World Review: Tensions east, in NATO, in Facebook and in Boris’s Britain

In this weekend’s World Review, Tom Arms comments on the implications of a mutual defence pact between Greece and France for Turkey’s role in NATO. Heading for cooler climes, Covid-19 has reached Antarctica but for those who as destined to suffer or die from malaria in sub-Sharan Africa, a vaccine has been approved for to tackle the disease. Tension are building in the east and Taiwan, China, the US and other countries are in danger of falling into the trap of unintended consequences. Can Facebook be held to account? And how can Boris boast about Britain being one of the world’s wealthiest countries while branding it “broken”?

The centuries-old Greece-Turkey antipathy has plagued the Eastern flank of NATO since its foundation in 1949. It is now about to become much worse. The reason: A France-Greece mutual defence alliance was ratified this week by the Greek parliament. Kyriakos Mitsotakis and French President Emmanuel Macron claim the treaty will become the cornerstone of an independent European defence policy. Possibly, but it also raises difficult questions about Turkey’s role in NATO and Europe. The deal is the first intra-NATO mutual defence pact within NATO, and it is clearly aimed at protecting one NATO member (Greece) from attack by another alliance member (Turkey). That is not good for NATO. It is also another nail in Turkey’s possibly already dead bid for EU membership, and pushes the country further away from secular Europe towards the Islamic world. That too is undesirable. However, greater European responsibility for its own security is good.

It’s official. We are in a global pandemic. Covid-19 has reached Antarctica. Thirty-six people at Chile’s Bernard O’Higgins Antarctic research station have tested positive for the virus. But there is very good news on other health fronts. There is now a vaccine for malaria. The disease is responsible for 400,000 deaths a year, most of them in Sub-Saharan African and most of them of children under the age of five. The vaccine is the result of a cooperative effort of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Ghana’s National Malaria Control Programme. The pilot vaccine has been successfully tested on 800,000 patients. It is not perfect. It is only 37 percent effective in preventing the disease, but those who contract it after being vaccinated are more likely to survive. The other problem is that administering the vaccination is complicated. It involves three jabs over 18 months and every stage of the vaccine has to be refrigerated. But it is still a major success and will save hundreds of thousands of lives a year.

Taiwan, China, the US and a lot of other countries are in danger of falling into the trap of unintended consequences. Looking at it logically, Beijing does not want a war with Taiwan. Such a conflict would very likely draw in the US with terrible results for everyone. The Chinese want the Taiwanese to “volunteer” to rejoin the mainland and are stepping up air force sorties to “encourage” them to do so. This month, there have been several hundred Chinese fighter aircraft flights right up to the edge of Taiwanese air space. This has caused serious concern in Washington and Taipei. The very real danger is that one day, one Chinese pilot will literally cross the line. A Taiwanese fighter jet will be scrambled and will shoot it down. That would be the unintended consequence with serious repercussions.

There are not many issues which unite America’s Republicans and Democrats, but they do agree to hate Facebook. This week Senators were provided with top drawer ammunition by whistle blower Frances Haugen, a Harvard graduate who was working in Facebook’s counter-terrorism and anti-hate departments. She basically told a Senate subcommittee that Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant put company before country and was writing algorithms that ensured users stayed on the Instagram and Facebook websites as long as possible rather than trying to limit racist and anti-democratic messaging and health-damaging messages for teenagers. Democratic Senator Ed Markey said Ms Haugen was “a twenty-first century American Hero.” The senators promised Ms Haugen that they would hold Facebook to account. But can they? There has been talk of using anti-trust laws to break it up. But that would only create hundreds or even thousands of competing mini-facebooks, each with a similar corporate mentality. It fined Facebook $5 billion, but that is mere bagatelle for Zuckerberg and his shareholders. Some observers say that Ms Haugen’s testimony could be a turning point in favour of a more responsible social media. But they don’t say how.

Britain, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is a country in transition. It is moving away from the “same old broken model” to a “high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity” country. The country just needed to work through a string of post-covid/post-Brexit problems to reach the sunlit uplands. There are just a few problems with this happy image. First, how long will the growing list of shortages continue? Second where will the workers come from in a country with a low unemployment rate of 4.7 percent? What impact will rapidly increasing wages have on inflation? What impact will rising wages in the private sector have on public sector workers where pay rises are severely restricted? Who is going to pay for the training to achieve high productivity? Where is the money coming from? How can Boris boast about Britain being one of the world’s wealthiest countries while branding it “broken”? Finally, where are the policies—the route map—to take the UK out of the slough of despond to the sunlit uplands?

* 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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  • Jenny Barnes 10th Oct '21 - 10:30am

    Policies? Nah. Here’s a bad joke, probably in cod Latin.

    In the old days the Roman elite kept hoi polloi reasonably content with bread and circuses. These days, we don’t get the bread, (shortage of something or other, probably yeast) and the circus seems to consist entirely of clowns.
    The clowns should be the bit in between the clever acts, not the whole show.

  • John Marriott 10th Oct '21 - 12:06pm

    @Jennie Barnes
    You’ve used a theme similar to one I used last week. It was the Roman poet, Juvenal, who wrote, in Latin, of course, “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt”.

    The problem at the moment is that the global economy, based on instant gratification, exploitation of resources, both human and natural, appears to be unravelling before our eyes. Clearly the pandemic has exposed mankind’s vulnerability; but what has clearly made it far worse for us on these islands has been our desire to “go it alone”.

  • Tom Arms report reminds us that we are all being threatened on so many fronts and is another reminder, as John Marriott says, of the increasing danger of being isolated from our main friends and allies in Europe, when a concerted voice on the world stage would have so much more leverage, sadly it looks as if we are in for another difficult period but never fear with our present government in control all will be well???!!!

