Europe/Americas update: October 18 2018



The Kosovar parliament voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to create a 5000 man standing army (with 3000 reserves) against objections by the country’s Serbian minority (whose legislators boycotted the vote), the Serbian government, and NATO, which still has a peacekeeping force there. Kosovo already has a 2500 man security force that this measure would simply upgrade to an army, bypassing the need for major constitutional changes. This decision is of course likely to exacerbate tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, which are complicating both countries’ plans of one day joining NATO themselves.


The Spanish government said on Thursday that it’s reached a satisfactory agreement with the United Kingdom on the status of Gibraltar after Brexit. This removes one potential obstacle to a UK-European Union Brexit deal, but not the biggest one.


It’s no surprise that the biggest obstacle remains the Irish border, a problem that may have no real solution short of reimposing a hard border with Northern Ireland, an outcome nobody seems to want because there’s a very real chance it could lead to a return of the Troubles. The two sides can’t even agree on a fallback position (the so-called “backstop”) just in case they can’t come to an agreement on the Irish border, so there’s virtually no chance that they’ll ever actually come to a proactive border agreement. And with a “no deal Brexit” looking ever likelier, Theresa May on Wednesday asked the EU to help her kick the can down the road:

British Prime Minister Theresa May tried Wednesday to salvage talks on her country’s withdrawal from the European Union, appealing for time to avert a messy and economically damaging departure without an agreement and hinting that it might take longer than expected to fully pull away from the bloc.

At a European summit meeting in Brussels that began on Wednesday, Mrs. May and other European leaders discussed for the first time the possibility of prolonging Britain’s proposed 20-month transition after a March exit, the “standstill” period during which very little would change.

There’s nothing about the Irish border that’s going to be different in 20 months, or 25 months, or 30 months, from what it is right now. I guess May could stall for time and hope that climate change sinks the British Isles into the ocean, but that strikes me as unsatisfying too.

Especially for the ocean, am I right folks?

May is handcuffed domestically because she’s as inept at politics as she is at geopolitics, and so she’s maneuvered herself into a box wherein she can be ousted by Brexit hardliners in her own party if they don’t like where her negotiations with Brussels are heading, wherein her entire government can be sunk by the Democratic Unionist Party if it doesn’t like where her negotiations with Brussels are heading with respect to Northern Ireland, and wherein her eventual Brexit deal–should she actually reach one–can probably be voted down in parliament by a combination of Labour MPs and EU-friendly Conservatives. It’s come to the point where European leaders like Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are talking about helping May build a “coalition of the reasonable” (no, seriously–these people are utterly hopeless) who will back a Brexit deal that goes against the wishes of Tory hardliners.

Part of that arrangement would involve a Northern Ireland backstop that basically leaves Northern Ireland in the EU unless some better solution to the border problem can be found, which again it probably can’t. Which means…Northern Ireland wouldn’t be in the UK anymore? Or it would be, but its laws would be different and there would be customs checks on all of its people and goods crossing the Irish sea? Or what? Nobody knows, and that’s the problem.



There’s new polling on Brazil’s presidential runoff and it’s ugly: fascism enthusiast Jair Bolsonaro leads Fernando Haddad, 59-41. That 18 point lead is up from 16 points in the same poll last week. A newspaper report on Thursday alleged that Bolsonaro’s rich supporters have spent about $3.26 million on outside groups to help spread false anti-Haddad attack ads on the WhatsApp messaging service. Bolsonaro has denied the charge, which would amount to a campaign finance violation. In theory if the charge were proven Bolsonaro could be disqualified from the campaign, but it’s unlikely to rise to that level. Brazil’s wealthy elite have, naturally, lined up almost to a person behind the fascist against the guy who might raise their taxes a bit, and Bolsonaro has reciprocated by promising to pursue “market-friendly” economic policies once in office.


Amnesty International has produced a new report that accuses Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government of using “weapons of war” to kill anti-Ortega protesters:

Weapons of war have been used to indiscriminately kill and injure anti-government protesters in Nicaragua, as part of the ongoing violent crackdown ordered by the upper echelons of government, according to an Amnesty International investigation.

At least 322 people have been killed and 2,000 others injured – mostly by the police and pro-government paramilitary groups – since demonstrations over social security system reforms began in April.

Protesters have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and at least 300 prosecuted, many on terrorism charges. At least one journalist has been killed, and several foreign reporters deported.

The new report by Amnesty, Instilling Terror, documents human rights violations committed between 30 May and 18 September 2018 that it believes were carried out with the knowledge, and on orders of the highest authorities in government, including President Daniel Ortega, and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo.


Despite threats from the US and from the Guatemalan and Mexican governments, the Honduran migrant caravan continues to roll north and grow in size:

More than 2,000 people fleeing poverty and violence have joined the convoy of migrants travelling en masse through Central America, walking along the roadside with strollers and wheelchairs or hitching rides on pickup trucks and buses.

Five days after they set off from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, they have already crossed much of neighbouring Guatemala. And despite growing fatigue, many said they were determined to reach the United States and ask for asylum.

Few seemed aware of Donald Trump’s threat to deploy the military to stop them – or of Mexico’s warning that anyone who enters the country in an “irregular manner” faces detention and deportation.


Finally, at Foreign Policy, Ross James Gildea argues that Democrats have to embrace a reduction in the US military state if they’re going to be able to counter Donald Trump’s message in 2020:

For progressives today, breaking with the bipartisan consensus that surrounds U.S. militarism and national security is a moral and strategic imperative. In fact, combining a more measured approach to these issues—the United States currently accounts for more than a third of global military expenditures—with an ambitious domestic policy agenda could help form a winning platform as Democrats approach the midterm elections next month and a must-win presidential contest in 2020. Putting an end to unnecessary military overspending, as well as incredibly costly wars that have inflicted great harm, would not only provide a boon to the national purse but also could find a receptive and ready-made constituency among U.S. voters.

A clear majority of Americans believe that the U.S. military is currently too strong or strong enough, while only 23 percent think the country should play a leading role in solving international problems, according to recent Gallup polls. At a time when Russia—identified by Democrats as America’s primary geopolitical adversary—has scaled back its comparatively low military spending, and the U.S. public favors improved relations over further confrontation with Russia, siphoning off more money for the military makes little sense.

Although worries about terrorism remain prevalent, domestic issues such as education, jobs, health care, the economy, social security, and poverty feature prominently among the policy priorities of U.S. citizens, a Pew poll found earlier this year. The military was not among the public’s top 15 concerns. In his 2016 campaign, now-President Donald Trump opportunistically seized on this trend, as well as the hawkish outlook of his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, highlighting the likely costs of a foreign policy disposed to conflict escalation and military overreach. A Democratic formula to beat Trump will inevitably involve coupling a more judicious approach to the military with a renewed emphasis on the domestic issues that animate voters.


One thought on “Europe/Americas update: October 18 2018

  1. Oi, you do have british readers you know 😉
    But seriously, if it meant never having to hear the word “brexit” again then I’m all for the bottom of the ocean option!

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