There are basically two different policy-approaches to the coronavirus problem: One is the passive approach, waiting for ‘herd immunity’ to develop naturally. And the other is the active approach, in which the Government does take action — not just wait while the most-vulnerable individuals die off from the disease. The “herd immunity” approach is libertarian; it assumes that “let nature take its course” is always best; it is “laissez faire.” The “take action” approach is the exact opposite — very restrictive (including strong disincentives — “punishment” — for individuals’ misbehaviors that transmit the disease and endanger other people). This is the old debate between some form of anarchy on the one side, and some form of “socialism” (legally enforced governmental policies) on the other side.
The earliest popular ideological debate regarding coronavirus-policy was between advocates of Denmark’s socialistic approach, versus neighboring Sweden’s laissez-fair approach. EuroNews headlined on March 26th “Neighbours Denmark and Sweden miles apart on coronavirus confinement”, and reported that “when it comes to handling the coronavirus crisis, they are on very different trajectories,” which were Denmark’s socialism, versus Sweden’s libertarianism.
At that time, there was no clear indication, yet, as to which approach would win out. For example, on April 19th, Denmark had 1,275 Covid-19 cases per million, whereas Sweden had 1,424. So: per million inhabitants, they were about the same.
Even as late as 12 May 2020, three libertarian co-authors at the prestigious U.S. neoliberal and neoconservative Council on Foreign Relations’s journal Foreign Affairs headlined, confidently, that libertarianism would win out: “Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s: Herd Immunity Is the Only Realistic Option—the Question Is How to Get There Safely”.
But, by the time of June 29th, the data had become clear to the exact contrary, and so I headlined “‘Herd Immunity’ Is a Failed Response to Coronavirus”, and reported the subsequent increases in each of these two countries’ numbers.
On April 22nd:
DENMARK = 1,329 (up 4%)
SWEDEN = 1,517 (up 7%)
On May 10th:
DENMARK = 1,782 (up 34%)
SWEDEN = 2,567 (up 69%)
On June 17th:
DENMARK = 2,123 (up another 19%)
SWEDEN = 5,404 ( up another 111%)
And here it is as of June 28th:
DENMARK = 2,188 (up another 3%)
SWEDEN = 5,450 (up another 1%)
And, finally, on 22 August:
DENMARK = 2,783 (up another 27%)
SWEDEN = 8,515 (up another 56%)
Furthermore, one of the leading libertarian arguments against taking action has been that supposedly the economy will perform better if there are no coronavirus-restrictions placed by the Government. However, Sweden’s unemployment-rate has been hit at least as hard by coronavirus as Denmark’s has:
Denmark’s unemployment-rate was 4.1% in March, 5.4% in April, 5.6% in May, and 5.5% in June.
Sweden’s unemployment-rate was 7.1% in March, 8.2% in April, 9% in May, and 9.8% in June.
So, on that day, August 22nd, I sent to an influential libertarian website (not as influential as Foreign Affairs, but more populist — not funded by billionaires like the CFR is), which has come to specialize on coronavirus, the following article for them to consider, since it discredits their many libertarian articles about coronavirus, and the response from them three hours later was:
I appreciate you’re willingness to engage on this topic, but your choice of source is poor. The logic is bad, and whole areas of policy are ignored.
Firstly, comparing Sweden only to Denmark and Norway is absurd. Sweden imposed no lockdown, yet fared far better than many countries which did so (Belgium, Netherlands, UK, Spain and Italy). This alone is a perfectly strong argument that lockdowns are totally ineffective for their stated aims.
Secondly, it at no point talks about deaths caused by lockdowns, which is a huge factor (accounting for nearly half the excess deaths in the UK).
Thirdly, it mentions GDP but doesn’t discuss that the economy is MORE than that. A suffering economy is not about money or finance, it is about well-being for the working class. Good wages, affordable rent and the freedom to run your own small business. All of which have been destroyed by the lockdown policy, which Sweden shows was (at best) pointless.
I promptly replied:
The Belgian policy-response was unclear, unfocused, and such a mess that nothing has even been generally reported regarding their contact-tracing (which is such a crucial aspect of effective policy-response to the virus).
None of the countries with good results have achieved them via an expectation of ‘herd immunity’. No country is anywhere near the 70%-infection-rate that produces herd-immunity. It’s a myth; it’s just a lie.
