The recent statement made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the effect that his country has failed to prevent the implementation of the Nord Stream – 2 gas pipeline project provides glaring proof of the ultimatum-type methods used by President Donald Trump’s administration to thwart unwelcome projects, deals or agreements and simultaneously impose their own products, goods and services on partners – from more expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG) to passenger and military aircraf,t and weapons systems. However, such efforts rarely hit success, exacerbating US relations even with its closest allies in Europe and NATO.
Addressing the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on April 10th, Mike Pompeo said Washington had done everything it could to talk European partners out of building Nord Stream 2 but these efforts suffered a fiasco. According to the head of the State Department, Berlin is set on pursuing the project and all attempts to dissuade the Europeans from building the gas pipeline have yielded no results. “It looks like Germany aims to continue the construction of the pipeline. We are working to find a way to supply some of the gas through Ukraine,” – Pompeo said: “We did our utmost to persuade the Europeans, and first of all Germany, not to build the Nord Stream 2 but to no avail.”
Earlier, the US Secretary of State pointed out that the United States “must continue to exert pressure in order to scrap Nord Stream 2.”
While Washington’s attempts to use political pressure to promote its own energy projects intensify differences between the United States and the European Union, and specifically Germany, similar efforts in the area of defense and military technology jeopardize the integrity and unity of the North Atlantic alliance. US Vice President Mike Pence has de facto presented an ultimatum to Turkey, one of the closest American allies in the Middle East. He warned Ankara against purchasing Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, calling on the Turkish leadership to choose between partnership with NATO and the deal. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has made it clear that his country will do everything in its power to persuade Turkey to buy the American Patriot system instead of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.
However, the United States could face a fiasco here. The first ultimatum declared by Turkey for the cancellation of the decision on the purchase of Russian anti-aircraft missiles ran out on February 15th . By February 15th US officials had sent a request to their Turkish partners in NATO to provide a clear answer to the American ultimatum which ran as follows: if Ankara does not terminate a contract with Russia on the purchase of S-400 systems, Washington will recall its offer on the sale of 3.5 billion dollars worth Patriot anti-aicraft missiles. In addition, the United States announced that a deal on the purchase by Turkey of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters was under threat and that Turkey could face sanctions.
Nevertheless, the Turkish leadership chose to stick to its own position on this matter. The next day after the end of the American ultimatum, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country would not give up on its intention to buy S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia: “We struck a deal with Russia on the S-400, so there can be no turning back. That’s all”. According to the Turkish leader, Turkey will be ready to purchase Patriot systems provided such a deal meets Turkey’s interests. However, he added that some issues have yet to be settled with Washington. “The US administration favors early deliveries, but says nothing about joint production or a loan. We continue to work proceeding from the promise of supplying the S-400 in July,” – Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
On April 10, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that Ankara could acquire the second batch of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems if the United States refused to sell its Patriot anti-missile systems to Ankara. He also said Turkey will search for an alternative to American F-35 fighters if the United States does not resume their deliveries to Turkey.
Russia and Turkey signed an agreement on the supply of four S-400 divisions to the total value of $ 2.5 billion in December 2017. Under the deal, Turkey will be supplied with technology that will enable it to develop its own anti-missile systems. Initially, the supplies were scheduled for July this year, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave it to understand that the systems could be delivered earlier.
Addressing a press conference following the Russian-Turkish high-level talks held on April 8 in the Kremlin, the Turkish president spoke at length on his vision of the US attempts to thwart the implementation of agreements with Russia: “We have already laid the road map for S-400, have made all the necessary steps in this direction, it is over. And after that, someone comes forward with suggestions and recommendations: reject this, turn down that, ignoring our opinion? If we have already agreed, signed a contract, naturally, we will continue to pursue it. This is our sovereign right. This is our decision. No one can demand that we change our mind. ”
“For Turkey, it is vital to buy S-400 missiles from Russia,” – the Turkish Aydinlik Gazetesi newspaper states. “S-400 guarantees a reliable shield not only in the face of pressure coming from NATO and the Atlantic, but it also meets a specific need,” since “S-300/400 missiles produced by the Russian Almaz-Antey Defense Technology Company are the best missile systems in the world”, – the newspaper says.