  • Peter Martin 10th Oct '21 - 12:43pm

    ‘How can Boris boast about Britain being one of the world’s wealthiest countries while branding it “broken”?’

    It’s not so much a boast as a simple statement of fact. The UK GDP is about $41k p.a. per person. Or about £30k p.a. per person. Sure, we have our problems but we aren’t quite ‘broken’. That was a poor choice of words.

    Approximately half the population is in some form of employment so each worker is generating, on average, £60k each. Those who are in full time work will be contributing, on average, more than this.

    So there is really no justification for anyone, irrespective of nationality, to have to work for anything less than £10 per hour for starters. Though it should be higher. This corresponds to £18.2k pa for 35 hour week. Or about 1/3 of the average of the contribution of all workers.

    You ask “Where is the money coming from?” It’s already there. It’s simply a matter of the available GDP being shared out more equitably than it is.

    I’m sure many Tories and LibDem won’t be happy. They will perceive socialist undertones in Boris’s line!

  • Don’t mention Nick Clegg? His promise, on taking up his position in Facebook, “If the tech industry can work sensibly with governments, regulators, parliaments and civic society around the world, I believe we can enhance the benefits of technology while diminishing the often unintended downsides.”

    That doesn’t seem to have happened but, for £500,000 p.a., who cares?

  • Matt Wardman 10th Oct '21 - 2:27pm

    Thanks for the piece.

    I think it is worth noting that the Malaria vaccine was developed most recently by a UK Company, GlaxoSmithKline, under a non-profit model, building on previous work by SmithKline-Becham.. I’m interested in this non-profit model which – following on from the AZ Covid vaccine – offers an excellent approach for the future if we can make it happen. A sort of pro-bono model for Big Pharma? It would be good to see an exploration of the possibilities. And the impact on the movement for the effective confiscation of Intellectual Proprty, and the impact *that* would have on new medicine discovery / development.

    On Facebook, I tend to think that much of it is politics, and having a convenient target that everyone could aim at for free hits. I wonder how it would all change if one or more of Twitter, Google, Facebook etc were to close down, or redomicile to Paris, Amsterdam or London?

    On China? I think there are considerable parallels with the Cold War. And I note that various planes were shot down over the iron curtain without escalation, specially in the 50s and 60s. Countries in the Indo-Pacific region and especially the South China Sea region, and with interests there, need to find ways to stand for their interests in the face of the current Chinese Government. The consequence of the Cold War is that we have a far more prosperous, democratic Eastern Europe – no matter what other disagreements we have.

    Greece and Turkey? Really not sure. Though I think Greece worked a blinder with the French negotiation – I make it they obtained an approx extra 25% value for their money on the frigates, and gained a guaranteed supporter in any arguments with Turkey to boot.

    I suspect the claims for an ‘independent European defence policy’ are overblown, until such time as the EuCo proves capable of / trusted to be running it, and there is a consensus in the EU-27 willing to stump up to pay for it.

  • Brad Barrows 10th Oct '21 - 10:46pm

    @Peter Martin
    Your contribution looks surprising close to the Theory of Surplus Labour as developed and argued by a certain Karl Marx…

  • @Peter Martin “So there is really no justification for anyone, irrespective of nationality, to have to work for anything less than £10 per hour for starters

    Isn’t there? What if the work you do only earns – say – £9 per hour for your employer? Do you expect the employer to keep losing money by paying you £10/hour (plus all the associated expenses with employment – employers’ NI, insurance, etc.), or would you prefer your employer to fire you and leave you without a job altogether? What if the employer is a small business that is only just staying afloat?

    It’s easy to just demand that people get paid more money – especially when it’s someone else that you’re expecting to pay that money. Not so simple in practice.

  • Peter Martin 11th Oct '21 - 10:03am

    @ Simon R,

    Your argument for not having a minimum wage at all. You’d say we can’t have a minimum wage of £N because your employer might only then make £(N-1)

    So if you don’t think we need a minimum wage at all then you should say so.

    If anything the consensus of opinion of most voters would be that the system needs tightening up. Minimum wages need to be enforced. On the left the motivation would be social justice. On the right, the motivation would be to prevent taxpayer subsidy to those who don’t need it in the for of UC and loss of income tax and NI revenue from greedy employers who won’t pay their workers fairly.

  • @Peter Martin “Your argument for not having a minimum wage at all” So you’re basically saying that you don’t like the conclusion that my logic leads to, but you haven’t cited any problems with the logic. If you cannot find fault with the logic, then shouldn’t you accept the conclusion it leads to? 😉

    Actually I do believe in having a minimum wage – there’s clearly a balance to be struck between not losing jobs and paying people some kind of minimum standard. Where I would disagree with you is in continually raising the minimum wage – I’d argue we’ve long since reached the point where continually raising the minimum wage just leads to an inflationary spiral, resulting in the people you’re trying to help becoming no better off than before after a year or two – and possibly losing jobs and slightly destabilizing the economy in the process. That is what I’d suggest would happen if your implicit suggestion of a £10 minimum wage was adopted.

  • Peter Martin 11th Oct '21 - 9:07pm

    @ Simon R,

    The logic is also that if a business cannot afford to pay what we class as a minimum then the business isn’t worth pursuing and should be wound up. If we were to insist that everyone who worked in a manual car wash and valeting service was paid at least £10 ph would be have fewer of them? Possibly. But we should be aiming to have a more productive workforce. There are better ways to employ our young people. If anyone wants a clean shiny car they can do that themselves or at least pay the minimum rate for it.

  • Peter Hirst 20th Oct '21 - 1:26pm

    China must realise that for it Taiwan is a step too far. If it wants to gain global recognition as a superstar it must show it can show restraint and allow Taiwan its independence. A formal non-agression pact between the two countries must be the desired aim.

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