Mike Pompeo’s visit to the NATO foreign ministers meeting on Tuesday produced a rare bit of common ground between the US and the rest of the alliance over alleged Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty:
After a meeting of senior U.S., Canadian, and European diplomats at NATO in Brussels on Tuesday, Pompeo accused Russia of being in material breach of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, saying Washington would suspend obligation to the agreement in 60 days if Moscow doesn’t reverse course.
Almost immediately, NATO foreign ministers released a joint statement supporting America’s accusations and acknowledging that Russia was violating the treaty, which prohibits the use of nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (300 to 3,400 miles).
In the case of some of the foreign ministers, the show of support for the U.S. position may reflect a desire to fix rather than ditch the INF Treaty altogether, as Trump has previously threatened to do.
In a statement that was uncharacteristically strong for the alliance, the ministers said the United States has remained in full compliance with its INF Treaty obligations, pinning the responsibility for preserving the arms control agreement squarely on Moscow’s shoulders.
European leaders are pretty desperate to keep the INF treaty in place, since if Russia really takes the gloves off it’s Europe that will be threatened by its intermediate-range missiles. So they may have decided that flattering Trump is their best bet here, though it is also true that there’s pretty clear evidence that Russia has violated the treaty. Whatever the motivation, European support for the US position appears to have paid off, in that Pompeo announced that the Trump administration is giving Moscow 60 days to come into compliance with the treaty before the US will withdraw from it. Which is better than just withdrawing now. It remains to be seen whether Russia will budge, and since the administration has other reasons (China, for example) to want out of the INF, it also remains to be seen whether Pompeo’s offer is sincere.
We don’t talk much about Belarus around here because, well, there’s usually not much to talk about. But Foreign Policy in Focus’s Ryan Michael Kehoe has an interesting take here in which he argues that Belarusian President/dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who was illiberal before illiberalism was cool, ought to get more credit than he does for being ahead of his time:
Once dismissed as an anachronism and referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” Lukashenko maintains an iron grip on the Belarusian presidency. More importantly, his model of what Yuri Kofner, the pro-Putin founder and director of the Center for Eurasian Studies, refers to as “Eurasian authoritarian liberalism” seems to have found vindication in the phenomenon of so-called “illiberal democracy.”
Given the recent electoral successes of such parties and personalities in Hungary, the Philippines, Turkey, Brazil and, to some observers, the United States, a reexamination of how foreign policy professionals and on-the-ground activists might confront this development is more necessary than ever.
Ukrainian officials say that Russia has partially eased the blockade of the Kerch Strait separating the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov that it imposed on November 25, and as a result the Ukrainians have resumed importing grain through their Azov ports.
REPUBLIC OF NORTH MACEDONIA
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer said on Tuesday that North Macedonia could join NATO as soon as 2020 provided it finalizes its deal with Greece to change its name to “The Republic of North Macedonia.” Palmer expressed concerns about Russian activities in the Balkans that might be intended to destabilize Macedonian politics and disrupt its NATO accession process.
Swedish Centre Party leader Annie Loof said on Tuesday that she’s giving Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party leader Stefan Löfven one more chance to meet her demands for supporting a new government under his leadership in next week’s confidence vote. Loof wants Löfven to make concessions toward the center-right in return for the Centre Party’s abstention from the confidence vote, but says she’s dissatisfied with what he’s promised so far.
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced on Tuesday that his government is postponing a planned hike on gas and electricity taxes for six months in the face of massive popular outrage. That time will be spent coming up with ways to soften the tax’s impact on French workers. Presumably President Jupiter couldn’t make the announcement himself because he was too busy working with a team of quantum mathematicians trying to gauge exactly how far his popularity has plummeted (answer: a whole fucking lot).
There’s a lot of right-wing rhetoric out there about how these protests represent a rejection of environmental politics, since they were triggered by a gas tax hike, but that’s horse shit. There is far more to it than that:
Discontent about the rising cost of living among the “little people,” as many protesters call themselves, had been growing, along with a sense of marginalization. The approach of Macron’s fuel tax increases in January, meant to wean the French off fossil fuels, has caused things to snap.