For example, though the imperialistic libertarian country United States warns travelers that the coronavirus risk is exceptionally high in Uganda (warning “Level 3,” which is their highest), Uganda is actually one of the world’s lowest coronavirus-risk countries, and they achieved it by stringent policies, which is exactly what you reject. Whereas U.S. now has 17,587 cases per million, Uganda has 47. The country that has a 374 times higher percentage of its population coronavirus-infected, warns its suckers to stay away from the country that has 1/374th of the risk.
Why is [your site] feeding into this deception of its readers, instead of exposing it to them? Have you switched to being pro-imperialistic (pro-neoconservative, which is a variety of neoliberal or “libertarian”)? All of a sudden, the neoliberal countries, such as U.S., Brazil, and India, which are or have been the world’s worst on coronavirus-performance, are the ones to emulate? Why? Or else: which countries ARE the ones to emulate on this? Say it. Prove it. The statistical data by now are certainly sufficient to do this. Why don’t you do it, instead of continue to deceive readers? Why do you deceive readers so that they would support, instead of condemn, the imperialistic U.S. Government’s alleging that Uganda is more coronavirus-dangerous than the U.S. itself is? It’s a lie, but how would your readers be able to know this?
I don’t get it. You seem stuck in your existing false beliefs. Please explain so that I will become able to understand. Right now, I don’t.
I received a reply that said I should “apologise” because “We have never expressed any support for the US or its Imperial policies in any way, shape or form,” and “the statistics speak for themselves — the virus is harmless to the vast majority of people, and in no way justifies any of the draconian or authoritarian laws being imposed opportunistically in many countries around the world (including the United States).” In other words: the U.S. under Trump isn’t being sufficiently laissez-faire about this matter. The evidence that I had cited was ignored, not discussed, by him.
Subsequently, I checked a few of the other nations that are among the best on coronavirus-performance. For example, there’s China. It has 59 coronavirus-19 cases per million population, and the U.S. has 298 times as many cases per million, but the U.S. Government rates China also in the highest-risk category, “Level 3,” for Americans to visit, on account of its supposedly higher-than-U.S. danger of becoming infected with that virus.
Then, there’s Vietnam, which the U.S. Government had tried to conquer but couldn’t. Vietnam has only 10 coronavirus cases per million inhabitants. America has 17,587 per million; so, obviously, that’s 1,759 times as many. Vietnam also is rated “Level 3” — the worst, most coronavirus-dangerous, category. The Government of Americans is warning Americans to avoid visiting Vietnam because it’s just too dangerous a coronavirus-risk for an American, whose country has 17,587 cases per million. Obviously, no intelligent person trusts a government such as this. (No more than such a person would trust the Government that had promised it was certain that WMD existed in Iraq in 2002, or that Syria had gassed people on 7 April 2018, or that the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected President in 2014 was a ‘democratic revolution’ instead of a U.S. coup — or on, and on, such as about “Russiagate”.)
Then, there’s Myanmar, which has only 8 cases per million inhabitants — 1 divided by 2,198 times as many cases-per-million as the U.S. does — and the U.S. Government refuses even to call that nation “Myanmar,” but instead calls it by what the British did when they had it as a colony, which is “Burma,” and the U.S. regime’s travel-advisory rating of “Burma,” for ‘Burma’s would-be now U.S. imperial masters, is likewise exactly the same as they rate Uganda: “Warning — Level 3”. The U.S. regime is telling its citizens that a country which is 2,198 times safer on the coronavirus danger than the U.S. itself is, is instead too unsafe on coronavirus for Americans to travel to. They care so much about the safety of their own citizens, as to warn them against visiting a country that’s thousands of times safer. How sincere is that? But some people still respect the lie, and the liars (serial-liars), as if they weren’t.
Perhaps people who are in denial about coronavirus are simply in denial about reality — the broader, global, reality.
On coronavirus-19 — this pandemic — the best data regarding the international reality is this, which is the constantly up-to-date listings of all countries and their respective numbers. To see the rankings there of all countries on the crucial outcome-variable of “Tot Cases/1M pop” just click onto that column’s heading and countries will be ranked that way. Same for the other crucial outcome-variable “Deaths/1M pop,” and for the far less-crucial process-variables (such as “Tests/1M pop”). Two successive clicks onto the given column-heading will reverse the ordering of the countries regarding that variable. You’ll be seeing there the existing rankings, as of that given moment. To see the trends within any given country, just click onto the name of that country, and then scroll down to the charts “Daily New Cases” and “Daily New Deaths” (tracking both of the crucial outcome-variables)
However, people who are in denial about coronavirus-reality avoid those numbers like the plague. Perhaps they do that because, to their libertarian ideology, these numbers are “the plague.”
Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
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