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USA at odds with Europe and not only with Europe

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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

Peter Iskenderov, senior research assistant at RAS Slavic Studies Institute, candidate of historical sciences

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Americas

In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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