How Japan can lead a free and open Indo-Pacific

How Japan can lead a free  and open Indo-Pacific

The year 2020 was filled with geopolitical and geoeconomic changes that represented a major shift in world history, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. presidential election leading the way. How effectively each nation can control the spread of infections within its own borders is likely to significantly affect the transformation of the global economy and power balance in the post-coronavirus era. At the centre of the international power struggle is the Indo-Pacific region, and it is vital to properly understand the rapidly changing power balance in this region. In characterizing multilateral relations in the Indo-Pacific region, the most essential factors in its underlying structure are the geopolitical and geoeconomic conflicts between the United States and China.
The U.S. has worked with liberal democracies — namely the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — that share common values to facilitate intelligence-sharing under the “Five Eyes” alliance while also boosting defense cooperation. And for the U.S., its alliance with Japan is of utmost importance to help stabilize the Indo-Pacific region and maintain its presence there. China, on the other hand, is strengthening cooperation with Russia for strategic reasons, and is attempting to lead the construction of a regional order on the perimeters of the Eurasian continent through projects such as the Belt and Road initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Under such circumstances, Japan should conduct strategic and proactive diplomacy. The Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, advocated by Japan since August 2016, has won wide support from the global community as the nation’s attempt to take the initiative in the region. It is possibly the first time in 150 years of Japanese diplomatic history that a strategy put forward by Japan has won such widespread support internationally.
In the past century and a half, geopolitical confrontations between continental powers and maritime powers have continued on the perimeters of the Eurasian continent. While the hegemonic power on the continent has been shifting from the Soviet Union in the Cold War era to China in the 21st century, the maritime hegemony of the British Empire in the 19th century has been replaced by that of the U.S. since the mid-20th century and down to the present day.
This leaves the Korean Peninsula, Southeast Asia and the Middle East in the middle, caught between the two superpowers, where land meets the ocean. The confrontations in the region have also represented ideological frictions between communism and democracy, which escalated during the Cold War involving the U.S. and Soviet Union into armed conflicts — the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Arab-Israeli wars. However, the situation has changed significantly since then. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is now regarded as occupying a position that could influence the future of the Indo-Pacific region, although there are some conflicts of interest among its member countries.
ASEAN has now become China’s top trade partner, and Beijing’s relationship with ASEAN affects the future of its economy. As for Japan, its relationship with ASEAN has gone beyond a bilateral partnership in its significance to become a key factor in building regional order.
ASEAN is one of the most important regions of diplomacy for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration. That is why Suga chose Vietnam, which held the rotating ASEAN chair in 2020, and Indonesia, with the largest population and economy of ASEAN’s members, as the first countries to visit after becoming prime minister. The relationship between Japan and ASEAN is based on years of trust. According to an opinion poll conducted in ASEAN’s 10 member countries in 2017, 89% of the respondents said they viewed their country’s relations with Japan as “friendly” or “somewhat friendly,” and 91% chose “very reliable” or “somewhat reliable” for how they rated Japan as a friend.
It is notable that 46% chose Japan as a country they consider as an important partner in the future — higher than the 40% that picked China and the 38% who chose the U.S. — indicating their apparent intention to strengthen relations with Japan in the future to keep a balance amid China’s growing influence. In Japan, Shinzo Abe, the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, stepped down on Sept. 16, with Suga stepping in to replace him. Having worked as chief Cabinet secretary, Suga intends to basically succeed the Abe administration in terms of diplomatic policies, but two very important moves took place last fall regarding the future of the Indo-Pacific region. Firstly, the foreign ministers of Japan, the U.S., Australia and India met in Tokyo on Oct. 6 under the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the “Quad.” China strongly protested the move, describing it as forming exclusive cliques and targeting third parties. Secondly, 15 countries, including China, held an online meeting on Nov. 15 and signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. While the Quad represents ties between democracies centered around the U.S., RCEP was an outcome that reflected the economic realities of the region centered on China. How should Japan balance between the two frameworks and cooperate with partners such as ASEAN and Australia? How can the two moves be interpreted within the scope of the ongoing U.S.-China confrontations? What is important here is the fact that neither Japan and Australia nor the members of ASEAN wish for an all-out conflict or decoupling between the U.S. and China. Economic ties with China are too significant for those countries to break away. As the U.S. intensifies its harsh stance against China, it has become all the more important for Japan to present a different approach.
It is not necessarily contradictory for Japan to focus on its alliance with the U.S. and at the same time embrace Indo-Pacific policies that are more inclusive than the U.S. policies, which can win wider support in the region. Japan should push two important initiatives. Firstly, the Suga administration, just like the Abe administration before it, must continue to advocate the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy and take a leadership role in protecting a free and open international order.
Secondly, based on its relationship of trust with ASEAN, Japan should construct an inclusive, rule-based order that does not exclude any country. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, in phone talks with leaders of Australia, Japan and South Korea — the United States’ closest allies in the region — appeared to introduce a subtle shift in language when he mentioned the Indo-Pacific region. Instead of using the phrase “free and open Indo-Pacific,” which has been taking root, he described “a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
—The Japan Times

