Europe/Americas update: October 22 2018



So, John Bolton went to Moscow on Monday, presumably to talk about renegotiating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty that he just convinced Donald Trump to tear up. The Russian government has expressed dismay over ending the treaty, which bars the US and Russia from fielding land-based intermediate-range (500-5500 kilometers) nuclear missiles, even though the Russians have most likely been violating the treaty for several years now via their medium-range SSC-8 missile (they deny this and in turn claim the US has been violating it). They say they want to negotiate over the “mutual” disagreements the two sides have about the treaty.

It’s unlikely the US will be interested. For one thing, there are some not entirely unfounded concerns about the INF treaty inasmuch as China wasn’t party to it, which creates an imbalance in the transpacific rivalry between Washington and Beijing. For another thing, a much more ominous thing, Bolton just hates arms control treaties, and as the closest security adviser to a president whose brain probably looks like it’s been attacked by termites he’s now in a position to really do something about getting rid of them, so he’s going to take advantage of it. He’s also keen to talk Trump into abandoning New START, which the US and Russia negotiated in 2011 and that must be renewed by early 2021. If Trump tosses that treaty then the gloves may really come off in terms of a new arms race, and if that sounds insane then let me remind you how insane the phrase “US President Donald Trump” sounded just three years ago.

The big losers in the decision to abandon the INF treaty are the European countries and populations who may be facing a new US-Russia missile buildup on the continent. There’s some reason to question whether US allies would allow Washington to station intermediate-range missiles on their territory, but if Russia starts to drastically build up its stockpile of such missiles then they may not feel as though they have much choice. Already the Germany government has said it wants to exhaust all diplomatic efforts to keep the INF treaty in place, including measure to force Russia into compliance and thereby undercut the stated US rationale for abandoning the deal.


Moscow is accusing the North (?) Macedonian government of rigging last week’s parliamentary vote in favor of beginning the process of changing the country’s name. The Russians say the Macedonians bought votes and cajoled others to get to the two-thirds majority they needed to win the vote. Why, a country stooping so low as to interfere with the natural democratic process? I’ve never heard of such a thing! Good on the Russians for calling this kind of malfeasance out!


Setting up a possible showdown between Rome and Brussels, the Italian government informed the European Union on Monday that it has no intention of changing its 2019 budget–the one whose 2.4 percent of GDP deficit target has EU austerity-crats swooning–but it will monitor things closely and act if it sees that its debt and deficit targets aren’t being met. The Italians say they have no choice but to run a higher deficit in order to try to spur growth in an economy that really still hasn’t recovered from the 2008 financial crash. The EU may reject the Italian budget this week and insist on revisions, which would probably trigger a diplomatic crisis.


Trying to silence her critics on Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament that a Brexit deal with the EU is 95 percent complete. Which would be cool if there were any indication that the two sides were going to be able to solve that last five percent, but there really isn’t:

Amid growing anger over her leadership, Prime Minister Theresa May struck a defiant tone Monday, insisting that Brexit negotiations are 95 percent done and that the final product will amount to a good deal for Britain.

May has faced harsh criticism from Brexit hard-liners, who say she is ceding control to the European Union; from political rivals, who say she has lost command over her party; and from those who want to remain in the E.U. and say she is denying the people of Britain control over their future.

“The shape of the deal across the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement is now clear,” May told Parliament, adding that her government has been making progress in talks with negotiators across the English Channel.

But that last 5 percent is no small thing. Indeed, how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, an E.U. member, is “a real sticking point,” May acknowledged.

Yeah, it’s pretty sticky I guess. May and the EU still can’t agree on a “backstop” for Northern Ireland, which is the plan that would go into effect if the two sides can’t negotiate something better. If they can’t agree on the fallback then how can they possibly agree on an actual plan? May has offered to keep the whole UK in a customs partnership with the EU, which is unacceptable to the EU because allowing the entire UK to stay in a customs partnership without also agreeing to continue the free movement of people and common legal framework kind of undermines the whole EU ethos. So the EU has countered by suggesting that Northern Ireland alone remain in a customs partnership, which would effectively create a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. That outcome is unacceptable to May, and NI’s Democratic Unionist Party is pushing to pass a bill that would bar May from accepting such a deal even if she wanted.

