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Is US-UK special relationship in strain under Trump presidency?

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UN veto members America and Great Britain have maintained special relationship for decades, notwithstanding changing governments in both western nations. Arrival of ultra nationalist Donald trump on US political arena directly as US presidency candidate with his ideas of greatness for USA alone has sent cold waves even in UK which is known to toe the US line of thinking on all aspects.

However, the British doubts over Trump approach towards its closest ally looks untenable as President decided to receive at White House British premier as his first foreign guest.

Thus the British PM Theresa May has won the race to be the first foreign leader to meet President Donald Trump in Washington. But her trip to the US capital is anything but a victory lap.

Theresa May gets a warm welcome at the Republican retreat and in the White House. Trump has already pronounced Britain “very special!” in one of his tweets. He has also has restored to the Oval Office a bust of Britain’s World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill that was removed while Barack Obama was president, to the chagrin of some patriotically minded Britons. May’s office says she intends to admire the bust when she visits the White House. She’ll also give Trump, whose mother was born in Scotland, a Quaich, a traditional Scottish cup of friendship.

Of course, history has proved that political positions are not always a guide to personal relationships, however. Former PM Tony Blair and Republican President George W. Bush formed a friendship that surprised many — and led Britain into the divisive, costly Iraq War. May and Trump could hardly be more different. He is a brash, spotlight-loving businessman whose closest British ally to date has been the bantering former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. She is a small-town vicar’s daughter who has risen to the top of politics through prudence and by avoiding personal ostentation or controversy. Her most flamboyant feature is a fondness for leopard-print shoes.

Apparently, Theresa May’s staff worked feverishly to secure the two-day trip, which includes a meeting with the president on Friday at the White House. British officials hope it will help cement the UK’s place as a pre-eminent American ally and provide proof of what Britons — more often than Americans — call the trans-Atlantic “special relationship.”

However, May faces the challenge of persuading a president who has vowed to put “America first” of the benefits of free trade with Britain and the vital role of the 28-nation NATO military alliance. And she must build a working relationship with a populist president whose protectionist outlook and loose way with facts have alarmed many European politicians, including some of May’s own allies.

UK PM Theresa May insists she’s up to the task of being America’s steadfast but plain-speaking friend, telling British lawmakers that “I am not afraid to speak frankly to a president of the United States.” Her message in the USA will include elements of gentle history lesson, as she urges the two nations to “lead together.” In a speech to Republican legislators in Philadelphia, May plans to say that the trans-Atlantic relationship “made the modern world” and built the institutions that have underpinned the global order since the end of World War II.

Excerpts from the speech were released in advance by PM May’s office. May’s seeming embrace of Trump — in the wake of his commitment to building a Mexico border wall and other recent edicts — drew criticism from her domestic opponents.

Donald Trump welcomed the UK decision to leave the EU and even asked other European nations also to follow suit. Linking Britain’s vote to leave the 28-nation European Union with the win of political outsider Trump, she’ll say that “as you renew your nation just as we renew ours, we have the opportunity — indeed the responsibility — to renew the special relationship for this new age.”

Former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband tweeted: “Today he starts on wall, praises waterboarding, bullies climate scientists. She says they can lead together. Surely decent Tories feel queasy?”

A politics lecturer at the University of Leeds, said the effusive tone coming from Trump’s White House marked a change from the Obama years. “Obama has been a more Asia-Pacific-focused president (with his Asia pivot theme) so this is a return — at least in rhetoric — to the good old days of the USA-UK special relationship,” she said. “But it’s very difficult to know exactly what Theresa May is going to get out of this other than warm words.”

Britain needs more than words from the USA as it prepares to start divorce talks with the European Union. May has said the UK will be leaving both the bloc and its single market in goods and services, which now stretches over 28 countries including Britain and involves half a billion people. By leaving, the UK is gaining the opportunity to strike new trade deals around the globe, and the USA, as the top destination for British exports, is one of the biggest prizes around.

While former President Obama warned that Britain outside the EU would go to the “back of the queue” for a US trade deal, Trump told the Times of London newspaper that a trade deal could be done quickly and he backs it.

Experts argue that any talks in Washington this week would be preliminary, since Britain is barred by EU rules from substantial negotiations on new trade agreements until it actually leaves the bloc — which is likely to be in 2019 at the earliest.

And May will face strong domestic opposition to any deal that forces Britain to bring its standards into line with the USA on things like genetically modified food — currently banned under EU rules — or the private sector’s role in health care.

Trump has also been generally cool on trade agreements. He is pulling the USA out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a deal Obama worked hard on — and has promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. In other challenges for May, Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and called the EU “basically a vehicle for Germany” that Britain was “smart” to leave.