Populist carnage must have consequences

Populist carnage must  have consequences

The convulsions of last week leave us with a great deal to unpack. But one thing they must surely do is to illustrate, in the starkest of terms, the distinctions between conservatism and the populism which masquerades as it. President Trump has always embodied the latter, borrowing enough of the former, usually in a reductionist rhetorical form, to make the pretence complete. And it was successful in many ways — bringing about tax and regulatory reforms that revived a lethargic economy, providing for a more restrained and constitutionally astute judiciary, and permitting the relocation of America’s Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. But where its rootlessness failed, it did so spectacularly.
Aside from some notable examples (Vice President Mike Pence, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sens. Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey, Reps. Liz Cheney and Ken Buck and a few others), there was very little about last week in Washington, D.C., that could be called conservative. The election challenges were puerile and baseless, and the proposed remedies even worse. What they boiled down to was essentially a call to federalize elections, one of the few remaining areas of responsibility that have remained, properly, in the domain of the states. Conservatives have spent a great deal of effort defending the Electoral College over the years, particularly from the Jacobinical impulse to impose a national popular vote. If the last two months have not revealed to the Left the need and genius of the decentralized Electoral College system, one despairs of anything that would. We have perhaps become accustomed to dissent from the traditional conservative canon in the White House, and acceptance of this heterodoxy on the part of the Republican base, which, dismayingly at times, seems to regard the president’s statements as Papally infallible. I recall beholding, in some amazement, a roomful of Republican loyalists cheering Trump as he extolled the virtues of trade protectionism and price controls on Big Pharma while railing against President George W. Bush’s “warmongering” in the Middle East. Surreal. Appeals to populist sentiment generally do not end well — Edmund Burke wrote his most illustrative work reflecting on a massive one in France at the end of the 18th century. Thus, last Wednesday ought not to have come as much of a surprise. The summer was full of populist upheavals, from a different direction, but using the same tinder. In each case, masses gathered, eager and willing to be fed ideological yarns woven by demagogues to support the myth of some oppressive superstructure, culminating inevitably in violence. That is a type of social architecture that is antithetical to conservatism, regardless of who embraces it.
So, where do we go from here? The question most immediately looks to Trump and what the repercussions should be. Any sober analysis suggests that the president’s actions and statements are impeachable. It gets more muddled after that. Invocation of the 25th Amendment, an option being bandied about liberally, is inappropriate — it is designed for a completely different situation, and recklessly expanding its scope would set a dangerous precedent. But is impeachment the best option? Probably not as a means to remove Trump from office, desirable or not. There is insufficient time to do it properly, and it would needlessly inflame already raw partisan nerves — the last thing the nation needs at this point. There is a case to be made for later impeachment, both as an ultimate rebuke and to prevent him from running again. There is time to ruminate on that option, one that ought only to be taken after national tempers have cooled. There do have to be consequences for Trump’s actions. One of the more substantive problems lingering from the summer’s violence is the prevalence of inadequate, or inconsistent, application of consequence to the offenders, beginning with over-restraint of law enforcement in response. It would help our focus to reacquaint ourselves with a key conservative tenet, that the principal duty of government in a free society is the maintenance of order under the aegis of the rule of law. The vast majority of the country is unified in outrage by the spectacle of last week, but probably for different reasons. Democrats appear to believe that this episode reveals the fatal flaw in conservative philosophy and that we are all coming around to the enlightenment of progressive ideologies. Conservatives, rather, recognize that all of these disruptions are the consequence of a steady, if gradual, rejection of conservative tenets.
America’s institutions have prevailed through all the various uprisings. How long they can continue to do so, while sustaining assault from populist ravages from both the Left and Right, is the question that America must make its business to answer in the very near future.
—Washington Examiner