Civil aircraft building is yet another area of mounting confrontation between the United States and its closest allies, including France. A few days ago, French Minister of Economics and Finance Bruno Le Maire found it necessary to personally comment on Washington’s increasingly aggressive attempts to “push” American “Boeings” onto the world markets by ousting the French Airbuses. “The European Union and the United States cannot afford a conflict in aeronautics and must come to a settlement agreement following Washington’s threats to impose tax on Airbus,” – he said at a news conference at the French Ministry of Economics.
This statement came in response to earlier reports by US trade representatives that Washington is considering slapping new custom duties on imports from the European Union, which, in particular, may touch on civilian helicopters and airplanes. According to The Wall Street Journal, the total value of the goods to which the new duties may extend will be 11 billion dollars.
A new turn in the “trade war” between the United States and Europe could quickly destabilize the relations on both sides of the Atlantic and affect the general situation in the global financial and trade markets – even compared to the long-standing trade and economic confrontation between Washington and Beijing.
The US trade representatives have already warned that they will impose additional taxes on commodities imported into the United States from Europe if the European Union continues to subsidize Airbus, one of the world’s largest aviation corporations, and a Boeing competitor. The list of goods that will fall under the restrictions include aviation products, Airbus aircraft, as well as some products that are not directly related to aviation, including kitchen knives and bicycles.
In 2018, the United States introduced a number of duties on products from Europe, including steel and aluminum supplies.
It is no accident that it is now that Washington is tightening pressure on Europe in the area of aircraft manufacturing and is threatening Europeans with multibillion-dollar sanctions, despite the fact that the conflict over EU subsidies to its own aircraft manufacturers began as far back as in 2004. The current aggravation of relations between the United States and the European Union is the result of serious difficulties that the American company Boeing faced after a series of crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX 8. A number of air companies and some countries, including the United States, has introduced a ban on the use of this model and has forbidden it to fly over their air space.
Given the situation, the Donald Trump administration has opted to assume the lead in a number of areas which are key to the US trade and economic interests – energy, military supplies and civil aircraft manufacturing. The US administration counts on traditionally aggressive lobbying – which, under the 45th president, has clearly hit a new level – with the simultaneous use of political rhetoric in terms of spinning Euro-Atlantic solidarity and the “Russian” and “Chinese” threats.
Nevertheless, the attempts to use ultimatum to exert pressure in several areas at once may well result in a closer consolidation of Europeans as they unite to defend their own interests, in a further strengthening the economic ties between Russia and China, as well as in a more pronounced and independent policy by Turkey – and not only in defense and military technology. These recent moves on the part of the United States are tying the knot of conflict throughout an increasingly wider spectrum of geopolitical space. And for now, it is not clear where all this could lead to.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Trump’s New Wall? Mexico’s Southern Border
For much of modern history, Mexico defined itself in opposition to the United States. In recent years, the two countries stepped up cooperation on almost all relevant issues, and the two nations are now deeply intertwined politically, economically and culturally. This is bound to change. After months of ignoring Donald Trump’s provocations, López Obrador reacted rapidly to Trump’s shakedown and agreed to a number of resolutions of extraordinary scope and urgency: the new Mexican administration agreed to deploy the country’s federal police to its southern border to crack down on immigration; and opened the door to the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy that would turn Mexico into a Third Safe Country in less than a month from now.
As stated in the agreement, Mexico would take in all the refugees that the US decides to send back to Mexico to await resolution of their asylum process. This could take years, given the substantial immigration backlog in American courts. The agreement goes further: Mexico is responsible for the provision of education, health care and employment for such refugees. This could easily lead to a serious humanitarian crisis that Mexican institutions will be unable to deal with.
This approach contradicts previous Mexican presidential vows for regional development and humanitarian relief rather than confrontation and enforcement. Conditions on the ground in Mexico are far harsher than the Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister, Marcelo Ebrard and the President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, would like to admit, and this is partly due to the current administration’s miscalculations: López Obrador has dramatically cut the budget for governmental agencies responsible for managing refugees and processing removals. Mexican border towns are also ill-equipped for handling transient migrant populations; and Mexico also faces other more systematic challenges, such as corruption and lack of rule of law enforcement. The new policy agreed with the American government is likely to result in a significant increase in claims filed for asylum in Mexico. Mexico’s immigration bureaucracies are utterly overwhelmed, and López Obrador’s misguided budget cuts have exacerbated their failings.