May told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week that although the UK is leaving the EU, “it remains overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest” that the bloc still succeed. And while Trump said in his inauguration speech that “from this day forward, it’s going to be only America first,” May vowed in Davos to stand up for free markets, free trade and globalization.

The US-UK leaders try to create the chemistry that they need to create. When leaders of governments really want to make it work, they can make it work, anyway.

Obviously, there is big queue of foreign signatories, especially presidents and premiers, seeking through their diplomatic channels, an appointment with president Trump and he would go in his own way in picking his guests. In fact many leaders are in waiting list to receive a presidential call form Washington. Many leaders around the world — who will make their own visits to Washington in the coming months — will be watching closely to see if they do.

Meanwhile, as President Donald Trump is gaining diplomatic niceties in office, the US-British relations have no reason to stumble even during the Trump era.

A businessman is always a business man and business cannot thrive without essential diplomatic skills-

And President Trump knows that.

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Europe

Time to Tackle the Stigma Behind Wartime Rape

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Images: UN Women Kosovo

The youngest capital city in Europe, Pristina, is the ultimate hybrid of old and new: Ottoman-era architecture stands amongst communist paraphernalia, while Kosovars who lived through the bloodshed of the 20th century share family dinners with a generation of young people with their sights set on EU accession.

This month, the capital’s Kosovo Museum welcomed a new force for change; Colours of Our Soul, an exhibition of artwork from women who survived the sexual violence of the Yugoslav Wars, showcases the world as these women “wished it to be.”

Colours of Our Soul isn’t the first art installation to shine a light on the brutal sexual violence thousands of Kosovar victims suffered throughout the turmoil of the conflict which raged from 1988 to 1999. In 2015, Kosovo-born conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa transformed a local football pitch into a giant installation, draping 5,000 dresses over washing lines to commemorate survivors of sexual violence whose voices otherwise tend to go unheard. “I started questioning the silence, how we could not hear their voices during and after the war and thought about how to portray the women in contemporary art,” said Xhafa-Mripa at the time.

Victims, and their children, pressed into silence

The silence Xhafa-Mripa speaks of is the very real social stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in the wake of brutal conflict. “I would go to communities, but everyone would say, ‘Nobody was raped here – why are you talking about it?’”, remarked Feride Rushiti, founder of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT).

Today, KRCT has more than 400 clients— barely a scratch on the surface given that rape was used in Kosovo as an “instrument of war” as recently as two decades ago. Some 20,000 women and girls are thought to have been assaulted during the bloody conflict; the fact that the artists whose work is featured in the Colours of our Soul exhibition did not sign their work or openly attend the installation’s grand opening is a sign of how pervasive the stigma is which haunts Kosovar society to this day.

As acute as this stigma is for the women who were assaulted, it is far worse for the children born from rape, who have thus far been excluded from reparation measures and instead dismissed as “the enemy’s children.” In 2014, the Kosovar parliament passed a law recognising the victim status of survivors, entitling them to a pension of up to 220 euros per month. Their children, however, many of whom were murdered or abandoned in the face of community pressure, are barely acknowledged in Kosovar society and have become a generation of young adults who have inherited the bulk of their country’s dark burden.

A global problem

It’s a brutal stigma which affects children born of wartime rape all over the world. The Lai Dai Han, born to Vietnamese mothers raped by South Korean soldiers, have struggled for years to find acceptance in the face of a society that views them as dirty reminders of a war it would rather forget. The South Korean government has yet to heed any calls for formal recognition of sexual violence at the hands of Korean troops, let alone issue a public— and long-awaited— apology to the Lai Dai Han or their mothers.

In many cases, as in the case of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the very existence of children born from rape has often been used as a brutal weapon by government forces and militants alike. Official estimates indicate that a mammoth 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped by the Pakistani military and the supporting Bihari, Bengali Razakar and al-Badr militias in the early 1970s. The children fathered, at gunpoint, by Pakistani men were intended to help eliminate Bengali nationhood.

Their surviving mothers are now known as “Birangana”, or “brave female soldier,” though the accolade means little in the face of a lifetime of ostracization and alienation. “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times,” one so-called Birangana explained, “So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist.”

No end in sight

Unfortunately, this barbaric tactic of rape and forced impregnation is one that is still being used in genocides to this day. The subjugation of the Rohingya people, for example, which culminated in a murderous crackdown last year by Myanmar’s military, means an estimated 48,000 women will give birth in refugee camps this year alone. Barring a major societal shift, the children they bear will suffer ostracization similar to that seen in Kosovo, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

Initiatives like the Colours of Our Soul installation in Pristina are not only central in helping wartime rape survivors to heal, but also play a vital role in cutting through the destructive stigma for violated women and their children. Even so, if the number of women who submitted their paintings anonymously is anything to go by, true rehabilitation is a long way ahead.

