Europe/Americas update: December 5-6 2018


Hey, you know how we sometimes talk around here about the possibility that European governments will get so sick of extra-territorial US sanctions that they’ll start thinking about dumping the dollar as the international reserve currency? Well, uh, check this out:

Plans to reduce European Union dependence on the US dollar – and so improve the bloc’s ability to run an independent foreign policy that is less exposed to US sanctions – were unveiled on Wednesday by the European commission.

The proposal has grown in significance for European integrationists as firms from EU countries withdraw investments from Iran faced by the threat of punitive secondary sanctions from the US.

Europeans are considering a plan to use the euro as the currency of trade in their dealings with Iran, but also more broadly, in all European energy contracts. And it looks like they’re considering it as part of a deliberate plan to move the world economy off of its dependence on the dollar. Which is going to be a huge blow to US pretensions of world hegemony, so don’t expect Washington to take it lying down.


US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson told reporters on Thursday that Russia must do away with its controversial 9M729 cruise missile, which the US says violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, if it wants the Trump administration to remain in the treaty, either by getting rid of the missile altogether or by modifying its range. Other top US officials, like Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, are warning that the collapse of the INF treaty could cause problems in other US-Russia arms control talks, like extending the New START. The Russians, for their part, are now accusing the US of manufacturing a pretext to abandon the treaty, and Vladimir Putin is warning that Moscow will greatly ratchet up its missile production if the US does pull out of the accord.

The Russian navy, meanwhile, is holding combat drills in the Black Sea, which I’m sure were already planned and have nothing to do with recent naval tensions with Ukraine in the Sea of Azov, right? Purely a coincidence.

On the other side of Russia, the US Navy sailed a destroyer, the USS McCampbell, through the Peter the Great Gulf, near Vladivostok, in a rare “freedom of navigation” operation targeting Russia rather than China. Russia claims the entire gulf as its territorial waters, which in places runs quite a bit beyond the standard 12 nautical mile limit recognized under international law.


Ukrainian Orthodox religious leaders will meet next week to adopt a charter for the newly autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Once that’s done, the church should be given its independence from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The Russian Orthodox Church has already severed ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the mere possibility of an independent Ukrainian church.


Kosovo’s parliament will vote next Thursday on a bill that would convert its small national defense force into a full standing army, and Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić warned on Wednesday that the Serbian military would intervene if Kosovo were to turn that army against its Serbian minority. The Serbian government has warned that the formation of a Kosovar army could be the precursor to an ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovar Serbs, though that rhetoric may be no more than red meat for Serbian nationalist voters.


Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union will vote on a new party leader on Friday, with Merkel having announced her resignation from that role earlier this year. The favorites are Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the party’s current secretary-general and a close Merkel ally, and Friedrich Merz, a frequent Merkel critic.


Green warrior Emmanuel Macron has decided he’d rather scrap his pro-environment gas tax hike than reconsider his 2017 decision to cut France’s wealth tax. The two are in juxtaposition because the recent “yellow vest” protests by French workers were triggered by the gas tax, but are the product of going on two years during which Macron has justifiably earned his derisive nickname: “president of the rich.” Going back on the wealth tax could pay for efforts to alleviate the burden of Macron’s “austerity for the riffraff” economic policy on the lower classes, thereby perhaps making them more amenable to paying a higher gas tax. But apparently combating climate change just isn’t as important to Macron as taking care of his billionaire base.

Canceling the planned gas tax hike, in fact, doesn’t seem like it’s going to be enough to stop the protests. There have been calls for another mass demonstration on Saturday, and the French government has responded by announcing that several major national landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, will be closed that day, and that 89,000 police officers will be sent out to try to maintain order.


A new poll finds Spain’s Socialist party remains the country’s most popular political party, with the support of 31.2 percent of Spaniards. That’s down slightly from the previous poll in October, but well ahead of the second place People’s Party, at 19.1 percent. What’s concerning in this poll is that the far right Vox party has seen its support rise to 2.5 percent, almost double its support in the October poll. Vox won 12 seats in the Andalusian regional assembly election on Sunday.


China’s Belt and Road Initiative has had trouble garnering support in Europe, except in Portugal. The Portuguese and Chinese governments on Wednesday signed “a memorandum of understanding on cooperation within China’s modern Silk Road initiative, with special emphasis on transport connections and energy,” according to the AP. Lisbon wants China’s help to develop its Atlantic Ocean port at Sines and more Chinese investment in its national energy company, Energias de Portugal.



State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert is reportedly going to be named as Nikki Haley’s replacement as UN ambassador. I think we can all agree that her experience at, uh, let’s say Fox and Friends, has prepared her well for this new assignment.

Finally, we’ve got two new entries in the “left foreign policy thinkpiece” category. The first comes from Slate’s Joshua Keating. If you can get past the ridiculous “the neocons are gone” subhead, which I admit I struggled with, Keating compares and contrasts recent foreign policy speeches by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, particular in terms of how they’ve adapted their domestic message to serve as the root of their anti-authoritarian foreign policy principles:

Peter Beinart contrasted the Warren and Sanders visions in the Atlantic last week, writing, “Warren’s vision is more conventional; Bernie Sanders’s is more radical.” That’s true to an extent. Sanders is more critical of America’s history of military interventions and human rights violations abroad. He’s also more willing to criticize Israel and puts a much greater emphasis on building solidarity with left-wing movements in other countries. Warren’s rhetoric is far more hawkish on both China and Russia.

But the similarities between the two may be more interesting than the differences. Sanders, too, uses anti-authoritarianism as the leitmotif of his foreign policy agenda. In his Johns Hopkins speech, he described a new “authoritarian axis” whose leaders

share key attributes: intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, constant paranoia about foreign plots, and a belief that the leaders of government should be able use their positions of power to serve their own selfish financial interests. Interestingly, many of these leaders are also deeply connected to a network of multibillionaire oligarchs who see the world as their economic plaything.

For both Sanders and Warren, the struggle against international authoritarianism led by an unaccountable political and economic elite is closely tied to the struggle to address economic inequality at home. The same unaccountable elites that rig the U.S. political system, they argue, also keep leaders like Vladimir Putin in power.

The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor, meanwhile, looks at whether candidates like Sanders and Warren can help revitalize an international left-wing response to the populist far right:

But beyond battles over the border, Trump and Pompeo’s rivals at home are also finding their voice on politics further afield. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) presided over a gathering of left-leaning leaders in Vermont. Sanders, a potential presidential challenger in 2020, has in recent months grown more outspoken on international affairs, issuing warnings of a growing “authoritarian axis” in world politics that requires a united progressive response.

“A major theme of the weekend was that the international left had failed to organize as effectively as the nationalist right,” noted my colleague Dave Weigel, who attended the event. Hanging over proceedings were recent ultranationalist victories, including those of far-right Italian leader Matteo Salvini, now the country’s deputy prime minister, and hard-right nationalist Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. In both instances, voters furious over their country’s direction in the wake of financial crises opted for the most stridently anti-establishment candidate.

Fernando Haddad, the leftist politician Bolsonaro defeated, told Weigel that Brazil was “harvesting the consequences of the neoliberal project’s failure.” Brazil’s former ruling leftist party was associated with a failing status quo; elsewhere in the West, social democratic parties have slumped in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, their leaders unable to capture the imagination of voters angry about an economic status quo for which the center-left was partially to blame.


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