Mexico’s immigration policy is now bound by an immoral and unacceptable deal that will effectively turn Mexico into Trump’s border wall. The global system for the protection of refugees is based on the notion of shared responsibility among countries. It is very dangerous for the US to use Mexico as a pawn to set an example and ignore its international responsibility. This agreement also violates international law on refugees: Mexico is a life-threatening country for undocumented migrants. Human trafficking, recruitment for organised criminal organisations, abduction, extortion, sexual violence, and disappearances are some of the issues migrants face in Mexico. Finally, Mexico’s National Guard, the agency that will be in charge of monitoring the southern border, was created by López Obrador to tackle domestic crime. Its members have no training nor knowledge on immigration matters. It is an untested new military force that could end up creating more problems than the ones it is trying to solve. Deploying agents to the border could also have a high political cost for the president.
The agreement with Trump gives López Obrador 45 days to show progress. If Mexico fails, Mexico will be forced to set in motion some version of Safe Third Country agreement, or face further tariff bullying from the US. This deal has been sold by the new Mexican administration as a victory over the US. More migrants, less money, extreme violence and a recalcitrant, unpredictable northern neighbour are the ingredients for a potential, impending refugee crisis, not a diplomatic victory.
Could Mexico have taken a different approach? Yes. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs would exacerbate the underlying causes of immigration in the region and do nothing to address it. His bullying to force Mexico to crack down on immigration was a cheap electoral ploy to mobilise its base with a view to winning the 2020 elections. This is nothing new. Trump is not seeking a solution; he is seeking a political gain. He built his first presidential campaign on an anti-Mexico and an anti-immigrant rhetoric. It worked in 2016, and he is planning to repeat the same formula.
The Mexican administration lack of knowledge on diplomatic matters, and their inability to play politics let a golden opportunity go. Using trade to bludgeon Mexico into compliance with an immigration crack down makes no sense: Mexico is not responsible for the increase in migratory flows. Central America’s poverty and violence trace back to American policies in the 1980s. Mexico is not responsible either for America’s famously dysfunctional immigration system. Trump’s economic threats against Mexico may not even have been legal: both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the newly agreed US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) require most trade between members to be tariff free.
Mexico could also have hit back with by levying tariffs that would have hurt swing-state voters, and in turn hurt Trump. This was the golden opportunity Mexico let slip from its hands. Mexico could have responded by hitting Trump where it hurts: Tariffs on American goods heading south. Mexico responded in a similar manner in June last year in response to the steel and aluminium tariffs. Mexico could have raised those tariffs each month in tandem with American levels.
This retaliation would have highlighted the gap between Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric and the underlying interdependence of the US and Mexico with stark consequences for the US presidential elections of 2020. Many of the biggest exporters to Mexico such as Arizona. Florida. California, Michigan and Illinois are swing states. New tariffs could have thrown Texas into recession and put its 38 electoral votes into play. It is all too late now, Mexico could have inadvertently helped Trump to get re-elected. Mexico has less than a month left to show some backbone and demand real American cooperation on the region’s shared challenges and rejecting Trump’s threats once and for all. The relationship between Mexico and the US could have been an example of cooperation under difficult conditions, but that would have required different American and Mexican presidents.
Scandinavia Veers Left plus D-Day Reflections as Trump Storms Europe
Mette Frederiksen of the five-party Social Democrat bloc won 91 of the 169 seats in the Danish parliament ending the rule of the right-wing Liberal Party group that had governed for 14 of the last 18 years. The election issues centered on climate change, immigration and Denmark’s generous social welfare policies. All parties favored tighter immigration rules thereby taking away the central issue dominating the far-right Democrat Freedom Party which has seen its support halved since the last election in 2015.
