Europe/Americas update: December 20 2017

CONFLICT UPDATE

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres presented a report to the UN Security Council on Wednesday on the nature of war in the year two thousand and seventeen. In addition to warning of the return of nuclear tensions and the cyberwar threat, Guterres spoke about the increasing complexity of modern wars, which may be fewer in number but are apparently harder to end:

While there has been a long-term decline in the number of armed conflicts, Guterres said “conflicts have surged” in the Middle East and parts of Africa.

 

Conflicts are also “becoming more intractable,” he said, and they are becoming more regional and international.

 

Guterres said political factions and armed groups are also multiplying, with hundreds of armed factions in Syria alone.

 

“External military and financial support to conflict parties prolongs civil wars — and fuels wider tensions as local fights become proxies for larger rivalries,” Guterres said.

 

“Conflicts are more linked with each other, and with the worldwide threat of terrorism,” he said. “And transnational drug smugglers and human traffickers perpetuate the chaos and prey on refugees and migrants.”

HUMAN RIGHTS

In other UN news, Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid bin Raʿad al-Hussein reportedly told his staff on Wednesday that he’s not going to seek a second term in his position when his current one ends next summer. He cited the UN’s reluctance to take a strong stance against human rights abuses by major powers, at a time when major powers are as disinterested in human rights as they’ve been in a very long time, as his main reason for leaving his gig.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

The Treasury Department on Wednesday levied new sanctions against five Russian figures, including Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, under the 2012 Magnitsky Act. Under the law, their foreign bank accounts will be frozen.

UKRAINE

The New York Times has more on this week’s major flare up of the eastern Ukraine conflict:

The fighting broke out in the midst of a snowstorm overnight Tuesday and has continued unabated since, the observers say. While skirmishes are common, the heavy artillery barrages have been the thickest since a flare-up in February.

 

Ukrainian authorities linked the escalation to the Russian military’s decision to withdraw officers from a joint Russian and Ukrainian liaison group that had assisted in monitoring the shaky cease-fire deal, known as the Minsk 2 agreement.

POLAND

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into law on Wednesday the two new judicial “reform” laws that will place the Polish judiciary firmly under the control of the Polish executive. Those laws are the same ones that have put Poland on a crash course with the European Union, which has for the first time used its “Article 7” powers to potentially sanction Poland over the measures.

AUSTRIA

New Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is trying to reassure the Israeli government that just because he let neo-Nazis into his coalition that doesn’t mean his government is going to be doing the usual neo-Nazi things:

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday his new coalition would focus on fighting anti-Semitism, after Israel made it clear it would not work directly with any ministers from the far-right party now back in government.

 

Kurz, a 31-year-old conservative, was sworn in with the rest of his government on Monday after reaching a coalition deal that handed control of much of Austria’s security apparatus to the anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO). The FPO came third in October’s parliamentary election with 26 percent of the vote.

 

Israel reacted to the inauguration by saying it would do business only with the “operational echelons” of government departments headed by an FPO minister. The FPO now controls the foreign, interior and defence ministries, though Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl is not officially a member of the party.

GERMANY

Angela Merkel’s conservative coalition and Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats will hold four days of coalition talks beginning January 7. At that point they will decide whether it makes sense to continue talking or if it’s time to start planning for new elections.

FRANCE

Emmanuel Macron’s approval rating has climbed back over 50 percent, which means he’s stemmed the bleeding he’d been suffering since being elected. It may seem inexplicable that his support is improving among French workers when he’s done nothing but screw them over since taking office, but I think I have a theory about that:

Macron’s little chest-puffing displays wherein he Tells Hard Truths To Africa make a lot more sense as displays for his home audience than they do as constructive methods of engagement with African nations. Hey, if you won’t offer workers something that will make their lives better, and Macron won’t, it never hurts to throw a little racism their way and see if some of them respond to that.

SPAIN

Catalonia elects its new parliament on Thursday, and if polling is accurate, the result is likely to be…completely inconclusive, with voters evenly split between pro- and anti-indepedence parties. If that’s the outcome, then the conflict over Catalan independence might continue indefinitely, which probably won’t be good for Spain and definitely won’t be good for Catalonia–the longer this drags on, the more the Catalan economy will suffer for it.