As thing stand now the EU may be preparing to offer May something like the full customs partnership she’s after, with some restrictions so it’s not a total sweetheart deal. But that may be unacceptable to hardliners in May’s Conservative Party, and it will likely require an extension to the post-Brexit “transition period” in order to iron out all the details. That, too, may be unacceptable to Tory hardliners, who increasingly look like they’re ready to toss May out if she doesn’t negotiate a deal they like.



With Brazil’s presidential runoff less than a week away and right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro still showing a commanding lead in the polls over moderate leftist Fernando Haddad, it seems we have yet another case study in the phenomenon of centrists backing open fascism over anything that seems even sort of leftist:

For many, that choice is excruciating, as polls have consistently indicated that both candidates have the highest rates of rejection – defined as when a potential voter says he or she will not support a particular candidate under any circumstances.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, is reviled by many for his praise for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, and for offensive comments about gays, blacks and women. Haddad, the hand-picked successor to jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is hurt by the reluctance of many to return to power the Worker’s Party, which governed Brazil from 2003 until early 2016.

“Centrist voters are orphans” right now, said Carlos Pereira, a political analyst with the think tank Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro.

Haddad’s Workers’ Party has a reputation for corruption that isn’t helping him, but the Brazilian center-right under current President Michel Temer has easily been the most corrupt part of Brazilian politics in recent years, and those folks are almost all lining up behind the fascist. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, is already talking about “cleansing” Brazil of left-wing “criminals,” so he’s not even being subtle about where this is all headed and yet he’s still drawing nearly 60 percent support in the polls.


Damn, this sounds terrifying:

Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners? Mr. President could I please borrow one of your adult diapers, like ASAP?

Apart from being rank fear mongering this is…not true. Brace yourselves, but I think the president may be making this one up. He may even, and this seems wild but maybe it’s true, be getting his erroneous information from watching Fox News.


Trump also announced on Monday that he’s cutting foreign aid to Central America over the Caravan of Doom:

…which will probably create more refugees. Great job, sir! Way to go!


Finally, SOAS’s Dan Plesch argues that progressives should put combating climate change at the center of their foreign policy agenda not just because of the, you know, whole “end of human civilization” thing, but because it can be an organizing principle around which the rest of a left-wing agenda could develop:

Climate chaos provides the unifying threat to drive international cooperation from necessity rather than presumptions of moral exceptionalism. The global networks moving beyond fossil fuels can outmaneuver reactionary politics with initiatives such as Jerry Brown’s recent Climate Summit. Congressional action should tie climate change policy as an international security priority to military and foreign aid appropriations legislation. International trade must incentivize countries to ban fossil-fuel subsidies.

A strategy minimizing fossil-fuel use has broader benefits. Increasing high-value employment is one. More importantly, minimizing the consumption of oil and gas has the strategic benefit of removing a key driver of global conflict and weapons production. Absent the competition for fossil fuels from the Gulf, that region would lose its importance.

Investment in renewable technology is decentralised and thus inherently egalitarian. That’s one reason authoritarian states rich in solar energy resist shifting to such sustainable sources. In 1943, having seen the impact of colonial and royal exploitation in Gambia and Morocco, FDR envisioned a Tennessee Valley scale investment in Africa. Today, the opportunity exists to reforest Mediterranean coastlines that have been bare since the Romans used the forests for firewood. A post-conflict aid package with solar power for producing energy, food, employment, and even fresh water from the sea would have produced a very different outcome in Libya after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. As Andrew Bacevich explains, America has become inured to perpetual war. And unlike in World War II, it has no political and economic strategy to accompany the military, The military talk up their commitment to non-military solutions to conflict, but in reality it has nothing to offer.


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