Ms Frederiksen promised more spending to bolster the much loved social welfare model and increased taxes on businesses and the wealthy. A left wave is sweeping Scandinavia as Denmark becomes the third country, after Sweden and Finland, to move left within a year. Mette Frederiksen will also be, at 41, the youngest prime minister Denmark has ever had.
Donald Trump has used the 75th anniversary of D-Day commemorations to garner positive publicity. The supreme promoter has managed to tie it in with a “classy” (his oft-chosen word) state visit to the UK spending a day with royals. It was also a farewell to the prime minister as her resignation is effective from June 7. Add a D-Day remembrance ceremony at Portsmouth and he was off to his golf course in Ireland for a couple of days of relaxation disguised as a visit to the country for talks — he has little in common with the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who is half-Indian and gay.
Onward to France where leaders gathered for ceremonies at several places. It is easy to forget the extent of that carnage: over 20,000 French civilians were killed in Normandy alone mostly from aerial bombing and artillery fire. The Normandy American cemetery holds over 9600 soldiers. All in all, France lost in the neighborhood of 390,000 civilian dead during the whole war. Estimates of total deaths across the world range from 70 to 85 million or about 3 percent of the then global population (estimated at 2.3 billion).
Much has been written about conflict resolutions generally from a cold rational perspective. Emotions like greed, fear and a sense of injustice when unresolved lead only in one direction. There was a time when individual disputes were given the ultimate resolution through single combat. Now legal rights and courts are available — not always perfect, not always fair, but neither are humans.
It does not take a genius to extrapolate such legal measures to nations and international courts … which already exist. Just one problem: the mighty simply ignore them. So we wait, and we honor the dead of wars that in retrospect appear idiotic and insane. Worse is the attempt to justify such insanity through times like the “good war”, a monstrous absurdity.
It usually takes a while. Then we get leaders who have never seen the horror of war — some have assiduously avoided it — and the cycle starts again.
To Impeach Or Not To Impeach? That Is The Question
Robert Mueller let loose a thunderbolt midweek. Donald Trump had not been charged, he said, because it was Department of Justice policy not to charge a sitting president. Dumping the issue firmly into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lap, he reminded us of the purpose of the impeachment process. According to Mueller there are ten instances where there are serious issues with the president obstructing justice adding that his report never concludes that Trump is innocent.
So here is a simple question: If Mueller thought the president is not innocent but he did not charge him because of Justice Department policy, and he appears also to favor impeachment, then why in heaven’s name did he not simply state in his report that the preponderance of evidence indicated Trump was guilty?
Nancy Pelosi is wary of impeachment. According to the rules, the House initiates it and when/if it finds sufficient grounds, it forwards the case to the Senate for a formal trial. The Senate at present is controlled by Republicans, who have been saying it’s time to move on, often adding that after two years of investigation and a 448-page report, what is the point of re-litigating the issue? They have a point and again it leads to the question: if Special Counsel Mueller thinks Trump is guilty as he now implies, why did he not actually say so?
Never one to miss any opportunity , Trump labels Mueller, highly conflicted, and blasts impeachment as ‘a dirty, filthy, disgusting word’, He has also stopped Don McGahn, a special counsel at the White House from testifying before Congress invoking ‘executive privilege’ — a doctrine designed to keep private the president’s consultations with his advisors. While not cited anywhere in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has held it to be ‘fundamental to the operation of government and inextricably rooted in the Separation of Powers under the Constitution.’ Separation of powers keeps apart the executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary, meaning each one cannot interfere with the other.
Nancy Pelosi is under increasing pressure from the young firebrands. Rep Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has already expressed the view that it is time to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump given the obstruction of lawmakers’ oversight duty.
Speaker Pelosi is a long-time politician with political blood running through her veins — her father was Mayor of Baltimore and like herself also a US Representative. To her the situation as is, is quite appealing. Trump’s behavior fires up Democrats across the country and they respond by emptying their pockets to defeat the Republicans in 2020. Democratic coffers benefit so why harm this golden goose — a bogeyman they have an excellent chance of defeating — also evident from the numbers lining up to contest the Democratic presidential primaries, currently at 24.
Will Trump be impeached? Time will tell but at present it sure doesn’t look likely.
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