Leaving the year of the pandemic behind

Leaving the year of the pandemic behind

As the world economy comes to its senses after a gruesome year of the Covid pandemic, global markets are eagerly exploring the prospects for the New Year in search of drivers of a strong global recovery. Indeed, while it may be still too early to call an end to the adverse effects of the pandemic in 2021, there is a sense that the global community is starting to act more collectively in mustering a coordinated response to the crisis. This was reflected in the G20 summit communiqué in November 2020, which exhibited a greater determination of the global community to jointly counteract the unprecedented crisis facing the world economy.
There are a host of key themes for the 2021 outlook that to a significant degree emerge as derivatives and after-effects of the preceding year. Nonetheless, the drivers for the recovery of the global economy in 2021 are not circumscribed to the proverbial “low base effects” and include such key locomotives of global growth as China and East Asia more broadly as well as continued support and anti-crisis measures across the largest advanced economies:
Global economic recovery in 2021 — after a 4.4$ decline in 2020 global growth is projected by the IMF to exceed 5% in 2021, with most of the growth coming from India and China — the two giants from the Global South are expected to growth by more than 8%, allowing the global economy to largely compensate for the decline experienced in 2020.
Discontinuation of the trade war between the US and China: the shift away from protectionism to trade liberalization is by no means guaranteed. But a change in the presidential administration in the US, the creation of mega-regionals such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and a more benign outlook for the global economy provide scope for greater market openness.
Further rise of China and the Asia Pacific as key sources of global demand and as rising global economic powers. In case current growth trends were to persist for the next 3-4 years, China could overtake the US in terms of the absolute level of its GDP (based on market exchange rates) by 2024-2025.
New rounds of stimuli — monetary stimuli will persist in 2021 as the Fed has indicated that it will not raise its key rate earlier than the year 2024. On the fiscal side while most of the largest economies will likely reduce the level of the budget deficits compared to their 2020 peaks, there could well be new rounds of stimuli both in the US as well as in the EU. This is looking increasingly likely given the longer and more severe evolution of the pandemic compared to expectations in 2020.
Waves of the pandemic and the emergence of new vaccines — the developments in the course of 2020 amply demonstrated the strong effect on financial markets of the newsflow regarding the spreading of the pandemic and testing of new effective vaccines. According to RAND’s estimates the creation of a new effective vaccine against Covid-19 can deliver dividends to the world economy equivalent to 3.4 trn dollars, which is more than 4% of global GDP per annum. At the same time the costs of the so-called “vaccine nationalism” are estimated at more than 1 trn dollars per year.
Development of new technologies: the pandemic has given rise to “new demand” that is concentrated in health-care and digital economy/telecommunications. One of the priority areas of anti-crisis measures in China is the development of the 5G network, with allocations for digital infrastructure to reach 0.6 trn dollars.
Russia’s economic performance this year will be affected to a significant degree by global trends, though the effectiveness of its anti-crisis measures as well as capabilities to weather the onslaught of the pandemic may prove to be no less important. On the monetary policy front the stimulus delivered throughout 2020 (a reduction in the key rate of 200 basis points) may be further reinforced through further reduction of the key policy rate. On the fiscal side, however, in line with the budget projections for next year Russia is preparing to reduce the size of budget outlays as a share of GDP by nearly 3 percentage points in 2021.
Russia’s electoral cycle is also likely to lead to redistribution in fiscal outlays in favour of social spending. In particular, Russia’s legislative elections to the Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly, are scheduled to take place no later than 19 September. In the past Russia’s electoral cycles have been typically accompanied by a redistribution of budgetary funds away from capital spending (infrastructure, investment projects) towards current outlays (supporting the social safety net, incomes and social transfers of the wider strata of the population). This has already been reflected in a re-orientation of outlays away from infrastructure towards social outlays within the revised framework of Russia’s National projects.
Last but not the least, given how prominent the “black swan” factor was in 2020 with the raging Covid pandemic, there is every reason to keep an eye open for possible unexpected events in the year 2021. The current economic and political landscape appears to offer a wide range of possible adversities of varying degree of probability. Some of the possible “black swans” for 2021 may include a downturn in US-Russia relations with the coming of the Biden administration, geopolitics in Russia’s “near abroad” as well as the extended continuation of the waves of the Covid pandemic. The good news is that while there may be more “black swans” to watch out for, the awareness and preparedness of the global economy may result in a stronger immune response.
—Modern Diplomacy

Intricacies of the Middle East

Syed Zain Abbas Rizvi

The Middle East has been the molten core of the world when it comes to conflicts and complexities. The yesteryear witnessed a series of events that were hard to even fathom a few years back. As the world awaits the new president elect of the United States to assume power, the direct relation to the power exchange casts a dangerous hue of regional conflicts and instability over the Gulf countries. Whether it comes to changes in policies, regional alliances or inter-region animosity, the year ahead holds a lot of judgement; both prospects and consequences alike, that could change the Middle east as we know of today.
The major and foremost change is in the stance of the collective Arab nations that continues to ripple away from a pro-Palestinian to an Israeli perspective. The region is a classic example of the paradigm shift in the global politics, right before welcoming the new head of state in the world superpower. The nations, stout Muslim countries in fact, who stood strong as the exemplar enemies of the Jewish state for decades, are now the proponents of normalisation of diplomacy and absolute integration. The state they once accused of being illegitimate and outright a preposterous scheme of the West, now seems like a vital link to their harmony with the United States.
However, this stark shift of perspective is neither novel nor abrupt since the button to normalisation was long pressed by Egypt and Jordan decades ago despite being the flag bearer to four wars against Israel since its independence. The baton was picked again by UAE, then Morocco and recent down in tally came Sudan; each welcoming diplomatic ties while leaving no choice for the proximal states but to eventually curb under peer pressure. The classic narrative used is the very clichéd fear of Iran’s growing influence in the region and thus a simultaneous need of a US sponsored ally. So was the subliminal drive under Mr. Trump who even under his faltering premiership made it very clear through his purported ‘Deal of the Century’; an alternative to the 2-state solution of Israel and Palestine conflict. The irony is not lost in the purview of the current reality. The very coalition of Arab countries rebuked the deal as a sham yet within that year jumped the bandwagon to normalisation.
Even the Saudi Kingdom took the historic step of acquiescing to open its airspace to the state of Israel, hours before the first flight scheduled to transit through the kingdom to UAE. It’s as coherent as it gets in politics that Saudis continue to lose control of the regional power play. The kingdom no longer holds the steering to the Gulf affairs but rather finds itself isolated in a region it once commanded. Abandoned enough to consider reconciliation with the severed state of Qatar.
The brutally driven campaign, ultimatums placed, and citizens derived out of state, Qatar was subjected to a political boycott three years ago, snubbed like never before by none other than the quartet of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. Qatar’s economy derailed, trade dismantled, and diaspora stranded over borders in chaos and fear. The state of Qatar got back on its own, relied on Iran and Turkey yet proved to be completely independent without grovelling to any of Arab nations. Now alone in the power game, the tables have turned since Qatar no longer finds itself in recluse whereas Saudi Arabia perpetually loses hope and thus pursues its severed ally again. As of the second week of the new year, all borders including land, air and sea routes were opened to the state as Prince Mohammad Bin Salman seeks to administer himself in the good books of the incumbent US president, Joe Biden. Qatar, however, made sure that the resumption of bilateral relations would solely be for the sake of collective sovereignty and regional interest and would not skew the relations of Doha with other regional allies. The insinuation is quite straightforward since the only ties bitter to the kingdom, and the rudimentary reason behind the infamous Qatar crisis, are the relations shared with Islamic Republic of Iran. The message is clear: the bilateral relations would be geared at the whims of Qatar and not the other way around.
Meanwhile, the intentions of Iran have not been entirely inconspicuous to even a subtle extent. Whilst Tehran assured alignment to the policies of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), their actions have not spared the intent guiding their arching purpose. After the recent expiration of the Nuclear Deal 2015, Iran started to act on its primal vision to evolve into a global supplier of weaponry in spite of pilling sanctions from US. The assassination of Iran’s renowned nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, sowed another seed of retribution since the controversial assassination of Iran’s General, Qassim Soleimani. The retaliation came about in the form of a sinister increase in Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Exercises; culminating the capabilities to a colossal 20%; a sharp hike from the bellow 5% level maintained under the clauses of the Nuclear Deal 2015.
The Biden administration looks forward to reviving the Nuclear Deal with Iran, the deal Mr. Trump pulled US out of so abruptly back in 2018. Iran, however, made its looming decision crystal clear that despite being open to resolutions in exchange of loosening sanctions, Iran outright rejects any prospects to re-negotiate the same Nuclear Deal again. The warnings to US, claims of revenge ascended to new heights when Iran’s revolutionary guards arguably ceased a South Korean-flagged tanker in the regional waters. Whilst the accusations of hostages being held were rejected by the spokespersons of Iran, it stands apparent that the countries siding too closely to US agenda are on Iran’s metaphorical list of retribution. The message is clear since South Korea allegedly holds funds culminating to $7 billion in exchequer, blocked in the light of US-placed sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran ultimately leading Seoul to freeze the payments owed to Iranian Exporters, thus inciting this recent broil. The changing dynamics and priorities of the region justify both the fears and the subsequent efforts of Saudi Arabia to cling onto one state or the other and inch closer to reignite an alliance with US. As Israel continues to sink its claws in the Gulf, Palestine continues to barrel down in significance, and US-Iran head towards historic ties; the Middle east might turn up to be entirely alien in the near future.

