Nuclear Accord that was torpedoed by Donald Trump. If it succeeds the Israelis may enforce the Begin Doctrine because they simply don’t trust the Iranians. If it fails the Israelis may enforce the Begin Doctrine because they don’t trust the Iranians. But there is a problem. Iran is not Iraq in 1981. It has a string of enrichment facilities spread throughout the country.

If Israel wanted to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme it would have to effectively launch a bomber-based war. On top of that Iran has forward bases in Iraq and on the Syrian-Israeli border and links with Hezbollah in Lebanon. On Israel’s side is the US veto in the UN Security Council and the likelihood that Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States would stand aside in any conflict and probably allow overflight rights. Even so, there is real doubt within Israeli circles about Israel’s ability to contain the consequences of any attack—i.e., a Middle East War. If they fail then they have another nuclear policy. It is called the Samson Option and it closely follows the story of the Biblical strongman who pulled down the temple on himself and enemies. If Israel is losing a Middle East War, says the policy, it will loose its nuclear arsenal on the region bringing about the destruction of itself and its Persian and Arab enemies.

Angela Merkel, the Queen of German government and the EU is gone after 16 years. Long Live Olaf Scholz, the new German Chancellor and leader of the three-party “traffic lights” coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Greens. But what will be the differences, if any. To be honest, not too many. The Germans are good at identifying national interests and sticking to them from government to government. On top of that, the inevitable main thrust of the new German government will continue to trying to cope with the effects of the Covid pandemic and its aftermath (whenever that finally arrives). But other than that there are expected to some changes of emphasis. With the Greens in the government there will be more of a focus on climate change issues.

The new Chancellor is also expected to take a harder line on both Russia and China. Ms Merkel adopted more of a consensus approach with Moscow and developed strong economic links with Beijing. The tough line with Russia could block the Nordstream2 pipeline which is just waiting to for the champagne and speeches to start pumping Russian natural gas to Germany. The Scholz government is also expected to allow more immigrants into Germany and push for a more tolerant EU-wide immigration scheme. This may not seem so different from Ms Merkel who famously admitted a million immigrants in 2015, but since then pressure from the German right has led to tougher immigration rules. The traffic light coalition argues that not only is immigration a moral imperative, but that immigrants are needed to fuel German productivity levels and economic growth in a country with a low birth rate and high employment levels. Meanwhile, Ms Merkel is keeping a small flat and office in the Bundestag just in case the new chancellor needs her advice.

This Wednesday Joe Biden held an online meeting of 80 “democratic governments” in an attempt to reverse what he called a 15 year global retreat in democratic values around the world, including, the US. Conspicuous by their absence were the European countries of Hungary and Bosnia Herzegovina. Less Surprising were Russia, China and Iran. Pakistan pulled out at the last minute, probably because of its links with the Taliban. Conspicuous by its presence was Taiwan, which prompted the totally expected diplomatic broadside from Beijing. China, said Vice Foreign Minister Yu Cheng, not the US, was the world’s greatest democracy. If you measure democracy in terms of dollars and cents (or renmimbis) than Yu Cheng is right. Over the past 20 years China has enjoyed remarkable growth. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in China and billions have been invested in major infrastructure projects in the developing world. The US in comparison has fought and lost a war in Afghanistan, is retreating from the Middle East, cutting investments in Africa, elected Donald Trump, and is suffering some of the worst internal divisions in its history. Certainly China does a better job of living up to the tenets of the Social Contract introduced by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau who suggested a deal whereby the general population relinquish some of their rights in exchange for protection of their remaining rights and maintenance of the social order. None of the Age of Enlightenment trio spelled out what sort of government—democratic or authoritarian—should manage the relationship, just that if rulers failed to abide by this “Social Contract” then they had the ruled had the right to replace them. In a democratic system there is a mechanism for such a replacement. It is called elections. There is no replacement procedure in China. If the Social Contract is broken then the break-up of society is not far beyond.

Brussels has handed French President Emmanuel Macron juicy pre-election prize—presidency of the EU’s council of ministers—the bloc’s ultimate decision-making body. To be fair to the Eurocrats, the move is more serendipitous than Machiavellian. It is simply France’s turn to assume the rotating presidency for six months from 1 January. But it does mean that Macron will be able to strut the world stage and flaunt his pro- European credentials in the run-up to the French presidential elections in April. A staunch pro-European stand is one of the major issues that differentiates Macron from his most serious challengers. As he said this week: “We must act like Europeans. We must think like Europeans.” But Macron also thinks there is room for improvement. He is floating the idea of reform of the Schengen Area which allows passport and visa free travel throughout the EU—a possible nod to the growing French anti-immigrant lobby. He also wants to amend EU budget rules that demand national budget deficits remain below three percent of GDP. Here he is likely to conflict with the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whom he met with in cyberspace almost as soon as Scholz was elected Chancellor by the Bundestag.

Macron singled out Britain for attack in the press conference called to announce his presidency plans. He clearly wants wider EU support for French disputes with Boris Johnson over fishing licenses and refugees as well as Northern Ireland. “The problem with the British government,” he said, “is that it does not do what it says.” At the same time, Macron wasted no time in moving to the wider world stage with zoom meetings on Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodomyr Zelensky. On China, he is breaking ranks with Western allies to send a government delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics. Finally, Macron will host an extraordinary meeting of EU heads of government in Paris a month before the presidential elections. What a gift.

* 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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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David ROGERS 12th Dec '21 - 11:16am

    Para 3: FREE Democrats!

  • Steve Trevethan 12th Dec '21 - 11:28am

    Thank you for the elegant and clear way in which you presented the supreme importance of economic democracy.

    Might the outcomes of a governmental approach be more important and more indicative of its worth than its inputs and processes?

    Might China be more accurately described as a hierarchical democracy?

    Might our democracy be more accurately described as a “Never Represents the Majority” democracy?

    Might the USA be described as a “Two Parties Only” democracy?

    Might some of the Middle Eastern states be described as “One Person” democracies?

  • Peter Hirst 14th Dec '21 - 2:44pm

    I keep to the rather old-fashioned definition of democracy as power of the people, for the people by the people. I don’t think China fits this definition. I don’t understand the concept of economic demoracy except in a free trade meaning. Democracy is about the relationship between the governed and those governing. Economics thankfully does not come into it. Economic rights I understand.

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