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EU–South Africa Summit: Strengthening the strategic partnership

MD Staff

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At the 7th European Union–South Africa Summit held in Brussels Leaders agreed on a number of steps to reinforce bilateral and regional relations, focusing on the implementation of the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership. This includes economic and trade cooperation and pursuing the improvement of business climate and opportunities for investment and job creation which are of mutual interest.

Leaders also discussed common global challenges, such as climate change, migration, human rights, committing to pursue close cooperation both at bilateral level and on the global stage. A number of foreign and security policy issues, including building and consolidating peace, security and democracy in the African continent and at multilateral level were also raised. Leaders finally committed to work towards a prompt resolution of trade impediments affecting smooth trade flows.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. South Africa was represented by its President, Cyril Ramaphosa. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from South Africa.

President Juncker said: “The European Union, for the South African nation, is a very important trade partner. We are convinced that as a result of today’s meeting we will find a common understanding on the open trade issues. South Africa and Africa are very important partners for the European Union when it comes to climate change, when it comes to multilateralism. It is in the interest of the two parties – South Africa and the European Union – to invest more. It will be done.” A Joint Summit Statement issued by the Leaders outlines amongst others commitment to:

Advance multilateralism and rules based governance

Leaders recommitted to work together to support multilateralism, democracy and the rules-based global order, in particular at the United Nations and global trade fora. South Africa’s upcoming term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020 was recognised as an opportunity to enhance cooperation on peace and security. As part of their commitment to stronger global governance, Leaders stressed their support to the process of UN reform, including efforts on the comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council and the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. Leaders reiterated their determination to promote free, fair and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core and serving the interest of all its Members.

Bilateral cooperation

Leaders agreed to step up collaboration in key areas such as climate change, natural resources, science and technology, research and innovation, employment, education and training including digital skills, health, energy, macro-economic policies, human rights and peace and security. The EU and South Africa will, amongst others, explore the opportunities provided by the External Investment Plan. Linked to this, Leaders committed to exploring opportunities for investment, technical assistance including project preparation, and the improvement of business and investment climates to promote sustainable development. Leaders welcomed the conclusion and provisional implementation in 2016 of the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Leaders also committed to find mutually acceptable solutions to impediments to trade in agriculture, agri-food and manufactured goods. They agreed to work towards a prompt resolution of these impediments.

Regional cooperation

Leaders welcomed the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs put forward by the European Commission. They exchanged views on foreign and security policy issues, addressed a number of pressing situations in the neighbourhoods of both the EU and South Africa, and welcomed each other’s contribution to fostering peace and security in their respective regions. Leaders agreed to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation on peace and security, conflict prevention and mediation.

Leaders confirmed common resolve to reform the future relationship between the EU and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To this end they are looking forward to the successful conclusion of negotiations for a post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that will contribute to attaining the goals of both the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the long-term vision for African continent – Agenda 2063.

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Macron so far has augmented French isolation

Mohammad Ghaderi

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French President Emmanuel Macron has recently criticized the unilateral pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but at the same time expressed pleasure that Washington has allowed France and the other JCPOA signatories to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.

In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Macron said that he has “a very direct relationship” with Trump. “Trump is a person who has tried to fulfill his electoral promises, as I also try to fulfill my promises, and I respect the action that Trump made in this regard. But I think we can follow things better, due to our personal relationship and talks. For instance, Trump has decided to withdraw from the Iran pact, but at the end, he showed respect for the signatories’ decision to remain in the JCPOA.”

There are some key points in Macron’s remarks:

First, in 2017, the French were the first of the European signatories to try to change the JCPOA. They tried to force Iran to accept the following conditions: Inspection of military sites, application of the overtime limitation on nuclear activities, limiting regional activities, including missile capabilities within the framework of the JCPOA.

Macron had already made commitments to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push Iran to accept the additional protocols to the deal, and he pushed to make it happen before Trump left the JCPOA.

Second, after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, although France expressed regret, they had secret negotiations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the JCPOA.

The result of the undisclosed talks was deliberate delay on the part of the European authorities in providing a final package to keep the Iran deal alive. In other words, after the US unilaterally left the JCPOA, the French have been sloppy and maybe somewhat insincere about making the practical moves to ensure it would be saved.

Third, France has emphasized the need to strengthen their multilateralism in the international system and has become one of the pieces of the puzzle that completes the strategic posture of the Trump Administration in the West Asia region.

Obviously, French double standards have irritated European politicians, many of whom have disagreed with the contradictory games of French authorities towards the US and issues of multilateralism in the international community. Also, France’s isolation and its strategic leverage in the political arena has grown since the days of Sarkozy and Hollande. Some analysts thought that Macron and fresh policies would stop this trend, but it has not occurred.

First published in our partner MNA

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