Future of progressivism

Future of  progressivism

Western progressive movements came to the fore in 2020, but after the year’s upheaval, it’s clear they are going in circles. For real progress, they have to look outside the Western bubble and realize where they stand.
The year 2020 came and went, leaving behind a much different world than ever thought possible just one year ago. Easily one of the most consequential years in modern world history, it has, among many other things, shown a mirror to the face of Western society – an image that one can no longer ignore. Progressive voices and prognosticators in the West are rightly calling people together to fight for a human future, arguing, philosophizing and shouting over one another. Instead, I think what progressive thought leaders in the West need to do is one crucial thing: listen. As liberal democracy took hold across Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, it did so largely unable to fend off the backwards forces of the prior political relations, i.e. monarchy. To this day, many European countries maintain a “symbolic” monarch that still, legally speaking, maintains considerable power – even if not in practice. It is indeed proof that the backwards social relations of the past hang in the shadows, perhaps waiting for a time to seize control again.
Where liberal democracy has been the most effective and where the propertied, non-aristocratic elite have enjoyed the most security is the United States of America. There are varying reasons, but, importantly, it has to do with the fact that the Americans never had to deal with the constant threat of monarchy looming in the shadow of their social relations. Instead, while indeed sharing a common history in many respects with Europe, it has the features of a much different and, I would argue, equally, if not more, backwards social relation baked in, namely white supremacy. The product of colonialism, the United States rose to power in what seized on the genuine progressive forces on the ground and represented the culmination of the imperial projects to that point. It managed to present itself to the revolutionary masses of the former British colonies as a forward motion in history – something that is indeed true – but managed to cling to many of the most backwards qualities that came before; for example, not only continuing, but greatly expanding the genocide of the Native Americans, enshrining the institution of slavery and pursuing the most faceless empire known to history. Doubtless, progressive currents have pushed the United States to lead in the historical struggle at various points – the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, the New Deal and the working class current that drove them, to name but a few examples. But even these periods were disunited, co-opted and liberalized. The politics that is emerging today is wide, diverse and much more serious about examining history from a realistic point of view. It is the culmination of these freed people, who are now able to read the materials their ancestors fought for their right to, who can now believe their own eyes, organize and seize political power – even if within the confines of liberal democracy.
This trajectory is a threat to liberal democracy, but indeed one that represents a positive motion and not a backwards one, however, the leadership of the movement behind it lack an even deeper self-awareness. Their struggle is not their struggle as such; history never ended and the struggle for a human future never died, not in Europe nor anywhere else. Instead of looking amongst itself, the progressive forces must look to the most exploited parts of the world for inspiration; for example, the push for a “21st century socialism” continued and still continues in Latin America, the push for a prosperous socialism never died in China and the general forces of decolonization across the Global South persist. There is doubtless something to be learned in each case. As we turn into a new chapter this year, I argue instead for the broadest possible progressive wave to fight for a human future and combat the disaster capitalism of today, a kind of cosmopolitan socialism that does not seek to reinvent the wheel but rather learn from wherever it can to achieve a common goal. Our future very much depends on this.
—RT

Has Europe reached peak populism?

Has Europe reached peak populism?

