Europe/Americas update: December 10 2018

EUROPE

RUSSIA

The Trump administration renewed its objection to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea on Monday, with Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Francis Fannon arguing that it will give Moscow additional leverage over Western Europe while bypassing and isolating Ukraine. The Ukrainian economy is partially dependent on the rent it extracts from European gas traveling through its pipelines from Russia, and Nord Stream 2 could significantly reduce or even eliminate those rents. Moscow insists that it will continue to pipe gas through Ukraine, but the new pipeline gives it the option of cutting that flow off entirely without really feeling much economic impact.

UKRAINE

The European Union has levied sanctions against nine officials in the self-declared governments of Donetsk and Luhansk for their roles in last month’s heavily disputed elections in those regions. Many Ukrainian officials in Kiev are calling for new sanctions against Russia over its recent aggressive moves in the Sea of Azov, but the EU does not seem inclined to take that step. It has accused Russia of carrying on a yearlong “fake news” campaign, including allegations that Ukraine had “infected” the sea with cholera (!) and was trying to smuggle a nuclear bomb into Crimea (!!), that helped justify its move to intercept and seize three Ukrainian naval vessels last month.

SWEDEN

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s latest attempt to form a government has gone up in smoke, as the Centre Party announced on Monday that it will not support a Löfven-led minority government because he had made no concessions to the center-right. There would seem to be little point to continuing without calling new elections, but as new elections are likely to only strengthen the far right Sweden Democrats, the effort to cobble together some sort of compromise centrist government will likely continue.

FRANCE

Folks, Emmanuel Macron is sorry. He’s so very, very sorry that he had to hurt you fine French people, and he knows you’re in pain, and he’s sorry that you’re in pain. He’s even sorry that it’s taken him so long to let you know how sorry he is. And so he’s making some changes:

Mr. Macron said that the details of his relief steps would be announced by Prime Minister Édouard Phillipe in Parliament on Tuesday, but that there would be a supplement of 100 euros, or about $115, to workers earning the monthly minimum wage starting in January; that taxes on overtime pay would be eliminated and that retirees whose earnings are less than 2,000 euros a month, about $2,270, would no longer be asked to pay a recent increase in social security taxes.

Whether Mr. Macron’s actions will ease the deep-seated resentment toward him in France was unclear at best. So were the particulars of his proposals, which could translate into less in people’s pockets than he made it sound.

Basically he’s doing the least he could do, and probably not even that much. But hopefully it will be enough to shut you yappy little fucks up and let him get back to Making France Great Again by showering tax benefits on billionaires and busting up more unions. But if he’s hoping to put an end to the “yellow vest” protests, then this most likely ain’t it.

UNITED KINGDOM

Theresa May did, in fact, cancel plans to hold a parliamentary vote on her Brexit agreement on Tuesday. Which means she knew she was going to lose, and probably lose very big. If we were in uncharted territory before, now things are really up in the air. May has to hold a vote at some point. She could wait until the very last minute and leave legislators with the starkest possible choice between a her deal and a no deal Brexit, but that’s as likely to inflame tensions as to win more votes to her cause. She says she’s going to go back to the EU to renegotiate the deal, which is swell except that the EU says it’s not willing to do that. The EU also once again undercut May’s pitch to Remainers worried about a no deal Brexit on Monday, when the European Court of Justice ruled officially that the UK could unilaterally cancel its withdrawal. That’s going to give more hope to UK Remainers who think that all this chaos is going to lead to a second Brexit referendum. That is most likely a pipe dream, though at this point nothing can be ruled out.

AMERICAS

NICARAGUA

Now that it has managed to tamp down the protests that gripped the country earlier this year, Nicaraguan authorities are going to great lengths to stifle the free press:

Nicaraguan TV journalist Miguel Mora was driving home from work when he was pulled over by armed police.

“They ordered me take off my glasses and put a hood over my head,” says Mora, who directs the 100% Noticias news channel. “Then they took me by the neck and forced me into a pickup, where an officer told me: ‘You’re responsible for the death of police. If you keep fucking around, we’re going to kill you and your whole family.’”

It was the sixth time Mora had been detained by police in the space of a week. He also faces criminal charges of “inciting hate”, while drones have filmed his house and armed men on motorbikes track his movements.

Such intimidation is part of an escalating assault on press freedoms in Nicaragua, unleashed in the wake of the civil revolt that paralysed the country earlier in the year.

UNITED STATES

Finally, Stephen Walt argues that Donald Trump, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not going to be responsible for the death of the “liberal world order.” Rather, it’s the three presidents who preceded Trump who are responsible not only for the liberal order’s demise, but for the rise of a president like Trump:

Think back a quarter century, to the beginning of the “unipolar moment.” Having triumphed over the Soviet Union, the United States could have given itself a high-five, taken a victory lap, and adopted a grand strategy better suited to a world without a superpower rival. Rejecting isolationism, Washington could nonetheless have gradually disengaged from those areas that no longer needed significant American protection and reduced its global military footprint, while remaining ready to act in a few key areas should it become absolutely necessary. These moves would have forced our wealthiest allies to take on greater responsibility for local problems while the United States addressed pressing domestic needs. Making the “American dream” more real here at home would also have shown other nations why the values of liberty, democracy, open markets, and the rule of law were worth emulating.

This sensible alternative was barely discussed in official circles, however. Instead, both Democrats and Republicans quickly united behind an ambitious strategy of “liberal hegemony,” which sought to spread liberal values far and wide. Convinced that the winds of progress were at their back and enamored of an image of America as the world’s “indispensable nation,” they set about using American power to topple dictators, spread democracy, sanction so-called rogue states, and bring as many countries as possible into security institutions led by the United States. By 2016, in fact, America was formally committed to defending more foreign countries than at any time in the nation’s history.

America’s leaders may have had the best of intentions, but the strategy they pursued was mostly a failure. Relations with Russia and China today are worse than at any time since the Cold War, and the two Asian giants are once again colluding against us. Hopes for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians have been dashed, and the rest of the Middle East is as divided as it has ever been. North Korea, India, and Pakistan have all tested nuclear weapons and expanded their nuclear stockpiles, while Iran has gone from zero enrichment capacity in 1993 to being nearly a nuclear weapons state today. Democracy is in retreat worldwide, violent extremists are active in more places, the European Union is wobbling, and the uneven benefits of globalization have produced a powerful backlash against the liberal economic order that the United States had actively promoted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.