UNITED KINGDOM

However long Theresa May had envisioned the UK’s post-Brexit transition period lasting, Brussels has put an end date on it: December 31 2020. Moreover, EU leadership insists that Britain will have to remain subject to the bloc’s laws and regulations during the transition period, which likely won’t sit well with the Brexiteers in May’s Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, May could be facing another problem: an exodus of EU nationals from Britain:

Back from Brussels with a hard-fought Brexit deal, Prime Minister Theresa May wrote an open letter to the three million citizens of other European Union states living in Britain.

 

“I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay,” she wrote after striking the initial agreement, which promises to secure their British residency rights after Brexit and allows the negotiations to move onto trade relations.

 

But for some EU nationals – who have endured uncertainty over their rights since the Brexit vote in June 2016, not to mention an unpleasant feeling that many Britons do not want them around – May’s Dec. 8 deal is too little, too late.

Many are worried about the xenophobia that underpinned the Brexit vote, and plenty are unimpressed with May’s outreach after she’s spent months talking about the need to clamp down on immigration. At this point the UK is still bringing in more EU nationals than it’s losing, but the number coming in is going down and the number leaving is going up, which–for a country that depends on these foreign nationals as a major part of its workforce–is not a great trend.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Nicolás Maduro’s Constituent Assembly voted unanimously on Wednesday to require political parties that wish to participate in future elections to have participated in previous ones. What that means is that opposition parties that have huffily refused to legitimize the Venezuelan political system by participating in it may find themselves unable to field candidates in next year’s presidential election. Parties that are blocked from participating can apply to have their status renewed…but it’s Maduro’s National Election Council that will make that determination.

HONDURAS

The US looks to be going all-in on supporting Juan Orlando Hernández’s heavily disputed reelection. A “senior State Department official” told reporters on Wednesday that “we have not seen anything that alters the final result” in terms of alleged vote manipulation, but also said that the US may wait to draw any final conclusions until it sees if the opposition is able to produce new evidence of tampering. Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala have all recognized Hernández’s (alleged) victory, and as that number climbs it’s obviously going to get harder to muster international pressure for a revote.

Juan_Orlando_Hernandez-Enrique_Peña_(cropped)
It might be about time to start mailing your congratulations cards to this guy (Wikimedia)

UNITED STATES

At the risk of giving Donald Trump’s new National Security Strategy way more attention than it merits, here’s Paul Pillar’s decidedly unimpressed take:

The congressionally mandated national security strategies have for the most part not merited the term “strategy”. They are public documents meant for public consumption rather than as guides to decision-making about individual foreign policy problems. They are essentially an additional opportunity, along with presidential speeches and other vehicles, for expressing to the public an administration’s favored themes.

 

This observation applies at least as much to Donald Trump’s newly released national security strategy as to those of other administrations. Although some of Trump’s senior subordinates are quite capable of thinking strategically, the president himself has given scant indication of having a strategic bone in his body when in comes to national security. Trump’s utterances on the subject have shown evidence less of any deep thinking than of inconsistency, ignorance stemming from inexperience, and a demagogue’s concern with applause lines.

 

Moreover, a document published under the name of a president who has taken lying to a level far beyond that of most other politicians is, unsurprisingly, duplicitous as well. The duplicity extends not just to individual mischaracterizations but to absconding with entire concepts—or more precisely, to the use of terms that refer to such concepts without making policy that conforms with them. The administration’s document claims to be a “strategy of principled realism,” while the Trump foreign policy has not been realist at all, especially given its tendency to divide the world rigidly into friends and foes. The document also favorably refers to the realist concept of “balance of power,” but Trump’s foreign policy has been far different from one that would observe the principles and reap the benefits of a balance of power.

 

The administration’s document brazenly claims to be pursuing objectives that it instead is trashing. It says that “diplomacy is indispensable to identify and implement solutions” and that “we must upgrade our diplomatic capabilities” at the same time that it is running the State Department into the ground and, on issue after issue, blowing off the department’s diplomatic mission. The document declares that “the national debt, now over $20 trillion, presents a grave threat to America’s long-term prosperity and, by extension, our national security” as the president is about to sign, with celebration and no reluctance, one of the biggest deficit-ballooning pieces of legislation in recent history.

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Author: DWD

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