It may seem perverse, in the week when the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) posted record scores in two regional elections, to even whisper that anti-EU populism may have peaked in Europe. Yet a series of events and votes in Italy, Britain, France, Spain, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic suggest the tide could be turning against the anti-establishment nationalist movements that have upended politics across the Continent, leaving the barbarians howling in frustration at the gates.
That doesn’t mean that the social and economic distress that turned many working-class, rural and poorer voters against the traditional political parties, the parliamentary system and the European Union has gone away. But the populists seem unable to secure a majority for their radical, anti-European course almost anywhere.
The most obvious case is Italy. Former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose far-right League Party was sharing power uneasily with the anti-establishment 5Star Movement (M5S) in Western Europe’s first populist government, thought the country was ripe for a hard-right turn and pulled the plug on the coalition in mid-August, demanding an early election.
While “Il Capitano” toured the beaches, taking bare-chested selfies with supporters and breathing fire at Rome, his attempt to consolidate power collapsed. His erstwhile coalition partners held their noses and agreed to form a government with the mainstream, center-left Democratic Party instead. Italy has pulled back from the brink, at least for now, and is set to revert to more moderate, EU-friendly economic and migration policies.
In Spain too, populists of the far left and extreme right appear to be losing ground. Salvini’s failure has dented his party in opinion polls and raised first doubts about his leadership. But Italy’s wheel of fortune spins fast. The would-be strongman and master of social media may be back soon if the economy continues to flatline and the new coalition falters.
Given the chaotic state of U.K. politics, public fatigue at endless battles over Brexit and the unattractive hard-left alternative offered by the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn, Johnson may yet manage to purge and reposition the Conservative Party as the true Brexit party and win a general election next month. But that looks less likely after his big gamble on suspending parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit has faltered.
Meanwhile Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party crushed the Conservatives and beat Labour in the European Parliament election in May, may once again face the frustration of setting the Conservatives’ agenda but failing to achieve a breakthrough in the U.K. parliament.
Exhibit C is France, where President Emmanuel Macron looked to be in deep trouble six months ago with the grassroots anti-establishment Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Jackets) staging often violent demonstrations every Saturday and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally surging in the polls.
Now Macron is back in the saddle, most of the Yellow Jackets have gone home, at least for now, and Le Pen fell short of a game-changing victory in the European election. With unemployment falling and the economy holding up, populism seems to have hit its glass ceiling in France.
Austria’s coalition between conservatives and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) crashed and burned in May when the anti-immigrant movement’s leader was exposed on video offering contracts to a purported Russian businesswoman in exchange for illicit funding. Ejected from government, the FPÖ is still polling at around 20 percent but looks unlikely to return to power after this month’s snap general election. In Spain too, populists of the far left and extreme right appear to be losing ground as Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist minority government gains in popularity.
In Germany, the AfD’s surge in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony left them still in opposition; all the mainstream parties seem determined to shut them out of power locally and nationally.
To be sure, ruling right-wing nationalist parties scored spectacular victories in the European Parliament election in Poland and Hungary and continue to defy EU censure over the rule of law and civil rights. But Poland’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, may lose his absolute parliamentary majority in an October general election despite his popular combination of welfarism and Catholic nationalist social conservatism.
Meanwhile, fears of an illiberal populist wave sweeping the whole of Central Europe have proven overblown, with a liberal democrat winning the Slovakian presidential election and billionaire Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš facing mass protests over his alleged conflicts of interest. Still, mainstream politicians would be wrong to see the ebbing of the populist tide as a reason to relax. The underlying drivers of nationalist politics are still there.
The erosion of some of the foundations of 20th century European democracy — political parties, trade unions, religious communities and industrial jobs for life — has left societies more volatile. Growing income inequality, concerns about migration and the disruption of low-skilled jobs by globalization provide a continuing seed bed for the politics of nativist anger in Europe and in the United States.
And social media offers an instant outlet for all forms of protest, amplified by fake news and other manipulation. There’s also the fact that populists don’t need to be in power to set the agenda — especially on hot-button issues like immigration, where they have successfully shifted the discussion from how best to welcome refugees and integrate economic migrants to how to buttress “fortress Europe” and make it harder to enter the Continent — no matter how valid your claims to asylum. The tide may have broken, but there’s still plenty of mopping up to be done.
—Politico

