World Review: French elections, Barbados, Russian security pact, MI6 and abortion rights in America

The French Presidential elections are hotting up. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour announced his candidacy this week. He is Euro-sceptic, virulently anti-immigrant and possibly the most anti-Semitic Jew in European politics. The 63-year-old journalist claims that he will save France from decadence and minorities that “oppress the majority.” Zemmour is neck and neck with seasoned extreme right campaigner Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally Party. Which means that the extreme-right vote is split. The left-wing parties are in disarray and have been effectively written off by the French media in the April presidential elections.

On Sunday, primary elections for the Gaullist-oriented Les Republicains ends. There are five candidates: Michel Barnier, Xavier Bertrand, Eric Ciotti, Philippe Juvin and Valerie Pecresse. In the past Les Republicains were described as centre right. But no longer. Emmanuel Macron has stolen those clothes, especially the economic threads. In response, all five Les Republicains candidates have moved to the right with anti-immigration and Eurosceptic policies. All of the above is good news for Macron, who is staunchly pro-European and staying aloof from the immigration debate. Not that he is popular. His approval ratings have slipped from a high of 48 percent in 2017 to under 20 percent. But he stands alone in the winning circle of the centre/centre right. At this moment the betting is on Macron to win as the last man standing.

Another former colony—Barbados—has ditched the British monarch as its head of state. Queen Elizabeth II is out. There are good reasons for the change. It is a natural progression from colony, to self-governing colony, to independent former colony with links to the imperial power and finally the severing of those mainly symbolic ties to a past based largely on the British-imposed slave trade for which Barbadians are seeking reparations. But British and American intelligence think there is more to the story—mainly China. They believe that Beijing is using its economic muscle to move into the Western-dominated Caribbean lake (with the exception of Cuba). Since the turn of the century, China’s investment in Barbados has increased 20-fold. Barbados is now part of China’s belt-road initiative. Chinese construction companies are active on the island as is its Confucius Institute. Barbadian students are being sent to China and Chinese tourists are a regular sight in Chinese-built Barbadian hotels. China is now Barbados’s third largest trading partner after the US and Trinidad and Tobago. The Barbadian government wants to please the country that butters its bread and China is pleased at the departure of the Queen.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov this week floated the idea of a new European Security Pact to “protect Russia from NATO expansion.” How ironic when you consider that NATO was created in 1949 to protect Western Europe from Russian expansion after it had absorbed all of Eastern Europe and a third of Germany. Lavrov’s speech before the influential Organisation of Security and Cooperation (which was the 1975 child of Détente) was long on rhetoric and short on details. Is Moscow proposing a Mark Two Warsaw Pact and a carve-up similar to the Yalta Agreement? If so, Putin could easily have his eye on the following: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia and possibly the Black Sea coastline of Romania in an effort to turn the Black Sea into a Russian lake. He is also keen to keep Finland and Ukraine out of NATO. Both countries are “enhanced partners” and have participated in NATO exercises. But any such pacts are beset with problems. Self-determination is now the political buzzword in Eastern Europe and that means the decision about with whom a country is allied lies with the people of that country rather with a diplomatic coven in Moscow, Washington and Brussels. Central and Eastern Europe have unhappy memories of their membership of the Soviet Empire.

Britain’s MI6 chief (that is James Bond’s boss) emerged from the shadows this week to give a public warning about China, Russia, Iran and international terrorism. Richard Moore told the International Institute for Strategic Studies that those four areas were, in descending order, the major threats to Britain and the wider Western world. Russia represented the most acute short and mid-term military threat. China was more subtle, invidious and long term. It has, said Mr. Moore, weaponised its economic power to push countries into a “debt trap” and uses its investments to steal security data. The MI6 chief made two other interesting points: He would be making more appearances to gain public support and he wanted to work more closely with data engineers in the private sector to protect British data and counter cyber-attacks. Both could be construed as disturbing trends. One reason a spy chief would want to go public is because he fears that the public may disapprove of his agency’s actions. And secondly, seeking technical support from the private sector blurs the lines between government and the already questionable actions of the social media companies.

It is not looking good for abortion rights in America. This week the Supreme Court heard the Mississippi case that would ban nearly all abortions after 15 weeks. Currently federal law, as a result of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, allows abortions in all states up until the time the foetus is “viable”, which doctors say is 24 weeks. Except for one case in 1993, the Supreme Court has refused to even consider discussing abortion. At least four, and possibly five, voted to consider Mississippi’s case. So the fact that the Justices listened to arguments was a victory in itself for the anti-abortion lobby. Next was the fact that the tone of several of the Justice’s questions during the hearings were decidedly anti-abortion, especially those from the Trump appointees Amy Comey Barrett and Brett Kavanagh. If the Supreme Court rules in favour of Mississippi then 24 other states have anti-abortion laws ready to be placed on the statute books. But that does not mean the end of abortion in America. There are likely to be 26 states (mainly Democratic-controlled) where abortion is expected to still be easily available. This means abortion tourism. But three-quarters of the 630,000 US annual abortions are among low income women. They would have difficulty in finding travel money. They are also the ones least able to support a child. The Supreme Court’s final ruling on the issue is expected in June.

* 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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  • Brad Barrows 5th Dec '21 - 10:14am

    The interesting aspect of the current abortion challenge in the USA is the question of whether the issue of ‘viability’ or ‘choice’ should be the guiding principle. Those who argue that abortion is 100% about a ‘woman’s right to choice’ and ‘bodily autonomy’ reject the idea the idea that ‘viability’ should be relevant – abortion should be a right up to the point of birth. Similarly, those who regard abortion as killing human life also reject the idea that ending a human life a few days before it would be ‘viable’ outside the womb is any less morally troubling than ending the life a few days after – they would argue against all abortion other than in the very few medical emergencies where it may be necessary to save the life of the mother (the self-defence argument.) The Supreme Court decided, in 1973, to use viability as a way of deciding when the ‘right to chose’ argument should trump the right to life argument. The Mississippi challenge has a good chance of succeeding because, as Justice Roberts indicated in his questioning, there is no Constitutional basis for viability (24 weeks) to be the point at which the Right to Life should trump the right to choose any more so than at 15 weeks.

  • Laurence Cox 5th Dec '21 - 3:10pm

    @Tom Arms

    Martin is quite right and, more importantly, Bertrand and Barnier asked their supporters to vote for Pécresse in the run-off. If the support for all three combined ends up with Pécresse at the Presidential Election she will get into the run-off, even if all of Ciotti’s support goes to Zemour.

  • @Martin. First of all, thanks for the generally supportive comment of my efforts. And sorry about the slip-up. It is partly (but not entirely) due to scheduling issues. The article was written a few days before it actually appeared on the website for a variety of reasons. The 24/7 news cycle has become the bane of my life.

  • John Marriott 5th Dec '21 - 6:27pm

    It looks as if it will be Macron again, especially if Le Pen gets through the first round of voting. However, if the Les Républicains candidate becomes the challenger, it could be a whole different ball game.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Dec '21 - 12:25pm

    The rise of social media and the internet means that M16 has no alternative than to work with private companies to counter the threat they pose. It is also an opportunity to more generally create a greater awareness of foreign threats beyond the conventional ones. Perhaps our security agencies can succeed where politicians have failed in creating a greater sense of national unity and pride.

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