The weekend violence in Paris, in which more than 130 people were injured and over 400 were arrested, was the worst in the country in decades, officials have said.
The protesters say they want to level a playing field that they believe is tipped in favor of the elite and well-off city dwellers.
The fuel tax “was the spark,” said Thierry Paul Valette, a Paris protest coordinator, in an interview. “If it hadn’t been (that), it would have been something else.”
“People want fair fiscal justice. They want social justice,” he added, as well as improved purchasing power.
Social justice? Imagine that. Why, you might even call them social justice warriors.
Theresa May had another extremely good Brexity day on Tuesday, and you have to wonder if she’s getting tired of winning all the time:
Theresa May has suffered an extraordinary three parliamentary defeats in a single day, as rebellious MPs at Westminster sought to wrest back control of Brexit.
The start of a five-day debate on May’s deal was delayed by several hours, as MPs passed a historic motion finding the government in contempt of parliament for failing to publish in full the legal advice on Brexit.
The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, called the defeat a “badge of shame” for the government.
“By treating parliament with contempt, the government has proved it has lost its majority and the respect of the house. The prime minister can’t keep pushing parliament away or avoiding responsible scrutiny,” he said.
MPs had already voted down a government compromise, which would have referred the dispute to parliament’s privileges committee, delaying it until after next week’s crunch vote on May’s deal.
With the prime minister still waiting to open the formal debate, MPs then inflicted a third defeat, passing a cross-party amendment tabled by MPs including Dominic Grieve aimed at strengthening the hand of parliament if the deal is voted down.
May’s deal is collapsing in parliament, with both pro-Europe and pro-Brexit factions actively pushing for it to fail. The pro-Europe faction sees a second Brexit referendum at the end of the tunnel, but that remains a long shot. Nevertheless, in a fourth shot at May, the Advocate-General for the European Court of Justice issued an opinion on Monday that the UK should be allowed to unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notification to leave the European Union. That’s going to bolster the pro-Europe faction in the UK parliament and perhaps make its members less susceptible to May’s pitch that the UK will either exit the EU under her agreement or under no agreement. They’re still hoping that it won’t have to exit at all.
The United Nations says it’s looking to raise $738 million in 2019 to deal with the Venezuelan refugee crisis in Latin America. That’s part of an overall aid target of $21.9 billion, excluding money raised for Syria. The UN estimates that some 3.6 million Venezuelan refugees across the region will need some amount of assistance over the next year.
Offering the diplomatic version of “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes,” Pompeo told the NATO summit on Tuesday that, far from tearing down the liberal world order, Donald Trump is building a newer, better, hotter one:
In a speech in Brussels before a Nato ministers meeting, Mike Pompeo sought to frame Trump’s foreign policy decisions as a coherent doctrine to a European audience that is increasingly anxious about US withdrawal from a string of treaties and Trump’s antipathy towards the European Union.
He listed a series of current international institutions, including the EU, UN, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, that he said were no longer serving their mission they were created.
He argued that Trump’s reassertion of national sovereignty through his “America First” policy would make those institutions function better. “In the finest traditions of our great democracy, we are rallying the noble nations of the world to build a new liberal order that prevents war and achieves greater prosperity for all,” Pompeo said at a speech at the German Marshall Fund thinktank. “We’re supporting institutions that we believe can be improved; institutions that work in American interests – and yours – in service of our shared values.”
Leaving aside the fact that there’s no evidence whatsoever that Trump actually believes any of this, the question becomes whether the liberal world order is worth preserving to begin with. And to the extent that it’s produced a world of deep and widening inequality and a world where the US and other global powers act with impunity while everybody else eats a steady diet of shit, maybe we could do better. But Trump’s approach isn’t the way to fix it. If anything, his administration has made those problems worse. Trump is certainly good at wrecking things and acting like a moron, but he’s shown no interest in what comes after that.