Europe after Brexit

Europe after Brexit

“The U.N. was not founded to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell,” the United Nations’ first secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjold, once said. The hell he had in mind, of course, was World War II and the Shoah, next to which most of today’s challenges pale in comparison. Nonetheless, disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic and Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union have called into question many beliefs that Europeans previously took for granted.
Thanks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership within the EU, Europe survived 2020 relatively unscathed. In fact, her stint in the European Council’s rotating presidency during the second half of the year will probably be remembered as one of the great political masterstrokes of post-war European history. When the pandemic erupted last spring, it looked as though it would be every EU member state for itself. Germany, for example, temporarily banned exports of medical aid and equipment, despite the horrific, rising death toll in nearby Italy. But since then, Europeans have shown impressive solidarity in facing down the pandemic.
More recently, the emergence of a highly contagious strain of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom gave Britons and Europeans a small taste of what would have happened had a final Brexit deal not been agreed on Christmas Day. Border crossings between Europe and the UK were suddenly closed, leaving trucks lined up for miles on decommissioned airfields. The EU-UK trade agreement that did emerge can be described as the best of a set of bad options. That it was reached at all owes something to the U.S. presidential election. Having cozied up to Donald Trump (and having previously insulted U.S. President Barack Obama in racist terms), British Prime Minister Boris Johnson knows that the Biden administration will not be eager to do his government any favors. In the absence of a deal with Europe, the UK would have found itself utterly alone.
For their part, EU leaders welcomed the agreement because they understand that Brexit has already damaged the Union. Given the UK’s considerable geostrategic experience and capabilities (not least its nuclear arsenal), it was crucial for Europe to avoid a full rupture. But, Brexit aside, the EU is also divided internally over economic policy, the rule of law, and the separation of powers. And as if these challenges were not great enough, developments in recent weeks have revealed a deepening divergence between France and Germany.
These two traditional motors of European unification pushed through the EU’s new recovery fund, thereby securing cohesion between southern and northern member states. But the EU’s ongoing debate about foreign and security policy, led primarily by French President Emmanuel Macron, has opened a rift over the question of Europe’s strategic position.
Calling for “strategic autonomy,” Macron is reacting to America’s disengagement from Europe and its re-orientation toward the Indo-Pacific and China. He is right to conclude that an American withdrawal from the neighborhood will force Europe to assume significantly more responsibility for its own security.
The implication for Germany is that it is approaching a moment of truth. Though it is the EU’s economic powerhouse and its most populous member state, Germany ― mindful of its responsibility for the unimaginable suffering of WWII ― has refrained from acting strategically for 75 years.
To be sure, German strategic abstention is what enabled the European project in the first place. But things have changed since the end of WWII, and the fact is that the EU cannot become a credible geopolitical force without Germany contributing its full economic, political, and, yes, military weight. The problem, of course, is that too many Germans themselves remain suspicious of “geopolitics” ― or are clinging to a sense of moral superiority that leaves them disinclined to defend European interests. In this context, the French were fully justified in initiating a debate about European strategic autonomy. The ball is in Germany’s court. Would a future German government consisting of the conservative Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union and a pacifist Alliance 90/The Greens grouping respond to pleas from a Libyan government of national unity asking Europe to use force to dismantle the human-trafficking camps that have been set up in militant-controlled areas there? France would certainly answer the call, but it would expect Germany and others to join in. With his push for European “strategic autonomy,” Macron is vying to fill the geopolitical leadership gap that has been created by the UK’s departure and Germany’s ongoing refusal to engage with geopolitical issues. As Europe’s remaining nuclear power and permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, France is obviously the most appropriate candidate for the job; but it cannot go it alone.
Germany has at least pulled its weight when it comes to internal political issues, particularly concerning the preservation of European unity. Merkel demonstrated this recently by brokering a compromise with Hungary and Poland, which had threatened to veto the recovery fund and the seven-year EU budget over a new “rule of law mechanism” for the disbursement of EU funds. The German government has also repeatedly stressed that any push for “strategic autonomy” must complement and strengthen, rather than jeopardize, the transatlantic partnership.
Brexit raises long-dormant strategic questions about Europe’s internal unity and external position, and few of these are likely to be decided quickly. As such, France and Germany must seek out common paths for Europe, seizing on the opportunities that autonomy offers while remaining mindful of the limits. Even the most starry-eyed Euro-optimists cannot reasonably claim that Europe can succeed in the twenty-first century without a close strategic partnership with the US.
—The Korea Times

AlUla reconciliation | GCC back to full force

AlUla reconciliation | GCC back to full force

A new page was turned in the intra-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plus Egypt dispute last week. During the GCC summit, Egypt and the GCC member states signed the “AlUla Statement,” ending a three-and-a-half-year-long boycott of Qatar by the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The agreement ushers in a new era of reconciliation and unity based on several guiding principles, with some important early steps taken during or around the summit, while some outstanding issues are being discussed bilaterally.
The setting for the summit was perfect: A new conference palace surrounded by majestic mountains in the oasis town of AlUla, 250 km east of the Red Sea and 350 km northwest of Madinah. A small town of about 5,000 inhabitants today, AlUla has a long and colourful history. It was the capital of the powerful ancient kingdom of Lihyan, which for centuries controlled much of the Red Sea and the incense trade route between Yemen and the Levant. That kingdom lasted for about 500 years, until it was taken over by the Nabateans in about 100 BC. The area has a rich history and is the most archeologically excavated region of Saudi Arabia. At the end of the summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan announced the deal among the countries involved to turn a new page on “all areas of disagreement” and make a fresh start, restoring full diplomatic relations between the four boycotting countries and Qatar. He added that the agreement would restore intra-GCC relations to their correct and natural path and would contribute to regional security and stability. On the eve of the summit, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to traffic to and from Qatar, with the other countries doing the same shortly after. They allowed air, land and sea movement to and from Qatar. Bilateral discussions were also started on other issues.
There was full agreement on the guiding principles for the new era, including non-interference in internal affairs, fighting terrorism, and working jointly to deal with threats and challenges to regional security. To translate this agreement into concrete steps, the GCC leaders also signed the summit’s joint communiqué — a 20-page summary of the resolutions on economic, political, military and security integration. The summit also issued a third document, the AlUla Declaration, which stressed some priority areas and adopted scores of directives on specific issues. The GCC, in its new unified fashion, agreed to work jointly in seven key areas.
First, the GCC leaders stressed the principle of collective security and mutual defense, i.e., that the security of GCC states is indivisible and that any attack or threat against one member is an attack on all, as stipulated in the GCC Charter and the Joint Defense Treaty. To that end, they endorsed the recommendations made during 2020 by the Joint Defense Council (ministers of defense) and the Ministers of Interior Council to bolster GCC defense and internal security and combat terrorism.
Second, the GCC summit adopted a common position on the threats emanating from Iran, including nuclear proliferation, nuclear safety, ballistic and cruise missile development, and drones, in addition to its destabilizing regional behavior. On future international negotiations with Iran, the GCC made public, for the first time, its common position that the scope of the talks must include all of the preceding issues and that the GCC must take part in those talks.
Third, the summit also adopted common positions on other regional issues, including the Palestine question, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Libya.
Fourth, the GCC adopted scores of directives in all areas and stressed that “all directives issued, and all agreements reached within the GCC, shall be faithfully implemented according to their timetables,” in a reference to slow implementation in some areas during the past three years because of the intra-GCC differences.
Fifth, in dealing with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), GCC health organs, such as the GCC Health Council, have worked around the clock during recent months to coordinate the bloc’s response to the pandemic. The summit adopted several measures to bolster defenses against pandemics. For example, it established the GCC Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The center was initially proposed by Saudi Arabia in December 2015, but its establishment got first delayed and then expedited in light of the COVID-19 experience. The summit also approved a guide for early warnings for public health and a framework for public health preparedness and response to health emergencies.
Sixth, in economic integration, the summit issued a new GCC law for consumer protection and endorsed an agreement to connect payment systems between member states.
Seventh, having restored GCC unity and cohesion, the summit directed GCC organs to accelerate existing partnerships with the rest of the world and start new ones, including with countries and groups in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. The scope and level of engagement will differ from one country to another, but will generally include economic, political, security, people-to-people and business-to-business cooperation. The summit also called for a continuation at the GCC level of steps taken by the G20 during Saudi Arabia’s presidency to help countries in need combat COVID-19 and its socioeconomic repercussions.
In sum, while a new mechanism is being utilized to sort out any outstanding issues, the collective work of the GCC has resumed in full force.
—Arab News

Biden must not restore foreign policy, but reform it

Biden must not restore foreign policy, but reform it

Though the incoming Biden administration seems intent on restoring a presumed superior version of American leadership from the past, what is most needed is a reformation of how we deal with the rest of the world


The good guys and the bad guys. Friends and enemies. Black and white. Since at least World War II, American foreign policy has been viewed through an all-or-nothing lens in which actors are routinely considered either all good or all bad. It’s not hard to understand why — it’s a lot easier to categorize states or groups as a monolith. But doing so unnecessarily harms our interests.
It’s time we begin dealing with the world as it is, in all its messy greyness. Doing so will make our nation more secure and prosperous. Though the incoming Biden administration seems intent on restoring a presumed superior version of American leadership from the past, what is most needed is a reformation of how we deal with the rest of the world.
As we’ve seen for decades, Washington is prone to view foreign actors in black-and-white terms. The Reagan administration famously referred to the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire. President Bill Clinton demonized the Serbs and lionized the Croats, Bosnians, and Albanians during the Balkan crisis in the late 1990s. Following the terror strikes of Sept. 11, President George W. Bush infamously declared an Axis of Evil and that there were only two kinds of nations in the world: “You are either with us or with the terrorists.”
The Obama administration continued the trend when it at first declared select jihadist groups in Syria as good or “moderate rebels” and sent hundreds of millions of dollars in both overt and covert support while branding others as irredeemably evil and aggressively fought them. For his part, President Trump muddled the script by treating some friends roughly and treating some adversaries more gently, but he did choose to make China the “bad guy” of his administration, both economically and militarily.
The truth is that each of these presidents had a point in the targets of their displeasure. The USSR was an atrocious regime. The Serbs did commit war crimes. Nations that supported terrorists were a threat. And China has committed espionage and other nefarious actions against the United States. Treating each as an irredeemable, all-or-nothing enemy, however, unnecessarily complicates our relations abroad and actually lessens our ability to produce policies and actions beneficial to our interests.
Presently, America’s leading foreign policy figures reflexively treat several states as permanent and exclusive enemies. The “outlaw” government of Iran, the “rogue regime” North Korea, and the socialist Venezuela and Cuba. Washington routinely claims each of these countries is a threat. We constantly look for ways to undercut and weaken each with sanctions and other policies, and other than Trump’s few meetings with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, we have virtually cut off diplomatic engagement with each. It should be self-evident by now, painfully so, that such policies have been abject failures.
First, when we cut off communication with another country, we deny ourselves of significant leverage in moderating behaviour we find odious or problematic. Second, by refusing to engage with these nations on areas of mutual interest, we surrender the opportunity to gain an advantage, even from an otherwise unpleasant regime. Third, by constraining or eliminating communication with potential adversaries, we increase the possibility of misunderstanding or miscalculation, which could lead to a military clash that neither side wants.
What makes more sense is to engage with the world with eyes wide open, acknowledging bad or pernicious behaviour while also keeping the door open for opportunities to benefit our security or economic opportunity. It is manifestly evident that relying almost exclusively on the coercive tactics we’ve used over the past half-century has neither produced anything of value for the U.S. nor has it made our country safer. Embracing the reality that we can simultaneously engage both positively and negatively is harder to do but much more beneficial.
For example, we can resist, even fiercely, Chinese efforts to steal our intellectual property and call them out for human rights abuses while still cooperating with them on areas of mutual benefit such as trade and an anti-terrorism focus. If we want to reduce the threat of military conflict with North Korea and Iran, we need to have open lines of communication. The Trump administration said it wanted to negotiate a new deal with Iran that included ballistic missiles, something Barack Obama’s nuclear deal didn’t include. Without talking, however, no deal is even possible — and the risk of miscalculation and accidental war increases.
Engaging with regimes we dislike does not harm our national security, as our powerful conventional and nuclear forces undergird our safety no matter what. But taking the world as it is, ugly regimes and all, will allow us to reduce the risk of conflict and increase our economic opportunities abroad.
—Washington Examiner

America is paying the price for right-wing pandering

America is paying the price  for right-wing pandering

In a short Senate-floor speech Wednesday night, Mitt Romney declared that President Donald Trump incited insurrection by deliberately misinforming his supporters about the outcome of the 2020 election. “Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate Democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit,” he told his colleagues. “The best way we can show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth,” he insisted, drawing sustained applause from other senators who were present. “That’s the burden, and the duty, of leadership. The truth is that President-elect Biden won the election.”
His message was lost on the six GOP senators and 121 House Republicans who cast votes objecting to the certification of some electoral votes. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Roger Marshall, John Kennedy, Tommy Tuberville, and others disgraced themselves with their pandering. But the fault goes far beyond elected officials. The right in the United States is rife with influential people who pretend to respect the grass roots even as they disrespect them with lies, glaring omissions, and failures to correct prominent conspiracy theories that they know to be false.
The Fox News host Tucker Carlson, for instance, while condemning political violence last night, implored his viewers to ask why it was happening. His theory is that political violence happens when a population believes that its elections are fraudulent and that democracy is a charade. Why would they think that? “It’s happened in countless other countries, for countless centuries,” he said, “and the cycle is always the same because human nature never changes. ‘Listen to us!’ screams the population. ‘Shut up and do what you’re told,’ reply their leaders.”
Carlson did not mention that Trump lied to his supporters before and after the 2020 election, telling them premeditated falsehoods calculated to make them regard it as fraudulent. That is a hugely important part of the story, and Carlson must know that no frank accounting of the day can elide it. The leader of their country didn’t tell them to shut up. He told them that he won the election in a landslide and that they needed to fight against a “steal.”
Or consider the strikingly vague statement that the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, released on Twitter after the storming of the Capitol. “As we published in May when violent protests erupted, so we write again,” the tweet declared, “America must have a full accounting of how today’s riots happened, who made them happen, and who let them happen. Those in power must be held to account.” But the most responsible party is already known. Again, Trump told many lies about the election to his supporters, urged them to come to Washington on the pretext that his lies were true, spoke to them Wednesday morning, and urged them to go over to the Capitol building, where, in his false telling, members of Congress were stealing democracy from the people.
At The Federalist, in an article doling out blame for what happened at the Capitol, Ben Domenech indicted the left for its treatment of the Tea Party and Romney, the iconoclasm of Black Lives Matter, the unpreparedness of the Capitol Police, and more. But when it came to the president, he wrote, “blaming this on Donald Trump isn’t just too simplistic, it’s whistling past the graveyard of our norms. Of course, he egged on his crowd to go up to the Capitol and be loud and irritating. But he didn’t tell them to break down doors and crash the gates, and he didn’t need to. Blaming this on Trump assumes this type of attitude will go away when Trump himself does.”
That does not follow––one should give a full accounting of Trump’s role in the storming of the Capitol whether or not the “attitude” of insurrection will remain after he’s gone. Trump’s role, besides, far exceeds merely egging people on to march to the Capitol. Trump and his allies spent years telling followers blatant falsehoods directly relevant to the false belief that the election was stolen from him.
It is no great surprise to find President Donald Trump and cronies complaining about election fraud even as President Donald Trump and his cronies were recorded in a telephone call attempting to suborn election fraud, threatening the Georgia secretary of state—a Republican, note—with criminal prosecution unless he should “find,” discovering by some black art, enough votes to swing the state’s election Trump’s way…I have on many occasions criticized the abuse of the word coup in our politics, but that is what this is: an attempted coup d’état under color of law. It would be entirely appropriate today to impeach Trump a second time and remove him from office before his term ends. Trump’s claims of material vote fraud have no merit. He repeatedly and falsely claimed that Vice President Mike Pence could simply reject the electors sent by the states Trump lost and thereby make Trump president. This was a lie, very likely a knowing lie. And a dangerous one. There are reports that the vice president had to be evacuated to safety. No wonder, when the president preemptively accused him of connivance with a putsch. These are honest efforts to grapple with Trump’s actions. More people on the right need to speak this clearly about what’s going on, and level with their respective audiences. That’s unlikely, however. For years, talk-radio types such as Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin have built their audiences by pandering and omitting hard truths that their audiences don’t want to hear. I expect them to continue that disrespectful practice, even as some of their listeners are taken in by QAnon and its ilk.
The conservative donor class and the grassroots bear some fault in all of this. Both routinely punish conservatives who level with them in a cancel culture as chilling as at any college in America. But telling such hard truths is not just a burden of leadership. It is a burden of any honourable career as a journalist or a broadcaster or the head of a think tank, even a Straussian one.
What ails the populist right today has roots in the pandering grievance-mongering of Sarah Palin, the chalkboard rants of Glenn Beck, the longtime enabling of Rupert Murdoch, the hypocrisy-laden xenophobia of Lou Dobbs, and all of the people who knew better but said nothing, for years, telling themselves there would be no price for bad faith. But the failure to embrace truth-telling abetted Trump in deceiving his most deluded and dangerous supporters. All of America is paying the price.
—The Atlantic